Guilty Gear XX Original Soundtrack :: Review by GoldfishX
I'm a diehard fan of the Guilty Gear series. If you've read my other reviews about their soundtracks here, you know that I hold composer Daisuke Ishiwatari in very high regard, mostly for his role in keeping the fighting genre of video game music alive by delivering what is fair to call the be-all, end-all of heavy metal in original game music. Intense, thrashing, powerful, but at the same time, loaded with character, brilliantly planned out, and downright memorable are the adjectives I would use to describe the music from the original Guilty Gear Original Sound Collection and the much-heralded Guilty Gear X Hard Rock Tracks. The third main game in the series, Guilty Gear XX (known as Guilty Gear X2 for the stateside release) didn't attempt to re-write the book on the games. It merely offered a Super Street Fighter II-like upgrade with new characters, new moves, and a few different play mechanics. In that same vein, very little has changed about the music. On one hand, it's definitely good to keep the same feeling. On the other hand, the fact that every returning character has retained their Guilty Gear X theme for the sequel forces me to review this alongside its predecessor, Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks, as opposed to on its own. Normally, in such a situation, it would be best to pick a clear-cut winner. In this case, it's simply not possible for me to do that. The Guilty Gear XX Original Soundtrack improves over Hard Rock Tracks on plenty of counts, but it stumbles on quite a few other ones.
The first thing you're going to notice about the track listings is all of the familiar names. On Disc One, as I said before, you have just about every single character theme from X returning for another round. So that begs the question, "What's different?" The answer: Other than a couple of instrument upgrades and some changed passages, not much. Make no mistake that these are newly recorded, so fans of Heavy Rock Tracks can have a ball dissecting every little difference between the different versions, as I have done since the day I received this. Disc Two almost makes it a moot point though, because it contains most of the brand new material, including character themes, confrontation themes and endings.
One thing that originally threw me off about this soundtrack was the fact that it was the soundtrack to the arcade version of Guilty Gear XX. As I started listening to it, I noticed that there was a sharp difference from the smooth rock feel of Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks and these newer versions. At first, I feared that some of this soundtrack was done with arcade synth. However, one look at the liner notes of both albums gave me my answer: The reason for the smoothness of Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks was the fact that it was performed by a single guitarist, and a keyboardist (a bass player only performed in two of the tracks) with some heavy mixing to make it sound like a much larger instrument set was performing. In contrast, the Guilty Gear XX Original Soundtrack has a live drummer and a bass player credited for the entire soundtrack. At first I felt stupid for mistaking the bass guitar for arcade synth, but I have to say it's not the cleanest sound in the world. Shinji Matsumoto gives a great performance, but his bass just has a naturally harsh feeling behind it. I guess Sammy decided not make the same mistake as the all-synth Guilty Gear X Original Soundtrack and stream the arcade version. This was more than a pleasant surprise, as the home version is virtually identical (or rather upgraded Kliff and Justice apparently weren't in the arcade version of XX, as their themes are credited for Guilty Gear X Plus on Disc Two).
By and large, the returning tracks make triumphant returns. About half of them are on par with the Heavy Rock Tracks versions. In some cases though, they manage to improve on the perfection of the Heavy Rock Tracks versions. The two most notable of these are Baiken's "Momentary Life" and Johnny's "Liquor Bar and Drunkard". The new drummer makes the difference here, as does the new rhythm from the lead guitarist between parts of the main melody and the great new ending. It all adds up to one of the most intense of the Guilty Gear themes and my overall favorite. "Liquor Bar and Drunkard" gives Matsumoto his chance to shine. His bass playing has a different feel from Ikuo Sibutani's (who did the Hard Rock Tracks version) but it fits the tune like a glove, arguably improving it as a whole. The deep pounding sound of "Burly Heart" becomes a much livelier experience with the addition of the bass, as do "Fuuga" and "Babel Nose".
Two of the largest changes are made to two of the classic themes that have been around since the original in "Holy Orders (Be Just or Be Dead)" and "Suck a Sage". The endings of these have been completely reworked, so that people who are familiar with the original versions are going to be thrown off near the second (and final) playthroughs of the pieces. These new tricks work great for "Suck a Sage", but this version of Holy Orders can't touch the Heavy Rock Tracks version in the thrills department; the organ doesn't sound anywhere near as menacing, so that exciting feeling when the guitar comes flying out of it is largely missed. It does provide a fresh take on a theme that was basically identical in the previous two versions of the score, but it's just not the best one. Some of the more disappointing returns are unfortunately some of my favorites from Heavy Rock Tracks. These versions of "A Solitude That Asks Nothing in Return" and "Feel a Fear" don't just feel weak; they've lost their deep, menacing, Dracula Battle-like sound for more of a disjointed and confused (even goofy) feel. I'm not sure if they're supposed to symbolize the lost feel that the Assassins Guild is going through inside the game (it's in total chaos during the game) but these versions of the themes were the disappointment of the album for me. This version of "Bloodstained Lineage" feels much weaker than the Heavy Rock Tracks version as well, though not to the extent of the other two disappointing ones.
Disappointments aside, the most compelling case for buying the soundtrack is the new material on Disc Two. These new themes manage to make themselves a name right alongside the returning tracks, almost sounding as if they've been part of the score the entire time. The only difference is really in the overall progression. While most of the tracks on Disc One feel like they play through twice, these seem to either go for two and a half playthroughs or they'll do one and a half. A moot point, considering their high quality. The best of the bunch is Bridget's theme, "Simple Life". It opens with the lead guitar playing a series of notes, then the drummer joins in playing the same set, then again with the bass, then finally with the keyboard. After that, the piece explodes into one of the more compelling melodies of the series. As Bridget is one of the more, er, innocent characters in the game, the feeling of the song is light-hearted and almost doesn't feel like fighting music. "Haven't You Got Eyes in Your Head?" is driven by a saxophone and is very similar to Faust's theme, while "Good Manners and Customs" is anything but good manners and customs, as its one of the craziest of the Guilty Gear themes. "Existence" picks up some of the slack for the poor Assassin's Guild, as it explodes into a fun, menacing and completely engaging melody. Finally, "The Midnight Carnival" IS Guilty Gear boss music, as it just bursts into an all-out rockfest that will not disappoint fans expecting an exciting conclusion.
But that's this? Just when you think the best is over, the soundtrack delivers an almost equally compelling encore performance of sorts courtesy of Koichi Seiyama. First you've got the three ending themes from XX: one that is actually very similar to Bridget's theme in its' playfulness, one that has sort of a heavy-blues feel, and one that is mostly piano-based. After that comes the tracks for the rest of the game, most notably "D.O.A.", the fiery music used for the character selection screen. The last five tracks are a treat for Guilty Gear veterans and a godsend for people who are brand new to the series. Here you have Kliff's "Pride and Glory" and the super-epic "Meet Again", which served as Justice's theme in the original Guilty Gear. Both of these have been upgraded appropriately to the Guilty Gear XX sound set and are simply great. Justice was one of those bosses that felt it wasn't fair for you to be able to hurt him as he tore you apart, leading to one of the more aggravating boss battles in fighting game history. I've spent well over 20 hours fighting him in the original game, so the original theme of his was already lodged in my head. For me, getting this new version almost justified the purchase of the entire soundtrack. To finish things off, the original endings from Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks make slightly-altered appearances with the XX instrument set.
The Guilty Gear XX Original Soundtrack is no doubt a masterpiece, but there is still the nagging question of whether or not you should buy this if you have Heavy Rock Tracks. Conversely, there is also the question if you should get Heavy Rock Tracks if you own this one already. My honest answer: I can't live without having the both of them, so I'm recommending getting both if you even remotely like the Guilty Gear style. No doubt, this one contains the most material and plenty of the best versions of the returning songs... BUT, it's impossible to quantify the shear quality of the best tracks from Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks that this one is lacking. If you're interested in getting into the series' music and can only pick one... Geez, I don't know... Making that kind of decision hurts my head... Flip a coin or something. They're both equally excellent, but for different reasons. On a side note, if you have both of them already and are looking for more, be sure to look into Guilty Gear XX Sound Alive, which is a smoldering live performance by most of the same guys who performed these original pieces. This soundtrack is widely available from most major game music sellers.
Overall Score: 10/10