Guilty Gear XX #Reload Korean Version Soundtrack :: Review by GoldfishX
For people that don't follow the world of fighting games, Guilty Gear XX #Reload is an upgrade to the original Guilty Gear XX, which was in turn a marginally upgraded sequel to Guilty Gear X. One of the more noteworthy additions to Reload was a completely new score, composed by N.E.X.T., a little-known Korean metal group (the Korean version of the game comes with the option to listen to either the Japanese version of the score or the Korean one the Japanese version doesn't have this option and it's unknown yet if the US Xbox version will have the alternate score). Immediately, this should raise some eyebrows. It's no secret that Daisuke Ishiwatari has created a monster with the Guilty Gear franchise's music, which is comprised of hard rock music that combines character, great melodies, and enough firepower to burn it's way to the top, as some of the greatest game music ever (and for that matter, some of the best music ever). How would this group of newcomers fare, compared to the music heard in Guilty Gear Heavy Rock Tracks, Guilty Gear XX Original Soundtrack, Guilty Gear Original Sound Collection or even the recent sleeper, Guilty Gear Isuka Original Soundtrack? As a diehard Guilty Gear fan, I have to say they did pretty darn good, as this soundtrack is a fine addition to the series. Guilty Gear XX #Reload Korean Version lacks the raw power of the Ishiwatari-composed Guilty Gear scores, but more than makes up for it with character and creativity.
The format for this album is exactly the same as previous entries in the series. You have a set of character themes, confrontation themes, and ending themes, each one clocking in at around three minutes. Aside from a few additions (the EX confrontation themes and a new ending for the survival mode, plus bonus and sound effect tracks) each piece corresponds to one on the Guilty Gear XX Original Soundtrack. Just like the Japanese version, most of these pieces reflect what they're representing efficiently enough, unlike some companies which are content with throwing out mindless garbage to drone on in the background (yes, this is yet another jab at Capcom's recent half-assed attempts at producing fighting game soundtracks). The sound quality is really sharp as well, especially the drums and some of the more electronic sounds. However, while Ishiwatari is generally content with a pair of guitars doing most of the damage, N.E.X.T. tends to utilize drums, synths and even voice samples with a much greater frequency. In addition, while Ishiwatari's melodies are always blazing head-first through a piece, at full speed, N.E.X.T. is content with repetitions and keeping the pace slower. This was the biggest obstacle I had with ultimately enjoying this soundtrack, at first. While about half of the tracks here are guitar-melody driven, the other half show off N.E.X.T.'s unique approach. I'll happily admit that making the listening adjustments to this new material have been a blast. It's not unfair to refer to this as the thinking man's Guilty Gear soundtrack; while the Ishiwatari-composed soundtracks are love-at-first-listen, this one takes some effort and repeated listening to appreciate.
There is little doubt that the best tracks are the melodic ones, though. "Revelations", the confrontation theme for both Sol vs Ky, shows how N.E.X.T. actually uses a slow pace to build up such a rivalry, as the lead and bass guitar smoothly compliment each other, with each one getting a sufficient amount of licks in. The final confrontation theme, "Midnight Carnival" does this as well. As opposed to Ishiwatari's version of "The Midnight Carnival", which just blazes along even as it builds itself up, this one utilizes the bass and drums to build up the confrontation, before the lead guitar comes in and finishes things off right before the piece loops. This would make a great "sad" battle theme I always picture it for a fight underneath a full moon. Millia's new theme, "The Great Empress", is almost symphonic in nature, with a part in the middle where the organ comes making the guitar resembles more of a string section. Johnny's new theme, "Desert Dust", starts off kind of strange the synths would lead people to believe he's a "pimp" instead of a bad-ass pirate captain, but then the bass comes in and we get a tune that's pleasantly similar to "Liquor Bar and Drunkard", his Japanese theme. Maybe N.E.X.T. was trying to make a statement with this one. Hmmm... The similarities between Ky's Japanese theme "Holy Orders (Be Just or Be Dead)" and his Korean one, "Pillars of the Underworld", best reflect how these new themes can keep the same feel as the old ones, yet be completely different. Pillars keeps the organ, even using it in the beginning, like in "Holy Orders". However, the organ is used in sync with a techno beat at the beginning and then graduates to a solo in the middle, which adds to the proper feel for Ky, who is a fighter with a more religious burden. "Vortex Infinitum", Robo-Ky's theme, is essentially an Acid mix of this, adding in a much heavier techno beat-It's a really neat take on the piece (it would be fun to hear more of these tracks get this kind of mix). "Get Out of My Way" is perfect for May I just picture her with her huge anchor, being chased through a crowd of people, clotheslining everyone as she runs by. "Final Opus" and "Dead Silence" just soar, as the lead guitar hits plenty of good high notes, which just send a shiver down the spine.
However, the two strongest themes on the melodic side are Jam's "Sticks and Stones" and Slayer's "The Vampire Saga". For Jam, Ishiwatari tried to create a powerful Chinese theme with "Babel Nose," but the light-hearted feel just wasn't there. It was too powerful a theme for a light-hearted character like Jam. Here, "Sticks and Stones" starts with a similar Chinese synth before the bass guitar comes in. At about the 40- second mark, the wackiness starts, as a Chinese-sounding guitar comes in and completely dominates the piece, with one of those tunes that will leave your head only through repeated hypnotism. It sounds like a properly-evolved form of Chun-Li's theme. "The Vampire Saga" proves one thing: The folks at N.E.X.T. are major Castlevania fans. In my Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks review, I said a couple of pieces sounded they belonged in a Castlevania game. Well, "The Vampire Saga" takes that a step further, because parts of it is ripped right off of "Bloody Tears", the classic Castlevania tune. The killer organ seals this one as a gothic classic. Both of these pieces would make the soundtrack well worth the money, even if the rest had turned out bad.
As I said earlier, there are some pieces here that really show the unique style of N.E.X.T. These were also the ones I (for the most part) didn't even like at first. Let's take a look at Sol's new theme, "Starchaser". The piece opens with a rhythm, played by a bass guitar and drummer in sync with each other, giving the feel of a march. The two split apart, the tempo on both pick up eventually and finally, a synth joins in complimenting them both before the piece returns to the bass-and-drum march. Heck, there isn't even a lead guitar in the entire piece-That's nearly unheard of with Guilty Gear music! This style of progression characterizes a good number of the tracks I would label as "different"-For some of these, a little imagination helps to visualize. For example, the theme of "Starchaser" (and with Sol's Japanese theme, "Keep Yourself Alive 2") is one of intimidation. If I'm a fighter and Sol is coming at me with that cocky stroll of his, "Starchaser" is exactly the kind of music I expect to be hearing in the background-The marching part for his approach and the synth part in the middle for the actual battle. Eddie's theme, "Dementia," was one I originally pegged as a stinker. The progression follows "Starchaser" with similar percussion and middle parts, but it adds in a voice sample, yelling, "GO!" and a cheesy ghost sound effect. This one took some real imagination to enjoy-I picture the ghost making his way to hell as the percussion starts up. As the piece reaches the middle part, the ghost reaches hell, which is symbolized by the guitar that comes in. It realizes he wants no part of hell and makes his escape, as his sound effect comes back on. Finally the percussion comes back and pulls Mr. Ghost back into hell against his will. Finally, the opening drumline returns as a reminder: No one escapes hell. Okay, okay, so I have an overactive imagination, but this should tell you how different some of these pieces are. In fact, "Dementia" is downright sane compared to the craziness of Zappa's "Seizures".
Despite my praise for this soundtrack, there are a few real oddballs on here. A friend of mine said "Faith Shall Save Thee" doesn't sound like a battle theme between Sol and Ky, but more like they're sitting around the house, smoking weed. I have to agree. The piece itself is bass-guitar driven, but it blends in a funky hip-hop beat at certain points. It truly is a strange one. Baiken's theme "Ricochet" features a series of race car sound effects and a driving bass guitar. This theme would be perfect for a fighter who's a race car driver, mowing down everything in their path. The only problem with that: Baiken is a one-eyed, one-armed samurai with a bad attitude. The music itself isn't bad, but I can't help but think N.E.X.T. misread the word "samurai" next to Baiken's name as "race car driver." Bridget's theme, "Crash and Burn" is good for his... um, lighthearted nature, but it sounds suspiciously like surfing music. Both "The Day of Justice" and "Child of the Wild" were personal let-downs. I find myself trying to enjoy both themes, as they're not bad by themselves, but they're so far from their Japanese counterparts that ultimately I can't. "Child of the Wild" is too slow for Chipp, who is the fastest character in the game and "The Day of Justice" fails to do justice to the menacing, robotic figure that is Justice. A few others, namely "Riding the Clouds", "Rogue Hunters" and "Keeper of the Unknown", are simply unspectacular. "Keeper of the Unknown" is similar to "Dementia", but nowhere near as creative. Finally, "Take the Pain" uses an annoying series of repetitions throughout the entire piece, but really doesn't go anywhere. It's good for Faust's character, but not worth taking the pain to listen to!
In the end, I'm extremely happy with the end results. Alternative scores are rare and it's great to see one for such an open-ended series like Guilty Gear, which requires the composer to create themes that match the characters, yet stay in line with the hard rock feel. If nothing else, it's good for a breather after listening to Heavy Rock Tracks or XX Original Soundtrack. I wouldn't be completely heartbroken if N.E.X.T. were asked to score a future Guilty Gear game. Hopefully, the US version of Guilty Gear XX #Reload will include the Korean version of the music an option. If you're a Guilty Gear fan or a fan of good, solid rock, you need to own this soundtrack.
Overall Score: 9/10