Gyakuten Saiban 1 & 2 Original Soundtrack :: Review by Muzza
Gyakuten Saiban. To most, it means nothing. To some, however, it signifies one of the freshest, most humorous game series to ever grace English-speaking shores. Released in 2001 in Japan on the GBA, then in 2005 on the DS in Japan and the US (as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney), the first Gyakuten Saiban game took control of the DS gaming market, and created a wild, loyal fan base that even rivals those of the more commercial video game series. The second installment came a year or so later, and continued the successful formula of gripping court trials and entertaining investigations complete with humorous, often witty observations and wacky, love-or-hate characters (usually at the receiving end of the protagonist, Phoenix Wright's, fiendish yet felicitous cynicism).
This soundtrack covers the music for the first two installments, specifically their original GBA releases, meaning you shouldn't expect fantastic synth work or commendable sound quality. Regardless, it's still a nostalgia-bundled, competently composed soundtrack. The music for the first game was composed by Masakazu Sugimori who, outside the Gyakuten Saiban series, is only known for aiding in the sound department for the Viewtiful Joe games. Somewhat more experienced with a few Rockman scores under their belt, Akemi Kimura composed the second. Let's take a look at how well they did, shall we?
Like every Gyakuten Saiban soundtrack, we'll start with the courtroom suite, covering the first twelve tracks. This is arguably the best courtroom suite in the series; the almost superbly fitting compositions work their way into your mind and get you immersed in the courtroom! Take "Gyakuten Saiban - Trial" for example, which sustains a daunting atmosphere through curious keyboard patterns and also develops exceptionally, incorporating militaristic percussion and fluid melodic bridges. "Ryuuichi Naruhodou ~ Objection! 2001", my favourite of the three themes for Phoenix Wright is, even though awfully repetitive, insanely energetic, fun, and catchy. Powerful rhythms and subtle electronic beats do wonders at representing the vivid, determined personality of Phoenix. The testimony themes, used during (seemingly omnipresent) in game cross-examinations, are also decent in their subdued musicality; I personally prefer the moderate version, as the GBA synth sorely hinders the celerity of the allegro interpretation. Also of note is "Logic and Trick", which sounds intentionally undeveloped but still manages to be eerily hypnotic.
Tracks 8 though to 11 are all accessibly frenetic and action-packed, and perfectly accommodate instances of unforeseen trial revelations and lines of questionings that force the recipient to crack under pressure. "Pressing Pursuit ~ Cornered" has a surprisingly awesome trademark Gyakuten Saiban melody, and the alternate version nicely adds some frenetic sound movements. Then we come to a staple of the series: "Suspense" is one of the most frightening, effective tension themes I've ever heard, and sounds incredibly evil and malicious on the GBA sound chip. I may as well also mention "Telling the Truth 2001", which uses the examination musical theme in a rather sinister tone, with ascending keyboard lines enhancing the distressful atmosphere. So from the masterful mood-setters "Courtroom Lounge ~ Beginning Prelude" and "Gyakuten Saiban - Trial" to the intense sparks of aural fire of the cornered themes, the first game's courtroom suite is absolutely fantastic. But just as the comparatively cutesy jingle track implies... "It Can't End Here".
Surprisingly, the courtroom suite takes up nearly half of the score. The remaining 15 tracks (out of 27) are used during investigations in the world outside the courtroom, i.e. the real world (Gyakuten Saiban games do a great job at keeping everything realistic... although some of the cases can be fairly ludicrous and outlandish). There are only three tracks that I would consider boring. These include the repetitive electronic-bloop-filled "Investigation ~ Opening 2001" as well as the monotonous "Recollection ~ The Light and Shadows of the Film Studios" and "Recollection ~ Classroom Trial", which feature similar sounds and styles, completely lacking any sort of intrigue, nuance, or hook (all are great when used in game, admittedly). The rest of the tracks, 12 to be precise, are all fantastic, though. The amount of compositional talent and expertise encompassed in these tracks is truly something to admire. You thought the courtroom suite was above average? Wait until you hear some of these little beauties.
There are four character themes among these tracks (excluding Phoenix Wright's, which was covered previously), and they are some of the strongest ones to ever grace the series. "Mayoi Ayasato ~ Gyakuten Sisters' Theme 2001" is a series staple regardless of how you look at it, as it's the theme to Mia and Maya, two characters closely linked to Phoenix Wright, the latter of whom acts as his bubbly, extroverted side-kick throughout the games. The melody in this one is remarkably strong and durable (I haven't gotten sick of it even after repeated listens), and correlates whimsically with the sisters' unbreakable bond, Mia's thoughtfulness and Maya's outright cheerfulness. On the other hand, we've got the melancholy yet hopeful "Keisuke Itonokogiri ~ Itonoko Geijissu", the theme to the lovable goof that is Detective Gumshoe. We've got another strong melody here, that's intriguing in its conflicted approach; whether the tone of this piece is positive or negative, I just can't decipher... but it's still a great, nicely developed composition.
Next up is a quirkily tasty bit of sleazy jazz. "Soranosuke Hoshikage ~ Age, Regret, Repay", the theme to the plump, bumbling attorney Marvin Grossberg, employs a jazzy time signature and some entirely appropriate instrumentation to highlight both Grossberg's demeanor and the composition itself, which is a real standout, in spite of its shortness. "Auspicious People" is the final character theme, which is used for... basically every character you come across that hasn't been covered by any of the aforementioned themes. It's not as striking or impressive as the other three, but it's still infectious and really memorable in its joyous, effervescent execution. Clocking in at just over one minute, the development here is scarce, and the melody apparent isn't anything to write home about either. But something about it seems strangely humble and sweet, and needless to say it works sublimely in the game!
To contrast, we've also got some moody, dark, and introspective themes to balance out the soundtrack. The remaining two recollection themes are much more effective on a stand-alone basis than the other two: "Recollection ~ Brokenhearted Mayoi" borders on tedium, but some agreeable chord harmonisation and intricate developments offer another dimension to the composition. Even so, "Recollection ~ DL6 Incident" is the best of the lot, with its reflective, somber pacing and minor scale melody. If you remember where this plays in game, then you'll be hard pressed not to feel even a little bit of sadness and remorse; a very effective composition, both in the context of the game and the score. Another track that falls under this depressive classification is "Detention Center ~ The Guards' Elegy", which is the best detention center theme in the entire series as far as I'm concerned. The largely acoustic instrumentation is bundled with intoxicating and overwhelming feelings of regret and unhappiness, and the melody is just amazingly poignant.
There are four more outstanding tracks I'd really like to mention. Firstly there's "Oo-edo Soldier Tonosaman", possibly my favourite Gyakuten Saiban piece in existence (this track doesn't really fit in any where else in my review!). This is the theme to a fictional TV-show featured in the game, the Steel Samurai, and is just a really fun, accessible piece (Even the characters in the game love it! They use it as their ring tone on their phones!). Fast-paced development and a wonderful melody, with both Asiatic and rock influences, ultimately create a delicious morsel of aural ecstasy. Then we get to the ending suite, comprised of three rich, full pieces of music. "Victory! ~ The First Victory" is my favourite of all the victory themes in the series by far; the musicality is unrestrained in its influential enthusiasm, where the joyously up-tempo, catchy rhythms accentuate the tones of relief and cheer experienced by the characters at the culmination of a successful court case.
Thirdly, or should I say conclusively, there's the ending / staff roll / credits theme. "Gyakuten Saiban - End" isn't the best of the series, but its still great at delivering a feeling of satisfaction and emotional attachment. The nostalgic-sounding melody and the somewhat reflective musical structure complete the journey and the soundtrack very competently. Very last, but not very least, is "Ballad of the Gyakuten Sisters", a graceful and positively radiant interpretation of the "Gyakuten Sisters' Theme". Surprisingly well-sampled acoustic guitar takes control of the arrangement, and guides it through some familiar sounding melodic passages, until it reaches its sorrowful yet "we'll meet again" kind of destination / feeling. In summary, a beautiful way to finish an absolutely wonderful soundtrack.
Gyakuten Saiban 2
Whoa! A fugue composed by Bach! This has the terms "foreboding" and "warning" written all over it. Does this mean that the second game's score, featured on this very disc, will be much darker in nature? Will we not have any more of the cheery Phoenix Wright-like pieces of musical goodness?! Oh. Looks like a cell phone interpretation of the fugue ("Takamasa Moroheiya - Arrival Melody") lets the listener know right away that the series has maintained its ridiculously quirky level of charm, both in terms of composition and gameplay. You can relax now, it's cool, no worries... wait a minute; this courtroom lobby theme is pretty damn evil if you ask me! What's Akemi Kimura playing at!?
Now that that ridiculous, over-the-top introduction is out of the way, let's get into the thick of it, shall we? The second installment of the series (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Justice for All) is widely considered to be the weakest (the characters in particular and much weaker than other games); sadly, this sense of inferiority is carried through the musical score as well. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it just lacks a bit of flair and consistency compared to other attempts, Masakazu Sugimori's in particular. A prime example is the courtroom suite: it has its ups, and it has its downs (I'll cover the good'uns first). The testimony theme for the second game is my favourite of them all. "Testimony ~ Moderato 2002" in particular sounds gorgeous and mesmerising with its weird, insightful melody, and subtle rhythmic contrasts (the allegro version is great, too). The pressing pursuit theme is also one of the strongest of its kind; "Pressing Pursuit ~ Cross-Examination (Variation)" is my personal favourite, with its catchy and wild levels of energy, intensity and action! "Telling the Truth 2002" is also fairly above the average with its instrumental layering and clever melodic fragments.
As for the rest? They're kind of lame, really. "Courtroom Lobby ~ Overture Again" is a boring militaristic composition that doesn't even work that well in game, methinks. I just don't know what Akemi Kimura was thinking. "Gyakuten Saiban 2 - Trial" fares much better in terms of in-game appropriateness, although as a stand-alone piece it is by far the worst trial theme in the series, what with all of the quasi-spooky, quasi-intimidating piano and brass, the latter of which is hideously overused. Similarly, "Logic and Trick" is the worst of the "trick" themes. Every time this played during the game I'd turn the volume all the way down! The synth and sound quality of "Ryuuichi Naruhodou ~ Objection! 2002" is laughable at first, but eventually picks up a bit of pace and progression. My main issue with Phoenix Wright's new theme, though, is how unrepresentative it is of his personality; I honestly can't sense any characteristics conveyed by the music. You've then got the worst jingle in the series, "Jingle ~ I Can't Sleep on a Night Like This"; I do agree with it, however, in the sense that after I listen to this ditty, I just can't sleep. I'm just too infuriated to do so! The four second melody leaves everything up in the air and just sounds irrelevant and uncomfortable! /jingle tirade. *sigh* The only saving grace is the return of the Steel Samurai theme in the cell phone interpretation "Ryuichi Naruhodo - Arrival Melody"!
Similar to the courtroom suite, the remainder of the soundtrack is inconsistent (read: consistently hit-or-miss). "Investigation ~ Opening 2002" is easily the worst investigation theme in the series (how's that for a dubious honour!); the other investigation themes suck musically, but they don't really irritate you in the game. This one does, however, with its awfully fragmented melody that pauses here and there and makes for a very unsettling listen (which I'm sure wasn't the composer's intention). "Investigation ~ In the Midst 2002" is much better, though, and proves to be one of the strongest investigation themes the series has seen. What's so great about this one is the jazzy, quick tempo and the surprisingly awesome structural development. A couple of other tracks I should mention here are "Hotline of Fate", which uses the pressing pursuit theme in an intentionally messy and hectic manner to create a sense of epic mayhem; "Kuroshike Sasayuemon ~ The Murderous Gentleman's Pleasure" is one of the darkest, most suspicious sounding character themes the series has ever seen. It works in game (as the theme to a pretty awesome villain, if you ask me), but it's a little too minimalistic and monotonous to enjoy otherwise. Still, a solid attempt.
Now I'll cover the music associated with the Fey clan, of which Mia and Maya are members. This is a clan that's heavily connected to several cases across the games; the Feys are known for their ability to communicate with dead spirits. Now you should be able to appreciate "Souin Village" somewhat, with its ambient-drone nature that quaintly complements the very Asian feel of the composition. "Psycho Lock" is semi-relevant to the Fey Clan, as shown by the psychic-like reverb and echo. The whistling melody and Asiatic chimes are unnerving in the best possible way, but I doubt you'll be listening to this one outside of the game. "Recollection ~ Scars Etched by Flame" is used during the second case of the game, in which your buddy Maya is put on trial. As usual, this is a typical sad, regretful, upset, etc. piece of music. Poor on a stand-alone basis, for sure, but it works anyway.
The second game's detention center theme is much less interesting than the first, as it employs hardly any melody or memorable musical attributes whatsoever. I know I'm sounding like a broken record now, but "Detection Center ~ The Surveillance Cameras' Elegy" (awesome track title) is awful on a stand-alone basis, but works well in game! (Something Akemi Kimura is good at, evidently!) Linking in with the current theme of minor scale sadness etc. are the other recollection themes: "Recollection ~ True Pain" is a boring attempt at musical poignancy, whereas "Recollection ~ Tonosaman's Ballade" is a solid arrangement of the Steel Samurai theme, in a (you guessed it) sad, down-tempo way. If it weren't for the melodic familiarity here, I would have been relatively curt in my review.
Now we get to the character themes (yay!), probably the best part of the score. The composer thankfully didn't mess up in the arrangement "Ryori Shinsu ~ Gyakuten Sisters' Theme 2002", which stays faithful to the original, and just adds some pretty flourishes and fine melodic finishes. The end to each loop (0:46) is an exceptionally nice touch, I think. "Ryori Harumi ~ Hamichan Questioning" is the theme to innocent little Pearl Fey, and as such borrows the Gyakuten Sisters' them and crafts an even more light-hearted little ditty out of it. Almost Christmas-like in sound, it's a really pleasing arrangement. "Great Revival ~ Reiji Mitsurugi" and "Great Revival ~ Myou Shuma" are the themes for two very important characters (I won't say who), and both sound majestically august in execution. Even though they sound a tad similar, they still sound surprisingly fresh in the context of the score.
Track 20, "Eccentric", is a personal favourite of mine (as for why I have no idea). It's sleazy, and kind of minimalistic in scope, and the melody is just quirky enough for me to like it. "Tachimi - Circus" uses some subtle accordion and royal arpeggios to depict the circus princess Regina in a rather irritatingly sweet way. The sound quality is actually lush for a GBA tune, so that's definitely a bonus. Finally, "Auspicious People Again" is the theme to my least favourite Gyakuten Saiban character ever. The melody is nowhere near as solid as the first games' "Auspicious People". In fact, it's quite pathetic in its attempt to be humorous. Mind you the character Moe is kind of pathetic, so the tune's not that unsuitable. Regardless, it's my least favourite character theme in the series; this speaks volumes about the score itself really.
But here's something the soundtrack does right! The ending suite (even though it's only comprised of two tracks)! The victory theme, "Victory! ~ Success Again", is almost as good as the first's due to its lovable melody and carefree pitch progressions. A bit too emotionally restrained for my liking, but it's still an excellent piece. Then we get to the four-minute epic that is "Gyakuten Saiban 2 - End". It's better than the first game's, but it still leaves quite a bit to be desired. I would have appreciated more intricate developments and perhaps more alteration in tempo and pacing. But as it stands, it's a sweet composition that serves its purpose exceptionally well.
So, should you hunt down this soundtrack? I'd say yes, especially if you're looking for some new, fresh sounding game music. You won't find epic orchestrations across this two disc set, nor will you find wonderfully synth-driven RPG pieces. What you will find, however, are solid, potentially charming pieces of GBA music that are probably unlike anything you've heard before. Disc One, encompassing the score to the first game, is outstanding with only a few blemishes; the rest are exceptional to listen to on a standalone basis, such as the incredibly entertaining "Oo-edo Soldier Tonosaman", the memorable action-packed "Pressing Pursuit ~ Cornered", or the comparatively subdued and harmonious "Ballad of the Gyakuten Sisters". As for the second disc, the music for the second game, it's unfortunately very inconsistent. Winners such as the thoughtful, hypnotising "Testimony ~ Moderato 2002" and the unexpectedly jazzy "Investigation ~ Core 2002" are hopelessly outnumbered by uninspired tunes like "Logic and Trick" and "Auspicious People Again".
It's a solid soundtrack, but the second disc is clearly the less impressive one (I'd probably give disc one a 9 and disc two a 6). If I were you I'd check out the Gyakuten Saiban Yomigaeru Gyakuten Original Soundtrack, which features DS-quality versions of the original game's score. Don't be afraid to check this one out, though; it's got enough charm and charisma to make it appeal to any listener.
Overall Score: 7/10