Gyakuten Kenji Orchestra Album :: Review by Oliver Jia
In 2009, Capcom released Gyakuten Kenji (Ace Attorney Investigations here in the U.S.), the first spin-off title in the Gyakuten Saiban series. Instead of defending clients in the courtroom as series' mainstay Phoenix Wright, Kenji shifted gameplay drastically by putting the player in the shoes of prosecutor Miles Edgeworth. Trials were omitted completely, with more focus on the crime scene and collecting evidence. Despite these radical changes in gameplay, Gyakuten Kenji still had the same feel of earlier titles, while keeping the overall experience fresh and exciting. The same can also be said about the music. Veteran composer Noriyuki Iwadare was brought back yet again to create another score to the series. Those that bought the Japanese limited edition were given a special album that contained five orchestral arrangements of various songs throughout the game. Iwadare, who had previously arranged the orchestra and jazz albums of Gyakuten Saiban, was given the task of handling this disc. These pieces were performed Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra who had also done a stellar job with Gyakuten Saiban Orchestra Album. That all being said, did Iwadare deliver this time? Or is this just a throwaway promotional album? Let's find out.
The album starts with "Gyakuten Kenji ~ Great Revival 2009", ironically the game's ending piece. Somber strings play the opening theme at an andante tempo and, by the one minute mark, the tempo moves at a faster pace as the cello section picks up the harmony and the main melody is passed between horns and strings. The trumpets explode into the next section at 1:52 with a secondary melody while the strings respond back with their own melody four times, before the main melody is reprised by the trumpet section at 2:30. The section with horns and strings at 1:07 is repeated at 3:15, this time with the trumpets calling out at full force with them. The entire piece changes its pace with a delicate melody played by the strings at 3:37 while the flutes and harp add perfect harmony. This new section picks up tempo around the four minute mark and quickly changes back to the secondary theme originally played by brass and strings before concluding the piece. All in all, an amazing piece to start off this album. The performance by the Tokyo Philharmonic is incredibly strong as they deliver a perfect arrangement that blows the original piece out of the water.
Moving to "Testimony ~ Lying Coldly", the original piece was a fast paced and jazz-themed piano chase theme with synth orchestra and percussion in the background. I absolutely adored this piece, and I was curious how Iwadare would approach it with a full-on orchestra. Unfortunately, the entire part played with the piano has been omitted completely. Despite this, I still found myself enjoying this arrangement. While Miles Edgeworth begins questioning the witness, the bass and harp set the tempo for the piece and the strings play a brisk melody. 0:41 introduces a new section of the piece, as if Edgeworth has stumbled upon something vital. He raises an objection at 0:55 as the strings pick up a faster tempo. The witness tries to escape from Edgeworth's accusation with their own flimsy argument when the woodwinds play a brief new melody at 1:04. The red-suited prosecutor presents a new piece of evidence at 1:22 and shows it to the witness. These new facts catch the witness off guard while Edgeworth continues his argument. This is shown when the piece once again picks up tempo at 1:33. The tension of the strings in the background and the increasing pace of the main melody at 1:47 show that the witness in a cold sweat and is at a loss for words. The piece concludes as the witness breaks down and confesses to his crime. Miles Edgeworth is victorious. This newly performed arrangement perfectly captures the confrontations found in the game. Although the omission of the piano is regrettable, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra presents the piece as more cinematic (just like the possible scenario I described). In the end, it's still a great piece that gets the job done.
With the "Official Investigation Suite", we now move away from Edgeworth's quest for the truth, and instead focus on the people who help him achieve his goals. The detectives, the scientific investigators, and yes, even the cowboys. This arrangement has a lot to live up to. How do you select the best character themes, and arrange them with respect to the original compositions? Thankfully, Iwadare succeeds on both levels. A brassy motif opens up this suite. Who could this be? I'll give you a hint. He tries his best, usually fails, but still "can do it where it counts." He's underpaid, has to eat ramen noodles every night, yet still remains loyal to the end. Its detective Dick Gumshoe, pal! Gumshoe's section of the suite is played rather warmly with a slight sadness to it, perfectly portraying his character from the games. The theme builds up from its horn-based exposition to a full orchestral rendition towards the one minute mark.
The next character theme comes at 1:56 with a bouncy melody being played by the strings. 2:05 brings us the next part with a playful theme of pizzicato and woodwinds. Who does this theme belong to? Why it's Ema Skye, scientifically speaking! The mood swiftly changes to a more mature melody, symbolizing Ema's growth from high school student to scientific investigator. This new theme conveys the feeling of maturity, while still retaining the playfulness of the first theme. The end of this section seamlessly flows to the third and final character theme. "They'll shoot you for that in Texas, pardner!" cried Jake Marshall. What's arguably the best character theme in the series, the orchestra concludes the suite with that detective from the Wild West. At 3:01 the flute plays a short tremolo, while steady strings play softly and a bell can be heard in the background, perhaps symbolizing "High Noon." The orchestra blares Marshall's theme in full blast at 3:20. This trumpet melody with brass response continues up to the four minute mark when the strings add in their own part. 4:57 provides the conclusion to not only Jake Marshall's theme, but the other character themes as well. Marshall's theme is once again hinted at again at 5:06 before the piece finishes. It would not be out of place to hear Marshall's theme in a Clint Eastwood film. The Investigation Suite is a magnificent piece that pays great homage to the original themes and in some ways surpasses them.
"What the hell is that wriggling piece of plywood!?" yelled Edgeworth angrily. The Blue Badger is a love-it-or-hate-it affair among Ace Attorney fans. While some view it as a cute mascot, others simply detest it. The original song from the case "Rise from the Ashes" was simply a 20 second loop with rather primitive synth. For Gyakuten Kenji, this piece was greatly expanded upon allowing it to stand alone as its own character theme rather than just a simple jingle. How does Iwadare translate this newly composed theme to orchestra in the "Blue Badger Marching Tune"? A brief trumpet fanfare paves way into the main melody originally heard in the game. It is played rather proudly from the trumpets followed by a beautiful section in which the strings take over the man theme. At 0:48 the piece changes melody into a patriotic march that reminds me of something heard on the 4th of July. The melody is explored with different instruments and tempos as the track progresses, until it is recapitulated in its original form at the end of the piece. In order to close off this piece strongly, the strings play a rise of notes in quick succession with the brass and percussion finishing it. While Noriyuki Iwadare tries his best to arrange the Blue Badger theme, he still can't disguise the fact that's a very short and repetitive theme to begin with. Even still, he crafts an arrangement that proves to be a worthwhile listen. With each instrument section contributing something to this piece, you can't really go wrong.
The album closes off with a rather strange choice. Instead of utilizing an orchestra, Iwadare gives us an arrangement of Miles Edgeworth's theme on the Kanadeon. For those of you that don't know, the Kanadeon is a MIDI-based keyboard that produces a sound very similar to a music box. Those that have listened to the Gyakuten Saiban Orchestra Concert CD will recognize it as the instrument used in "Loving Guitar's Serenade." The arrangement here is exactly the same as the one from the concert album. That being said, the Kanadeon version provides an almost completely different listening experience. A great word to describe it would be "dream-like." This contrasts completely with the proud royal march as shown in the orchestral album. The piece exhibits an overall mysterious feeling while still retaining the aspects that made the original song so great. A strange, but nevertheless effective way to finish this soundtrack.
I am amazed by this album. Going in, I wasn't expecting much seeing as it was only given away as a free bonus. Noriyuki Iwadare is clearly the master at arranging music. Once again he has delivered masterful arrangements of classic songs from the series. The strong performance by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra sweetens the deal even further. My only complaint is that Iwadare did not utilize his efforts on creating a full album of orchestrated music, instead of just a promotional album, in contrast to its successor. Either way, if you've previously enjoyed music from the Gyakuten Saiban series or just like orchestral video game music in general, then give this album a listen immediately.
Overall Score: 9/10