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Shining the Holy Ark Original Soundtrack :: Review by Zeugma

Shining the Holy Ark Original Soundtrack Album Title: Shining the Holy Ark Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Oo Records
Catalog No.: OOCO-26
Release Date: December 12, 1996
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Shining the Holy Ark is the sixth game from the "Shining" RPG series, released on the Sega Saturn. The game itself has no official soundtrack. The only release that has been made — though being labeled as Original Soundtrack — is this arranged album, composed by Motoi Sakuraba. While being quite rare, the soundtrack to Shining the Holy Ark is considered by many Sakuraba enthusiasts as one of his best works. I actually did not know about this album at all until I realized by chance that Sakuraba was the composer. Having myself learnt to appreciate his music through his most famous compositions, I decided to give it a try. Here are the results:

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Prelude ~ Lure from the Eclipse

The epic tone is set at the very beginning of the album. As a background synthetic choir and drum rolls set up a solemn atmosphere, the main theme to Shining the Holy Ark is immediately introduced by a succession of instruments — a brass section, a wind section, and finally a fiddle — as if the orchestra was bidding us a warm welcome. The glorious atmosphere fades quickly out as two other instruments are introduced to start a new theme. As drums in the first part, the organ and bass that now take part in the show do not belong to the classical genre, but rather to Sakuraba's own roots, that is to say progressive rock. The fiddle is the first one to come back in that new melodic improvisation which slowly builds up until the final touch brings the track to its climax: an amazing electronic guitar riff, quickly followed by the choir and brass section returning to perform the last reprise of the second theme, and eventually ending the track with majesty. (9/10)

2) The Uninvited

This second track is action-based, and as you may know Sakuraba, this is where he really likes to have fun with rock-oriented material. As you may also know, it sometimes turns out to be rather chaotic. Hopefully, that is not the case here. We are provided with an upbeat but solid track that opposes at first the fiendish sound of the organ to courage — inspiring electronic guitar and violin breakthroughs. After a brief moment of respite — harpsichord and bass setting up a dream vision — the duel starts again, this time with a more dramatic and wilder touch in the interpretation. This loss of faith is clearly emphasized by the next part: another emotional and slow-paced passage led by a softer playing of the organ. As the organ yells out again to issue its final threat, confidence is regained, and thus the last part of the track is played, echoing the first one, and finishing on a musical breakdown. This constitutes an excellent battle theme arranged with fantasy and passion. (8/10)

3) Ceremony of Darkness ~ Part I

"Ceremony of Darkness ~ Part I" is all organized around its leading piano melody coated by bass, drums and synth pads. I would probably have enjoyed it better if it was a solo, though. In the beginning, the track builds up in intensity and gravity, just like the wind strengthens a few moments before a storm. The piano then changes its main melody for a more passionate passage, forming a pleasant bridge in the middle of the track. The main motif comes back quickly and repeats a few times to suddenly make place for menacing organ chords aimed at being eerie, but sounding strangely close to what you would hear in an 80's horror movie made by John Carpenter. The conclusion of this "first part" is rather abrupt: the storm has not been unleashed yet... Despite small surprises during the development of the track, its originality, as well as the enjoyment I felt, are below the average of this album. (7/10)

4) Search Far and Deep

Here is another reason why I'm fond of Sakuraba's work: the way he mixes purely synthetic sounds with classical instruments. This is how "Search Far and Deep" starts. A very low synth pad and a glockenspiel playing a melody very close to the famous "Tubular Bells" tune immediately set up an atmosphere of uneasiness. A few seconds after, a graceful piano comes in, accompanied by a very distant choir. Both constitute the emotional counterpoint to the synth and the glockenspiel, and will accompany them through the whole track. Add a small string section to give it rythm, and the stage is set. The lead instruments can now enter the scene. First off, a violin, smoothly playing a nostalgic melody. Secondly, a fuzzy and dark synth pad, sounding like despair. Both of them eventually play together to create a pulsating fabric of sound. Near the end, the piano, choir and glockenspiel are left alone, and keep the mystery of the track intact while ending it softly. A truly magnificient and subtle track. (10/10)

5) To the End of the Horizon of Wind and Dust

The track starts with an organ solo, playing the first reprise of the main theme since the Prelude. The final note is held as the volume is raising again and again... NOW! All of a sudden, another organ, drums, and an electronic guitar start jamming on the same theme with energy and a slight touch of madness. After a few variations, the pace slows down and stabilizes temporarily, although the organ sounds like it would burst out again at any moment. As scientists do with particle colliders, the atmosphere of tension set up at the beginning is used to create something different, small and incredibly powerful: 45 seconds of epic matter, caught between a progressive rock improvization and a military march. After all this energy has been consumed, the tension suddenly drops and allows the main theme to be unveiled again, this time played by the orchestra and the bass. At my greatest surprise — as for live concerts overtimes — the organs eventually return to energize the whole set, and the march is played again, this time with the backing of the choir! The finale features the organs, bass and guitar ending the track together, jamming again on the main theme as they did in the beginning. This is the perfect example of the combination between progressive rock and epic music that has built a fair part of Sakuraba's fame. Even if the first part may sound quite violent at first hearing, this track is highly recommended. (9/10)

6) Dance of Life and Death

"Dance of Life and Death" is probably the less spectacular track of the album. Following a regular percussion pattern, every lead instrument seems to have room to perform its own improvization. The overall effect is enjoyable, but does not have much depth. (6/10)

7) Elegy of the Bewildered

The longest, yet the best track of all the album. This piece of music is one of the rare opportunities to hear Motoi Sakuraba soloing on a piano. I'm used to thinking that listening to a composer alone with the noblest of all instruments is one of the best ways to evaluate his/her skills. As Jeremy Soule amazed me on his "Variations of Castle Theme," Motoi Sakuraba left me voiceless after my first hearing of "Elegy of the Bewildered." He succeeds in demonstrating his ease at playing light, harmonious parts as well as darker and more complex sequences. The rendering is very expressive, and full of these small details that make every new listening a bit more interesting. (10+/10)

8) Ceremony of Darkness ~ Part II

This track is a reprise of the theme developed in the first part (track 3). This time starring drums, organs and dark synth pads, it quickly aims at building an atmosphere of terror through the incessant repeating of a background organ pattern, and through the layering of agressive synths. The overall flow of the track is like a big, monstruous breathing that swells and deflates together with percussion and synth pad waves. At the moment when the latter are finally muted, a small distorted and desperate organ solo suddenly appears. In the middle of such a context, the way its notes sound coherent at first to quickly reach a gurgling and high-pitched nonsense invokes torture and physical pain better than any picture would ever do. As the track reaches its conclusion, the lead synth becomes more and more acid, drums suddenly fly off the handle, and all the sounds seem to melt together to form one single and absurd entity. The fade-out effect in the end spares us the next step to this horrid transformation. Perhaps a way to simulate fainting... Although this track may sound unlistenable for most people, its content does have a meaning. I wouldn't ever listen to it as background music, not only because of the sound itself, but also because of what I have recognized in it. (8/10)

9) Rhapsody of Repose

After the ordeal of the previous track, the church organ introduction of Rhapsody of Repose seems to come right from heaven. A flute and an electronic guitar are then introduced, backed by a synth choir and an harpsichord. Together, they play a moving and quiet ode to hope. Simple yet efficient, and on top of that, at the perfect location on the tracklist. (8/10)

10) Endless Winter

The final track is a reprise of the second theme introduced during the Prelude. The name sums up quite well the content of the track: the same motif, repeated over and over, accompanied by some complex drum work. The backing synthetic pads and FX, as well as the overall reverb, invoke a strong and neverending wind. An additional background synth progressively reveals itself, setting up a mood of resignation. As a haiku would conclude a short story, this track seems to have a moral: "Do not fight against the wind. Let destiny decide for you." A short, yet touching finale for this album. (7/10)


I think the review made it clear that Shining the Holy Ark isn't everybody's game music. Its darkest parts and its prominent progessive rock influences are what will make you love or hate it. I believe that this album sums up pretty well the essence of Sakuraba's creative energy. From the upbeat musical showdown of "The Uninvited" to the acoustic wonders of "Elegy of the Bewildered," every fan of epic music should find his share here. If you even happen to be a fan of Motoi Sakuraba, then you cannot die without having heard this album. This is the good news. The bad news is that the CD has been out of print for long, so you'll probably have to watch for auctions if you want to feel the pride of placing it on your VGM shelf. Last but not least the mark. Mathematically and track-to-track, what we got here is a decent 86%. But since this album needs to be listened as a whole, coherent work, I'm going to add a bonus, considering that it is solid and well-balanced overall.

Overall Score: 9/10