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Ace Combat 2 Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Ace Combat 2 Original Soundtrack Album Title: Ace Combat 2 Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Enterbrain
Catalog No.: AC2-001/2
Release Date: August 26, 2010
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Released in 1997 for the PlayStation, Ace Combat 2 was a crucial game in the flight simulator series' history — the first game specifically developed for consoles rather than arcades. The four composers of the score created a largely impressive soundtrack featuring atmospheric soundscapes, ambitious fusions, and breathtaking guitar solos. Whereas some tracks referenced the funk-based approach of the Air Combat and Air Combat 22 scores, others took a more mature direction reminiscent of the series' music today. The game's soundtrack was finally released in 2010 as a bonus with the Deluxe Pack of Ace Combat: Joint Assault. Also featured in this two disc release is a seven track preview of the PSP title's soundtrack.


Compared to other soundtracks in the series, the soundtrack for Ace Combat 2 is particularly rock-focused. Kohta Takahashi decided upon this direction in order to capture the spirit of flying and develop a cool aura for the game. "Fire Away" is especially representative of the sound he built. In some ways, it is reminiscent of the Ace Combat scores of old with its cheesy funk riffs on backing guitar, but the lead elements take a more cutting-edge approach for the time. Takahashi was able to stream a series of electric guitar solos throughout the theme inspired by artists such as Van Halen; while they're ridiculously over-the-top, they're also very fun and attract players to the game. Between these extravagant moments, the artist also integrates some synthesizer solos that reflects a more progressive influence.

In addition to these more 80s-styled tracks, Takahashi offers some more mature themes that seemed to have inspired subsequent soundtracks in the series. In particular, "El Dorado" takes a subtle slow-building fusion approach and was probably a direct inspiration for the early mission themes from Ace Combat 04. The artist blends orchestral, rock, and electronic elements in a particularly impressive way here to reflect the vastness of the blue skies and the subtle intensification of the mission. Compared with Keiki Kobayashi's epics, the orchestration is relatively low-key and the synthesis is slightly flat, but the track is still extremely accomplished for its time both technologically and compositionally. Other influential tracks include "Invoke", "Hanger", and "Briefing", which set the stage for the series' later preparation themes with their slapped bass rhythms and electro-acoustic overlays.

The contribution by Takahashi's co-composers tend to be a mixed bag. Tracks such as Hiroshi Okubo's "Bear Tracks" and Nobuhide Isayama's "Night and Day" once again juxtapose mechanical rhythm guitar riffs with motile lead guitar and synth leads. Both tracks are, at times, superficially enjoyable for their catchy retro rock influence, and at others, deeply moving due to their development sections. However, they are let down somewhat by their repetitious riffs and conflicted influences. Similarly, the dated funk riffs detract from the beautiful electronic ambient moments of "Aerial Hawk"; while the intended effect here was admirable, it wasn't until Ace Combat 04 that Tetsukazu Nakanishi implemented it fully. "Aim High" and "Lightning Speed" are also rather generic rock anthems when stripped down, but are thankfully rescued by Takahashi's dominating guitar performance.

Although the soundtrack doesn't always sound as modern as intended, it is almost always highly emotional throughout thanks to its rich compositions and cutting-edge synthesis. This is particularly pronounced when breathtaking settings are being depicted, as is the case on the aforementioned "El Dorado" or the beautiful synth-based "Dynapolis". There are also moments that are particularly intense, both in and out of context, particularly the ever-shifting rock-based theme "Warning Line" or brooding drum 'n bass track "Dead End". In terms of creating ambience, particular mention is also deserved for "Melt Down" and "Elemental Particle", both minimalistic rhythmically focused compositions that set precedent for the abstract score to Ace Combat 3 Electrosphere. After such awesomeness, the soundtrack ends in a sickeningly sweet way with two jazz fusion ending themes.

Moving on, the second disc of the soundtrack features a range of bonus content. It opens with the three arranged tracks featured in Ace Combat 2 Original Sound Invitation, the promotional disc that was originally available with certain copies of the game in Japan. Two of these tracks represent the cheesy rock portion of the score, namely "Invitation to Ace Combat 2" (based on "Bear Tracks") and "Night Butterfly" (based on "Night and Day"). The arrangements don't significantly differ from their originals, but they are significantly longer and feature even more elaborate improvisation from the semi-acoustic guitar lead. While both arrangements have their moments, they sound too unintentionally dated and labour the bass riffs even more than before. More impressive is Tetsukazu Nakanishi's "A.C. Revolution", an electronica experiment featuring glorious development sections from the 2:30 mark.

Aside from a brief unused track from Ace Combat 2, the rest of the second disc is a sampler of the otherwise unreleased score from Ace Combat: Joint Assault. With the opener "Metropolitan", Go Shiina instantly reflects the modern day earth setting with a Hollywood-style orchestral march featuring top-notch production values. Following a gothic organ-based transition, the warm second half of the overture features many of Shiina's trademarks — including soft strings and woodwind flourishes reminiscent of his headlining themes of Tales of Legendia — and ultimately takes listeners towards a breathtaking conclusion. Despite its derivative influences, the various components are mixed perfectly and come together to produce one of the defining tracks in Shiina's career.

Some tracks sampled from Ace Combat: Joint Assault are more typical of what most have come to expect from the series. "Linkage (Sky Mix)", for instance, is characteristic of the series' preparation themes with its electronic beats and slow-building soundscapes, yet has a distinct European trance influence too. "Tokyo" and "Conflict", on the other hand, is comparable to the series' more intense mission themes with their heavy percussion samples and repetitive elements. Whereas "Tokyo" still features many of Shiina's fingerprints with its gorgeous melodic progressions, "Conflict" is almost certainly the work of Inon Zur, who was hired to the score due to his involvement with Eminence's The Core; a brutal theme dominated by brass discords and string portamenti, it certainly contrasts markedly with Shiina's attractive sounds and brings genuinely horror to the mission it is used in.

Another beautiful romantic orchestration is featured on "Riding on Hope", orchestrated by Natsumi Kameoka and performed by Japan's finest. It certainly contrasts greatly with what most have come to expect from Ace Combat's scores and doesn't fit the series quite as well as Kobayashi's approach. However, Shiina still offers some modifications to reflect the gameplay and produces refreshingly beautiful music nevertheless. Towards the end of the sampler, a further highlight is provided by "Call"; in this track, the orchestration is complemented by a soprano voice that offers a beautiful radiance and personal quality to draw listeners into the game. The sampler concludes with a lavish and pretty string quartet performance, "Footsteps in the Night Sky". Once again characteristic of Shiina's sound, it leaves listeners longing for even more pieces from this evidently accomplished score.


Overall, this is an excellent bonus with the Famitsu DX Pack of Ace Combat: Joint Strike in Japan. The main draw to series' veterans will be the first disc, which offers the full original score for Ace Combat 2 on CD for the first time; while the soundtrack is a conflicted one with its mix of retro and modern stylings, it manages to be emotional, memorable, and technologically accomplished throughout. The sampler for Ace Combat: Joint Assault also features several beautiful pieces of music characteristic of Go Shiina's work. It remains to be seen whether a full soundtrack will be released for this poor-selling title and the results may be fascinating, given it is an East-West collaboration and a brand new sound for the series. Either way, this bonus soundtrack should offer plenty for series' fans and features many highlights during its two hour playtime.

Overall Score: 8/10