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Original Sound of Gradius :: Review by Chris

Original Sound of Gradius Album Title: Original Sound of Gradius
Record Label: Apollon
Catalog No.: BY12-5021 (Cassette)
Release Date: May 5, 1987
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Miki Higashino's score for the Arcade's Gradius, released in 1985, is featured on this 30 minute cassette. Despite the popularity of Gradius in Japan, the item seems to be immensely rare and is sold for high on sites such as Yahoo! Japan Auctions. I can't claim to own it myself despite purchasing and loving the Gradius Arcade Soundtrack. However, I'm glad to have listened to it thanks to a rip from Carl of SlightlyDark. The album is of historical interest given it featured the music of a popular and influential title and was also one of the first ever original scores released for a game. However, is it really worth spending tonnes of money on, particularly when the aforementioned Gradius Arcade Soundtrack is floating around?


The album begins with the four second "Coin" insert fanfare. "Beginning of the History" subsequently uses the soundtrack's trademark upbeat arpeggiations to motivate the gamer before the stages begin. The second track compiles all the stage music into a 10 minute medley. With the first stage theme "Challenger 1985", jovial melodies soar above largely arpeggio-based accompaniment and endear despite the modest sound chip. "Beat Back" and "Blank Mask" for the second and third stage themes feature attractive motifs, but are rhythmically unsettling to add variety and tension to the game and score; unfortunately, the latter's erratic development adds to the lack of polish created by the lack of a consistent time signature, creating the weakest point in the score. Fortunately, the fourth stage theme once again fulfils Higashino's intention to "send pleasant pulses to gamer's shooter brains" through emphasis on catchy melodies.

The fifth stage's "Mazed Music" is stable rhythmically, but still quite tense due to the way the lead chip persistently leaps between two notes and always resolves with uncertainty. The same intervallic leaps are used in the subsequent "Mechanical Globule", but there is far more elaboration and development, making it another outwardly enjoyable theme. The "Final Attack" music for the final stage hybridises features from the other stages, having a pleasant melody in addition to stimulating ascending runs and tense passages. After the stage music is complete, "Boss" is offered. Much like the Salamander boss music, it's been immortalised with numerous arrangements in subsequent scores but isn't impressive in its exposition. That's largely because it repeats the same nine second chord progression again and again. Subsequently, the "Game Over" theme dazzles with eight seconds of music and segues into the catchy if underdeveloped "Ranking BGM" track.

Side B features the "Gradius Original Sound Story". This is an audio recording of a complete game session over 14 minutes. As expected, there is an abundance of sound effects, especially electronic shooting noises. It is also more abrupt than the stage music medley, frequently transitioning from stage theme to boss theme. Many will find it is a quirky and welcome addition to the set, but it's definitely not for all. A one minute sound effects collection follows and provides a testament to the fact the game was quite technologically accomplished for 1985. Unlike the Gradius Arcade Soundtrack, the sedate "Morning Music" for the bubble starting screen does not appear on the set.


The album demonstrates the capacity of Gradius' score to be enjoyed in and out of context of the game by offering a fluidly assembled original score and an inevitably abrupt original sound story. It also provides a testament to Miki Higashino's accomplishments on Gradius. She did an excellent job crafting memorable melodies, creating a sense of action, and designing sound effects despite being restricted technically. Despite its historical significance, the Original Sound of Gradius nevertheless does not provide the definitive version of Gradius' music. The Gradius Arcade Soundtrack is much more recommended unless you're a really hardcore collector.

Overall Score: 6/10