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Ryu ga Gotoku 1 & 2 Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Ryu ga Gotoku 1 & 2 Original Soundtrack Album Title: Ryu ga Gotoku 1 & 2 Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Wave Master
Catalog No.: HCV-0287
Release Date: January 25, 2007
Purchase: Buy at VGM World


The Yakuza series (known in Japan as the Ryu ga Gotoku series) tells the story of Kazuma Kiryu and his return the Japanese crimeland. The series is often described as the successor of Shenmue, but considerably differs in terms of its music. Rather than take an orchestral approach, series' music lead Hidenori Shoji (Spikeout, F-Zero GX) adopted a guitar-based rock style to reflect the scenery and action in the underground. In response to the eventual overwhelming popularity of the series, Sega released a joint score for the first and second games. Some will struggle with the loud and oppressive music abundant here, but those who like their rock hard and gritty shouldn't hesitate to experience the Yakuza scores...


On the first disc of the score, Hidenori Shoji develops a raw rock-based sound for the series with the original Yakuza. In particular, the vocal theme "Receive You" captures the desperation and brutality of Kazuma's life in Japan's criminal underground. After an ominous tribal introduction, Shoji's explosive rhythm guitar work emerges at the 30 second mark and brings raw energy to the theme. Although his English is slightly broken, MAKOTCH does an incredible job reflecting a more personal anguish, particularly in conjunction with the electronic manipulation. Other additions such as the techno overtones, backing singers, and traditional instrumentation reinforce a sense of the dynamic cities of Japan. However, the song is undeniably bright in places too, especially in the catchy chorus section with lyrics such as "I receive you. You've always believed in me. Cause, I receive you. You've always brightened my life". All in all, it's a very fitting and enjoyable opener.

Shoji develops his interpretation of a foul yet living world with his subsequent instrumental contributions to the soundtrack. "Scarlet Scar" blends three of the most oppressive music genres — grunge rock, hardcore techno, and hip-hop — into one impacting composition in and out of context. While comparatively minimalistic, "Roar of the Dragon" is an especially good example of that living quality; the electric guitar seems desperate to escape the foulness below and produces some enormous noises to reflect this. Elsewhere "Unrest" offers four minutes of electronic breakbeats, grisly bass riffs, and unresolved piano chords, so more than suffices in creating tension in context, while "Intelligence for Violence" is a fine accompaniment to some action scenes with its formidable saxophone use. Guitar lovers will also find some awesome riffs in "Id", "Turning Point", and "Poison Pill", all rhythmically focused compositions that stay true to Shoji's original image for the score.

To put it simply, we wanted to establish the sense of a living, breathing world. This is a place where an assortment of people who are engaged in a fierce struggle to survive make their home. We wanted this reality to be as gripping and raw as the smell of dirt, so we used a variety of crude sounds and unrefined techniques to get this feeling across. In this way we were looking for the score to involve the interplay of entertainment and raw reality. - Hidenori Shoji

There are nevertheless some warmer contributions to the soundtrack. For example, it's wonderful to hear how the piano is this time used as a radiant force on "Blow to the City" and "Hideout" or how the bass is used in a funky manner on "Funk Goes On" and "Singin' Bass". They've still got a hard edge, but are far from oppressive for a change. Keitaro Hanada's "Son of a Gun" and "The End of the Drama" are also refreshing since they're more like conventional instrumental hard rock without such an obvious bass drive. Sachio Ogawa's "For Who's Sake" is also totally different and more of an urban chillout theme. The soundtrack ends with an even more brutal rendition of the theme song "Receive You". As a bonus, there is a so-called extract medley of the original score; it features 11 minutes of beautiful acoustic music, mostly for piano and strings, presumably used in the event themes.

The second disc features the more diverse soundtrack to Yakuza 2. The opening theme "As a Man, As a Brother" is certainly written in the style of "Receive You", but it's even more extreme that before. The male vocals are even more repugnant, the rhythm guitar riffs are just as aggressive, and there are more tribal and hip-hop influences. Yet this is far from a bad thing for those who enjoy listening to heavy music and I guess there is a pleasant interlude for the rest of you. However, some of the tracks have been toned somewhat since Yakuza, such as "Roar of the Twin Dragons". In fact, Shoji's only oppressive instrumental contributions to the score is "Push Me Under Water" and "Bad Fortune Flower". The rest range from infectious saxophone-led funk themes like "Outlaw's Lullaby" to soothing piano-based ballads like "A Scattered Moment". In fear of exhausting his guitar-based style, he instead employed two talented external composers to handle the rest of the score...

Noisycroak's Hideki Sakamoto is the biggest contributor to the Yakuza 2 score. Though he generally stays true to Shoji's hard guitar-focused style for the series, he still manages to bring new life to the series. On tracks such as "Tracker", "Block Head Boy", and "North Menace", he introduces a strong rap elements. The latter is especially well done in this regard whereas the others mainly stick to adequate voice libraries. Others take the series more towards the American tradition of rock, most obviously "West Insanity" with its flashy lead electric guitar leads, and yet others reemphasise the traditional Japanese element of the series such as bizarre fusion "No Laughter". While he offers interesting soundscapes overall, Sakamoto's guitar riffs tend to be a little more predictable and generic than Shoji's. However, there are a few refreshing exceptions such as "Slyboots" with its highly irregular guitar chords. Overall, Sakamoto did a good job capturing the essence of the series' music and experimenting on its principles.

The score for Yakuza 2 involved a totally different process of composing to my classically-oriented works. My attention was on cool-sounding riffs and effects. I was very interested in bringing electronic and acoustic instruments together, seeing as each have their own unique properties. The songs were not created according to any strict methodology, but through intuition and experimentation. - Hideki Sakamoto

Norihiko Hibino and Takahiro Izutani also co-compose a number of entries to the score and bring the highest quality entries overall. "Emergency" is a perfect union of Yakuza and Metal Gear Solid musical traditions, blending thrashing bass lines, irregular rhythms, and beat-focused development sessions with extravagant saxophone solos and epic string parts. Izutani takes up the pace and volume with "Face to Face", an industrial rock that gets all the more compelling with each layer. There are also some fascinating tracks that incorporate the shakuhachi. "Blaze" uses the instrument in a very traditional way against just the complex rhythms of Japanese drums. "Edges" and "Wirepuller", on the other hand, integrate the instrument into more grungy pieces. The verdict? Absolutely superb. The album release is rounded out with vocal covers of "Amazing Grace" and "Silent Night" by the late Eri Kawai. Both are absolutely beautiful interpretations, thanks to arranger and soloist alike, and capture the pre-Christmas settings of the game well too.


Hidenori Shoji has done well to offer such a realistic and immersive accompaniment to the criminal underground with the Yakuza series. He offers many wonderful contributions to the original Yakuza using his guitar-driven instrumental style. However, it was also refreshing to see new musicians such as Hideki Sakamoto and Norihiko Hibino elaborate on this style in the sequel. Perhaps the biggest highlights on the album are the vocal themes, whether the aggressive openers by MAKOTCH or the serene closers by Eri Kawai. Not everyone will find the Yakuza series' music stomachable, but those who can tolerate such raw music are in for a treat. This is a wonderfully presented soundtrack release and does two scores justice.

Overall Score: 9/10