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

Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan Original Soundtrack Album Title: Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Wave Master
Catalog No.: HCV-0381
Release Date: March 5, 2008
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan! surprisingly took the Yakuza series back to the 17th century for a historical drama. The change in direction is reflected in its music, which demonstrates clear influence from traditional Japanese music. Nevertheless, score leader Hidenori Shoji and his Noisycroak assistants still maintained the contemporary rock and techno style of the series at many points. Can the score possibly fit the game and come together as a whole?


The album opens in a subtle and contemporary fashion with "Cry of the Elder Dragon". An adaptation of Yakuza's trademark title themes, Shoji scores this one mainly in a new age style and rejects the electric guitar altogether for once. However, pretty much nothing is ruled out in this score. While the thrashing guitar influence isn't predominant here, it still recurs in pieces such as "Water & Melon", "Dive to the Mess", and "Sneakin' Drive" with a few historical twists along the way. The awesome "Blood Maker" and "Brand-New Japanesque" even adds some funky solos and hip-hop voice samples along the way. I'm not sure whether tracks like these are appropriate, but they do ensure a compelling overall soundtrack release and ensure that the core audience of the series are not alienated. It seems this was ultimately more important to the music team. The only significant absence are any vocal themes, which carried the soundtrack releases for previous Yakuza series.

In the end, strict historical accuracy was not the number one priority. The final line is that it's entertainment. We gave ourselves license to make contemporary rock styles the basis of the soundtrack. - Hidenori Shoji

Nevertheless, many compositions focus on the historic setting of the game. Though Hideki Sakamoto's "Mourning" is similar in mood to other Yakuza tension themes, it is primarily built around traditional percussive elements and the occasional exotic wailing woodwind. The result sets the scene perfectly in context. However, perhaps the most iconic theme in this regard is Takumi's theme. It is a very atmospheric depiction of the character, curiously blending traditional Japanese parts with urban jazz influences, and has since recurred on the Ryu ga Gotoku 3 soundtrack. Elsewhere in the soundtrack, Hiroyoshi Kato's "Mark That Drifts" is more reminiscent of Norihiko Hibino's work on the series, juxtaposing shakuhachi infusions against percussive furore. Meanwhile "Ancient Japanese Dance Music" is an exceptionally enjoyable fusion of shakuhachi and trance beats. A few other compositions are essentially entirely composed of percussion, such as "Non-Blade Sword" and "The Leading Man".

Of all the Yakuza soundtracks, Kenzan's has the greatest orchestral influence. For example, "Shy" and "Danger" are twists on the action format of most Hollywood scores — propelling tense brass sections and string crisis motifs against percussion rhythms. The only major difference is the percussion sections tend to be composed of traditional Japanese instruments such as the taiko drums. Other orchestrated highlights include Keisuke Ito's impressionistic beauty "Dream Shop" and Hidenori Shoji's passionate flamenco "Baile con la Mariposa". Towards the end of the soundtrack, a more epic tone is also reflected with the orchestral anthems "For Will" and "Melody of the Patriot". These are incredible in context and round off the dramatic arch of the soundtrack. Surprisingly, the last five tracks are surprisingly trance mixes by Hiroyoshi Kato, though. I'm not sure why they were placed here, but they're still quite emotional. The reprise of "Receive You" is especially unexpected.


Those looking for an authentic recreation of the sounds of 17th Century Japan won't find it here. The music team do a good job incorporating traditional instruments into the series' flavour, but the characteristic style and attitude of earlier games is still here. What the score offers is entertainment value with its great stylistic diversity and bold character. It has a few less must-listens — in part due to the absence of vocal themes — yet is a more consistent experience overall. All in all, a successful score presented in a cohesive album release.

Overall Score: 8/10