Thursday, September 04, 2014

Soundtrack September: Samurai Shodown III

Game: Samurai Shodown III: Blades of Blood / Samurai Spirits Zankurou Musouken (1995)
Platform: PlayStation
Composers: Yamate Yasuo et al

The Samurai Shodown series (intentionally misspelled so that it would have the same number of characters as the original title, Samurai Spirits) was after my heart from the beginning. Take a bunch of romanticized figures from Japan's feudal history, give them all an anime-fuelled attitude boost and pit them against each other in a stylized fight to the death. What's not for a high school geek to like?

Some of the first Japanese phrases I'd ever learn, most of which are not the least bit useful, came to me through the Samurai Shodown games. When Japanese interns at my university would ask me what I could say in Japanese, my responses were archaic.

While the original arcade/NeoGeo version of this game used sequenced digital samples to produce the music, the PlayStation port was given a unique treatment. Cues from the so-called Samurai Shodown III Arranged Soundtrack album, which used ensembles of live musicians performing the game's songs, were adapted and used as the soundtrack. As a result, the PlayStation version (which was otherwise exasperating thanks to interminable loading screens) boasted a soundscape with levels of production and musicianship that weren't typical of games of its time.

Hearing the traditional sound that was typical of the series played on real shakuhachi, koto, shamisen and taiko was too much for the young Japanophile that I was. I learned a lot about traditional Japanese music from Kyoshiro, Haohmaru and Ukyo's themes, while the wholehearted rock-out execution of Galford and Kuroko's themes gave me something to nod my head to.

My favorite tracks are probably Basara's theme ("Lament of Sanzu River," which employs a perverse solo fiddle melody over a frenetic funk rhythm bed to represent the madness of a character who has come back from the grave to avenge the deaths of his lover and himself) and Genjuro's theme ("Demon Song," which uses East-meets-West instrumentation to capture the atmosphere of his stage: a windswept crossroads darkened by the clouds of a rapidly gathering storm).

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