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Put a guitar in one hand, and a katana in the other, and what do you get? A fighter who battles in style. Ninjas do that all the time, or so I'm told. Anyway, this review is for the Bushido Blade 2 OST... yes, we know it's not an RPG. But come on folks, it's just as good as most of the RPG stuff out there.
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Ryuji Sasai didn't need to go and do the soundtrack for Bushido Blade 2. I love the guy's music just for what he's done for Final Fantasy Mystic Quest and Final Fantasy Legend 3. But now that he's done it, I love him even more. I remember playing rounds of this game with my friends back in high school, but for some reason the music never stuck on me. I guess I spent too much time marvelling at the quick deaths that seemed to happen about 3 seconds into battle. But I remember getting pumped up in that game to a degree I normally don't reach when playing fighters... and I'm sure the music had something to do with it.
Sasai adopts a very simple (but unique) style for this album, and sticks to it very well. Basically, it's hard rock with traditional Japanese instruments and harmonies. For the game, it fits perfectly because... well, it's obviously Japanese style fighting, and it's set in Japan, and it needs the hard rock because you can't very well do battle to a shamisen (ancient Japanese lute) solo. :P
The fusion works beautifully. Rather than attempt to create some brand new style, Sasai just incorporates the traditional instruments into tracks that are mostly hard rock. I think this was a wise move, because you really can't get that much power out of ancient Japanese songs -- they just weren't meant for these kinds of things. The end result is very different than, say, the Live A Live music from the Shinobi chapter. But I enjoy it just as much, and at any rate it is hard to compare the different styles of these two games.
A couple of tracks that stick out in my mind are the first and third tracks, as they represent polar opposites in the soundtrack. Track 1, "Moment of Force", represents the hard rock side, featuring a heavily-distorted guitar and some relentless bass driving the harmony home. Track 3, "Option Screen", samples all the traditional elements of the soundtrack, in a much more relaxed style (though still more active than what you'd find in the true traditional music of Japan). All it really takes for that piece to sound cool is a pentatonic scale and good instrumentation from the shamisen, flute, and percussion. Although these songs are not typical on the soundtrack, they do serve to remind the listener that the two styles of music that Sasai combines do indeed sound good even when separated. That, I think, is the great strength of the Bushido Blade 2 OST -- the combined styles sound very good together, but they can be examined separately without breaking the quality. A few more examples of mostly-rock tracks are "The Spirit of Samurai", which features some wicked solo riffs, and the final track, "Let the Time Clear (Reprise)". In the traditional camp, a couple more goodies are "The End of Eternity" and "Sword Playing Skills".
But for all the goodness of these separate styles, let's face it: we're here because we want to hear some metalhead wailing on his guitar while his lute-playing buddy headbangs along. My personal favorite of the fusion tracks is "Weapons Rumbling". If you scoffed at the idea of hearing Japanese instruments playing in a rock song, you'll discover that those shimasen can be played pretty intensely, firing off notes faster than most guitarists. With the bass and guitar in the background, the harmony is filled to the richness that rock demands, intertwining in cool ways with the Japanese instruments. Another favorite of mine is "Heartbeat to Supremacy", where the guitars and lutes share the melody more equally than in "Weapons Rumbling". The music in this one is also more repetitive, but it makes up for it with some cool samples of voices and weapons clashing. As the piece continues, it starts heating up in stages... one minute you'll get used to the tempo, and in a split second the music will double in speed all of a sudden. Now that's fierce. And yes, those shimasen are as crazy as ever. The notes are hard enough to follow... I can't even imagine a human being playing that fast. The last minute of the song slows down, however, to let you catch your musical breath. :P
Ryuji Sasai has struck gold once again with Bushido Blade 2. While there are a few minor tracks of less than a minute in length, there are absolutely none that are filler material. Everything is at least "pretty good", and most of the tracks are truly excellent. Of course, if you don't like hard rock, this soundtrack isn't for you... I guess BB2 just isn't one of those STs that's going to please everyone. But if you are a rock/metal fan, you must snatch this one.