No good battle is complete without music to trounce to. Curb-stomping your opponent and wiping their eyeballs on the pavement isn’t quite as satisfying without a hard-hitting, soul-thumping soundtrack. Part of what makes the SoulCalibur series so enthralling is its soundtracks, always just the right level of epic appropriate for delivering a hot steaming plate of whoop-ass.
In early January Namco Bandai announced that the score for SoulCalibur V would be an East-meets-West epic, with the project headed by Hiroaki Yura, founder and violinist of Eminence Symphony Orchestra. Yura along with a group of composers known as Central Intelligence Arts shaped the soundtrack’s production, resulting in a score crafted by some of the industry’s best composers on both sides of the pond.
The list of contributing artists includes: Junichi Nakatsuru of Project Soul and main composor for the entire Soul series; Hiroki Kikuta, composer and designer of Seiken Densetsu fame; Tomoki Miyoshi, an 18-year old musical prodigy; Andrew Aversa, popular OverClocked Remix artist who publishes under the name “zircon”; Cris Velasco of the God of War series; and Inon Zur, most well-known for his work on the Dragon Age and Fallout series.
The Story Mode for SoulCalibur V focuses on the orphaned adult children of series hero Sophitia. Brazen and bold Patroklos has set to find his estranged younger sister, the disarmingly sweet and anxious Pyrrha. Patroklos must fight his way through both enemies and potential allies, including Siegfried and a handful of new opponents meant to serve as successors to old series veterans. For every step he takes nearer to his sister, she herself takes a step away; Pyrrha is being dragged around by Tira, the mischievous servant of the demon Nightmare. What ensues is a back-and-forth struggle between the two siblings and what they desire most in the world: to not be alone. Enter the spiritual swords Soul Calibur and Soul Edge and you’ve got a heady mix of brawls both physical and emotional.
The game’s Arcade mode lets you select specific tracks of fighters to challenge: one offers randomization, one is for Eastern fighters, and the last for Western fighters. Like these purely Asian or European stylized rush modes, the soundtrack offers distinctly Eastern-influenced tracks as well as Western ones. For example, Leixia and Natsu’s themes, “Where Springs Not Fail” and “Faster Than a Howling Wind,” open with instruments and riffs more commonly found in Asian pieces, and Pyrrha’s “Wings of Sorrow” breaks into a frantic fugue as the song progresses.
Each fighter is treated with this same respect, being given a theme that reflects not only their origins, but their individual fighting style and personality. Siegfriend’s “Til Fate Writes My Epitaph,” composed by God of War veteran Chris Velasco, is a bass-heavy number that swells to a grand cinematic scale, with Eminence Symphony Orchestra providing a heart-pounding string section about a minute into the track. Like Siegfried himself, the music starts out strong and only grows stronger, painting the picture of a seasoned warrior who will always be striving forward. The theme for Elysium, “Sacred Dawn,” features ethereal vocals by Jillian Aversa and a spine-chilling performance by Eminence, creating a track that conveys the epic desperation of her battle against Patroklos and Elysium’s own majestic cruelty.
Sound director Junichi Nakatsuru has outdone himself in seeking to unify SoulCalibur V‘s music with that of its previous titles. Grand, sweeping themes with a hint of militaristic undertones populate the menus and character creation mode. Tomoki Miyoshi composed a majority of the cutscene music, and each piece packs a world of emotion into tracks a minute or less in length. His beautiful “Holy Requisition” captures Patroklos’s heart at the site of his mother’s face into musical notes, birthing into song his hope that he can overcome and conquer as well as his mother had.
Below I have selected my six favorite tracks, the six that could very well be the best example of how playful and powerful the SoulCalibur V soundtrack sounds.
“Sleepless: An Untamed Beast”
We don’t know much about Z.W.E.I. other than he’s the brooding type and he fights with a sword. He can also summon a werewolf to do damage for him. Z.W.E.I. is a hunted man for reasons unknown, and after teaming up with Viola and Siegfriend is trying to find a new wielder for Soul Calibur. Z.W.E.I. is impatient and rough around the edges, and much like his temperament and determination his theme is a relentless torrent of drums and brazen brass. It opens with an energetic burst and mellows ever so slightly into guitar and violin solos that blend perfectly with the pounding drum beat.
“Where Springs Not Fail”
Leixia is the daughter of Xianghua. She has set out to discover why her mother is bothered by the sight of the pendant around her neck — Kilik’s pendant. Leixia is spirited, spunky, and innocently cheerful as she plunges into battle. Her sweet nature is captured in the electric current of her theme’s melody, a Chinese-influenced piece that pairs nicely with Leixia and her sword and her fighting style (based on Xianghua’s). The trilling riff of pipes that break into the piece periodically carry the spirit of optimism and Leixia’s own bright determination.
“Without the Blessing of Fate”
Ivy’s theme, like her personality and fighting style, is a whirlwind. Her melody is delivered in a frenzy of lighter brass and strings as dramatically as the crack and twirl of her whip. This piece is fit to accompany a frantic dance of a duel, clashing symbols and a steady clipping beat providing the foundation for a constant wave of arpeggios. Ivy’s classy nature and noble English upbringing is threaded through riffs rooted in classic Western musical tradition, making this piece feel at home both on the battlefield and as a part of a symphony.
This is a carnival of a piece, and the perfect track to summon Tira and her spinning ringblade to the stage. Tira, the faithful servant of Soul Edge, is a cold-blooded killer with a sweet harlequin exterior. Her taunts are playful and her attacks flirtatious, her accompanying theme reflecting her incongruous and sadistic presence with a melody of tinkling bells and flutes. Rapid drumbeats and cautious string riffs present a sense of unsurety — you cannot trust Tira, her music serving as the first warning. Like the pigtailed murderer herself the piece turns on a dime, moving from sporadic and playful into a sudden burst of angry brass and drums.
Viola is a fortune-teller incapable of empathizing with others and lives her life as a wanderer until she teams up with Z.W.E.I and Siegfried. Her theme is Middle Eastern in nature, conjuring feelings of Viola’s own exotic presence. The steadily climbing string riffs set a tone of urgency, and this coupled with the staccato percussion and mysterious tribal feeling evoked by her melody is a testament to composer Hiroki Kikuta’s creativity and versatility. This piece is sexy and alluring, drawing the listener in circles as they try to catch up with the swirling, relentless string accompaniment.
“Blood Thirst Concerto”
Classic and evocative, the piano opening is a tantalizing view into the rollercoaster that has been the life and trials of Raphael. With a demeanor reeking of maliciousness and a deceptively noble visage, Raphael’s theme is as classically European and tragically romantic as Raphael himself. Untiring strings and ominously encroaching bursts of wind and brass create a track that is both unnerving and spirited, energetic and deeply brooding. This piece could have come straight out of an opera, beckoning players into a fight they simply cannot walk away from.
Like the battles themselves, these tracks are gorgeous, dangerous melodies that pack just as much punch as the fighters. The intimate collaboration between the composers is evident, with each one paving their own atmosphere for a handful of tracks. As a whole the score blends effortlessly together, with each track bearing the weight of its unique flavor of sound while still melding beautifully with the others.