Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-arse sounds they make. Today we’re checking out Soul Edge, which kicked off the Soulcalibur series and, with a total of three built-in soundtracks, may be the most deluxe arcade-to-home port Namco ever produced.
One of the joys of the PlayStation era came in Namco’s reliably incredible arcade-to-home ports, which, over a span of about five years, set new standards for both accuracy and value-adding extras. Truth be told, the arcade games essentially ran on PlayStation hardware themselves, so the verisimilitude of their home ports made sense. But with the extras, Namco really blazed trails.
While not the best 3D fighter, 1995’s experimental, weapons-based Soul Edge (Soul Blade in the West / longplay) justified its existence with beguiling 3D visuals (polygonal stages! weapon light trails!), novel combat systems, and an unabashedly dramatic aesthetic. 1996’s PlayStation conversion only made it better, boasting the best CG-animated intro yet seen, the first adventure-style “mission mode” in a fighting game, and not one, not two, but three damn soundtracks… a level of excess Namco would never quite reach again.
Soul Edge’s original arcade OST (playlist / VGMdb) was mostly the work of Namco’s Takayuki Aihara, who between Soul Edge, the Street Fighter EX series, and ongoing remix work would become one of my favourite game composers of the late ‘90s and aughts.
Namco / LarsAlexandersonSH (YouTube)
Aihara’s soundtrack is an embarrassment of riches, with wonderful, evocative themes for each fighter that paint an alluring scene of 16th-century, swashbuckling adventure. If there’s one track that captures the epic sweep of the Soul series it’s Mitsurugi’s heroic “The Wind and Clouds.” Similar high points are Taki’s eclectic “Future Dancin’,” the choral fusillades of Siegfried’s “Soul and Sword,” “Dragon’s Call” from Li Long’s mind-blowing raft stage, Seung Mina’s energetic, playful “Khaduri,” and Rock’s romantically adventurous “Recollect Continent.”
That’s just the beginning, though. Then there’s the PlayStation port’s arranged soundtrack (playlist), which never saw an album release:
Namco / ShadowGeistZero (YouTube)
Same tunes as the OST, but now with higher-quality synths and sometimes slightly augmented arrangements. I used to always default to this AST, but listening to “The Wind and Clouds” now, I feel it loses some of the power and urgency of the arcade track. I feel like that might be true across the board, but the orchestrations fare better in less bombastic pieces like “Khaduri.” “Future Dancin’” enjoys cooler percussion and flute, Voldo’s “The Gears of Madness” is a toss-up, Sophitia’s “Heavenly Engage” benefits, as does Siegfried’s “Soul and Sword” and Cervantes’ “Bravely Folk Song.” The new “Recollect Continent” has its charms, too. Overall, it’s very cool to have the choice between both versions.
But then there’s the tremendous third soundtrack, titled Khan Super Session (playlist / VGMdb / review). No hyperbole, I think Khan is one of the best game soundtracks ever, or at least, exactly to my taste. Khan the band was a four-person ensemble that seemed to come together solely for this album, who look like they’d be a lot of fun at a party. If we were limited to assigning Khan a single genre, “world fusion” might suffice. But it’s really a stylistic potpourri bursting with ideas that span rock, jazz fusion, traditional Asian, techno, and more. Take a listen:
Namco / LarsAlexandersonSH (YouTube)
While still tied to characters, the compositions bear little resemblance to Aihara’s. They’re kind of like lyricless image songs, conveying some notion of a given fighter’s character. What’s consistent are Khan’s great musicianship and that most of their tracks have fantastic progressions, taking the listener on invigorating and unexpected journeys over the course of four or so minutes.
High points? After a bit of intro repetition, the hard-rocking boss theme “Doubtful Judgment” delivers a soulful (pun not intended) preview of what’s to come. “The Edge of Soul” is the extended version of the cheesy but lovably hype song from the game’s incredible intro sequence. Mitsurugi’s “Hagakure” is superb, particularly when the shakuhachi flute gorgeously returns at 2:55. Taki’s “A Haunting Wind” is a full-on jam, Li Long’s “Moonlight Shadows” explores a beautiful Chinese-sounding melody, and Sophitia’s “A Mediterranean Call” enjoys lovely female vocals. The album wraps with ending vocal “Our Way Home,” a final pleasing slice of emotional ‘90s cheddar.
One of my friends in high school, a real sweet guy, fronted a punk band, and I played him some Khan Super Session once. He hated it, an early lesson that tastes can both vary and be inexplicable. But for me, Soul Edge’s combined, ludicrously tripled soundtrack is the best Soulcalibur would ever sound — it was also Aihara’s last involvement with the series — and Khan Super Session in particular is a delight.
That’s it for today’s Morning Music! Good shit, yes? I think so! Ahh, unironically admitting you like a thing can feel so vulnerable. Anyway, I hope you like it too! Let’s chat about Soul-series music, that goddamn amazing intro, and our day ahead. See you next time!