Norikazu Miura made his Konami debut in 1997 with the score for Gradius Gaiden. Given it was created for the PlayStation rather than Arcade in a time when Gradius releases were common, the title was labelled as a 'side story'. Nonetheless, the game was wonderfully received by fans and offered many firsts for the series, including 3D graphics. Miura worked hard to ensure that the score maintained the classic feel of the series while representing the diverse stages, achieving technological advancements, and adding new interactivity to the gameplay. For the most part, he succeeded and created one of the most worthy scores of the series.
Fans of the old Gradius titles will bring a sigh of relief on hearing the first track on the album, actually an arrangement of the final stage theme of the game. It blends together Gradius' opening and first stage themes in an ecstatic remix yet also homages the light rock style that Motoaki Furukawa developed on its sequel. Norikazu Miura captures all the emotions of the old Gradius games while sounding more technologically commanded too. "Prologue" takes the series in a new direction with an orchestral anthem. Though the treble line captures the tone of a dazzling space adventure, the oppressive percussion line shamelessly recites Holst. The diversity increases further with the funk-influenced select piece and the short synth rock dogfight theme. However, it's with the first stage's "Beyond the White Storm" that the old-school Gradius sound is once more recreated. Miura gets a motivating groove going before projecting a cheerful yet reflective melody. It has just the right blend of rock, pop, and jazz styles and innocent emotions needed to revisit the Konami sound.
Focusing on the remaining stage themes, "Requiem for Revengers" maintains jazzy tones while also motivating the listen to endure through a more challenging environment. "Into the Crystal Cage" ups the pace and dazzles listeners with crystalline synth frills. "Ruin of Silence" is the most abstract Moai stage theme to date — combining Arabian melodies, orch hits, and weird voice effects — but is nonetheless pretty entertaining. However, probably the most atmospheric track on the soundtrack is "Organic Fortress," which combines electronic, new age, and ethnic elements in an absolutely beautiful way. "Green Inferno" also has a meditative sound, but achieves this in a slightly different way by focusing on a rhythmically complex bass riff. Back in the day, these three themes firmly asserted Miura's musical individuality and demonstrated his potential to go far. After demonstrating his capacity to create catchy and sensualising jazz-based themes once more on "On the Event Horizon," Miura brings the soundtrack full circle by blending Gradius tributes and original compositions into the excellent rocking final stage theme "Speed".
Moving to the remaining tracks, the boss theme is a new direction for the series. Miura once again establishes a groovy rhythm, but uses some infectious chord progressions to create a very sleak feel. The orch hits on top make the composition feel even more alien. Nonetheless, Miura continues series' tradition by arranging previous Gradius boss themes for the boss rush stage. Prior to the final boss, "Inside Mission" is bound to inspire so many strong emotions and "Big Ducker" captures a sense of formidable mechanical foe. The last boss theme itself returns back to the orchestral influence of the prologue, but fortunately does so much more with it. It is very memorable in context, but also delightful on a stand-alone basis given its extensive development. It's definitely my favourite final boss theme of the series. The second dogfight helds to round off the soundtrack thematically — actually an ecstatic rock remix of the first stage theme. The soundtrack concludes with a cheesy but appropriate jazz meets orchestra end credits theme and its low-key remix for the name entry theme.
The Gradius Gaiden Original Game Soundtrack is probably the most diverse of the Gradius scores but also probably the most rounded. Norikazu Miura maintains the classic sound of the series while venturing into new territories with more modern jazz, rock, ambient, and even orchestral tracks. He has a great sense of rhythm and melody throughout. It's even more impressive how he pulls the various stylistic and thematic threads of the soundtrack together at the end. Aside his occasional tendency to be derivative, Miura has produced a very successful Gradius score that probably even exceeds Gradius IV. This soundtrack is a good purchase for fans of the earlier soundtracks or those simply looking for a melodic, varied, and action-packed soundtrack.