Guilty Gear 2 Overture was a radical departure from the rest of the series. The switch of genre from versus fighting game to action / real-time strategy game was intended to broaden the series' horizons but mostly alienated fans. To account for the genre change, the soundtrack was dominated by orchestral music for the first time. Apparently based on series designer Daisuke Ishiwatari's compositions, anime artist Hiromi Mizutani created 51 synthetic orchestral tracks to feature in the first volume of the soundtrack. The second volume featured the 15 rock pieces from the game arranged by Yoshihiro Kusano and performed by several accomplished artists. How did the first volume turn out?
The soundtrack attempts to immerse listeners into the Guilty Gear 2 Overture experience with a mixture of soft emotional cues and bombastic action-packed compositions. However, the limitations of the arranger's musicianship result in most pieces inspiring boredom, repulsion, or a mixture of the two. "Prologue" follows four unsubstantial scene-setting themes to open the soundtrack. It initially provides a colourful soundscape with ethnic woodwinds, suspended strings, and some bold orchestral chords. However, it soon calms to become a linear composition featuring a solo oboe melody against a repeated harp arpeggios and an earthy percussion motif. The eventual passing of the melody to a violin and the sparing dabs of supporting strings fail to vary the theme while the timpani use in the final iterations of the melody is too transparent and cheesy to enforce an epic feel. Although one of the better pieces on the soundtrack, it does not sustain its 4:25 playtime well or the potential its introduction suggests.
Where action pieces are concerned, sometimes Mizutani's unconventional methods of orchestration are a detriment. He usually prefers to treat orchestral sections individually rather than focusing on collective interactions and this usually seems to be a consequent of lack of theoretical knowledge. For instance, the action piece "First Impact" is a random assortment of very weak individual elements dominated by badly synthesized violin motifs and a repetitive percussive piano line. "Assault" and "Conscious" intend to be dissonant in the sections with more sporadic instrument use, but in thicker sections discords often seem unintentionally projected due to the arranger's inability to harmonise. A selection of other examples include "Friend" and "Walk", where pleasant if simple piano work soon becomes overwhelmed by amateurish piercing string work, "Witch", where timpani, string crisis motifs, and rasping brass are used to overkill, and "Frailty", a programmatic composition that lacks direction and coherent musical elements.
The more effective pieces on the soundtrack are those that portray the preparation and heat of battles. "Anxiety" sustains the interest generated by its bold opening chords with delicious trombone crisis motifs and the eventual emergence of hints of an imperial march. "March" develops these martial intentions later in the soundtrack and proves one of the most heavily articulated and richly textured action cues. In contrast, "Join Struggle" is another epic composition with bright gliding strings, driving snares, and the occasional oboe and harpsichord that captures the essence of unity against foes. "Bravery" declares its importance with a combination of brisk tuned percussion motifs, electronic beats, and resolute brass melodies and continues to fascinate at the centre of the piece with brass and violin interplay and a sudden increase in dynamic level. "Warts and All", "Omen", "Attack", "Actual Warfare", and "Disadvantage" all do a good job motivating players and contrasting both sides of war. However, many of these themes are a bit exhausting given their dissonance and bombast, especially when clustered towards the end of the soundtrack.
This soundtrack isn't entirely orchestral. "Brainwashing" mixes overdriven electric guitar riffs, new age electronic beats, and a short bright appearance from a bagpipe. "Frailty" is an assortment of exotic percussion cross-rhythms and occasional experimental electronic noises. Both are interesting experiments but unsustainably repetitive. "Sacrifice" mixes unintelligible female choir chants and Indian-flavoured electronic beats to give a surprisingly jubilant overall sound, while "Right Mind" is based on jazzy piano and ethereal synth sounds. The bagpipes, chants, electronica, and orchestra come together in "Dignity", my personal favourite on the soundtrack; even though it makes no sense on a technical level and suddenly ends after 3:44, this track is genuinely fun and epic on a mindless level. A lot of the tracks left undiscussed are short ones — 18 tracks are less than a minute long and are mostly too short to make a positive impact on the soundtrack. Essentially functional piece demonstrating superficial or amateurish musicality, they are either barely fathomable or abrasively interruptive.
I did not understand the necessity to create an orchestral soundtrack given the change of focus of the game. Rock, after all, is one of Guilty Gear's defining features and plenty of other strategy games such as those in the Dynasty Warrior series convincingly offer a rock focus throughout. Nevertheless, I don't oppose the decision to expand Guilty Gear's capacity in terms of both gameplay and musicality given it's interesting to have distinct games in the series. Unfortunately, the actual implementation of the game's orchestral music largely failed. This is largely due to the choice of arranger Hiromi Mizutani, who does not seem to have a firm understanding of tonality or orchestration. Many of the pieces have moments of goodness but only a few become overall highlights. The rest of the soundtrack sounds ugly or uninteresting despite many of the pieces fitting the moods and scenes of the game. I would not recommend fans of either orchestral game music or Guilty Gear music pick this soundtrack up, though I would redirect the latter category to Vol. 2 for some Guilty Gear rock at its finest.