2012 marked several huge anniversaries in the world of video games. We celebrated 40 years of Pong, no doubt the industry's first big hit. We celebrated 20 years of the super-cute Kirby and the super-violent Mortal Kombat, two important franchises aimed at entirely different demographics of gamers. This was the year that many game franchises hit a quarter of century. We celebrated 25 years of Castlevania, Contra, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, and Street Fighter. But perhaps most significant of all, we celebrated the 25 year success of a little game series called Metal Gear. The effect that Metal Gear has had on video games is nothing short of groundbreaking. Hideo Kojima's stealth game series was a landmark in graphics, cinematic presentation, and the use of post-modern storytelling narrative. Kojima proved that he could tell a story that made his series stand out from the rest. Taking inspiration from many of Hollywood's classics, the narrative that Metal Gear tells rivals that of films and novels. With more games planned for next-gen systems, as well as a film adaptation in development, the future for this cutting-edge series looks very bright indeed.
To celebrate this landmark milestone, Konami released a 25th Anniversary soundtrack that contains music selections from Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Throughout the series, Metal Gear has seen a wide variety of composers and vocal themes. Serving as a companion to the 20th Anniversary music collection, does Konami deliver the next collection that fans have been waiting for? Let's find out.
The first track, "Overture ~ Metal Gear Saga," begins with a brassy motif. This brief section smoothly transforms into "Metal Gear Saga," a re-orchestration of the series' second main theme. Due to allegations of plagiarism, Harry Gregson-Williams replaced the original theme with a new theme that first appeared in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Even still, this is the best that this theme has ever sound. This section begins with a buildup of the chorus and orchestra. At 1:10, the strings begin moving at a faster pace until the main theme explodes into action. The theme is perfectly done, with fast paced-rhythms, synchronized beats, and expertly played strings. At 2:15, the rhythm slows down for a bit, with all sections adding tension until the main theme returns, being handed down from section to section until 3:40. Here, a solo guitar is given its chance to shine with its own sad recreation of the main theme. The theme is later joined by a lamenting solo trumpet with percussion, giving this piece a more patriotic feel. The trumpet leads this piece to its proud end. Simply put, this is the most epic version of the Metal Gear Solid main theme. Once again, Harry Gregson-Williams has proven that he is the master at remixing and composition.
"Love Theme -25th Anniversary Ver-" is an adaptation of the music that introduced Metal Gear Solid 4. The solo violin dominates the majority of this piece, with its sad and depressing melody. It is accompanied with an equally sad orchestra that adds substantial emotion and feeling. By the minute and a half mark, the vocalist Jackie Presti joins in with her distinctive, wailing voice. The Hebrew lyrics by Hideo Kojima himself provide Middle Eastern-flavorings to this track. The violin and orchestra continue to play their sad themes, until they play in unison at the three and a half minute mark, before Presti returns. Returning composer Nobuko Toda has made some minor changes from the original version that improve the dramatic flow. At 4:50, the acoustic guitar is given its own solo section more elaborate and Spanish-influenced in this version than the original before the rest of the orchestra. Presti and the solo violin conclude the piece. As a sad lament, "Love Theme" perfectly captures the old and dying nature of series protagonist Solid Snake. As Snake says in the introduction, "War, has changed."
For this album, two brand new orchestral medleys were recorded by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The first, dedicated to Metal Gear Solid 4, explores the various themes of the game. The second, dedicated to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, follows a similar format. If you're familiar with Konami's previous 20th anniversary album, then you know what to expect here: great orchestrations of original themes from the series. What's even better, Konami was able to get a professional orchestra to record these tracks as opposed to their in-house musicians. The first half of the MGS4 medley starts off with the theme "Old Snake", shifting from a melancholic guitar introduction into a bold orchestral rendition. It continues with various other cinematic themes "Midnight Shadow", "Guns of the Patriots", and "Desperate Escape" all of which capture the serious mood and bittersweet emotions of the game. At around halfway, the medley takes a slower tempo and we revisit "Enclosure", which was originally used in the original Metal Gear Solid. Following a somewhat unnecessary reprise of the previously-featured "Metal Gear Saga", the final theme presented is the touching "Father and Son," which reflects upon the relationship between Solid Snake and Big Boss.
The Peace Walker medley begins with its blockbuster-style main theme. It sounds better than even, with the City of Prague bringing the most out of the booming brass melodies and racing string motifs. The shifts to the slow, brooding "The Spear" and the mournful "Love Deterrence" are somewhat abrupt, though increase the dramatic range of the medley. The guitar-based rendition of the latter is simply beautiful, as it tells of the pain Big Boss feels for killing his mentor. At 5:03, the tempo gets faster as we shift into a battle theme which was used during the many Metal Gear boss fights during the game. The final portion of this medley is a faithful orchestration of the game's main vocal theme "Heaven's Divide." Overall, both medleys are splendidly arranged by Nobuko Toda and are greatly benefited from the strong performances of the orchestra.
The Metal Gear series is well known for its vocal themes, two of which are included here in unchanged renditions from the soundtracks. The first included on this album is Metal Gear Solid 4's "Here's to You," which was originally from Ennio Morricone's Italian film score Sacco e Vanzetti. Lisbeth Scott's vocal performance is good, having a spiritual and emotional quality, without being melodramatic. However, the song does suffer from repetition due to the limited lyrics. To get around this, Gregson-Williams gives much focus to the background orchestra and much instrumentation is added in as the theme develops. This gives the piece effective build up to its emotional conclusion. The second theme, "Heaven's Divide," is among the best in the series. Composer Akihiro Honda ticks all the boxes with the song: the melody and harmonies pack quite a punch, the instrumentation provided by the strings, acoustic guitar, and piano is fantastic, and the lyrics are well-written and fit with the game. Special praise must be given to Donna Burke's strong performance. Her voice can be both soft and powerful when the piece demands it. The mixing between vocals and instrumentation is extremely well done, making it one of the most memorable vocal themes ever accomplished in video games. Unfortunately, Nana Mizuki vocal theme "Love's Deterrence" is not included here.
The last three tracks are special compilation pieces from the two games. One of these is dedicated to MGS4's now-defunct online multiplayer service with "Metal Gear Online Tribute Medley". Similar to the soundtrack of the main game, Metal Gear Online features militaristic orchestral music mixed in with elements of electronica. The synth here is high quality and does not at all feel out of place on this album. Although I didn't really find anything special or noteworthy, it's good that the music is still available, despite the game's servers were shut down and a full soundtrack was never released.
Next we have "GEM Impact Tracks." In case you didn't know, GEM Impact is an audio production studio founded by series' veteran composer Norihiko Hibino. For this medley, the best pieces of cinematic music were taken from MGS4 and slightly spruced-up. A particular emphasis is placed on the constrast between the formidable "Everything Ends" and the relieving "Everything Begins". But GEM Impact's contribution somewhat disappoints after their incredible contributions on the 20th Anniversary album spanning the rockestral rendition of "Zanzibar Breeze" to a tear jerking jazz improvisation based on Sons of Liberty. There are plenty of great medleys on this album, but no true arrangements. Finally we have "Alerts and Cautions." With a series revolving around sneaking, stealth is critical. Just as the title suggests, this track contains the various caution and alert themes from MGS4 and MGSPW. The caution tracks are more slower-paced and ambient, to to convey the sense of tension of hiding from enemy troops. When Snake gets caught, the music instantly changes to faster tempo and the strings play a more prominent role when the action heats up. Although a good medley piece, I find it an odd way to close off this album.
One could hardly call this a definitive Metal Gear music collection. After all, it only contains selections from Metal Gear Solid 4 and Peace Walker. It also lacks somewhat in terms of pacing and features no true medleys. Even still, there is plenty of great music to be found here. All the best themes from the two games are presented here, the vocal themes presented are some of the most memorable in the series, and the orchestral medleys are well arranged and performed. Pair this with the previously released 20th Anniversary album, and then you have a great collection containing the best music of the series. Whether you are a diehard or casual Metal Gear fan, than this album has my recommendation. Here's to you Metal Gear, and to another 25 years.