Darius Premium Box -Rebirth-
The Darius series is a popular line of Arcade-based shooters created by Taito. The story is dedicated to combatting malevolent marine dwellers of the planet Darius that seek revenge on former inhabitants on the Earth for overpolluting it to the extent they needed to colonise elsewhere. Following the 1986 release of Darius, three major other games in the series were created — Darius Gaiden, Darius II, and G-Darius — though two Super Nintendo instalments and a range of altered ports were also created.
The scores for the series were created by Hisayoshi Ogura, better known as OGR. Founder and former leader of Taito's sound team Zuntata, Ogura is one of the most influential video game composers. With Darius' scores, he demonstrates some of his influence by creating experimental atmospheric scores that fascinatingly blended organic and inorganic elements and opposed the expectation for shooters to always have unrelentingly fast tempos.
Together with a Ray series box set, Taito created the Darius Premium Box Rebirth to commemorate the series' music in 2005. This featured all four scores to the series and a bonus DVD. Each score, while individually characterised, featured around 15 pieces with highlights often being associated with the stage themes. Let's take a closer look....
Darius' "Captain Neo" continues the tradition of shooters featuring unforgettable first stage themes. The main draw is Ogura's exuberant jazz-influenced main melody, which seems to reflect the human protagonist of the game. However, the heavily punctuated bass line seems to still capture a sense of the technological element of the game. Despite the humble sound chips, the fusion still sounds great for its time. It's one of the most memorable and appropriate first stage themes for any shooter. The other hyper-catchy addition to the soundtrack is "Cosmic Air Way". This track perfectly captures that vibe most would associate with old-school melodies. Whether that's principally because of its gliding melodies, punchy chord progressions, or driving bass lines, I can't be sure. However, the whole composition comes together in an utterly delightful way and each passage complements the next.
As one might infer from the track title, "Inorganic Beat" relies primarily on the interesting use of beats. In fact, the entire piece is comprised of drums and some space-like synth. The rhythmic drive of the percussion really pushes this piece along while the semi-melodic nature of the synth helps to accentuate the instrumentation. Despite the percussive emphasis, this is still an interesting and enjoyable piece. Darius also introduces the main theme for the series, "Chaos". Whereas the opening theme "Captain Neo" was almost superficially melodious, this one takes a totally abstract approach. Expect aggressive orch hits, haunting sound effects, weird dissonant harmonies, and an ever-repeating headline phrase. It's one of the strangest main themes ever, yet it's still so representative of Darius and memorable of a stand-alone basis.
The boss themes of Darius tend to be even more barren, since they focus entirely on creating tension during the game's encounters with giant marine creatures. "Boss Scene 1", for instance, is a minimalistic track that resolves entirely around a repetitive pulsating bass line and some treble frills. Though not especially appealing on a stand-alone basis, it sustains repetition very well during the game and fits the scene perfectly. While "Boss Scene 2" is a good complement for "Inorganic Beat", "Boss Scene 3" takes things in a new direction with its totally ambient focus and features some very spooky sound design. "Boss Scene 4" meanwhile focuses mainly on the use of staccato notes, to create a crisis atmosphere, but some interesting harmonies and synth sounds still create an almost magical atmosphere. It's already clear that Ogura intended something very different for Darius' music...
Moving to the climax, "The Sea" initially slowly and smoothly meanders to give a beautiful watery soundscape. However, the section from 0:39 is a complete contrast with its dissonant articulated chords, giving off a feeling of impending doom... Listeners are subsequently dazzled with a succession of three boss themes, the first two hostile and rhythmically focused, the final battle theme far more interesting. "Boss Scene 7" starts out with standard "Warning" motifs, but once the track actually starts, the listener is definitely taken on a joy ride. Thick bass lines, strong rhythmic motifs, and just an all-around groovy melody makes this track exceptional. This is probably my favorite boss theme from the first Darius. The soundtrack is resolved by a succession of subsidiary themes, the most notable of these being the bouncy end credits jingle.
Darius II features a shorter, but arguably more accessible, soundtrack to its predecessor. After "Opening" and "Coin" set up the desired atmosphere, the first stage theme "Olga Breeze" enters. It starts off rather strangely with a woman speaking random things, such as "I've always wanted a thing called Tuna Sashimi!" Once the music gets going, it has a really bouncy and jazzy flavor to it; this is probably the biggest difference between the first game and this one. In addition, there are some great engaging development sections, such as a synth electric guitar solo that really gives it that edge. Another of the most charismatic stage themes is "Jamming". It provides an upbeat rollercoaster ride throughout space with a bit of craziness added for good measure. These two are easily one among my favourites in this soundtrack.
Nevertheless, there is still an experimental component in Darius II. This is perhaps best reflected by "Muse Valley", which fuses an almost oriental-inspired melody with edgy industrial sections, jazz-influenced passages, and synth vocal components. The result is bizarre yet beautiful; indeed, it seems to capture that surreal Zuntata sound perfect. "Cynthia" maintains a certain feminity, but also features a very militaristic feel due to the snare accompaniment. The serious sound of the accompaniment, coupled with the bubbly melodic line, really work quite well together. "Planet Blue" takes things one step further with a host of spacey and watery sound effects, but this time to a cutesy rather than intense or atmospheric effect. It's arguably a misfit in context, but it's full of brilliant ideas nevertheless. I never fail to be impressed by what Hisayoshi Ogura managed to do with chiptunes!
There are actually just two boss themes on the soundtrack this time, in contrast to the original Darius which had a boss theme for every single stage. In fact, most won't notice they're boss themes at all. Aside the opening alert sound effect, "War Oh" barely sounds like a boss theme. Instead it's more of a samba theme with steel drum melodies, groovy piano rhythms, and funky improvisations. Like the Darius boss themes of old, however, it retains a rhythmical impetus and slightly repetitive feeling, but that's about all. It's another dubious track in context, though enjoyable at least out of context. "Boss 2", meanwhile, is a very ambient theme reminiscent of "The Sea" from the original Darius. There are occasionally hard drum parts or sinister chord twists, but, for the most part, this track is very soothing and ethereal. The boss themes in Darius II are certainly enigmatic.
Moving to the final stage themes, "To Nari" continues the mellow approach elsewhere in the soundtrack. It's wonderful how this particularly entry brings back the jazz focus to the series, though it feels more of a transient rather than core component of the score overall. Far more impressive and encompassing is the final stage theme "Say PaPa", which gradually builds up from its soft watery introduction into a happy-go-lucky action theme. The melodic section from 1:05 is exactly the type of music needed to motivate listeners late in the game. However, it still retains a little of the series' quirk with the choral parts. After a reprised stage clear theme and a heroic name entry theme, Ogura rounds off the soundtrack with the serene and futuristic "Ending" theme. Along with "Say PaPa", "Muse Valley", and "Olga Breeze", this is certainly among the score's classics.
After a mixed second entry, Hisayoshi Ogura returned to the series with more innovations than ever in 1994's Darius Gaiden. "Visionnerz" is regarded as one of the series' classics for good reason. In context, this track spans from the introduction of the game right through to the second boss theme, so naturally the development covers a lot of material. After an ethereal opening, Ogura layers a range of forces on top, ranging from edgy industrial bass riffs to soothing jazz piano improvisations. However, perhaps the most remarkable feature is the vocalist featured from the 0:48 mark, who introduces the game's main theme and brings a familiar yet otherworldly feel to the entire track. The track progresses through various moods and influences in an almost cinematic manner, but all the while retaining the same focus of blending organic and inorganic elements. Absolute bliss to listen to.
After the intriguing yet unfulfilling "Burst Out" and the elegant yet transient "Induction", Ogura offers more musical fruit with the third stage theme "E-E-G". The rhythmic beat that dominates most of the track is accompanied quite well by futuristic synth sounds, operatic vocals, and at times, piano passages. Despite being primarily driven by a rhythmic based composition, I think Ogura does a fantastic job of creating a melody that matches quite well with this rhythm. The accompanying boss theme "Axon" intriguingly uses derivation of the rhythm of "E-E-G", but relies much more on melody. Ogura chose some very fitting and interesting instrumentation to go along with this beat. Interludes of piano and saxophone help to reinforce the futuristic sound that the rest of the composition creates and reinforces the jazz element of the series. The sighing vocals also help to add a bit of texture to this already crazy piece of music.
Ogura introduces a range of other elements to the series on Darius Gaiden. "Reflection", for instance, sounds influenced by epic science-fiction movie scores with its boundless melodies and driving snares. It could have been horribly derivative, but this is Ogura after all and listeners are guaranteed amazing electronic soundscapes and wild synth solos soon enough. "Singing in the Brain" is the most Asian-influenced track on the series with its pentatonic melodies and earthy instrumentation. The melody's development itself isn't that strong, but what it lacks in strength, it makes up for in memorability. Finally, "Tranquilizer" and "Self" deviate from the oppressive quality of many Darius stage themes in favour of a more introspective and psychological approach. These are some of Ogura's most beautifully soundscaped works.
A fascinating element of this score is the way the motifs from "Visionnerz" recur in numerous tracks. There are hints of the theme in "E-E-G" and "Tranquilizer" that bring some thematic continuity to the gaming experience. However, Ogura reserves the major arrangements for the climactic boss theme "Self" and the reflective minimalistic mix "Refrain", both of which are very atmospheric in context. As with the other Darius games, the ending credits are much mellower than the preceding pieces. There is a nice blend of organic instrumentation and futuristic synth to create a perfect harmony between the two. The operatic vocal cues throw in an interesting twist and nicely recount influences from "Visionnerz" once more. If only for the emotional effect, this is probably my favorite ending theme for the Darius series.
The most experimental of all Darius scores, G-Darius immediately makes an impact with the opener "B-T-DUTCH". After some crowd noise and ominous percussion, Ogura introduces us to a fest of asynchronised electronic beats and orch hits. He offers plenty of contrast throughout, whether with the "You" voice samples, bizarre sound effects, or industrial drill work, constantly giving the sense of something alien and alive being present. Yet what drives the entire theme is Ogura's ever-appealing sense of rhythm and lyricism; this alone ensures the track is more than a random fusion and instead something highly entertaining and appealing too. After the chaos, "Network" soothes listeners with a blend of piano passages and electronic rhythms. This sort of 'new age meets French impressionism' theme is actually more reminiscent of what Tamayo Kawamoto might create for the Ray series. However, Ogura still manages to pull it off.
The first stage theme "G-Zero", while not as strange as some of the others, still offers the nice blend of the eccentricities I love this album for. It features a fascinating blend of synthesized vocals, motivating bass rhythms, and some ethereal synth sounds. While the melody initially seems disjointed, it's wonderful to see it develop towards a heroic yet uncertain climax. "Biophoton" demonstrates Ogura's occasionally two-tiered approach to Darius themes once more — opening with heavy industrial beats, but moving towards softer piano-based parts. The third stage theme "Dada" subsequently provides the best of the series' soft watery themes. I can hardly describe how beautiful progressions such as at the 1:11 mark are. The relief is certainly short-lived, however, and listeners are returned back to industrial craziness with "In Vivo", an atmospheric accompaniment to one of the weirder stages in the game.
There are a number of effective boss themes this time around. "Phage" brings a sort of industrial rock influence to the series. The blend of orch hits and guitar riffs, despite being disjointed, are actually extremely well thought out and capture once again that lyrical drive Ogura has been putting into his experimental themes since "Chaos". "H-G Virus" subsequently creates a lot of paranoia with its dynamic electronic beats and ever-intensifying piano and orchestral passages. It perfectly captures the feeling a boss is surround you and beginning to close in. Another boss theme, "Nonsense Codon" relies a little too much on conventional chord progressions and motivic repetition than the other tracks on the soundtrack. However, it still has a great industrial vibe to it and I love how the orch hits are almost completely random in their placement here. Was Ogura inspired by aleatoric artists when writing this one?
Moving to the climax of the score, "Chimera II" is a powerful accompaniment to the final stage. An industrial sound increasingly becomes prominent while operatic vocals, elegaic strings, and aquatic sound effects also find their way into the music. There is a real sense of motivation to this piece, yet there is also an underlying sinister and tragic tone too. The final result is a compelling fusion of emotions and styles. However, the final battle theme "Adam" is arguably the best piece on the entire album. Techno beats and industrial sounds chillingly dominate the piece, yet the small piano accents, quirky interludes, and futuristic synth chorals add a certain playfulness too. To finish the album, Ogura offers an abstract industrial remix of Darius' "Boss Scene 7". It's a truly fitting tribute to the first game and, although some of the magic of the original is lost, the additions distinguish it as an entirely separate piece of music.
Darius Visual Disc
There is also a DVD packaged in the box set. Fans of the series' games can enjoy video recordings of playthroughs of Darius and G-Darius. In addition, there is an extensive interview with Hisayoshi Ogura about the music of all four Darius titles, though it's necessary to speak Japanese to understand it. Finally, there is live footage of arrangements of "Chaos" from Game Music Festival 1993 and "Inorganic Beat ~ War Oh!" from Game Music Festival 1992. These performances demonstrate Zuntata's surreal yet compelling sound at its finest and are well worth checking out if you are a hardcore fan. However, the various album releases of Zuntata's live performances feature more extensively content. Still, this DVD is a good bonus for fans.
This box set is a compilation of the ever-evolving soundtracks of a series of Arcade games. As the series progressed, the complexity in the pieces, as well as their strangeness, increased. Darius and Darius II are probably the most popular and famous additions to the series, so their soundtracks are also probably best remembered among fans. However, Darius Gaiden and G-Darius, despite their quirkiness, are also very reputable soundtracks on this box set. These are very experimental scores and are definitely not for everyone. That said, I totally respect Ogura's use of daring fusions of organic and inorganic influences throughout these scores, both for their effects in and out of context. In the end, if you like to take chances, or just like "weird" music, I say this box set is highly worthwhile.
Disc 1: Darius
Disc 2: Darius II
Disc 3: Darius Gaiden
Disc 4: G-Darius
Disc 5: Darius Visual Disc
DVD Contains Play Through of Darius & G-Darius and Question & Answer Interviews with Hisayoshi Ogura about all 4 Darius Titles.
Also contains Exclusive Live Footage of "CHAOS" from Game Music Festival 1993 and "Inorganic Beat ~ War Oh!" from Game Music Festival 1992
------ CD Staff ------
Hisayoshi Ogura (Zuntata)
Hisayoshi Ogura (Zuntata)
Mitsuko Tokunaga (Sony Music Entertainment Inc)
------ DVD Staff ------
Noritaka Matsuuchi (Zuntata)
Tetsuji Ohtake (Zuntata)
Takara Shimizu (Zuntata)
Hidekazu Suda (DDN, Inc)
Sachio Kobayashi (DDN, Inc)
Promotion Video Cast
Norio Honma (Pico House Co, Ltd)
Takahiro Yagi (Scitron Digital Content Inc)
------ Graphic Staff ------
Hisayoshi Ogura (Zuntata)
Mihoko Sudo (Zuntata)
Noritaka Matsuuchi (Zuntata)
------ Special Thanks ------
Masahiko Takaki (Zuntata)
Katsuhisa Ishisawa (Zuntata)
Seiji Kawakami (Taito Corp)
Akira Ohtsuki (Taito Corp)
Takahiro Nakajima (Taito Corp)
Kazunori Hanashima (Taito Corp)
Koutarou Nishimaki (Taito Corp)
Takafumi Kaneko (Taito Corp)
Hiroshi Otsuka (Sony Music Communications Inc)
ECM-SSI-S.I (Game Player)
Taito Public Relations and Advertising Section
Taito Marketing Section
Taito Muse Development Section
Scitron Digital Content Inc
Pony Canyon Inc, Japan
Pico House Co, LTD
Hiroshige Tonomura (Zuntata)
Yasuo Nishigaki (Taito Corp)
CAPTAIN NEO (Space Cave)
BOSS SCENE 1
INORGANIC BEAT (City Area)
BOSS SCENE 2
COSMIC AIR WAY (Mountains Area)
BOSS SCENE 3
MAIN THEME-CHAOS (Van Allen Belt)
BOSS SCENE 4
THE SEA (Ocean Floor Base)
BOSS SCENE 5
BOSS SCENE 6
BOSS SCENE 7
Singing in the BRAIN