Drag-on Dragoon 2 Original Soundtrack
The term 'beautiful dissonance' is seen as an oxymoron by most people, since dissonance is naturally considered an unpleasant musical feature by the majority of the population. This soundtrack shows decisively, however, that extreme dissonance and intense orchestration can produce some of the most evocative music ever created. This alone makes the soundtrack a unique one and ensures it is already a step up from the two Original Soundtracks from Drakengard, which were remarkable, yet expressed only aggression with their endless dissonance.
Another significant change that really reflects on the music here is that there was a change of composers between the series' first instalment and Drag-on Dragoon 2. The duo Aoi Yoshiki are the key figures here, and it appears their contributions are the only ones featured on the soundtrack, excluding the vocal ballad at the end. Their contributions are truly a breath of fresh air, since the 'techno-orchestral' approach of the first game is replaced by a symphonic approach that is much more subtle, accessible, and conventional. The geniuses of the first game, Takayuki Aihara and Nobuyoshi Sano, have roles, with Aihara being responsible for the game's 30 or so cinematic themes with Super Sweep's Masashi Yano, unfortunately not featured on this soundtrack, and Sano being responsible for sound directing.
Indeed, except for its utilisation of a full orchestra, little is comparable with this soundtrack to the two from the series' previous instalments. Even the use of the orchestra is different, as a particularly welcome change in this soundtrack is that the textures are often much lighter; solo piano tracks and other smaller ensemble passages are often featured alongside the full orchestration passages, with many tracks featuring stunning instrumental solos. This all means the score stands out very much in its own right, and, though not quite as unique as its predecessor, it manages to be much more diverse, creative, and emotional overall; the change in the musical score is very much a welcome one.
The album opens with "Symphonic Poem 'Forbidden Prelude'," an orchestral epic that features a full choir. This theme is made stunning by the profound textural contrasts utilised; the resounding beauty of the rich chorale and string passages contrasts greatly with the chaotic and rampant action passages that feature full orchestral textures and the choir chanting in an aggressive way. This keeps the listener on edge and is ideal for telling a narrative story in conjunction with the game's opening FMV. Despite an anticlimactic ending, every other aspect of this theme remains musically supreme, awe-inspiring, and deeply emotive; in terms of orchestral mastery, this theme has no rivals from other Square Enix soundtracks and it is quite possibly the most enriching introduction to any VGM soundtrack. The album's secondary opening theme, "Fate," is also superlative, but in an entirely different way. It retains the dramatic nature of the previous track, but switches enpowering orchestration in favour of hauntingly beautiful piano passages written in a romantic style reminiscent of Rachmaninoff. As the textures gradually thicken with the subtle layering of various orchestral instruments, it eventually blooms to its full capacity with a sweeping string passage. It is impossible to describe just how emotive this track can be, since it is so refined and extraordinary, but using the word 'tear jerking' would seem appropriate, as it can literally reduce a person to tears.
The next two tracks on the soundtrack, "Plains of Pity" and "Reminiscence is Madness," share the same leitmotif. While the brass melody itself is very pleasant and memorable, the track is made to sound distorted due to the inclusion of a heavy bass line, some unusual vocal use, and a series of intense chromatic chord progressions. The aptly named "Reminiscence is Madness" is the darker one of the two, since the melody literally sounds out-of-tune due to the way the track's atmosphere has been so effectively manipulated. Due to their heavy dissonance and slightly repetitive bass line, these tracks have similarities to certain pieces on the soundtracks for Drag-on Dragoon. Though less accessible to most people compared to other tracks on the soundtracks, their composition is impeccable and they are very representative of their game purposes. While no other track shares quite the same feel, the early addition "Old Tombstone" really adds some adrenaline to the soundtrack. It sees a single motif be passed through a series of unusual instruments, and the piece gradually grows more intense as the textures thicken and the harmonies become more complex. When it finally peaks, the amount of energy that radiates out is tremendous and it gives all the obscure instrumentation use a purpose beyond creativity for the sake of it. "Formidable Enemy," a boss theme, achieves similar effects, but uses full orchestral textures from the very start, though there are contrasts created by some fairly intricate counterpoint and abstruse certain chord progressions.
Among the finest features of this soundtrack is the abundance of emotive themes in its first half. This sets it ahead of the Drag-on Dragoon soundtracks in terms of how it evokes strong feelings from the listener, and, since these themes are particularly well-written, it also adds to the quality of the score. After "Fate," the first two such themes to be featured are "Valley of Blindness" and "Black Requiem." Both open with an unusual prepared piano motif before moving into an extremely expressive and slow-paced string-led rendition of the introductory theme. These tracks share the tear jerking quality synonymous with "Fate" and feature truly exquisite orchestration, too. "Black Requiem" is even more intense than "Valley of Blindness," and, though still beautiful, it is hellishly dark and will send a shiver down any listener's spine. "Vein of Grief" is made to sound disturbing due to the flutter-tonguing flutes, heavy bass line, and haunting countermelodies, but has hidden inner beauty due to its gorgeous vocal passages, rich brass melodies, and colourful chord progressions. Like "Sadness" that follows, it is depressing and almost agonising to listen to, but remains somehow addictive due to its purity and richness. Such tracks all have their unique qualities and add to the duo's already diverse palette admirably, though are not recommended for those already depressed, unless drowning one's sorrows is constructive after all.
Perhaps the pinnacle of this soundtrack comes at the mid-way point with two arrangements of Nobuyoshi Sano's vocal theme "Road B Staff Roll 'Exhausted'" from the Drag-on Dragoon Original Soundtrack Vol. 2. While the original 'Exhausted' was good, this was principally because of its originality rather than its refinement; Drag-on Dragoon 2's instrumental renditions, however, prove not only to be creative, but also immensely refined, harmonically rich, and well-developed. The first rendition, "'Exhausted' ~On the Sacred Ground~," is the calmer of the two and it is principally a harp, flute, and piano trio with some light orchestral backing, though there are a couple of full orchestral interludes to add diversity along the way. The high point of this track is definitely the lengthy piano cadenza that occurs after the 2:24 mark; this shares the romantic distinction of the piano passages in "Fate" at the start of the soundtrack, being heartrending, well-developed, and creative. Despite sharing the same melody, "'Exhausted' ~The Broken Past~" is completely different to the previous arrangement, since it is much darker, thicker, and more agitated. Such a change represents a significant turning point in the soundtrack, since the tracks that follow it are the most aggressive on the soundtrack. It is the unrelentless harmonic progressions that make this track an outstanding one, not lavish instrumental solos, and the contrast this track creates, though subtle, is remarkable.
The latter half of the album comprises mostly of action tracks, which is expected for a game that features chaotic war-torn battlefields. "Abysmal Earth" has a similar feel to "Formidable Enemy," in that it involves the development of an aggressive brass-led motif, but also features several absolutely magnificent interludes involving distorted vocals, making it probably the most engrossing of all the battle themes. "Hill of Dusk" is one of the most intriguing additions, since it principally uses sorrowful string melodies and a percussive piano motifs throughout. It's not a conventional action theme by any means and the delicate piano, violin, and glockenspiel solos are particularly distinguished additions, but it all manages to work, thanks to the duo's ability to express so many multifaceted emotions in just one track. "The End of the Conclusion," despite its rather redundant title, is very effective, thanks to the effective of layering of its various crisis motifs, and "Impatience" also has a profound effect, despite being a more minimalistic theme with a misleading introduction. The album approaches its conclusion with "Breakthrough," a fast-paced action theme that is full of dischords and also has some wonderful melodies, which are made to sound even more delightful thanks to the rapid string sequences that lie underneath. Like nearly all the battle themes, it isn't harsh all the way through, as several upbeat sections are featured and a carefully crafted glockenspiel solo creates a pleasant interlude in the latter half. The boundless "Exploration" also appears along this string of action themes; it's an ambient theme with a 'new age' feel, and though one of the least memorable entries to the album, it still serves to add diversity to the album, fulfils its in-game purposes, and has its fair share of beautiful passages.
"Unrest" is featured directly before the final battle theme, and, though it features such abstruse instrumentation use that it would almost be considered noise 'music', the vocal use and occasional melodic fragments featured means it is best defined as experimental ambience. It's a very effective 'last dungeon' theme, but will probably be disliked, since it has no rich melody to speak off, which may well alienate certain people out there. "Final Battle" is no letdown after all the build-up that has occurred before it, and it is easily the most aggressive track on the album. The ominous introduction, which features a choir, gives the track a surreal edge and acts as a good transition from "Unrest," while the rest of the track is a mixture of full-blown action passages featuring a really strong melody and some tension-building interludes. Retaining the prominent use of the piano familiar with the rest of the album, the last minute of this track features a brief and really nifty piano solo, which serves to give this battle theme much more personality. The album ends with "Hitori (Single Version)," a vocal ballad sung by Mika Nakashima. Though the track is much less experimental compared to "Road B Staff Roll 'Exhausted'" from Drag-on Dragoon, in terms of melodic goodness, effective development, and the performance of the vocalist, this track is vastly superior. It's a strong rival to every single pop ballad released from Square Enix, and the chorus section is particularly well-written. While instrumentals take a mostly subordinate role, as the track enters its last two minutes, a gorgeous string section enters and the eventual climax of the piece is nothing short of extraordinary.
In most video game soundtracks, consistency is rarely maintained, since musical development and refinement often falters a little way into the score. The Drag-on Dragoon 2 Original Soundtrack never stumbles, and, while the album has definite peaks, every single track is refined, musically enriching, and has an original style. No piece is a purposeless addition, as each work featured from its epic beginning all the way to its warm end results in the emotional capacity and musical diversity of the score considerably increasing. The action themes and emotional themes are all consistently excellent, though very different, while those ambient themes that don't quite fit into this neat categorisation, such as "Unrest" and "Exploration," are unusual additions that have their individual merits. Aoi Yoshiki has clearly put their heart and soul into the score, and prove to be a complete revelation.
The score's short length is its only obvious drawback, and it is undeniable that the album leaves the listener wanting more; still, its length is on par with an average film score and there is no doubt that an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction greets the listener after hearing it all the way through. Furthermore, unlike the previous Drag-on Dragoon soundtracks, this album is easily appreciable, since its dissonance, full-blown textures, and overall intense feel serve to captivate rather than be deliberately oppressive. Indeed, its 'quality above quantity' approach is mostly an advantage, as no Square Enix Original Soundtrack has featured such a vast array of dramatic, refined, captivating, and unusual music in one disc before. This album really is a must-buy, and will be an overwhelming experience for almost any person who decides to purchase it.
Drag-on Dragoon 2 is the completely orchestrated soundtrack from Yoshiki Aoi. The 22 tracks are a complete attack on the senses as an entire orchestra and full sized choir rampage as much power and tension on you as possible.
"Symphonic Poem 'Forbidden Prelude'" opens the soundtrack in a huge way. Everything is thrown into the mix in this tense and powerful piece. It is perfectly balanced and very well-produced losing none of its grandeur at any stage. The timpanis, low brass, and stabbing strings really bring out panic in the listener and it is honestly one of the best orchestral pieces I have ever listened to. "Fate" is a classically-oriented piano-based piece with sweeping woodwind and strings that eventually push the piano to the background. This is one of the few tracks which shows grace, pride, and empathy and really stands out because of that. There is a beautiful melody for most of the piece. "Plains of Pity" is a strange one because it uses an orchestral dance-paced beat and war chants over a brass tune which gives it a completely unique sound. Once again, it's full of drama and tension and completely hams it up. "Reminiscence is Madness" follows a similar line of thought and melody but is more string-based.
"Old Tombstone" brings in what sounds like ancient Erhus and Guzhengs for a maddened piece of dissonant chord progressions and some beautiful piano interludes. It took me a few listens to get this piece, but it became a favourite for me. Almost like an evil fairground ride theme. "Valley of Blindness" is a downbeat sorrowful string piece with what sounds like a guzheng improvisation in the distant background. This track is welcome as it's paced slower than all the other tracks really go for it; this is needed to stop the soundtrack becoming too much for the listener. "Formidable Enemy" returns to orchestra and choir who go all guns blazing into this triple metre battle theme. "Vein of Grief" uses a military beat to stand out from the others with waves of strings and discordant wind instruments to create more tension and confusion. While some of the tracks on this soundtrack sound dissonant, its never to the point of it being unlistenable — it's always like it for a reason.
"Sadness" is sombre piece as the title suggests, but it doesn't sit still with ambient strings and harps to a mechanical drumloop. "Exhausted ~On the Sacred Ground~" continues with the harp as a calming instrument for a beautiful piece underscored by piano and later given a voice by flutes and strings. In contrast, "Exhausted ~The Broken Past~" has a much more sharper tone to it, using the previous melody to affirm what has become a main theme on the soundtrack. "Abysmal Earth" once again cranks things up to the max. If you don't like pounding over the top orchestration then I suggest you don't buy this soundtrack because the same premise is then used in "Furious Earth" and in the much slower but still overscored "Twilight Hill" (all about the strings here). "The End of the Conclusion", however, gives us guitar and what sounds like a computerised bass! It's certainly different to the others and it has a wickedly dark melody.
"Impatience" starts off with furious keyboard-led ambience before going into a completely abstract piece of orchestral ambience (much like Clock Tower music) and random, almost comical, sections (ala Voodoo Vince). "Exploration" is more of a background track with experimental percussion loops thrown over it. "Breakthrough" returns to the all singing all dancing full orchestration for another rousing piece that goes at well over 100 miles an hour with some stunning musical work. "Unrest" gives us another ambient experiment using that faithful horror movie glass moving noise before "Final Battle" goes percussion mad to conclude the in-game music section. The final track on the soundtrack is "Hitori", sung by Mika Nakashima. It is a soft jazz song with sultry smooth vocals and a nice tune. Not a personal favourite of my vocal tracks but definitely a good song.
Drag-on Dragoon 2 is all about power and orchestration. While it does do other things the majority of the soundtrack is about pounding out as much as you can as grandly as you can. This does for orchestras what The Black Mages did for stadium rock so, if you think you can stomach it and are prepared for a tension filled ride, go for it!
Aoi Yoshiki <1~10, 13~21>
Nobuyoshi Sano <11, 12>
Ryoki Matsumoto & Satomi <22>
Alone (Hitori) (22)
Composed by: Ryoki Matsumoto
Arranged by: Ken Shima
Lyrics by: Satomi
Performed by: Mika Nakashima
Piano: Ken Shima
Bass: Kenji Takamizu
Guitar: Masayoshi Furukawa
Drums: Masayuki Muraishi
Horn: Otohiko Fujita, Masato Abe
Strings: Chieko Kinbara Strings
Musicians (from game's credits):
Chorus: Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus
Soprano: Shoko Iwashita, Ayaka Kato, Tomoko Wada, Yoko Nachigami
Alto: Mari Sakamoto, Yuki Minowa
Tenor: Hiroki Chiba, Kazushige Shimura
Bariton: Takehiko Sasaki, Keiichi Miyata
Flute & Alto Flute: Hideyo Takakuwa
Strings: RUSH by Takashi Kato
Violin: Takashi Kato, Akiko Kato, Nagisa Kiriyama, Ado Matsumoto, Akihiro Iwamura, Kazuo Watanabe, Etsuko Hara, Hiroki Muto, Takuya Mori, Aya Yokomizo
Viola: Hirohito Furugawara, Aiko Hosokawa
Cello: Masami Horisawa, Makoto Osawa
Symphonic Poem "Forbidden Prelude"
Plains of Pity
Reminiscence Is Madness
Valley of Darkness
"Exhausted" ~On the Holy Land~
"Exhausted" ~The Broken Past~