Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Original Soundtrack
The latest instalment of Namco Bandai's enthralling flight action series, Assault Horizon finally took gamers away from its alternate reality setting and into the real world. Whereas such shifts have made the West's biggest shooters even bigger, Ace Combat's reboot alienated as many hardcore fans as it introduced newcomers. The game nevertheless stood out for its immaculate presentation, from graphics to soundtrack. Keiki Kobayashi returned as music director for the title and combined his thematic military orchestrations with new styles and fusions. To ensure the soundtrack was cutting-edge, he introduced experienced composers Rio Hamamoto, Norihiko Hibino, and Jesahm to the series, and collaborated with various ensembles and vocalists from East and West. A 14 track sampler was available with the limited edition version of the game in Japan.
Kobayashi captures the rebirth of Ace Combat in a modern day setting with the opening overture. Inspired by the imagery of a sandstorm, Kobayashi shifted away from his familiar orchestral stylings in favour of dark and rustic Middle Eastern performances. Kobayashi shows his versatility with his authentic oud and nay writing here, while the performances by Israeli Yuval Ron testify to his decades of experience. Yet not everything is alien. The rich military melody that eventually emerges is reminiscent of Kobayashi's work on The Unsung War and reinforces that, despite the shift in setting, Assault Horizon is still a story about a desperate humanity. Perhaps the highlight of this six minute mammoth is the build-up where the Northwest Sinfonia, Middle Eastern instruments, and vocalist Maya Haddi come together. What a great way to portray the climax of a struggle...
The shift to a modern setting is also marked by the incorporation of contemporary elements. Used in two key missions in the Middle East, Rio Hamamoto's "Rush" and "Beyond the Canal" are dense and chaotic fusions of all sorts of rock, electronic, and traditional forces. Both keep gamers gliding through the skies, while emphasising that much grittier conflicts await them this time around. The former's flashy guitar solo provides a heroic climax to an otherwise formidable theme, while the heavy electronic distortions of the latter ensure the intensity only increases. A novel collaboration between Kobayashi and Hamamoto, "Dogfight" is a brief but outstanding contribution to the score. The combination of the former's lyrical orchestral reprises and the latter's gritty rock riffs results in an immersive wall of sound. The violin solo at the 1:04 mark might just pierce a heart or two with its unexpected beauty.
As one of the series' most cinematic and ambient scores, Assault Horizon nevertheless pieces that don't stand up as well as Once again, Hiroshi Okubo focuses much more on rhythm and texture than melody on tracks such as "Inferno", "Launch", and "Blue on Blue". These tracks certainly enhance some of the game's most tense scenes and are also quite creative with their blends of Eastern and Western percussion and ostinati. However, they are definitely among the most understated and repetitive additions on a stand-alone driven by its soul-wrenching anthems. Norihiko Hibino's "Pipeline" definitely captures the tone of a big budget movie with its Zimmer-inspired orchestration and crystal clear performance. But it also sound like it could have been created for any big-budget project and does't have the individuality needed to make an impact in Assault Horizon's world.
For the final mission theme "Release", Keiki Kobayashi reflects the shift of the setting once with a mean and moody orchestration that sounds like it came straight from Hollywood. Nevertheless, the grandiose choral chants inspire memories of "Megalith -Agnus Dei-" and the thematic fragments that occur maintain the attention. It isn't quite as enjoyable as "Zero" or "The Unsung War" on a stand-alone basis, but it's a fitting final mission anthem nevertheless. "Horizon" is a conventional orchestration that round offs the release thematically and emotionally. But there is one other glaring addition to the soundtrack, "Gotta Stay Fly", a hard rock theme song composed by Rio Hamamoto. Most of the track is dominated by heavy guitar riffs and abrasive vocals from Ken Stacey. Nevertheless, the main theme of the score is nevertheless integrated, culminating in a heavenly interlude featuring Emi Evans. Some will find it cool, others will think it's vapid, but it certainly fits the image of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.
Showing that Japan can do it as well as the West, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon rivals the upper echelon of game or film scores with its production values. Yet unlike so many of today's modern military soundtracks, this score is rarely derivative with a few exceptions aside. The wild yet wonderful fusions breathe fresh life into what sounded like a tired franchise, while the rich melodies ensure the series still moves listeners. While the score is best appreciated as a complement to a visually stunning game, the soundtrack sampler is jam-packed with highlights that should satisfy on a stand-alone level. Hardcore fans may nevertheless wish to seek out the three disc soundtrack, included with the DX Version of the game, to get a complete taste of the game's music and enjoy highlights such as "Deja Vu", "Keep Alive", and "Fighter".
Comes with the Japanese Limited Edition version of the game, on Xbox 360 and PS3.
Keiki Kobayashi (01, 06, 12, 13)
Hiroshi Okubo (02, 05, 10)
Rio Hamamoto (03, 04, 07, 08, 14)
Norihiko Hibino (09)
Rio Hamamoto & Keiki Kobayashi (11)
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Rebirth from Sand StormKeiki Kobayashi
Town of FictionRio Hamamoto
Blue on BlueHiroshi Okubo
Mrs. Krista YoslavKeiki Kobayashi
Beyond the CanalRio Hamamoto
DogfightRio Hamamoto & Keiki Kobayashi
Gotta Stay FlyRio Hamamoto