Monday, July 5, 2010

Game Music Review "SILENT SCOPE TRILOGY Original Soundtrack"

While there's some fine stuff to be searched out, even fans of Jimmy Weckl might find his Silent Scope saga to be lightweight compared to his other contributions in the realm of Konami.

Konami's Silent Scope series is best remembered as a prime arcade experience enjoyed by many on the last stages of arcade thrill, at least in the U.S.. Silent Scope armed players with a life-sized sniper rifle with built-in screen mounted in front of a cabinet ready to shoot down rows of terrorists and other eccentric bad guys named Scorpion (and just wait until you get a load of the game's final boss). The game was just right; never too serious, B-movie Hollywood fare complete with epic save-the-world moments with silliness abound and action-heavy (sniping in stadiums, highways and even floating from parachutes!) -- just right for the zaniness of arcade action.

Like most arcade game soundtracks, they go unheard and unnoticed among the cacophony of the arcade jungle (at least in Japan). Furthermore, I always wondered if sound designers ever considered this aspect influenced the overall quality of sound design since most arcade soundtracks don't feature complex a la live or instrument-heavy musics more common with home-based games. Well, the Silent Scope series might be one of those games to fall through the cracks with many audibly, but luckily someone over at Konami's record label sought it to be a good idea to receive a two-disc trilogy of music.

Silent Scope Trilogy features music from all three arcade Silent Scope titles on two satisfying discs; Silent Scope on the first, Dark Silhouette: Silent Scope 2 and "Sogeki" on the second disc."So," what? That's "Sogeki," or "Sniper" more commonly known as "Silent Scope EX" in the U.S. or "Silent Scope 3" (later retitled when released to home consoles). Musically, the games have similarities throughout sans the final game with a mix of musical styles, mainly keyboard-heavy and manipulated tunes often venturing into Hollywood-style action flick with touches of jazz in a la composer and one-man band Jimmy Weckl's own signatures of jazz thrown into the otherwise heap of forgettable tunes.

Jimmy Weckl, stage name for the more commonly known Harumi Ueko (Weckl = play on Ueko?) who adapted many arcade game soundtracks onto the Super Famicom (including Goemon and TMNT: Turtles In Time) later becoming a Bemani Guitarfreaks/Drummania regular contributor across that series bazillion volumes and iterations as the fusion-jazz centric, multi-talented composer and arranger. Playing mainly piano and keyboards, saxophones and guitar, Weckl plays a range of other instruments, too, including brass (which he plays and mixes tandem/ one-man brass sections) often applied to his eclectic musical styles of rock, jazz, funk and occasionally some handsome, spiky backing horns.

The album begins with "Supreme", a lengthy, jazzy "series image score" of, oddly enough, no particular track from Silent Scope but a perfect blend of not only Weckl's stylings and signature sounds but the overtone imposed throughout the first and second Silent Scopes. Ever changing, jazzy and energetic with a piano and keyboard-solo led piece backed with an array of busy drums and percussions with tandem spikes of brass for added touch. The entirety of Silent Scope's sound mimicks this jazzy outfit and whether you like it or not, works well for the game in almost a spy-themed outing.

If only the bulk of the album mirrored this track, Silent Scope could've had a more interesting and memorable soundtrack beyond a few highlights scattered across the discs. Sadly, most of the tracks (the first) Silent Scope are keyboard and program-heavy mirroring a generic Hollywood soundtrack with a slutty saxophone on "Peeping Tom" (music played when focused on a scantilly clad lady), bass-and-percussions with a jazzy keyboard solo on "Search and Destroy" and even some heart-pounding, edgy orchestral work for the infiltration of the final mission "Menace of Darkness".

Weckl does incorporate his own one-man brass section complete with trumpets (regular and mute -- and you'll hear a lot of backing mute trumpets within), trombones and saxophones he's well-known for supplying on a good number of his Guitarfreaks tracks). These, are undoubtedly the better of the tracks found here if often sounding underdeveloped and short albeit true to his energetic, hyper packing of sounds within a few hot minutes. OK, there may be less of that here compared to his Bemani works, but the shadow of it is still evident.

One of the finest tunes remembered from the game is "Deadly Invitation", reprised on here as a seven-minute (double-looped) chilling, edgey orchestral piece that gains momentum, often feeding off strings and some sinister brass accompaniment nicely as you scale the dark hallways, peering through your nightvision scope.

Perhaps one of the most comical pieces of overdrama, "Er Halt Unds Beide" attempts some grandiose, choir trading the inaudible chanting with sharp brasslines and militaristic pounding of drums. You gotta love this one.

Silent Scope 2 moves on to target less of that jazzy influence, moving towards more of a dramatic and varied audio presentation. Dropping much of jazz overtone, apart from the superb opening stage "Fateful Encounter" which lured me into buying this set many years back, Silent Scope 2 goes for more a cafeteria-variety with more thematic musics for the accompanied stages.

"Fateful Encounter" ought to be this game's best offering; beginning with a pounding of tolling bells, a trickle of piano and jazzy cymbals against a sinister howl of evil voices and epic encounter over The London Bridge is, too, a memorable opening stage in the game, accompanied by this ideal track.

Sadly, the rest of the soundtrack falters from here not without some impressive, Hollywood-style melodrama throughout. Weckl provides more malevolent, choir-backed "Dark Silhouette" on the thunderous, dark middle-earth looking stage, an uneasy strings-led operahouse tune "Deadly Playhouse" and even some male operatic vocal for the boss "Devil of Opera".

One of my only gripes about the Silent Scope 2 soundtrack is two things. One, they included these radio-commentary briefing introductions seemingly ripped from the game's opening missions on a few of the tracks -- that go on for an entire minute or so before the soundtrack kicks in. It does this on the "Blizzard" track, so you might want to get that audio editing software queued up. Speaking of the audio on this game sounds a tad fuzzy, compressed -- even the clarity and production of the first game seems to have taken a drop.

Per usual, a few of the auxiliary tunes like the trumpet-and-trombone-heavy "Name Entry" and "Bulls Eye 2001" retain that rich horns-backed jazz sound that Weckl is known for and also stamped in the original. Even the bonus modes contain more chill music than the game's faux orchestral fare.

I guess nobody liked Silent Scope's music up until now which probed Weckl's third outing on "Sogeki" to throw it all away and replace it with a more ginchy electronic and techno-driven (no, heavy) soundtrack which ends up being very noisy and forgettable rather quickly. In spite of this, Sogeki actually has some surprises albeit very few; "The Fly" is reminiscent of a Guitarfreaks or Drummania track with some intense hyper keyboard-and-drumming action along with the soothing "Let's Go Home", beginning with zapping effects segway into a haunting jazz-fusion ending theme were Weckl (finally) busts out his tenor sax for a fine sun-setting etude for the game's "good ending" -- only wish he could've extended this one past a minute and a half. I even dig the new "Bulls Eye 2001" track, a remix of the former "2000" edition done up with some extra funky keyboardmania and thrashing electric drums. But that's it, I'll pass on the rest of this mess.

The only drawbacks with his release are the lack of the (dumbed-down) Playstation 2 soundtrack for Silent Scope 2, which could've help complete the set. The lack of more arrange or extended tracks like the first disc's "Supreme" would've been as kind on a third disc as well. Overall, while promising in patches, Weckl could have aimed higher.