Review Summary: The dark abyss, by Motoi Sakuraba.
Motoi Sakuraba is a well known name in the Japanese Game Industry. The man has one of the largest compositions list in video games. The man has composed music from well known series like Tales of..., Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile, and even the Super Smash Bros. series. The man get's around. Of course, in the year of our lord 2019, Sakuraba's main claim to fame is his work in the highly acclaimed soundtrack for Dark Souls. It isn't hard to see why, the original Dark Souls contains a myriad of ambient works that both amplify and mimic the dark gothic atmosphere of the game itself. Unlike most games, Dark Souls does not have a continuously playing soundtrack. Instead, songs play at certain specific moments in the game, from bosses to cutscenes, and even areas themselves.
When trying to portray the fierceness of the bosses within the game, Sakuraba pulls out all the stops. Taurus Demon
uses a cacophony of operatic moaning as violin's and trumpets blast with earnest speed in order to signify danger. These same techniques are replicated in Bell Gargoyle
but are done at a much slower pace along with significant overdubbing. Like the soundtrack to FromSoftware's previous RPG Demon's Souls, the songs within the Dark Souls soundtrack utilize a heavy array of operatic moaning that is broken up in pieces to maintain an almost ritualistic atmosphere.
Of course that was Sakuraba's mistake when composing the soundtrack to this game. In an effort to mimic the intensity and horror of Demon's Souls, he failed to both accurately replicate the past soundtrack and build a unique soundtrack all on his own. That isn't to say there aren't tracks that set themselves apart from it's predecessors. Pinwheel
uses a slow violin and flute with meshed organs to build a sense of dread in the listener. Gwynevere, Princess of Sunlight
uses a beautiful crescendo with a fantastic organ piece and Ornstein and Smough
mixes multiple instruments together to build a universal sound through meshing. Then there are forgettable tracks like Ceaseless Discharge
and Centipede Demon
two tracks that use the same broken operatic moaning and trumpet playing that numerous tracks have already done and better. Dark Sun Gwyndolin
has a beautiful pace but also feels eerily similar to "Fool's Idol" from Demon's Souls. The worst offender is Overture
a track that attempts to build an epic, grandiose composition only to falter by using the same techniques as those found in Ornstein and Smough
Sakuraba's biggest strength lies in his ability to portray emotion within his music. By far one of the best tracks within the soundtrack is Dark Souls
a slow building song that has dense percussion and a slow building opera that then evolves into a full-blown chorus, only to fade back again. Tracks like Knight Artorias
and Gwyn, Lord of Cinder
use slow but simple piano and opera pieces to build an emotional template for the characters used in the tracks themselves. The best track, of course, goes to the brilliant Firelink Shrine
. The track uses a continuous violin with a soft piano tapping that is then amplified by a harp that pops in an out at random intervals.
The soundtrack to Dark Souls is both a beautiful testament to the talent and creativity of Motoi Sakuraba, and an unfortunate case of attempting to replicate something that cannot be replicated. When Sakuraba is attempting to mimic popular aspects of the Demon's Souls soundtrack, he falters. However, when Motoi is building his own atmosphere; that is when the album shines. The soundtrack to Dark Souls is both beautiful and dreary, a symbol of death encroaching on all that once was beautiful and serene. From bells to harps to violins; the album plays almost like funeral music. As if we are witnessing the burial of something precious, unable to comprehend the beauty of our dearly departed until they were dead.