I.Q. Final Soundtrack, Takayuki Hattori, 1998
Thankfully, the 32-bit era still had a place for games that were visually extremely simple yet featured addictive gameplay. One such title was 1997’s PlayStation puzzler Intelligent Qube. It was designed by Masahiko Sato, a professor and digital artist working at the Tokyo University of Arts. Controlling Intelligent Qube’s protagonist, gamers had to clear wave after wave of approaching cubes by marking spots on the stage – floating in the blackness of space – waiting for the cube to roll on top of it. Like the best puzzlers, Intelligent Qube used such an extremely simple gameplay premise – according to Sato designed within an hour – to build an engrossing experience. The result was critical and commercial acclaim – by the end of 1997, the game had sold an astonishing 750,000 copies and won the Excellence Award for Interactive Art at the 1997 Japan Media Arts Festival.
Not surprisingly, the following year saw the release of a sequel: I.Q. Final. The game didn’t innovate much on its predecessor’s winning formula and essentially presented more of the same, with some tweaks such as unlockable characters. Another carryover from Intelligent Cube was composer Takayuki Hattori returning to provide the game’s soundtrack. By the mid-1990s, there were few composers better-versed in producing orchestral game music than Takayuki Hattori. Together with his father Katsuhisa Hattori, he had created the arrangements for the first orchestral Final Fantasy album, Symphonic Suite Final Fantasy. Following the album’s success, he also arranged music from Final Fantasy Legend and various Falcom games for orchestra. He then made his debut as a game music composer with Romance of the Three Kingdoms V. Meanwhile, he had also started to embark on what would become a very successful career as a movie and TV composer.
Hattori’s score for Intelligent Cube had caught many reviewers’ attention – which was no surprise, given the music’s prominent role in creating the game’s particular aesthetic. While Intelligent Cube’s visuals couldn’t have been any simpler, Hattori’s music was anything but. Instead of going for an electronica-heavy score one would have expected from a 32-bit era puzzler, Hattori instead wrote one of game music’s early orchestral scores, even drafting the Tokyo Philharmonic Choir. The result was a soundtrack that not just amplified the game’s atmosphere but instead utterly dominated it. The music’s unusually lavish character was only heightened by its juxtaposition with the game’s abstract visuals, to the point where the score took on an unexpectedly mythical character in-game (helped by the choral voices).
However, Intelligent Cube’s score ultimately didn’t feature enough worthwhile material to register as an entirely successful work – enjoyable as it was in parts. Thankfully, when Hattori returned for the I.Q. Final soundtrack (recorded only eight months after the first game), he was given the opportunity to write a more significant amount of music. The larger ensemble size equally mirrored the score’s increased scope – now Hattori wrote for a decent-sized symphonic orchestra while still involving the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus.
What didn’t change on the I.Q. Final soundtrack is the music’s atmosphere and Hattori’s meticulous approach to scoring these games. Through his exemplary use of instrumental colours and fluid orchestrations full of rich and flexible counterpoint, Hattori writes compositions that one would expect to hear in a top-shelf RPG, such is their scale and breadth. Take “Compass Points to the Future” (one suspects this might have been written for an end-of-level / high score scenario). Hattori kicks things off with adventurous, heroic brass fanfares and backs them with such sweeping strings and excitable cymbal strikes that it’s hard not to fondly recall John Williams’ Indiana Jones scores. It’s a short composition (all cues here loop – unusual for an orchestral score), but Hattori adds some variation by passing lead melody duties to the violins during the B sections. The fun is arguably over all too soon, but what’s there is delightful.
Other tracks continue this surprisingly adventurous, enterprising mood while still fittingly underscoring the game’s nature as a puzzler. The soundtrack’s two standout compositions are “The 2nd Tide” and “Theory”. Both are driven forwards by a densely woven yet light tapestry of rhythms, courtesy of percussion and string ostinati. No doubt underscoring the constantly approaching waves of blocks, these superbly realised, gently churning march elements back typically varied and intertwining violin and brass melodies. Hattori’s melodic gifts are on full display here as he writes constantly developing melodies that alternate between swooning and bravely advancing. “Theory” is the more dogged of the two pieces, its triumphant conclusion hard-won, whereas “The 2nd Tide” continually grows in stature until it naturally segues into a passage for wordless choir that adds both grandeur and an element of mystery to the composition’s sweep.
Equally one of the longer cues on the I.Q. Final soundtrack, “Pharaoh’s Treasure” takes a different approach. Forsaking both the propulsion and swagger of earlier cues, it instead relies on slow-moving, passionate string melodies whose Middle-Eastern flair is evoked far more tastefully than what’s usually found on game scores. Heaving with import, the cue flows with a great sense of melodrama as its melodies rise and fall fervidly, the music’s heavy mood befitting the composition’s title. On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, we find “4-Horned Tower” (likely a menu track of some sort). Its beguiling, somewhat static nocturnal mood comes courtesy of a harp ostinato, tentative woodwind sounds and muted female choir. However, before things turn too reverent, a borderline cheeky trumpet melody injects some welcome levity into the composition. Even during more sombre moments, Intelligent Cube remains upbeat and optimistic.
Two choral pieces fittingly bookend the I.Q. Final soundtrack – one raises the curtain with a grand gesture, while the other reaps the benefits of the groundwork laid by the rest of the score. Opening track “Continental Shift” is a bit too short to make much of an impact, but “Tectonics ~ Opened Gate” fares better. First, it takes the score’s scope to its logical conclusion, with wordless choir floating above dramatically crashing waves of orchestral forces – and then Hattori seamlessly segues into the emotional opposite, as hushed choral voices fade out over tolling bells. It’s a beautiful summation of the sense of awe that the choir brings to the soundtrack, expressed both during forceful and quiet moments.
Ultimately, “Healing Gate” closes the score on a note of elation and calm, cleverly combining the contrasting timbres of two clarinets with the cooing choir. The I.Q. Final soundtrack might be short, but it holds greater riches than the vast majority of orchestral game scores.
- 01 - 4-Horned Tower Hattori, Takayuki 1:50
- 02 - The 2nd Tide Hattori, Takayuki 3:28
- 03 - Compass Points to the Future Hattori, Takayuki 2:01
- 04 - Theory Hattori, Takayuki 2:50
- 05 - Pharaoh's Treasure Hattori, Takayuki 2:56
- 06 - Tectonics ~ Opened Gate Hattori, Takayuki 1:07
- 07 - Healing Gate Hattori, Takayuki 2:48