Kameo: Elements of Power Soundtrack, Steve Burke, 2005
It’s hard to say whatever curse it might have been, but throughout the 2000s, developer Rare struggled with cancellations or lengthy delays on several of its games. This fate also befell Kameo: Elements of Power, which was in development for a full five years. Initially announced under the name of Ariel’s Quest for the GameCube, production was moved to the Xbox after Microsoft purchased Rare. Ultimately, Kameo: Elements of Power became one of the launch titles for the Xbox 360. Given its protracted development time, it was no surprise to see just how polished Kameo was, with its lavish fantasy visuals praised by nearly every critic. Views on the game’s playability and length were slightly more divided, but while Kameo didn’t manage to capture the magic of Rare’s classic Nintendo titles, it enjoyed strong enough sales and a generally warm reception.
Kameo’s graphics were not the only aspect of the game’s presentation that drew compliments – Steve Burke’s lush soundtrack was equally well-received. This was the first score that Rare decided to have recorded by a live orchestra – a decision that was made quite late during development. Composer Steve Burke chose around 80 minutes of his four hours of material written for the Kameo: Elements of Power soundtrack to be performed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and King’s Choir, led by always dependable orchestrator and conductor Nic Raine. The experience clearly was a positive one – the following year, Rare composer Grant Kirkhope returned to Prague to record Viva Piñata with the same ensemble.
Burke himself had joined Rare in 2001 and soon started working on the Kameo: Elements of Power soundtrack after providing additional music for Star Fox Adventures. A graduate of King’s College London and the Royal College of Music, Burke had been interested in game music since the 1980s, starting with the C64 and the Amiga. Due to Kameo’s protracted development, Burke’s work went through several changes – from MIDI to streaming audio and from a light and playful approach during the Nintendo years to something more action-based and darker after Microsoft took over. Burke publicly documented the several iterations his work went through by releasing all the music he wrote for Kameo as a free download on Rare’s website (minus the contents of the official soundtrack album).
In other words, there’s a lot of material to work with when compiling the strongest compositions from the Kameo: Elements of Power soundtrack. After all is said and done, there’s about an hour’s worth of first-rate orchestral scoring to be found amidst Burke’s work – a magnificent fantasy score that stands out from the glut of Western fantasy game soundtracks of the 2000s. Burke doesn’t greatly innovate here, but while he largely follows genre stereotypes, he and Raine do so with obvious skill.
Case in point: the inevitable fantasy bombast which particularly comes to dominate the latter half of the score. Beginning with “Thorn’s Pass”, Burke unleashes a string of large-scale action cues that march forward with rhythmic single-mindedness, aided by an onslaught of heavy percussion and towering brass leads. It’s the kind of monumental battle music that most fantasy game scores reach for, but so often fail to pull off successfully, due to a lack of variation and strong melodic material. What’s so impressive on “Thorn’s Pass”, “The Badlands” and “Danger in the Sky” is how composer and orchestrator retain the constant march tempi and resulting overwhelming momentum, while ensuring that their pieces never become monotonous. Instead, a cue like “Danger in the Sky” only keeps gaining in stature and drama as it adds layered choir vocals, taking the piece to what’s indeed an epic conclusion.
This strong choral component is another defining characteristic of this score. Present from the start on “Kameo’s Quest (Title Screen)”, Burke deploys choral sounds – often split into male and female voices – on several compositions. Again, the music is reaching for that imposing fantasy gravitas and once more it gets there, thanks to Burke’s skillful handling of the choral material. “Hero’s Theme (Main Theme)” features a fairly stereotypical approach, but delivers its bombast successfully, thanks to its strong melodies, admirable amount of counterpoint – and details like the clever use of minor key choral harmonies around 2:00 that help create the required sense of vast scope. Where the choir truly shines is on “A Legend is Born” and “The Legend Unfolds (End Credits Part One)”. Bringing the soundtrack’s classically-inspired inclinations to a head, these majestic pieces wring every last bit of gravitas from their solemn melody lines and expert choral counterpoint.
Vocals feature on the Kameo: Elements of Power soundtrack in other ways as well. Burke uses female solo voices to underscore the game’s elven protagonists – again hardly an unexpected stylistic choice, but one that differentiates Kameo somewhat still from other fantasy scores. Performed by Rare colleagues Aisling Duddy and Eveline Fischer, these delicate soli make their mark on “Elf King Solon”, “A Lament for Solon” and “Kameo’s Song (End Credits Part Two)”. Their hushed, intimate tones are a welcome dynamic change from the score’s heavier stylings, underscoring the elven’s otherworldly nature rather than their awe-inspiring might. There’s no lack of scale on these moving compositions, as Burke manages to organically build the intertwining solo and ensemble vocal lines into quasi-operatic expressions. “Kameo’s Song (End Credits Part Two)” is earthier in its approach, happy to celebrate the return of piece with a touchingly simple, calm melody line.
The Kameo: Elements of Power soundtrack differentiates itself most obviously from the competition through its location scoring. Here Burke and Raine make impressive use of the orchestra’s colours, while also throwing in some touches of quirkiness that help ground the soundtrack’s high-flying ambitions. The standout track here is easily “Forest Glade”. If Viva Pinata was modelled on Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughn-Williams’ compositions, this is Burke doing his best Frederick Delius’ impersonation. For more than five minutes, “Forest Glade” enchants with an impressionistic, dazzling array of woodwind colours. Their harmonically ambiguous nature makes for the soundtrack’s richest and most complex piece, oscillating between idyllic, magical, forbidding and mysterious. “Dark Woods” continues this bewitching style of scoring with a greater emphasis on flowing melodies, while “Crystal Cavern” supplements its expectedly tinkling orchestrations with a delightfully rasping bassoon lead and deep string accents.
Finally, “Trainer Cave” and “Chillin’ in the Trainer’s Hut” allow Burke to indulge in more light-hearted tones – “Trainer Cave” through its tribal feel, cheeky woodwind melodies and effervescent string backing, while “Chillin’ in the Trainer’s Hut” charms as a gentle acoustic guitar ballad. These compositions round off a most auspicious scoring debut – a fantasy soundtrack that covers all the expected bases and still develops its own personality.
This playlist is a curated selection of music from the game rip.
- 01 - Kameo's Quest (Title Screen) Burke, Steve 1:36
- 02 - Trainer Cave Burke, Steve 2:45
- 03 - Chillin' in the Trainer's Hut Burke, Steve 1:36
- 04 - Crystal Cavern Burke, Steve 2:20
- 05 - Elf King Solon Burke, Steve 4:23
- 06 - Elemental Warriors Burke, Steve 1:24
- 07 - Thorn Revealed Burke, Steve 1:02
- 08 - Hero's Theme (Main Theme) Burke, Steve 3:08
- 09 - Shadow Realm Burke, Steve 1:37
- 10 - A Lament for Solon Burke, Steve 2:14
- 11 - Theena's Sorrow Burke, Steve 1:33
- 12 - Forest Glade Burke, Steve 5:09
- 13 - Enter the Sacred Land Burke, Steve 2:41
- 14 - Lakeside Burke, Steve 1:18
- 15 - Fire Cave Entrance Burke, Steve 1:20
- 16 - Thorn's Pass Burke, Steve 2:49
- 17 - Dark Woods Burke, Steve 3:34
- 18 - Queen Thyra Burke, Steve 0:59
- 19 - The Badlands Burke, Steve 3:44
- 20 - Danger in the Sky Burke, Steve 3:08
- 21 - Final Showdown Burke, Steve 2:44
- 22 - A Legend is Born Burke, Steve 2:13
- 23 - Ortho's Theme Burke, Steve 4:17
- 24 - In the Huts Burke, Steve 2:31
- 25 - The Legend Unfolds (End Credits Part One) Burke, Steve 3:16
- 26 - Kameo's Song (End Credits Part Two) Burke, Steve 3:25