Raiden DX Soundtrack (PlayStation), Go Sato, 1997
Raiden DX is the perfect example of why it got difficult keeping up with the Raiden franchise and its music at some stage. The game is effectively an updated version of Raiden II, making it the strongest entry in the franchise’s classic period. Recycling levels from Raiden II and mixing in completely new stages, Raiden DX presents its content via three different courses players can take. One is essentially a reprise of Raiden II. The other two modes consist of one massive level and of a whole new set of stages that increase Raiden II’s already considerable difficulty level. A full three years after its 1994 arcade release, Raiden DX received a PlayStation port that added more bonus goodies, including new options and a demo of developer Seibu Kaihatsu’s puzzle game Senkyu.
The Raiden DX soundtrack is a similarly convoluted mix of old and new. The score for the first Raiden DX arcade release consisted – not surprisingly – of remixed tracks from the first two Raiden games. As with Raiden II, a “New” budget arcade version of Raiden DX was eventually released, butchering the game’s audio quality. For the PlayStation release, developer Seibu Kaihatsu commissioned a whole new score. That was a wise decision, as the franchise was starting to display its soon all-encompassing habit of rearranging and remixing the same tracks over and over again.
With Raiden II, scoring duties for the franchise had gone from Raiden’s Akira Satoh to Go Sato. Sato had joined Seibu Kaihatsu in 1991, first working on Seibu Cup Soccer ‘92, before taking on Raiden II. Inspired by game music since his childhood (particularly the Gradius and Twinbee series), Sato’s other musical influences included the easy-listening orchestral music of Paul Mauriat, heavy metal bands such as Mötley Crüe, Metallica and Helloween, and James Brown’s funk classics. As Sato put it in an interview: “[t]he result of all these influences is my personal composing style: bass from hard rock, melody line from Paul Mauriat, and a groovy sound from James Brown.” Undoubtedly, his approach bore fruit – Sato remained the Raiden franchise’s resident composer for decades, building the music’s reputation to the point where the 2021 Switch port of Raiden IV was mainly advertised on the strength of its rearranged soundtrack.
As for Sato’s approach to the Raiden DX soundtrack, he is on record stating that he handled the music in the same way as Raiden II: “The concept of the Raiden series is not the coolness of war – it’s actually rather sad. Violent and heroic themes don’t fit.” The trouble is that it’s hard to match this statement – and the one about Sato’s eclectic musical inspirations – with what Raiden DX actually sounds like (only those aforementioned heavy metal influences rear their head on this work).
Essentially, Sato adjusts the template Satoh had applied to Raiden, maintaining a consistent sound across franchise scores. Raiden had pumped out monstrously catchy synth hooks with alarming frequency, and Raiden DX follows suit, presenting its fair share of deliciously over-the-top, fists-raised-to-the-sky anthems. However, Raiden DX cranks up the intensity by deploying more complex, thunderous arrangements and moving away from synth pop/rock towards synth metal. While Sato is just as gifted a melodicist as Satoh, he pens longer tunes that often play more like instrumental soli than pop hooks. What’s astonishing is how hard all of Sato’s melodies hit – each tune large enough to fill a stadium. In that regard, Raiden DX (and arguably Raiden) set a gold standard for this particular – and popular – sub-genre of melody-heavy, 80s-inspired shoot’em up scores that mix pop, rock and metal elements.
All these characteristics are on full display on first level track “Conflict”. With riding rhythms audibly inspired by classic NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden, Sato announces that metal drums and riffage (rather than synths) will propel the Raiden DX soundtrack onwards. The layers of rhythms Sato compiles are significantly more complicated and variable than those found on Raiden, again honouring their origin in technically demanding heavy metal. Sato’s lead melodies aren’t as viscerally catchy as those heard on Raiden, but they are nonetheless memorable and stirring, turning triumphantly soaring at the cue’s climax. What might be most divisive about the track are the heavily distorted guitars – a curious, electronic take on electric guitar sounds that almost sounds like Sega Genesis FM synthesis. Whether created consciously or not, these abrasive timbres bridge the gap between the clear-cut melodies and the grittiness of the rhythm section.
The remainder of the Raiden DX soundtrack thankfully keeps up this level of intensity. “Mission Striker” introduces a more aggressive, leaner sound, with its rapid-fire slapped bass firing up a distorted, twisted synth lead. That melody opens with almost dark majesty, its slower pace and bass timbres effectively contrasting with the frantic rhythmic environment. Then the tune grows more and more active, rising through the register to turn out as empowering and rousing as the franchise’s best melodies. “Roaring Field” is suitably ferocious in its heavy opening riffage before another biting, threatening synth lead kicks in. Like on “Mission Striker”, the melody organically develops into something more grand-standing as the loop approaches. What helps “Roaring Field” stand out are the constantly buzzing guitar riffs that create an almost claustrophobically dense wall of sound.
The second half of the Raiden DX soundtrack doesn’t quite maintain the same level of excellence as its opening but still satisfies. Arrangements become simpler, dropping the intertwining rhythms. Instead, they focus on supporting their still catchy, electrifying melodies, which now develop a habit of repeating more often. Without breaking the score’s stylistic mould, Sato finds an individual approach for each cue. “Like Storm” adds some welcome, 1970s-inspired rock organ inserts to its synth metal approach. “Thrusts” ramps up the tempo to land in speed metal territory, again building an exhilarating contrast between raging rhythms and anthemic melody leads. “Sadness Ahead” preserves the somewhat simpler rhythmic backdrop introduced earlier but presents the score’s most expansive melodies. The piece culminates with the triumphant declaration of the same hook, over and over again. Sato clearly knows how many repetitions his melodies can take.
That leaves “Limit Exceed”, the soundtrack’s most obvious throwback to Raiden’s hyper-melodic style – and one of the entire franchise’s most outstanding cues. Again, Sato’s melodies are longer and more varied than what was heard on Raiden – but that doesn’t stop the composer from peppering his tunes with the same kind of colossal hooks that any hair-metal band would kill for. And once more, Sato’s greater interest in building his cues pays off when the composition reaches a heroic climax (with some subtle synth fanfare counterpoint) that is as addictively joyful as anything the franchise has produced. Raiden DX is the sound of a franchise that keeps playing to its strengths but mixes things up just enough to stay fresh. What’s more, it’s the best Raiden score Sato has ever written.
- 01 - Conflict Sato, Go 3:01
- 02 - Mission Striker Sato, Go 3:08
- 03 - Roaring Field Sato, Go 3:02
- 04 - Limit Exceed Sato, Go 3:00
- 05 - Like Storm Sato, Go 2:56
- 06 - Thrusts Sato, Go 3:26
- 07 - Sadness Ahead Sato, Go 2:48