Raiden V Soundtrack, Yoshimi Kudo, 2016
You’ve got to appreciate true dedication. Take the development staff of Seibu Kaihatsu, creators of the Raiden franchise. The company slid into financial woes from the late 1990s and focused on adult mahjong arcade games. However, its staff members left Seibu Kaihatsu, formed a new company called MOSS, bought the rights to the Raiden franchise – and ensured that its legacy would continue through several new instalments. After creating the franchise’s third and fourth titles, MOSS hit a milestone with Raiden V in 2016 – an impressive 26 years after the original Raiden hit arcades. As with previous franchise titles developed by MOSS, Raiden V picked up solid – if not always ecstatic – reviews. Not surprisingly, Raiden V introduced few innovations to the formula that the series had thrived on, but once again promised solid bullet hell-entertainment (that was slightly more accessible to novices than previous Raiden games).
Since Raiden II, Go Sato had become the franchise’s go-to composer, delivering one of the all-time great shoot’em up scores with Raiden DX in 1997. Interestingly enough, for the Raiden V soundtrack, MOSS decided to shake things up a bit. In 2013, they had released another shoot’em up title – Caladrius, followed in 2014 by Caladrius Blaze. MOSS had drafted Hitoshi Sakimoto’s Basiscape collective of composers for these two games. The developers must have been particularly impressed with the work of one of the artists involved because, for Raiden V, they brought back Basiscape’s Yoshimi Kudo. Having joined Basiscape in 2008, Kudo had already amassed dozens of credits as a composer, arranger, and performer when he began penning the Raiden V soundtrack. Interestingly, despite all the experience he had gathered, Kudo had had few – if any – opportunities to score a game entirely on his own.
And so, you might interpret the Raiden V soundtrack as the work of a composer who is eager to make his mark and prove his mettle. If that was indeed Kudo’s aim, he achieved it with flying colours. His score is an absolute behemoth, with many tracks building forceful walls of sound that always manage to organise their relentlessly whirling musical ideas into coherent musical arcs. Kudo clearly wants to impress and overwhelm, and so Raiden V constantly proceeds at full throttle. This is easily one of the most ambitious, densely orchestrated action game scores ever composed.
Kudo’s musical inspirations – as per interviews – provide a glimpse of how he approached Raiden V. Having picked up the guitar in junior high school, Kudo had formed a band that mostly copied power/prog metal bands that were popular at the time, such as Angra and Dream Theater. In the same interview, Kudo also underlined his broad musical interests and that he was always aiming for novel musical approaches.
Now, you wouldn’t call the Raiden V soundtrack stylistically unprecedented. Achieving a monumental mix of finely crafted orchestral elements, howling metal guitars and drums and tastefully added electronics, Kudo presents a musical concoction that one might interpret in various ways. You could view it as a continuation and refinement of Japan’s game music tradition mixing those three genres (if you wanted to just stay within the field of shoot’em ups, you could point to prog-rock maven Motoi Sakuraba’s Sol-Feace, for example). In other ways, Raiden V feels like an over-achieving take on contemporary, percussion-heavy action scoring in both movies and games. Finally, Raiden V does derive much inspiration from prog metal’s rhythmic virtuosity and power metal’s ornate arrangements.
However, no matter how many lines of tradition Raiden V continues, it ultimately stands as a nearly unique game score. That’s not because it reinvents the wheel. Instead, Kudo takes a challenging formula that asks much of any composer using it and executes it to a level of perfection that sets the Raiden V soundtrack far apart from the competition. His dizzying orchestrations are as opulent as they are clever and colourful – and there’s more than enough substance to Kudo’s compositions as well. Most of his tracks run between six and ten minutes, shaped not just by a constantly changing array of timbres and rhythms but also by smartly deployed melodies (often on piano) that provide moments of both respite and focus.
It might all sound like the polar opposite of earlier franchise classics like Raiden and Raiden DX, which focused on firing off one instantly memorable hook after the after while keeping arrangements in service of those huge melodies. However, the relentless pursuit of maximalism connects the Raiden V soundtrack with these earlier works – the quest to create the biggest sound possible. It’s only the means that differ this time.
Most of the level tracks, starting with “Unknown Pollution”, then sound like virtuoso exercises in constantly pounding, ferociously energetic action music. It’s something that so much modern film and music aspires to, but those works very rarely achieve the level of inspiration Kudo displays here. Even during his music’s most bombastic sections, the score never turns tiresome or monotonous, thanks to Kudo’s outstanding drum programming. Letting rock drums play most of the score’s thunderous rhythms is clever, giving them a vibrancy that more synthetic rhythm work often lacks. More important still are the constant drum syncopations that propel the music forwards and yet keep its progression sufficiently surprising and unpredictable to hold interest, even when the melodic material or orchestrations become thinner. As a result of all this, “Apostle’s Maraud”, “Intellect and Intelligence”, “Fortress of Philosophy”, and “Far Journey” all emerge as monolithic yet agile epics.
Equally, Kudo knows when to tweak his approach to underscore specific locations. “Secret Cave” makes space for middle-eastern melody progressions against acoustic percussion. The cue’s pace is slower, and its melodies are more languid and expansive, particularly in the strings. These artistic decisions give the music a vaguely Lawrence of Arabia-inspired widescreen appeal without ever coming across as derivative. “Hide-and-Seek in a Sea” uses lighter orchestrations, led by a racing piano motif and a prominent flute part, to complement its watery setting. The cue is convincing proof that Kudo can apply his wall of sound for more atmospheric means as well. At the other end of the spectrum lies “It’s Name Valbarossa”. This feels like Kudo writing for an RTS score as massive armies go to war. Driven by pounding, belligerent rhythms, “It’s Name Valbarossa” sees Kudo achieving a sound that is both hypnotic and rousingly martial.
After all this, where to go for the finale? The Raiden V soundtrack finds a convincing answer on “Crystal of Abyss”. Instead of attempting to make the music more complex still, Kudo goes for a series of clearly delineated, relatively straightforward sections – and makes them as breathtakingly massive as possible. The perfect example is that sudden plunge from the portentous slow opening into a towering choral melody backed by deep strings going berserk, churning away at furious speeds as if their lives depended on it. It’s a goosebump-inducing contrast that only gets stronger once Kudo adds speed metal guitars. He then contrasts such jaw-droppingly intense music with string interludes that proceed with almost operatic grace – a true tour de force. It’s another example of how the Raiden V soundtrack throws absolutely everything it has at the listener – thankfully backed by a degree of musical intelligence that is truly rare.
- 01 - Unknown Pollution Kudo, Yoshimi 3:43
- 02 - Secret Cave Kudo, Yoshimi 5:06
- 03 - Apostle's Maraud Kudo, Yoshimi 6:17
- 04 - Hide-And-Seek in a Sea Kudo, Yoshimi 3:34
- 05 - Intellect and Intelligence Kudo, Yoshimi 6:33
- 06 - It's Name Valbarossa Kudo, Yoshimi 6:53
- 07 - Fortress of Philosophy Kudo, Yoshimi 6:18
- 08 - Tag in the Sky Kudo, Yoshimi 3:39
- 09 - Far Journey Kudo, Yoshimi 8:04
- 10 - Crystal of Abyss Kudo, Yoshimi 9:41
- 11 - The Phenomenon Kudo, Yoshimi 2:13