Shiren the Wanderer 3 Soundtrack (Wii), Hayato Matsuo, 2008
The Shiren the Wanderer franchise is one of those video game series that generated a surprising number of titles, despite never generating outstanding sales numbers. Upon its release in Japan in 2008, Fushigi no Dungeon: Fuurai no Shiren 3: Karakuri Yashiki no Nemuri Hime was the seventh game in the long-running franchise of roguelikes. Making matters rather confusing, in 2010 Atlus USA released the game in the USA as Shiren the Wanderer (not to be confused with the 1995 SNES original). For the purpose of this review, we’ll stick with Shiren the Wanderer 3. Like more or less all other Shiren the Wanderer titles, the game generated respectable reviews and decent sales, without leaving a particularly strong impression either way. What a number of reviewers did remark upon was that the game’s difficulty had been toned down somewhat from its predecessors, making this a more accessible entry in the franchise.
While the first Shiren the Wanderer game had been blessed by what is Koichi Sugiyama’s best work outside of the Dragon Quest series, Hayato Matsuo had taken over franchise scoring duties since 2001’s Shiren the Wanderer GB2. For that score as well as on 2002’s Fushigi no Dungeon: Fuurai no Shiren Gaiden: Onna Kenshi Asuka Kenzan, Matsuo had relied extensively on material previously written by Sugiyama. Matsuo took a more individualistic approach on the Shiren the Wanderer 3 soundtrack, which features only a few reprises of Sugiyama’s melodies. The score came at a fortuitous time for Matsuo, hot on the heels of his magnum opus Hellsing Ultimate. Unfortunately, no soundtrack release has been forthcoming for Shiren the Wanderer 3 – maybe developer Chunsoft was wary of releasing a four disc-album for a Wii title that hadn’t been a commercial smash hit.
Yes, Matsuo’s score clocks in at four hours (looped), making it one of the most expansive Wii soundtracks. Thankfully, it also happens to be one of the best scores on the system – when all is said and done, this masterful work contains no less than three hours of excellent music. Matsuo’s skills as a creator of lavishly orchestrated and fluidly developed pieces full of exquisite melodies are on full display here. What might be most striking is how Matsuo manages to create a neverending stream of beautiful melodies (usually on woodwinds), while merging Japanese and Western orchestrations with a stunning ease rivalled by very few other composers.
In this journey across soundworlds, Matsuo of course follows in the footsteps of Sugiyama and the template he had set back in 1995. Naturally, advances in technology and a longer run time allow Matsuo to explore his broad array of instruments in greater detail and variety. While he very rarely ventures outside of the realm of acoustic orchestrations on the Shiren the Wander 3 soundtrack, Matsuo teases a dazzling array of colours and moods out of his (synthesised) ensemble.
An impressionistic piece like “Goten Kaguyagoryou” for example, with its contently glowing, slowly drifting melodies reprises the mood of Shiren the Wanderer’s bucolic village tracks. When Matsou focuses more strongly on Japanese influences – usually lead by shakuhachi and shamisen soli – the mood often turns strikingly ritualistic and austere, for example on “Goten Butai 1” and “Yomigoten”. On “Toride 1” and “Toride 4”, Matsuo evokes a remarkably arid mood through the use of traditional Japanese instruments, setting a scene that is lonesome but not bereft of hope or melodic beauty. Elsewhere, Matsuo uses his home country’s musical traditions in more light-hearted fashion. “Goten Tenshu” turns into a nocturnal reverie thanks to its calm shakuhachi solo set against glistening synths. Like “Ryuugaike”, “Goten Tenshu” then surprises by moving from a serene opening to a lively B section that doesn’t interrupt the carefully conjured, enraptured mood.
It’s on the more cinematic pieces that the Shiren the Wanderer 3 soundtrack wears his other prominent inspiration – Western classical music – proudly on his sleeve, again to superlative results. For example, you wouldn’t expect to find a harpsichord on a score like this. However, “Yashiki 1” effortlessly pulls this surprise off, before it develops into one of the soundtrack’s most complex, ambitious pieces that combines quiveringly dramatic string orchestrations with a thrilling shakuhachi solo. “Yagura 2” sees Matsuo having some fun with the format of a belligerent, brass-heavy march, slipping in some humorous undertones. “Warabeuta Kaguya” delivers an unexpected outburst of choir- and brass-driven bombast that takes an initially innocent flute melody to unexpectedly theatrical heights. And “Kaguya 3” surprises as a superbly written string adagio that might be the score’s most brilliantly melodic, heart-rending composition.
Matsuo’s most assured use of orchestral forces is found on “Epilogue 1” and “Epilogue 2”. The first composition is a delightful mix of gentle dance rhythms and light-footed call and response patterns between various solo instruments. Its successor seamlessly builds from its reflective start to a mighty brass climax that proves Matsuo to be at least the equal of Sugiyama when it comes to writing orchestral compositions of truly classically-inspired gravitas and splendour.
And like Sugiyama before him, Matsuo combines Japanese and Western instruments with commensurate skill – in fact, the Shiren the Wanderer 3 soundtrack might be one of the best amalgamations of Eastern and Western music in any medium. Again, there’s an embarrassment of riches to choose from. “Kaguya” mixes a warm romanticism derived from Western classical music with Japanese woodwind leads. “Yashiki 2” grafts a shamisen melody onto percolating orchestral woodwind lines to underscore a tense scenario in beguiling timbres. On the lighter end of the spectrum is “Touge”, one of the few compositions featuring the pipa more prominently as two woodwind lines intertwine blissfully against swooning strings. And of course, “Staff Roll” is the perfect spot to summarise Matsuo’s eclectic, yet unified approach – appropriately upbeat and proud as it delves into a cornucopia of colours and melodies.
Not many soundtrack aficionados associate the Wii with the kind of sweeping, grand RPG score that attracted so many fans to game music in the first place. However, that’s precisely what Matsuo’s Shiren the Wanderer 3 is – a work of immense stature and a boundless supply of melodic delights that is both coherent and kaleidoscopic at the same time.
- 01 - Opening Matsuo, Hayato 2:08
- 02 - Chaya Matsuo, Hayato 2:24
- 03 - Dokodemo Matsuo, Hayato 3:19
- 04 - Fact Matsuo, Hayato 2:49
- 05 - Goten Butai 1 Matsuo, Hayato 3:48
- 06 - Goten Honmaru 1 Matsuo, Hayato 3:18
- 07 - Goten Kaguyagoryou Matsuo, Hayato 4:29
- 08 - Goten Tenshu Matsuo, Hayato 3:05
- 09 - Goten Zenigura 1 Matsuo, Hayato 3:34
- 10 - Goten Zenigura Matsuo, Hayato 3:32
- 11 - Hourai Matsuo, Hayato 2:51
- 12 - Hourai (Under) Matsuo, Hayato 2:52
- 13 - Izanami 2 Matsuo, Hayato 3:16
- 14 - Jofuku Matsuo, Hayato 3:10
- 15 - Juurouta Matsuo, Hayato 2:24
- 16 - Kaguya 1 Matsuo, Hayato 4:07
- 17 - Kaguya 2 Matsuo, Hayato 3:33
- 18 - Kaguya 3 Matsuo, Hayato 2:43
- 19 - Karakurihime Matsuo, Hayato 3:46
- 20 - Mizunoyama Matsuo, Hayato 3:48
- 21 - Monologue Matsuo, Hayato 3:24
- 22 - Monster Cottage Matsuo, Hayato 2:31
- 23 - Monster House Matsuo, Hayato 2:18
- 24 - Noumin Matsuo, Hayato 3:51
- 25 - Ootsutsukimura Matsuo, Hayato 2:48
- 26 - Ootsutsukimura (Past) Matsuo, Hayato 2:18
- 27 - Ryuugaike OYNZ50011512 3:34
- 28 - S30 Matsuo, Hayato 3:52
- 29 - Sanukinomori Matsuo, Hayato 3:07
- 30 - Sanukinomori (Past) Matsuo, Hayato 2:59
- 31 - Shishanotani Matsuo, Hayato 3:30
- 32 - Shop Matsuo, Hayato 2:02
- 33 - Tension 2 Matsuo, Hayato 2:25
- 34 - Toride 1 Matsuo, Hayato 2:56
- 35 - Toride 2 Matsuo, Hayato 2:55
- 36 - Toride 3 Matsuo, Hayato 3:18
- 37 - Toride 4 Matsuo, Hayato 4:14
- 38 - Touge Matsuo, Hayato 2:58
- 39 - Touge (Past) Matsuo, Hayato 3:19
- 40 - Warabeuta Kaguya Matsuo, Hayato 4:31
- 41 - Yagura 1 Matsuo, Hayato 3:53
- 42 - Yagura 2 Matsuo, Hayato 3:12
- 43 - Yashiki 1 Matsuo, Hayato 4:06
- 44 - Yashiki 2 Matsuo, Hayato 3:09
- 45 - Yomigoten 1 Matsuo, Hayato 4:27
- 46 - Epilogue 1 Matsuo, Hayato 3:37
- 47 - Epilogue 2 Matsuo, Hayato 2:19
- 48 - Staff Roll Matsuo, Hayato 3:34