World of Demons Soundtrack, Naofumi Harada / Hiroshi Yamaguchi, 2021
It’s very rare for a game to receive a limited release in a handful of second-tier markets, get pulled from store shelves within a few months – only to receive a second, worldwide release a full three years later. That’s precisely what happened to World of Demons, PlatinumGames’ first published foray into mobile gaming (it’s hard to ignore the fact that the developer’s previous mobile title – much-touted all-star JRPG Lost Order – was never released). Given PlatinumGames’ reputation as the action game auteurs behind titles like the Bayonetta franchise and Nier: Automata, World of Demons‘ announcement as a hack and slash inspired by Japanese mythology caused some excitement. Ultimately, reviews for the game were respectable rather than extraordinary, with critics praising its combat and art direction while finding fault with World of Demons‘ repetitive level structure.
World of Demons’ lavish (at least by mobile game standards) presentation extended to its soundtrack, written by PlatinumGames’ co-founder and chief composer Hiroshi Yamaguchi, and Naofumi Harada. For Yamaguchi, this was an opportunity to return to the traditional Japanese music that had graced his scoring debut, 2006’s Okami, followed by his work on Bayonetta, Anarchy Reigns and Star Fox Zero. Naofumi Harada’s scoring background wasn’t as extensive. However, he had previously worked with Yamaguchi on Bayonetta 2, Star Fox Zero and Star Fox Guard. PlatinumGames certainly didn’t skimp on the game’s music budget, which allowed for several live performers playing traditional Japanese instruments, as well as a 19-piece string ensemble – the Synchron Stage Orchestra in Vienna, which had just performed on Shigeru Umebayashi’s Kalpa of Universe. Another familiar face involved here was Shota Nakama, musical director of the Video Game Orchestra, handling the game’s orchestral arrangements.
Considering the game’s visual and gameplay style, the World of Demons soundtrack moves along a few predictable lines. Yes, the score is heavily rooted in traditional Japanese music, and one half of the (short) album consists of action pieces. However, that stylistic combination is still not often heard on game scores, and the composers prove themselves experts in this particular idiom. The instrumentations on World of Demons underline these artists’ knowledge of Japanese folk music. While most scores aiming for an unmistakably Japanese sound are happy to stick to shakuhachi and shamisen, Yamaguchi and Harada add three more solo woodwind – shinobue, nohkan and hichiriki – to the mix. And while the composers seamlessly combine Japanese and Western (orchestral) influences, it’s really the solo instruments’ contributions that carry the score’s melodies and atmosphere.
“Flaring Tempers” is the World of Demons soundtrack’s first action cue and also its least convincing one – although thankfully, that’s a relative measure which only indicates the score’s overall excellent quality. Warrior chants and frenzied Japanese percussion create a suitably turbulent backdrop for Yamaguchi’s tense woodwind writing that soars above the rhythmic onslaught, giving the music direction and compelling drama. The solo woodwinds play counterpoint to the fiery passion of the – occasionally monotonous – rhythmic thrust but never take away from its power. Here as on “The Rush of Battle”, Yamaguchi uses the shamisen’s wiry timbre to add greater attack to the churning rhythms.
“The Rush of Battle”’s fierce call-and-response pattern between brass fanfares and combined shamisen and vocals leads into the soundtrack’s most dazzling moment. Yamaguchi piles every single ingredient – brass, shamisen, booming percussion, aggressive shouts – on top of each other, pushing the cue towards ever more intense heights to arrive at a wonderfully powerful climax. It’s the most stunning demonstration of the composers’ knack for impressively dense orchestrations and interlocking rhythms that combine the sinewy, hair-raising intensity of traditional Japanese instruments with Western orchestral bombast. The latter isn’t shaped with the same creativity as its Eastern counterpart but is more than effective enough to reinforce the music’s stormy nature.
That is particularly the case on closing track “Intoxication”, which adds full choral voices to the World of Demons soundtrack and its explosive combination of timbres. None of the orchestral elements – towering brass overlays, flighty strings, a monolithic, repetitive choral motif – are particularly complex. However, combined with the Japanese solo instruments, these stalwarts of grandiloquence gain a significant amount of character. It also helps that Harada keeps this composition short and to the point. “Palace of Dreams” is a less imposing but more intriguing composition, with its somewhat ethereal approach to action scoring. Using lighter percussion, female vocals, as well as a warm electric bass line and various drones, Harada audibly enjoys putting a heady spin on genre formulas. Clearly, World of Demons isn’t afraid to add contemporary elements to its palette as well.
The World of Demons soundtrack’s remaining compositions help create the fantasy world in which its roaring battles can take place. Opening track “World of Demons” introduces the score’s woodwind focus. These solo instruments are given more space to breathe here and weave their long-spun melodies to beautifully communicate the sheer expanse of the countryside this music overlooks. A march episode makes listeners familiar with the combination of martial rhythms and woodwind-driven melodic grandeur that will dominate much of the action writing, leading into an urgent climax. “TAIGA” is the score’s most expansive, melodically flowing cue. Its opening section for solo woodwind against a shamisen ostinato radiates peacefulness in its contented simplicity, while the repetitions of the melodic material amplify the music’s mystical inclinations. From such sparsity, Yamaguchi moves seamlessly into a dignified French horn melody that shifts the music’s focus towards a more traditional, orchestra-focused sense of scale.
“Foggy Cove” briefly revisits such minimalism, with jagged shamisen motifs and ritualistic percussion echoing in a cavernous acoustic on this short but effective mood piece that is happy to just hint at what’s lurking in the shadows. Far more maximalist is “Santaro”, the World of Demons soundtrack’s most colourful composition and a joy to behold. This time, Harada deploys lavish orchestrations to more comedic effect, making great use of the amassed instrumental forces to bring out the music’s humour through a charming sense of mock grandeur. It helps that the melodies on “Santaro” are just as rewarding as they are elsewhere on World of Demons – a condensed yet nonetheless worthy entry into its makers’ body of work.
- 01 - World of Demons Harada, Naofumi / Yamaguchi, Hiroshi 2:36
- 02 - TAIGA Harada, Naofumi / Yamaguchi, Hiroshi 5:26
- 03 - Flaring Tempers Harada, Naofumi / Yamaguchi, Hiroshi 3:41
- 04 - The Rush of Battle Harada, Naofumi / Yamaguchi, Hiroshi 4:30
- 05 - Foggy Cove Harada, Naofumi / Yamaguchi, Hiroshi 2:29
- 06 - Palace of Dreams Harada, Naofumi / Yamaguchi, Hiroshi 3:23
- 07 - Santaro Harada, Naofumi / Yamaguchi, Hiroshi 2:34
- 08 - Intoxication Harada, Naofumi / Yamaguchi, Hiroshi 2:57