Kessen Soundtrack, Reijiro Koroku, 2000
Since their inception in the mid-80s, KOEI’s many historical strategy games had always been more of an insider proposition. It felt a bit like series such as Nobunaga’s Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms were reserved for those gamers who were willing to spend hours parsing menus and stats, while carefully planning their next move. Several of these titles had made it to the US market but never turned into eye-catching best-sellers. That changed with Kessen, one of the PlayStation 2’s launch titles. Set once more in feudal Japan, Kessen emphasised spectacular visuals and battlefield action, attracting far more attention internationally than any previous KOEI game. Ultimately, Kessen was successful enough to spawn two sequels. However, several contemporary reviewers pointed out that the game lacked the usual complexity and depth of a KOEI strategy game, making for an entertaining but shallow experience.
Kessen’s producer Kou Shibusawa had created the game with cinematic ambitions in mind – which had direct implications for the Kessen soundtrack. Throughout the first half of the 1990s, KOEI had consistently raised the bar for the production values of orchestral game scores – even recording Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV and Nobunaga’s Ambition: Tenshouki with overseas symphony orchestras. However, in the following years, KOEI reverted to using smaller domestic ensembles or even just synthesisers. Kessen turned this development around, recorded once again overseas – this time by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra (who had recently made waves with their demonstration-quality recording of Outcast the year prior).