Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today we’re going to get a taste of Zuntata, Taito’s legendary in-house music team, by way of one of its most distinctive talents.
Taito’s long-running, horizontal shmup series Darius has always been a little strange, depicting a never-ending galactic war between human civilization and hordes of berserk, roboticized, spacefaring sea creatures, often presented in ultra-widescreen. But it’s always good to have a recognizable brand in this late stage of capitalism, and “widescreen fish shoot ‘em up” is about as distinctive as anyone could hope for. Darius: Those Fish Shooters!™
Darius is known for something else, too: the incredible, often avant-garde music of composer Hisayoshi Ogura (interview). Across 1986’s Darius, 1989’s Darius II, 1994’s Darius Gaiden, and 1997’s G Darius, Ogura’s eclectic, often beautiful compositions succeeded in making shmup music a whole lot stranger. I have favorite tracks in all of them, but if we’re choosing? I think Darius Gaiden’s (playlist / longplay / VGMdb / review) one-of-a-kind blend of eclectic sounds might be my favorite.
In large part that’s because Ogura had a “VISIONNERZ”:
Taito / Shingo (YouTube) Note: This playlist is incomplete, but still the most complete available. A few missing tracks are linked in the text below.
Gaiden’s opening track, “VISIONNERZ ~Hallucinated People~” is a knockout, a four-and-a-half minute epic that plays uninterrupted over the game’s first two stages. While instantly recognizable as a continuation of Ogura’s previous Darius music, five years of progress in arcade hardware had given him a much richer palette with which to work, and the leap in sophistication is apparent.
“Close your eyes… Close your head…” sings a breathy female vocal over synth-y beats. Nonsensical, yet somehow perfect, especially coming from the guy responsible for Darius II’s enthusiastic first-stage proclamation “I always wanted a thing called tuna sashimi!” A piano comes and goes, sometimes driving the melody, and while far less complex, in parts it reminds me of Mick Garson’s legendary improvisations in one of my favorite Bowie songs, “Aladdin Sane.”
The lengthy track sees some serious progression, culminating in an incredible breakdown (2:38) followed by, most memorably, the entry of a full-on operatic female vocal (3:23). Ogura, that beautiful bastard, literally composed a bit of space opera. Candidly discussing the unusual inspirations for some of his key compositions in a tremendously generous interview, Ogura told VGMOnline that the opera singer’s (apparently!) Italian verse roughly translated to, “What you can see with your eyes is not always the truth. The truth lies elsewhere.”
Taito / Shingo (YouTube)
Of course, there’s more to Darius Gaiden’s OST than just “VISIONNERZ,” but you’ll hear its echoes in many other tracks, particularly “E.E.G” and the downbeat-feeling “SELF.” The many callbacks to “VISIONNERZ” help the OST to feel like one very cohesive whole. But while the between-stage intermission “INDUCTION” is relaxing, Darius Gaiden’s not always so easy a listen, with pieces like “Burst Out,” “FAKE” (hey again, opera lady!), and “Singing in the BRAIN” spotlighting some more abrasive elements.
In the VGMOnline interview—seriously, read it, some incredible shit in there—Ogura muses, “There are 15 tracks on the soundtrack, and about half of them have titles that come from terms used in psychology. I turned psychology into music. Or perhaps the music is a visualization of those concepts. You could say that Jungian psychology was the perfect subject to refine my fictional concepts.”
I love that video game composers—artists, in general—can put so much imagination and heart into what many would consider disposable media. Let us assure them, we definitely notice.
That’s it for today’s Morning Music! I think I got Darius Gaiden for $10 back when U.S. Saturn stuff was getting blown out...a lovely early Saturn find. Anyway, here we go, starting another week. What’s on your mind? Feel free to chat in the comments, and we’ll see you tomorrow!