East Asian-themed music in MMOs is something that I generally welcome. Even if the title isn't an Asian MMO, chances are that sooner or later developers like to work an Eastern zone, class, or city into the game -- and with that comes a specific sound. I'm by no means educated on what instruments are used in these tunes, but the result is so distinctive that you can't help but think of the region.
Guild Wars: Factions definitely drew upon the Orient for its theme, and composer Jeremy Soule returned to create a score that would paint a picture of Cantha. Unfortunately, I don't think he was up to the task. While technically sufficient, Factions' score is definitely lacking in the grandeur of Prophecies and the basic catchiness necessary to elevate a soundtrack out of the crowd. The best I can say is that none of the tracks is horrible to hear, but the album as a whole is actually a bit bland and forgettable.
I'm by no means besmirching Soule here. His previous and subsequent Guild Wars projects are heads and shoulders above this one, and everyone has an off day. Perhaps Asian music just wasn't his forte. In any case, I sifted vigorously to discover six tracks that best represent Cantha and its people.
1. Factions Theme
By far, I feel that the main theme is this score's strongest suit. It's an Asian take on the Guild Wars theme (although not note-for-note). It's sweeping and beautiful, and as the music swells while the drums roll in, I just want to go running through the mists to fight kung fu animals.
After listening to the rest of the score, I think what elevates this track is that it is distinctive and it is bold. Main themes should be, of course, but I wish that the rest of Factions' music didn't hold back as much. This gives me chills if I'm listening to it at top volume.
You know how something can sound or look beautiful but also be empty and lonely? That's Arborstone to me. It's a pretty piece, no doubt, but the bass offsets any happy feelings with something a little more sinister and hollow. It's a track that makes me think of the past and regrets rather than the present.
3. Day of the Jade Wind
Forget the feel-gooderies; Day of the Jade Wind starts right out on a sinister note. Before long, drums pound and then launch an all-out assault. Don't get me wrong -- this is really good stuff. I'm a little partial to drumlines, so any time we get a kicking drum riff, I've got to applaud.
My only complaint here is that the drum action sequence is far too truncated, returning us all-too-quickly to flutes and a calmer lifestyle. I can't kick butt to that, not at all!
4. The Eternal Grove
So here's a good example of what I mean when I say "bland and forgettable." The Eternal Grove is decently done; there's just nothing here that makes it pop. It's a little sad in tone and fills the runtime with enough notes so silence doesn't take hold, but it's not planting earworms in me or anything. What tracks like this need are a stronger melody (or one at all) laid on top of what's present here. A little more effort and it could've been something.
5. Ritualist's Theme
Bells, both huge and small, are the focus of this track. It begins with a loud tolling, slow and plodding in a way that reminds me of a funeral or similar somber ceremony. While not catchy in the least, it's certainly haunting, and that's better than forgettable, right? I think this would make an excellent atmospheric track in-game, and if I were suddenly in a place hearing it, I'd be quite unsettled.
6. Zen Daijun
The playful flute is what caught my ear when I heard this piece. In contrast to the somber stretch that follows, the opening is playful and almost uplifting. I think I needed to hear more "uplifting" in this score, to be honest.
The remainder of the track sounds like what you'd hear when the hero of our story loses his best friend, has his dog kidnapped, and is staring pensively over a rain-striken ocean. C'mon flutes, get back in there! Cheer him up!
So as I said, it's not the worst score in the world, but for Soule and Guild Wars, it's what I'd consider to be a low point. Better to hit that early on rather than later, I think!
MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Every Tuesday, Jukebox Heroes will check out a game's soundtrack and feature the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!