Checking the Score is a feature about video game music, composers, musicians and tools of the trade.
Clocking in at nearly five hours of music — a staggeringly ambitious amount of content — the score for Dragon’s Dogma Dark Arisen is a great example of symphonic action game music. Despite it being composed by the three-person team of Tadayoshi Makino, Inon Zur and Rei Kondoh, the score is a stylistically unified collection of cues that range from intimate to epic. It isn’t surprising, as Makino — composer of the Monster Hunter franchise scores — and Zur — who has contributed music to Dragon Age and the MMORPG Rift — are masters of the fantasy RPG genre.
Although it sold a respectable 2.5 million copies and received positive critical notices, Dragon’s Dogma never became a widespread hit, being overshadowed by major RPGs such as Skyrim and Dark Souls. Originally released on last-gen consoles, the game got a makeover for PC this month. Featuring an innovative AI companion mechanic, exciting combat and a high level of challenge, Dragon’s Dogma Dark Arisen deserves a much wider audience.
Makino, Zur, and Kondoh crafted a score for the game that is rooted firmly in the tradition of epic action music, with nearly all cues making use of the full orchestra plus added color from choir, solo voice, pipe organ, and piano. Some of the larger battle scenes include electric guitar and drum kit as part of the sonic landscape but their presence is usually subtly integrated into the orchestra. A great example of this is Makino’s “Clash of Fates (Dragon Battle)” which moves from a cappella chorus to high energy, pulse-pounding, savage-sounding orchestra and shredding guitar. As high-energy as the score can be, there are equally many intimate and mysterious moments, such as Kondoh’s cue “Farewell” which centers on lush, romantic-era harmonies, chorus, and middle eastern woodwinds. “Cassardis” — which is the musical theme of the small seaside town that is the player’s first home — has a very Final Fantasy, Japanese pop sound. Unifying many cues in the score are variations and references to the game’s main musical theme. Relatively few game scores use any kind of thematic connection but the score for Dragon’s Dogma weaves the solo vocal “Main Theme” in and out of several cuts.
While many symphonic game scores are laced with digital samples to save money, it is obvious that the Dragon’s Dogma score was recorded with live orchestral players, and given the sheer amount of score, this is quite an accomplishment. While not every cue is able to rise above its functionality, overall the soundtrack is a dramatic, emotional, colorful and extremely varied musical experience that rewards repeatedly listening apart from the game.
The soundtrack is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and YouTube.