No Tune Unturned: Soulcalibur

Welcome back to No Tune Unturned, a feature in which some dude with no musical training beyond boring childhood piano lessons elaborates on why, precisely, he likes videogame music so much. I believe we’ll get along famously, and if you’d like to see the first entry (dedicated to Grant Kirkhope) please feel free to do so. For the time being, let’s press onward.

And so we find ourselves on the stage of history, examining an extraordinary series of fighting games. Having little affinity for Tekken and next to no talent at Street Fighter, the original Soulcalibur on the Dreamcast was the first of its genre to really stick with me. Every aspect was finely polished to a gleaming sheen, and the utterly soaring soundtrack was anything but an exception from the quality. Each subsequent game has kept this euphonious soul burning with fresh arrangements and a certain melodramatic consistency that lets you know you’re decidedly playing Soulcalibur. We’ll be focusing on the five major releases this time (no Soul Blade or Soulcalibur Legends to be found), which will provide more than enough sweeping symphonic songs to make picking only two per game an exercise in self-inflected torture.

Oh yes, and remember to set the video quality as high as it will go!



There was a certain purity to this game. Advanced and complex as it was, everything was neatly in its own place and crafted with elegance. Character design had yet to morph into uncomfortably silly territory and the soundtrack squeezed every drop of potential from the Dreamcast’s soundboard. That very same processor marks it as technically dated today, but woe be it to the game that dares match Soulcalibur in an orchestral boxing match!

Light & Darkness (Composed by Junichi Nakatsuru):

Before the game even starts, you’re treated to an excellently choreographed intro movie of blood-pumping music. Drums thunder into the horizon, followed by some intense orchestra hits and a deep, powerful piano that absolutely means business. After the fury settles down, an uplifting revival at 0:21 captures a truly adventurous spirit, but 0:51’s breeze-tousled melody barely has time to breath before it’s jumped by another blast of menace, which descends into total, sudden silence. Then 1:07 comes along and all bets are off. The air is thick with drama as instruments clash like steel, rising in tension until that awesome piano returns at 1:46, leading the charge for a crescendo that does the Soulcalibur name proud. As the dust settles, I remember fondly the character swapping editing tools and the happy days of spamming the intro movie with Lizardman.

Duellists (Composed by Junichi Nakatsuru):

This still remains my favourite Soulcalibur song through all of time and space, which is saying a lot because time and space are super big. Set to a Japanese castle’s flooded exterior inundated with warring rafts, it represents the samurai Mitsurugi and his struggle against the age of gunpowder. Strings and horns take up the call without delay, flavoured with chaotic percussions. The composition glides along as if carried by a very musically inclined wave, epitomized by 0:35’s flowing splashes of exhilaration. As excitement mounts, I can almost see the sidestepping opponents, the thrusts of steel, and the frenzied ring-outs of questionable fairness. Finding an orchestral score to match the heart-racing energy of 1:12 is an almost non-existent rarity, which squarely places Junichi Nakatsuru on my List of Extremely Talented Dudes.


Soulcalibur II:

My hands contorted like poisoned spiders undergoing death throes as I contended with an ill-fit controller of alien design, all in the name of my chosen character: Link. I sold my soul to Nintendo, paid the price of carpel tunnel syndrome, and don’t regret a single, painful moment. Soulcalibur II didn’t capture my heart quite like the original, but it introduced new characters (including guest stars that varied by console), a vibrant dose of graphics, and – of course – a spectacular soundtrack.

History Unfolds (Composed by Junichi Nakatsuru):

This is Soulcalibur multiplayer in pure audio form. Relentlessly gung-ho and coursing with eagerness, the instruments flick to and fro faster than players can skim through the list of characters. Deciding is half the battle. Kilik is always a fun choice, you’ve been meaning to practice as Talim, your jerk friend is picking Voldo for the spite of it – whoa, whoa, don’t choose that costume! That’s just disturbing! Of course, this version of the song ends with a resounding crash unlike the endlessly looping fanfare from the game. Soulcalibur selection screens always share a similar tone which, thanks to the countless hours I’ve spent in them, will be forever branded in the depths of my mind, much akin to the aforementioned Voldo attire.

Brave Sword, Braver Souls (Composed by Yoshihito Yano):

If you’re going to be a ninja, you might as well make the most of it – and if her theme song is any indication, Taki did so with open arms. An intro that crouches like a tiger suddenly springs forth at 0:09, soon settling into a loping run. Thin, high-pitched strings and pounding drums keep up the pace in unison, tied together with a ceaseless purpose. By the time 0:51 rolls around, the sheer joy of being a ninja can no longer be contained and ninjitsu magic explodes in a shower philharmonic shuriken. At the risk of adding to my ignorance concerning Eastern cultures, I’d like to conclude by pointing out what I will steadfastly call an enchanting koto solo beginning at 1:23.


Soulcalibur III:

The fighting of Soulcalibur III was perfectly fine – quite excellent, really – but there was a lot of filler. A half-baked character creator, a story mode with quick time events, a weird side project that played like a pseudo-strategy game, and a handful of other diversions sparked potential but never followed through. Not all of these disparate pieces were a fit for the Soulcalibur jigsaw puzzle, but they did require a boatload of music, and that is the silver lining.

Pure Breeze ( Composed by Keiki Kobayashi):

Talim’s just a wisp of a girl, but I guess training as the Last Priestess of the Winds can be helpful preparation for battle against swords and axes twice one’s size. An innocent breath of fresh air in this world of armed maniacs, Talim’s theme has the carefree effect of… well, a pure breeze, actually. A striking horn leads the way, backed up with the clear crashing of cymbals. An unassuming flute takes its place at 0:16, floating high while a small fleet of strings flit about like swirling leaves below. The reigns are passed between wind instruments (pun firmly intended) on the gentle current until, with next to no warning, 1:19 rushes into a tumultuous gust. The tune has become a whirling force of nature, just as free but with a breath-catching tempo, and is all over before you know it. If this song could be bottled up and forged into a Disney Land ride, it would be worth standing in line for.

The Oath – Guitar Version (Composed by Junichi Nakatsuru):

This is a stark departure from everything else included so far; there are no thundering drums or exploding ninjitsu magic here. Instead, a lone guitar plays mournfully to itself in a place so quiet you can hear every scrape of the strings. Although it is perhaps the most heartfelt song from the entire series, you’ll only hear it devoid of extra instruments should you miss a button prompt during Siegfried’s ending. The full version is beautiful in its own right, but the old “less is more” adage makes a strong case.


Soulcalibur IV:

From the softer, slower peaks of Soulcalibur IV, the Dreamcast days look sharp but faraway. That invigorating punch is exchanged for a textured soundtrack befitting of a symphony; in fact, Eminence Symphony Orchestra (known for their anime and videogame soundtracks) had a hand in its creation. The effect is a little weaker than the triumphs of past instalments, but by no means is something to sneeze at. In fact, I can hardly allow a sickened cough!

Entwined Destiny (Composed by Junichi Nakatsuru):

Here is a song that I can recall note for note from start to finish, and I don’t care if you think that’s weird. For whatever reason, I find it a sheer impossibility to get tired of the gentle procession of harmony and have listened to the whole thing entirely too many times. There’s something remarkably comforting about the continually marching notes that open the piece, leading into a flourish that warms the heart at 0:40. It’s an arrangement of wonderful craftsmanship that is disappointingly tucked away to a single obscure menu that half the players will never see. Forget Mass Effect 3’s ending! Join my petition to change Entwined Destiny’s location for the sake of the human experience!

Phantasmagoria (Composed by Junichi Nakatsuru):

An imperious blast of trumpet fire sets the circus stage, suspended ceremoniously in the air, red and orange with a hellish glare. Neither I nor the trained bear balancing on its ball can comprehend why this circus is so imposing, but the trapeze artists currently on fire can attest to it. The wild rising and falling of this song feel both desperate and ostentatious, but the theatrics sail to new heights at 0:47 when, unrestrained, the orchestra flings itself into the task of being awesome. I can only imagine that Junichi Nakatsuru had an exceedingly traumatic circus experience as a child.


Soulcalibur V:

Unlike Soulcalibur III, this game cut almost every conceivable corner in the extras department, but that’s okay; I think they spent all their time and money on the outrageously amazing soundtrack. A mighty gathering of musicians unleashed a storm of diverse, hard-hitting arrangements that boosted Soulcalibur to uncharted territory. Inon Zur of Dragon Age fame, the unrelentingly skillful Andrew and Jillian Aversa, God of War’s Cris Velasco, Extremely Talented Dude Junichi Nakatsuru, and other champions were backed by the renowned Eminence Symphony Orchestra. The punch is back, and it’s heading directly for your face.

Blood Thirst Concerto (Composed by Cris Velasco – Piano solo by Jim Harding):

Raphael Sorel, a vampiric figure of pompous insanity, seeks endlessly his lost love. This unfettered piece of classical fervour captures every pang of insufferable grief and clichéd motif with an exquisite grandeur. The domineering orchestra plays loud and ominous, marching forward to an inevitable doom as a maddened piano solo races up and down the keys with a reckless abandon. Moments such as 0:51 when the two twist and coincide perfectly is enough to give one chills. For the sheer drama and borderline ridiculousness, I say hats off to everyone involved!

The Breeze at Dawn (Composed by Cris Velasco and Jillian Aversa – Vocals by Jillian Aversa):

Soulcalibur V’s wooden story didn’t resonate much with me, but had I been invested in the tale of betrayal and forgiveness, I might have gotten a little misty-eyed during this finale. Rhythmic drums hasten on Jillian Aversa’s beautiful voice as she sings a made-up language that evokes the clear emotion of a bitter-sweet end. She seems to catch a short breath at 1:38, only to launch into a fresh chorus that lasts until 3:53’s quiet interlude. Bit by bit the intensity builds back up to a stirring climax that goes out with a whisper.


Soulcalibur’s intro brought us in and Soulcalibur V’s ending took us out; it’s almost like I planned it that way or something. It is my sincerest hope that you had a nice time during this second episode of No Tune Unturned, because sharing the memory of video games and music at the same time is nothing short of wonderful. I voraciously consume any and all Soulcalibur soundtrack I can get my hands on, and it’s lucky that every song listed above can legally be in your collection. You’ll have to buy (sometimes pricey) physical CDs for games II-IV (Amazon is a good place to start), but Soulcalibur I and V are on iTunes. A “best of” album celebrating the release of Broken Destiny (that PSP game no one except me played) can also be found there, along with a mind-blowingly good EP from Eminence Symphony Orchestra.

Do you know of any tunes that deserve unturning? If so, don’t hesitate for a moment to leave a comment or yell at us on Twitter (@Critical_Gamer). I’d love to hear your suggestions, whether you’ve got a favourite series, a specific composer, or a general theme in mind. As my final words of wisdom, I leave you with this:

Videogame music is great, so listen to it!

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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

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