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The Soul Edge and Soulcalibur games are unique amongst fighting games. To this day, Street Fighter has mostly perfunctory rock music, Tekken has an array of mainly electronic music, and Mortal Kombat is the only one with a real theme song (just yell “Mortal Kombat!” and the punchy, energetic theme will come rolling out of you), accompanied by techno stage music.
But the Soul series opts for fully orchestrated background music, as opposed to pop rhythms. It is classical music as much as symphonic metal is classical music, but it does provide a certain mediaeval, epic-tale aura to the games. And that suits the games’ subject matter well.
More than any of the other fighting game series, Soulcalibur’s music has grown with the times. Fighting games were, in their heyday, a primarily arcade-based spectacle. You would go down to your local arcade and inevitably find yourself standing behind some older kid kicking butt against arcade mode or another player, patiently waiting to test your own skills.
In that scenario, though, the music was barely audible amidst the pounding noise of all the machines, the snattering groups of teenagers passing by, and the children running around with their newly earned prizes, screaming to play more skee ball.
Today fighting games, like all video games, are enjoyed in the quiet comfort of one’s own home. We play them on HD consoles connected to HD TVs with powerful sound systems. The music of a fighting game is no longer muffled, competing with the shrieks of eager children. The once etiolated music of fighting games is free to flower into something it couldn’t be before.
Soulcalibur seems to be the series doing this best (or, indeed, at all). Even between Soulcalibur III (on the PS2) and Soulcalibur IV (on the Xbox 360), there is a marked difference in the quality and tone of the compositions, for the better. Soulcalibur III had one Japanese composer, and IV featured four Japanese composers. But for V, there were three Japanese composers and three American composers, and a ‘best of the series’ music CD included in the collector’s edition.
Compare this to the latest iterations of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Tekken. The music for these games is not bad, but it still feels vestigial and ignored. Now, there are not many elements to a fighting game: good graphics, good controls, good stages, and something to listen to while you play. But it should be more than just something to listen to, or something to pump you up to fight. It should speak to the game, underpin and support the experience, immerse you in the world of the game.
Considering that there probably will not be another Soul game (IV was supposed to be the last hurrah, and V was a fan-demanded encore), that leaves the stage of fighting game music fairly barren. Now that we have the technology to appreciate and explore it, it sure would be nice if the other fighting game franchises would take their music just a little more seriously.