Ninja Gaiden (2004) – Burn Away (Makoto Hosoi)May 14, 2010
Ninja Gaiden (2004) for the XBox was a dramatic re-imagining of the series. Absent for a decade, Tecmo decided to re-establish the series through Tomonobu Itagaki’s special Team Ninja, using what Itagaki called the best hardware out there at the time, the XBox. The game retained the series’ trademark difficulty and the character, but reworked it as a 3D action game with a brand new story and timeline. Instead of being set in contemporary Japan and America, the game takes place in the far future. Hip with bloody ninja action, the new series has a great style that’s also matched with its soundtrack. Coupling traditional Japanese instruments with electronica – each with high-quality audio – the end result is a type of modern techno that falls in with the game’s hip style; it’s very much a product of early 2000’s. Even the album’s title – Ninja Gaiden Original Sound Trax – reflects this style.
“Burn Away” by Makoto Hosoi is an excellent example of this atmospheric hipness. The instrument selection is chosen to provide a great sense of oppressive heat, bearing down on the listener yet also oozing into the game space through the choral line, which reverberates through the atmosphere. Fire themes often employ these types of instruments – heavy bass, brooding notes, and often metallic or weighty instruments. The track is also fairly minimalist, lacking melody and focusing more on atmosphere. As a result, it is something of a departure from the melody-driven originals, though more in tune with the orchestration and filmic/anime ideals of the 1990s Ninja Gaidens.
“Burn Away” is also definitive of the blend of old and new that is central to both the re-imagining of the game as well as its setting. The wood percussion and flute provide a strong tie to the traditional while the synth lines (particularly the bass) and choral chanting provide a feel of the new. The Tokyo of the future reflects this old and new that is captured in the Japan of the present (particularly in Kyoto) – traditional parks, temples, and cherry blossoms find their place under the shadow of modern skyscrapers or crammed into blocks of apartment complexes.
Though most of the songs on the album are atmospheric, my props do go out to one of the more melodic tracks, “Supply Base“, which is a nice guitar theme of ninja action that feels like it might belong with the NES versions. It’s the first track on Disc 2, which I find superior to Disc 1 due to more fully developed and longer pieces.
As for the composers, Mokoto Hosoi seems to have done most of the game’s music, including its “Main Theme”. He was also responsible for composing most of the music to the Dead or Alive series. Ryo Koike, one of the other two composers, went on to compose Ninja Gaiden 2 and also collaborated with Hosoi on some of the Dead or Alive games (many of which also retain the “Sound Trax” monicker).