Why You Should…
If you’re a fanatic of gorgeously harmonic scores of beauty, in which case you’ll find a great deal to admire about Takeshi Furukawa’s The Last Guardian.
Why You Shouldn’t…
If its restrained atmosphere can serve as a dry detraction, or if you demand more consistent activity from the ensemble.
Release Date: December 6th 2016 (DIGITAL RELEASE)
December 21st 2016 (PHYSICAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Takeshi Furukawa
Recorded By/At: The London Symphony Orchestra, The Trinity Boys’ Choir and The London Voices, at Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London.
Label: Sony Interactive Entertainment America (DR)
TEAM Entertainment (PR)
Conducted By: Takeshi Furukawa
Orchestrated By: Takeshi Furukawa
Score Recorded By: Geoff Foster
Mixed At: LAFX
Produced By: Tsubasa Ito, Ryo Yamamura & Takeshi Furukawa.
Choirmasters: David Swinson, Trinity Boys Choir, and Terry Edwards, London Voices.
Featured Soloists: Ken Belcher (Guitars/Mandolin/Dulcimers)
Gareth Davies (Flute)
Olivier Stankiewicz (Oboe)
Andrew Marriner (Clarinet)
Chi-Yu Mo (Bass Clarinet)
Rachel Gough (Bassoon)
John Thurgood (Horn)
Philip Cobb (Trumpet)
Takeshi Furukawa (Piano)
A surprise hit that no-one expected in the portfolio of video gaming this year, THE LAST GUARDIAN/HITOKUI NO OOWASHI TORICO is a Japanese action-adventure game developed by genDESIGN and SIE Japan Studio, exclusively released for the Playstation 4 next-gen console. Conceived in vision by famed director Fumito Ueda, who holds some considerable prestige with titles such as Ico and the Playstation 2 masterpiece Shadow of the Colossus, Ueda sought to narrate an interactive experience that pinned together a young protagonist and a mythical, legendary creature who embodied the physical hybrid of a half-bird, half-mammal. The creature, named Trico, teams up in partnership with the young boy to escape a mysterious, hostile castle they are both imprisoned in, whilst learning to mutually trust one another and evading armed guards that are bent on preventing their release. A standardized third-person perspective game, The Last Guardian combines action-adventure and puzzle elements to carry its promising narrative forwards.
Japanese-American composer Takeshi Furukawa had been invited by Shadow of the Colossus music director Tommy Kikuchi, to partake in the project’s soundtrack development around 2011, and started compositions for the game in 2013, finishing them in 2016. In his early, precocious career, Furukawa had provided additional music for the video game GoldenEye 007, based on the James Bond film, and served as an orchestrator for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Star Trek:Enterprise, in addition having score two feature films. In many ways, The Last Guardian is really the breakout into more widespread foray for the composer, a dream for many aspiring in the field, and serves as a fine example of how one can impress a great deal of listeners. Those who seek more fruitful scores that aren’t from the usual Hollywood variety will find plenty to admire in this sublime effort from Furukawa, and his sincerity to the game is perhaps the most commendable thing about the score. This delay in his compositional duties for the game was a direct result of the developers wishing to transition the game to the next gen PS4 console, allowing level design and gameplay mechanics to be expanded upon. Furukawa states his closely built dynamic with Ueda as the pillar of support during the scoring process; “For The Last Guardian, I was very fortunate as Ueda-san entrusted me with a lot of freedom concerning musical details. He had a clear vision for the score to be as cinematic as possible, but always gave direction in broader and conceptual terms.” At the time, Ueda and the creative team were based in Tokyo, and Furukawa maintained contact via video conferences, the composer often communicating with audio lead Tsubasa Ito to frequently review the status and use of stored compositions. Despite stating his admirations for the scores to Ueda’s previous works, the composer remained staunch in his decision to create a distinct sound for The Last Guardian, drawing from his prior works with what he describes as “a muted aesthetic”, such as Impressionist art and music, and French cinema.
Furukawa states that as the emotional component of the game’s narrative is already sufficient, he sought to write music that for the most part, is restrained, with exceptions for key sequences. “Overture Lore” is evidence of this, with piano chords opening atop drone strings and varied, expressive chord progressions backed by a choral soprano group. Mild interludes of flutes and the Trinity Boys Choir are also present, showing Furukawa’s precision and control of the opening. Furukawa uses a pseudo-heroic theme for the bond between the boy and Trico, first heard in “Falling Bridge”, featuring an ascending and descending 5-note motif on expressive strings that flourishes with mastery towards the end of the cue. It can be attributed as the primary theme of sorts for the game, and also makes an appearance in “Victorious”, with a hopeful combination of horns and trumpets. The former cue is a stunning highlight of the score, thoroughly satisfying in its precise orchestration, and beholds a thrilling propulsive rhythm, guitar-laden texture, harp arpeggios and muscular trombones. The boy’s specific character-orientated theme however, is actually introduced in “Overture Lore”, a longer-lined melody, showcasing piano chords crafting an intriguing chord progression, and a choral soprano rendition of the theme. Faint flutes signify the boy’s innocence and youthful manner rather lovingly, and Furukawa succeeds in musically articulating the character’s design. The boy’s theme returns as a lilting string portion in “Hanging Gardens”, coupled with guitar/dulcimer twangs, and a gradual inclusion of the string family as a whole. Trico is given a theme in “Flashback”, which showcases serene piano and string lines, with fantastic textural implications courtesy of the guitars and harps. Here, the choir is superb, and this cue is not to be missed out on in any capacity, again heard in “End Titles (The Last Guardian Suite)”, and Trico’s theme unfolds as a spectral presence of ethereal beauty. Finally, sustained bassoon presence acts as a calling card for the guards attempting to prevent them from escaping in “Sentinel I” and “Sentinel II” respectively. The former cue conveys a brilliant sense of stealth-like atmosphere, whilst the latter succeeds in utilizing a 6/8 rhythm among a pizzicato bass, harps, taut staccato strings and fantastic contrapuntal interplay between the tremolo violins and the marching violas.
Furukawa opts often for solo piano performances in the score, in “Sanctuary”, so as to represent the isolated nature of the game’s world, as well as the innocence of the boy. The carefully handled progression of chords and consistent shifting between major and minor key allow it to be far more than a generic piano cue for emotion, and the composer deserves kudos for even the most simplest of attributions. His ability to effortlessly shift moods so as to pertain the uncertain narrative is highlighted in “Condor Crash”, with rapidly chromatic string writing and timpani-brass laden bursts. You have to admire the consistent loyalty Furukawa displays by integrating textural palettes in his cues, and this only enhances the experience further. The recording quality is superb, thanks to veteran Geoff Foster. The acceleration of tempo is intriguingly handled, and this too is a fine cue. Solemnity is conveyed in “Wounded”, allowing the clarinets and oboe to come to the fore with a more meditative, relaxed cue. The two Finale cues, “Finale I Apex” and “Finale II Escape” are interesting in their approach, due to the even spread of the whole orchestra. The former cue toys with villainous strings and choral wailing atop a steady rhythm of snares and timpanis, rooted in a challenging, harsh tonal environment. The second cue experiments more with an optimistic choral and brass soundscape, with a magnificent crescendo giving way to a gratifying burst of major harmony and accompanying violins rarely heard in such unashamed grandeur these days. A lush, gorgeous string portion washes over that optimism with resolute tenderness. “End Titles (The Last Guardian Suite)” collates all ideas presented in the score, opening with a lone piano with bracketed chord progressions, and the minor key beauty that results is rewarding to the soul. The glorious “Epilogue” is an easy selling point too. Any criticism that can be addressed to it is minor, for its often restrained parts are easily compensated for by the highlights that one can find in this understated score. Furukawa delivers a brilliant score for the game, one to definitely place on the list for enthusiasts of video game scores and harmonic products of beauty.
(all music written by Takeshi Furukawa)
1) Overture Lore (3:05)
2) Panorama (0:37)
3) Forest (2:06)
4) Sentinel I (2:51)
5) The Tower (0:59)
6) Falling Bridge (3:40)
7) Hanging Gardens (2:20)
8) Sentinel II (2:32)
9) Victorious (2:24)
10) Alone (1:57)
11) The Nest (3:23)
12) Flashback (3:29)
13) Sanctuary (2:33)
14) Condor Clash (4:27)
15) Wounded (3:05)
16) Finale I Apex (6:27)
17) Finale II Escape (6:28)
18) End Titles (The Last Guardian Suite) (7:48)
19) Epilogue (1:50)