I was just trying to keep alive.
I grew up spending hours trying to keep alive playing side-scrolling games like Ninja Gaiden, Battletoads and Contra. My personal favourite of that era was Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight (which was not even really a Street Fighter game or Final Fight game). I had the Famicom version of the game that I bought at a local departmental store called Parkson Grand in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. For some reason, they imported Famicom games & occasionally my dad would buy me one of the games there as a reward for doing well in school or an exam.
Back to the present day.
Anyway, so there I was, watching the Katana Zero trailer. Instantly, flashbacks of my hours in front of the TV came back. This game was in that old school style except with more violence and a more modern electronic soundtrack with retro aesthetics. Then, I played the game & got into the music.
Here are 10 things that I like about the soundtrack.
1. Classic Retro Arpeggios
“You Will Never Know” blends 1980s drum sounds, synths fills and a lot of really cool classic retro arpeggio runs. The opening build-up creates that whole futuristic Blade Runner vibe from the get-go. As the song develops, more drama is created with glimpses of even some neo-soul flavour. I was reminded of Montreal-based keyboardist and producer Anomalie’s music at some point. This is music that I could listen to even outside of the game’s context. So good!
2. Rhythmic Counterpoint
“Third District” is textured ear candy with bent melodic phrases over the drums. Countrapuntal lines unleash a rhythmic dance in the piece. This piece is more minimalist compared to “You Will Never Know”.
My fave point in this piece is around 2:20 as the harmonies drench my ear with day-dream inducing imagery. (I honestly felt like I was in Imbi Plaza, an old shopping mall that used to be my computer and gaming haunt in the 1980s and 1990s.) At about 4:12 when the bass takes over again, it’s home again providing a great end to the track.
3. Downtempo Goodness
“All For Now” gave me full-on Nine Inch Nails vibes with the slower tempo. Then, the rhythmic pattern around the 1-minute mark reminded me of that Terminator soundtrack energy. The piece continues to get you into a trance, all while keeping it cool.
4. Dance with Surprises
“Driving Force: Neon Fog” brings that straight-up Stranger Things vibe mixed with tasteful drum breaks and yes, even those classic arpeggios I mentioned earlier. The surprise change of feel in the middle is also tastefully done. And that part at 3:37, wow. There’s so much development in the piece, a lot of variety yet the piece sounds solid & connected.
5. Jazz & Blues Impressions
“Rain on Brick” with the piano and saxophone solo took me into that “My Funny Valentine” kind of vibe before going into its own direction. Nice blues and jazzy breaks also appear on “A Fine Red Mist”.
6. Classical Music Influences
The piano solo “Nocturne”, co-composed with the game Justin Stander brings a nostalgic vibe to the game’s soundtrack painting a beautiful mood.
7. Lyrical Melodicism
On “Snow”, we get a mix of East meets West with a blend of a bluesy melody on the keys against the Eastern (Japanese?) melodies.
8. East-meet-West mix
“At Home” paints the Eastern influences – again tastefully done.
9. Atmospheric music
Overall, the soundtrack does its job amazingly well to paint the world of the game with the gritty meets noir meets violent underground world. I love how immersive the whole experience feels.
10. United Variety
I think the main thing about the soundtrack is that it draws upon a lot of different influences yet still manages to be a strong coherent work. Some game soundtracks purposely limit the sounds they use and some try to go overboard with the variety. Somehow, Katana Zero is both adventurous and respectful at the same time. Great music for a great game.
I could talk more about the Katana Zero soundtrack but these are 10 things that I dig the most about it. Do check out the game & the soundtrack if you’re into the 80s and 90s as I am.
About Az Samad
Az was the featured classical guitar soloist with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) for the Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy Kuala Lumpur premiere conducted by Arnie Roth (USA) at their three sold-out shows.
Az also performed for the South East Asian premiere of A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas in Kuala Lumpur conducted by Arnie Roth (USA) and featuring pianist Benyamin Nuss (Germany).
Prior to moving back to Malaysia, Az played in a video game music band in San Francisco. He has also been interviewed on GameSpot and featured in the GameSpot Asia Beat Podcast. After receiving 4 degrees in music and making music in Berkeley, California; Az now is physically based in Kuala Lumpur.
He is a guest composer for the upcoming game, No Straight Roads by Metronomik. His DK West song combines rap with Malaysian traditional music elements including Dikir Barat.