"Koudelka" is an adventure game for the PlayStation that takes place in a 19th century monastery in Wales. In terms of gameplay, the game tries to mix survival horror and RPG. This didn't work too well, and may explain the game's lack of popularity. While the game is so-so, the music is definitely something else.
The music to Koudelka is composed by Hiroki Kikuta, well known for his work on "Seiken Densetsu" 2 & 3 and "Soukaigi". Mr. Kikuta is one of my absolute favourite game music composers, so naturally I was keen on hearing the music from Koudelka. But the setting of the game got me a little worried - it's not that I don't like horror music, most of the time I actually do. But Kikuta never struck me as being the ideal composer for this kind of music. His Seiken Densetsu music was, while being marvellous, very light-hearted and care-free, so I had my concerns about how this soundtrack would turn out. To my relief, I wasn't disappointed - it turns out I underestimated Mr. Kikuta, and with Koudelka he shows yet another side of his composing abilities. As the soundtrack is kind of "divided" into four main parts, I will describe each of them separately.
The first "part", comprising of tracks 01 - 03, is very toned down and somber, almost sad. The first track is a lone female vocalist chanting a haunting solo piece. While not especially long, it still manages to leave a positive impression. The second track continues on the vocal track - this one is performed by a boys' choir. I don't like this track especially much, it feels like it isn't going anywhere. The third track is a sad violin piece.
The second part of the CD is probably the best one. This one is made up by tracks 04 - 07, and I assume that these are the battle themes. All of these tracks are wonderfully composed, and although far from his Seiken Densetsu work in tone, they still carry the unmistakable mark of Kikuta. They have strong, clear melodies, and are accompanied by that great percussion the composer showed off so well in Seiken Densetsu 3. The more I listen to these pieces, the more they pull at me - the only one I wouldn't consider absolutely perfect is track 05 ("Incantation Again"), and it is still a very good composition. Maybe it's just the spell of the great music working, but I would consider this CD worth the price for these four great tracks alone.
The third part are the "normal" BGM tracks (tracks 08 - 31). These tracks are very reminiscent of the conventional kind of ambient horror music we hear in most such movies and games, for example many of the tracks could probably fit into a Resident Evil game (which makes it fine by me, since I like RE music). Many of the tracks are in the game played during CG movie cut scenes, hence many of them are pretty short (most under one minute). While these tracks are probably the weakest link in the chain that is the Koudelka CD, they are still well above average, and many of them are sure to give you a nice scare if listened to at night by yourself.
The fourth and final part (tracks 32 - 34) is a special treat - three live performances of the battle themes! This is not what most people think of when they think of live arrangements of game music - instead of using an orchestra or the like (like in for example the "Biohazard Orchestra" album), these performances have more of a "rock band" type of feel. All of them are great, and feature some very nice innovation, but once again "Incantation" proves to be the weak link. This time it has a female vocalist, and even though she mostly does a nice job, her voice is at some points too shrill for comfort. However, this is only a small point, and overall these three final tracks are superb, both in composition, sound quality, and performance. Especially the fact that "Patience" was transformed from a fast, pounding piece to a slower, sad rock ballad-like affair was nice, and it does a great job of closing the album.
What to say? Well, I am certainly impressed! Hiroki Kikuta showed a different side of his great composing prowess with this great CD, and it saddens me that he hasn't composed any more music for quite a while now. While I know that this album is not fit for everyone's taste, and that it surely doesn't topple his earlier works, I still must say that it is a wonderful piece of art. The incredible battle themes are the high point of the CD, but an open mind can find much more great music to appreciate here. Highly recommended!