Part vocal collection, part best collection and part arranged album, Metal Gear 20th Anniversary Music Collection spans the musical history of the series from its 8-bit origins to its episodes on PS2 and PSP.
This compendium theme is most ambitiously demonstrated in the new arrangement "Metal Gear 20 Years History ~Past, Present, Future~", a massive 14 minute orchestral medley that leads the album. Beginning with arrangements from the two original 8-bit Metal Gear games, the first four minutes feature nostalgic old-school game melodies that still possess the stealth theme prominent in the series to this day. The medley then moves on to selections from the first Metal Gear Solid, starting with "Cavern" then on to the classic "Encounter" theme, which is a delight to hear in any form, including the orchestral rendition here. The medley continues to shift between upbeat action themes and quieter moments via conservative arrangements and understated orchestrations. More variety in the orchestrations would have made for even more impact, but with the sheer volume of memorable themes present it's hard to complain.
"Who Am I Really? ~Memories of Hal~ Reminiscence" is a new, low-key jazz arrangement that, though I find uninteresting personally, should please Norihiko Hibino aficionados, and the piano version of "Calling to the Night" is decent but not good enough to warrant a second arrangement over the included vocal theme. "Zanzibar Breeze", however, is a most welcome addition. The hard, almost heavy-metal guitar feels a bit disjointed, but when a xylophone teases the main melody and horns bring it on in full form, it's heroic, early 80s action movie music at its best.
Three instrumentals are taken directly from previous Metal Gear Solid albums. MGS3's "Virtuous Mission" begins with sweetly cinematic synth work before building into a dramatic action set piece, and MGS2 Substance's "Yell Dead Cell (VR Remix)" deftly melds electronica breakbeats and synth with funky sax and strings. Last among the previously existing instrumental pieces is "Metal Gear Solid Main Theme", which fans should note is not the original MGS main theme but Harry Gregson-Williams' newer composition used since MGS3. It works as a no-holds-barred action number but lacks the character of the original main theme.
In fact the absence of the original MGS main theme is the greatest deficiency in the album. Granted the theme's striking resemblance to the 1970s work "Winter Road" by Georgy Sviridov soils its credibility, but it's the melody for which the series was known for nearly a decade, and in a retrospective album such as this it is sorely missed. Even without a new arrangement, the definitive version from the MGS2 soundtrack would have rounded out the collection perfectly.
The Metal Gear Solid producers love their vocal themes and it shows in the track selection here, with one included from each game. Metal Gear's vocal themes generally exceed the rather low standards of their game music peers but suffer from an identity crisis. Whether it be the lounge-jazz "Can't Say Goodbye to Yesterday" or the quirky James Bond-inspired "Snake Eater", stylistically they often feel like an odd match for the series. The same goes for the Celtic-tinged "The Best Is Yet to Come", however the instrumentals and vocals are so beautiful and the subdued tone appropriate enough that it stands out as the most essential vocal contribution to the collection. Close behind is "Calling to the Night", which though stylistically predictable fits the series the most closely of the four.
Metal Gear 20th Anniversary Music Collection makes a solid attempt at encapsulating the long history of the series. More instrumental content would have been nice, and the absence of the original MGS main theme is truly disappointing, but what is present is mostly of high caliber. For series collectors the new and rare arrangements are tempting additions, and for newcomers the compiled selections give a limited but appeasing sample of what the series has to offer.