From my perspective, Namco seemed to have fallen into a rut. Tekken 3 went through several different remix albums without any glimmer of success. For the semi-sequel, Tekken Tag Tournament, it seems that Namco Sound Team went back to the drawing board, because Direct Audio fires on all cylinders.
In what could be considered a change of pace for OSTs, most of the music on Direct Audio is subtantially remixed from the original arcade material and that of Tekken 3. Often, the tracks are very similar, but with the addition and subtraction of instruments. Most welcome is the addition of the violin and strings to some tracks that would otherwise be techno or industrial in nature. Tracks such as "Staff Roll" and "Ogre" instantly gain a cinematic style previously unheard in the series.
Make no mistake, Tekken is still firmly based in the realm of techno, but the shackles are nowhere near as tight as with previous albums. The long repetitive sequences in most techno, something that you might consider standard issue, are severely trimmed, keeping my attention and enhancing the emotional impact as each track goes through its stages.
The most outstanding trait of this CD, however, comes from the melding of different instruments. Namco's usual assortment of synth and drum samples collide head-on with strings, pianos, real drums, voice samples, and more. While there are a few exceptions, most of the tracks show how the conflicting sound styles can be used very well together. This is best shown by the amazing "Lei VS TOHYAMA (Remix)", which is almost entirely synth, but breaks out in the final portion with a combination of strings and synth that has the sound of a climactic finale you would typically hear on a movie soundtrack.
Sound quality is really a given - ever since early on with the Playstation, Namco has been using a streamed, redbook audio format, and it shows. There are no repetitive instrument sequences or space saving synth arrangments. Voice samples are occasionally tossed into the mix, but the result is nowhere near as obtrusive as those found in run-of-the-mill remix albums. Track styles bounce between intense ("Eddy", "Opening Movie") and somber ("Staff Roll", "Result"), and then all the way back again.
Of course, no CD is perfect, and Direct Audio has the requisite number of flaws. Six of the later tracks prove to just be sounds related to the "Tekken Bowl" minigame, while others (such as "Name Entry" or "EMBU") are short and fruitless. There are also a few head-scratchers - probably the result of using a six person sound team to compose the music. In the end, I was left with five superb tracks, and another 10 that could go either way - an oustanding number if you consider most game soundtracks have trouble producing half of that.
Most of my complaints are offset by the domestic release. Tokyopop has been handling the distribution, with ordering through their website or for retail purchase at major gaming stores. Because of that, the retail price is much less than you might normally pay for a soundtrack, making the purchase a no-brainer. The jewel-case insert pamphlet contains a paragraph commentary on each of the game tracks from the members of Namco Sound Team. You even get a totally useless Soul Calibur trading card.
In the end, there is nothing more you could ask for. The soundtrack is domestic, unabridged, and dirt cheap. Skeptical readers can also just do a thorough job of playing through the PS2 version of Tekken Tag Tournament - everything but the remix tracks are covered. But this time, just heading straight to the cashier worked out quite nicely for me.