The score for the 1999 Sega Dreamcast game Shenmue is luxuriant. The repeated swells of Shenmue – Sedge Tree are gorgeous enough, but the absolute sweep and scope of Shenhua – Sedge Flower is a piece of music to which one finds themselves drawn, over, and over. The whole of the LP is like that, really. Its size seems cinematic, rather than the limited scope one usually attributes to video game soundtracks.
Each piece of music on the LP is almost of equal length, but they're so astonishingly big, and cover so much ground in their three or so minutes, it's rather surprising to think this all originally was to score a video game. Despite being made over 15 years ago, this score very rarely ever sounds like “video game music.” Even something like Final Fantasy VIII's score – which is contemporaneous with this release – doesn't have quite the epic reach that this does.
Christmas on Dobuita Street has ever-so-faint elements of synthesizers which sound tinny and cheap, but they're hidden at the back. It's only due to the fact that it's sandwiched between the big, sweeping strings of Encounter With Destiny and The Sadness I Carry on My Shoulders that it's even noticeable.
The orchestral size of the Shenmue score may be one of the reasons why the game is rather notorious for its cost. Listen to a piece like Dawn, and its drum sound reveals the size of the room in which it must have been recorded. Factor in the rest of the orchestra and you're given a score that's cinematic in scope. Given the open sandbox platform of the game, and the fact one could explore a vast swathe of city, one would expect appropriately-epic music to pair with it.
Snowy Scenery is just that sort of music, as well. It evokes both cold, snow-covered streets, but also the size of even one of the smaller parts of the greater Tokyo area that is Yokosuka. One can almost feel the fact that Mt. Fuji looms off in the distance, with its white peak looking down on you as you're roaming the streets.
The entirety of the packaging is, again, gorgeous. Heavyweight vinyl, in a gorgeous hue of blue that matches the jacket perfectly, along with a suitable-for-framing cardstock print (the stock on the print is actually thicker than the jacket itself, which we find strange). However, again – no liner notes. Data Discs – you're killing us. Please, include something next time, even if it's just a list of the people who were in the orchestra, which is actually something a few other labels do, and it's fairly handy for demonstrating the scope of some of this music.
Data Discs deserves positive reinforcement for keeping this about the score, though, and leaving out the atrocious pop song, Wish, including neither lyrical nor instrumental versions. It's so out of sync with the rest of the score that it would've absolutely derailed this excellent distillation of music.
SHENMUE (1999) / COMPOSER: TAKENOBU MITSUYOSHI, YUZO KOSHIRO, TAKESHI YANAGAWA, OSAMU MURATA, RYUJI IUCHI / LABEL: DATA DISCS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW