Afrika (Wataru Hokoyama)

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A spiritual successor to — of all things — Pokémon Snap, Afrika sets players on a photo safari, capturing shots of wildlife in motion. The game has attracted considerable praise, but the most discussed feature seems to be Wataru Hokoyama’s original score — his first for a major video game.

While Japan-born, Hokoyama’s training was in a decidedly Western vein, and this shows clearly in the sound he establishes for Afrika. Many of the orchestral colors and orchestrations have clearly been inspired by Western greats such as John Williams and Elmer Bernstein, building on the soundscapes those composers established for massive fantasy-adventure scores on the one hand and National Geographic specials on the other. The result is a unique blend of action-adventure — occasionally bordering on the superheroic — and expansive, pastoral documentary music.

Hokoyama introduces a strong theme in “Savanna” that forms the basis for the rest of the score. It’s sweeping and adventurous, while maintaining a strongly romantic and expansive feel. The theme is present in most of the tracks, and is given extended airings in the triumphant finale “Afrika” and the rambunctiously exhilarating “Safari,” the best track on the album.

The game’s setting isn’t neglected and Hokoyama anchors a number of cues with percussive rhythms to reflect the high veldt setting. “Base Camp” is the pick of the lot, transposing a xylophone variation on the main theme with a full drum ensemble. Darker tracks for dangerous and dark situations also make an appearance in “Hunting” and “Night Safari,” the latter of which is particularly reminiscent of John Williams’ suspense writing.

There are no outright dud tracks, although two do fall somewhat short of the standard established by the others. “Masai” and “Hatari” are percussion-only tracks that don’t have enough variation to justify their (admittedly brief) running times. Both could have easily been omitted from the disc without much loss, shortened by half, or even combined into a suite. In truth, almost every track other than those two is a highlight.

While Afrika the game remains relatively obscure outside Japan despite a belated Stateside release, the score is readily available via import. Thirty minutes of music is present on a standard CD, while a Dolby 5.1 version of the music, along with interviews, is present on a supplementary DVD. The music is highly recommended to anyone who can get their hands on it; it’s a superior product, bursting with creativity.

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