Following the massive success of their licensed RPGs, Bioware chose to create their first original game in that genre with 2005’s Jade Empire. After flirting with Michael Hoenig and Jeremy Soule for most of their previous games, Bioware settled on Jack Wall to spearhead the music for their next generation of titles. Wall — no stranger to game music with titles like Myst and Splinter Cell under his belt — set out to create a soundscape that matched the new game’s mythical Far East setting.
Wall certainly nailed the overall sound of the game: high quality performances samples of Eastern instruments, an overall Asian classical sound, and nods to more recent scores like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon abound throughout the work. There is a classical Western orchestral ensemble mixed in as well, but the focus is firmly on creating an Asian feeling throughout. The game’s main theme is perhaps the best example of this, with a collection of Far Eastern instruments sweeping over a background of more traditional horns, strings, and a wordless singer.
The album does feature some very pretty moments, typically when the mood is light and summery. Suites like “Hills and Fields” and themes like “Dawn Star” combine the overarching mood of the score with melodies and textures that create a pleasing whole. There are many such moments over the course of the album, though the themes tend to be rather subtle to nonexistent elsewhere.
Battle music and the score’s darker music tends toward length percussion romps, largely devoid of melody or anything save clanking metal and wood. While this music creates an appropriately rambunctious mood at first, it can be wearying in the extended doses that the music throws at listeners. “Fury Hammer and Tongs” is perhaps the most outstanding example of this style, varying the endless percussion hits with Halo-esque runs. The sinister themes tend to be rather underplayed as well, mired in rather dull Chinese-style ambiance.
The major drawback of the music is also its major strength. A laserlike focus on an oriental sound means that the cues can easily become tiring for someone accustomed to a more Western sound or for whom densely Asian music is something best appreciated in small doses. Wall’s music does exactly what it sets out to do, yet this may turn many listeners off.
Released by Sumthing Else in 2005, the official album includes 75 minutes of Wall’s music and is easily obtainable in stores or online. The music is heartily recommended to fans of Asian classical stylings, with a more lukewarm recommendation to people for whom the style is less tolerable. If nothing else, the music is absolutely perfect in-game and complements the setting and action peerlessly.