Shoji Meguro is probably most famous for being able to capture the same sort of genre alchemy as the game’s he composes music for. Atlus, after all, loves to mix and match disparate elements for their many games. For example, It makes a lot of sense to combine classical compositions with more rock inspired pop music. Especially when composing music for a game that makes the same combination with dark, occult inspired fantasy with the everyday of high school life. Since joining Atlus in 1995, Shoji Meguro has done the music for many of their Shin Megami Tensei games. However, he’s probably most recognized today for his work on the Persona series.
While originally I was going to write about the Persona soundtracks, I found tucked away on my computer his work on a different Atlus title. One that made more sense to write about given my curiosity about the man’s genre fusing, pop-rock, gothic-classic, hyphen-heavy works. The soundtrack is for Atlus’ first foray into HD consoles, Catherine, and it featured Shoji Meguro along with Atsushi Kitajoh and Kenichi Tsuchiya (who worked with him on Persona 4 and Persona 3 FES respectively) re-arranging classical masterpieces.
Catherine was an interesting game in terms of gameplay and narrative, but especially with its ad campaigns. It wasn’t billed as Atlus’ first HD outing, but Atlus’ “adult” game that aimed to tackle a more mature sort of love and relationship that its high school predecessors apparently didn’t reach (debatable). In the end, certain ads played up a sexuality and fanservice that ultimately wasn’t actually in the game itself (because selling a puzzle game that’s sort of like Tetris mixed with Q-Bert was probably more of a challenge in its own right). However, Ads like the one below where real couples were asked how they felt about marriage, encouraged people to imagine a game that dealt with relationships where the story didn’t omit sex but also didn’t feature it gratuitously. The game asked questions regarding the idea of being in, a part of, and the choices within the relationship itself. Subsequently, how well the game succeeded is up to you (on a scale of “Where were the boobs?” to “Commitment issues”) though personally I found the game’s attempt at tackling relationships as a fear underrated.
But I’m here to talk about the music, and the soundtrack favored full-on arrangements rather than any “original” piece of music. This isn’t to say that the music found on the game weren’t original. Far from it, Meguro’s penchant for mixing modern and classic is on best display when he spent the time modernizing actual classics.
I’d like to start with, not the opening title track from the game’s opening sequence( Holt’s Planet Suite, “Mars”, “Jupiter”), but instead a track featured prominently on one of Catherine‘s cinematic trailers, Bach’s “Little” Fugue in G Minor.
I’m going to beg for all your forgiveness with this next one, but Bach’s “little” fugue isn’t so little in Meguro’s arrangement. Originally played on large organs, Meguro ads thumping percussions to bring the normally high-pitched sound down to a bass. If it managed to grab my attention while I was getting the first real glimpse of Catherine, then it was something that was and is still powerful enough for one to stop and consider the music taking place during the sheep escapades.
My question though, is if Meguro was implying that classical music is the only music suitable for adults? Of course that isn’t the case because ever the rocker, he infuses guitars into the roaring opening of Bizet’s L’Arle’sienne Second Suite “Farandole” and instead basically relishes that he’s able to make these personal arrangements of the sort of music that inspired him. After all, his soundtracks are already laden with original music that’s more classical than modern and he lists several classic composers as key influences.
My favorite piece on the album is probably Rossini’s William Tell Overture Part 2 “The Storm” and Part 3 “ The Ranz Des Vaches” (The Cow Call). This version, which omits the famous finale of the opera (the one you hear at British race tracks or as Wikipedia tells me, “famously featured on The Lone Ranger“) and dramatically speeds up the second part to create a song that’s less “coming storm” as the name implies and more “storm’s here asshole, try not to die.”
I want to say this track appeared multiple times throughout the game; but maybe it was just that I kept replaying the same difficult clock tower lever over and over again that I began to think the song appeared more often than I remember.
I wish I could feature all the songs from the album because each track reveals Shoji Meguro’s skill at uniting modern and classic. There’s the electronic beats added to Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, with its constant electric chirps married to the furious piano playing making a sound as hectic as the gameplay in later levels.
However more than just showing off with a “I can do this too!” sort of cheekiness, the songs he chooses to arrange match perfectly with Catherine‘s actual gameplay. The insane puzzle and reaction-based gameplay that features the protagonist, Vincent Brooks, dashing across ever narrower platforms can only be described with the mad dance tune of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances. And just like in the game when you think you have a handle on the situation, the pace speeds up again and the desperation to not die a sheep man returns.
Lastly, there’s another Chopin piece, “Piano Sonata No. 2 “Funeral March” 3rd Movement,” famous for being another one of those songs that almost everyone can just hum along to (even if it’s at some inappropriate time like say, a funeral). But in Catherine it’s given a suitably appropriate jazz-vibe that would make it totally appropriate to play in non-morbid situations. It also ties the themes of love, marriage, and death together through the songs genre hybridization. If marriage isn’t bliss, it must be some sort of death, or so the thinking goes. It’s a bit on the nose, but the game pursued how the player viewed a relationship that ultimately leads to marriage in the sort life/death spectrum I found to be incredibly interesting.
The game’s decision to have only arrangements of classical music did more to demonstrate Shoji Meguro’s ability to combine the new and old far better than the soundtracks in which he creates an album that’s a distinctive mix between modern pop/rock and classical. On Catherine, they’re one and the same.