When it comes to picking the best video game opening of all time, there are a lot of amazing candidates. However, one that always seems to stick in our minds longer than most is the opening to Namco's weapons-based fighter, Soul Blade - specifically the version released for the original PlayStation, back in 1997.
Not only did the PlayStation version of the game boast cutting-edge CG graphics, introducing each character's story with action-packed vignettes, but it also came packaged with a fantastic opening theme. 'Edge of Soul', as this song is called, is still an absolute earworm all these years later, and it's because of this that we set out to track down its composers to find out more.
Believe us when we say that this was no easy feat. The identity of KHAN has remained something of a mystery over the years, with some members of the game's community speculating that it was the name of an in-house group at Namco. Through contacting former Namco staff, however, we've been able to disprove this theory and find out more about the identity of KHAN, tracking down its lead composer Masahiro Ohki (better known as Benten-Maru), who is now a solo artist and music teacher living in Chiba Prefecture.
According to Ohki, who spoke to us via email, KHAN was a Japanese rock band that combined traditional Japanese and Chinese instruments with classic rock music. It was formed by members of another rock group named A・JYOTA, which was established in 1991 and released two albums, 'Troublesome; and 'Tilt', as well as a single called 'He Got The Power', before breaking up.
In 1996, several of its members, including singer Mickie and composer Masahiro Ohki, decided to get back together, reforming the band as KHAN. That's when Namco entered the picture.
As Ohki recalls, "I was playing in a rock band that used traditional Japanese and Asian instruments when I was contacted by the video game company Namco. At that time, it was our first collaboration on a game. To begin with, we were given some images of the characters appearing in the game to reference. And then later, I started composing to a storyboard of the intro. The production of the music and the CG intro happened pretty much simultaneously."
KHAN contributed two memorable songs to the soundtrack - 'Edge of Soul' and 'On Our Way Home' - with both featuring traditional instruments like the Koto and Pipa, alongside vocals, and modern instrumentation like keyboards and electric guitar. Ohki was responsible for writing both of these songs, but he wasn't the only contributor. A songwriter named Suzi Kim provided lyrics, while the freelance musician Kazunori Miyake assisted with the arrangement and provided the track's memorable Koto solo. Ohki loved the collaborative process of writing and recording with these other musicians.
"My favourite memory of the production was the experience of exchanging creative ideas with musicians and staff until late at night, eating delicious food and drinking sake," Ohki tells us. "We had a session going with top musicians, which I really enjoyed. And there was also something else too. I also got to invite some of my music students to the studio to show them the behind-the-scenes of recording and production, which I'm sure was a very good experience for them."
Soul Blade may have been eclipsed by its immediate predecessor, Soul Calibur — the latter of which remains one of the best-reviewed games of all time on Metacritic — but we still think the original game sets the series' benchmark for making a first impression. To close our conversation, we decided to ask Ohki something we've been wondering for years, ever since we first played the game back in the day: what does the phrase 'Edge of Soul' actually mean? Here's his answer:
"In the game, strong men from all over the world travel while fighting in search of the legendary sword called 'Soul Edge'," he explains. "'Soul Edge' becomes a sword of justice when it is picked up by a person with a good heart and can save the world, but it can also become a sword that destroys when picked up by someone evil. We, too, stand on the edge of this precipice and must look back and examine ourselves. That is what it means."
Did you play Soul Blade on the PlayStation 1? Were you just as obsessed with the opening as us? Let us know your memories below!