The Actraiser Symphonic Suite remains one of the best game music albums, and so is worth revisiting here, particularly the piece “Filmoa”. First, the idea of the symphonic suite, a moniker found in many an arranged game music album. A suite is basically an ordered set of music for concert. Sympnonic means it is composed for an orchestra, essentially a symphony, considered one of the highest forms of music – which further underscores the importance of music in games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, though here used perhaps more as metaphor than actual symphony (the original name, Nocturne in the Moonlight, refers to the “Moonlit Nocturne” piece, similar to how Rondo of Blood refers to the rondo “Bloodlines of Heaven and Earth”). Beyond this, you could basically say that orchestral arranges of the score to an entire game are symphonic suites. The Actraiser Symphonic Suite was arranged by Yuzo Koshiro himself and played by the Shinsei Nihon Symphony Orchestra (which often does anime music), conducted by Kaoru Wada.
“Filmoa,” or “Fillmore” in the English translation, contains a small number of instruments found in Baroque (here the violin and cello). It also maintains a continuo – that is, a harmonic fill beneath the main melody that is also characteristic of the Baroque. This is played here on the cello, though often in Baroque it was played with harpsichord. This is replaced in the Classical era with the use of chords for harmony. The piece ends in a cadence, or a series of chords definitively ending a section, something more characteristic of the Classical era. Also, unlike most Baroque music, “Fillmore” is less designed as a dance (the music was, after all, often accompanied by dancing) and more a desperate struggle.
“Fillmore” is perhaps more striking for how it was arranged from the original piece. Actraiser‘s “Fillmore” is Stage 1, a forest filled with fierce monsters (including giant apes!). The piece has melody largely dominated by organ and supported by strings and rock guitar, maintaining a steady drum beat. This unique gothic rock is a far cry from the moody strings found in the Symphonic Suite and a testament to the versatility of the form.
The original compositions were made on an FM Soundboard II before being ported to the SNES. The music sounds much closer to the MIDI of the X68000 rather than the full, boomy sound of the SPC7000. Yuzo Koshiro created his own sound library for the SNES, allowing him to create music that was of much higher quality than most other companies at the time, who had to rely on Nintendo’s spotty service and poorly documented hardware. Both versions of the Actraiser soundtrack were arranged in Yuzo Koshiro BEST COLLECTION vol. 1, which is now on iTunes as three separate albums.