8-Bit Mondays: Metroid – “Ending” (Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka)December 29, 2009
If I was to pick one ending theme that I most like, it’s got to be the ending to Metroid. Hirokazu Tanaka’s masterpiece is something that really defines what the NES/Famicom sound chip was able to do by using each instrument to the fullest, taking the scale all over the place: you can hear the triangle wav move all the way from its more timber bass line to the airy bells used in the middle section. The drums in the next section have this great toe-tapping feel to them, with the taps to the beat seeming to penetrate right to the heart. Finally, the very last notes have a great sense of triumph to them that gives the player the feel of a job well done. This is the type of music that a player should be rewarded with! There’s a reason why they call him Hip Tanaka!
The song gains even greater impact due to its relationship with the other songs as well as the showdown in Tourian. First, Hirokazu Tanaka composed the soundtrack with the idea of countering every pop game soundtrack that had been produced up until that point. As such, the soundtrack is very amelodic, chaotic, and discordant, with each song giving a different feel of darkness and terror to the labyrinth of Zebes. This atmospheric music was among the first first and certainly the premier of its kind. Hip Tanaka treated the whole soundtrack like a living creature, composing the music so it would absorb the player’s sound effects as part of the piece.
The showdown in Tourian takes this to its zenith with a fierce battle with the terrible Metroids and gruesome Mother Brain that holds tension to its highest with Tanaka’s heart-pounding boss themes. Finally, when the player thinks it is all over and the Mother Brain destroyed, a time bomb suddenly goes off and the player must escape before the whole complex blows up! It is only at the end when the player has ascended the treacherous escape shaft that melody finally returns in full glory as a truly cathartic experience. The beauty of the “Ending Theme” is thus further enhanced by comparing it to the darkness the player has just ascended from. This transition from darkness to cathartic light has since become the trademark of the soundtracks to the Metroid series.
I admit I prefer the NES version of this song over the FDS one mainly because I like the more metallic sound of the NES processor, though admittedly, the synths are far better in the FDS version. The NES version has a slightly different composition as well, with a few notes changed here and there (particularly in the middle section where the single note of the trumpet is more defined in the FDS version).
There have been many good remixes of this song, such as Metroid Cassette (1987), which has a nice dance feel to it with some original Famicom chiptunes and a bold 80s synth guitar; the Super Metroid: Sound in Action CD, by Yoshiyuki and Masumi Ito, which has a good opening and nice selection of instruments and is probably the best mix of it out there; Metroid Zero Mission, with the Game Boy Advance’s inferior airy sound processor, more pronounced bass, and a choral orchestra; Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s mix by Tsukasa Masuko with its bold drums and wonderful bells, is a more straightforward orchestration (as well as a loop); and Metroid Metal with its flourishes and blues-scale Japanese monologue. However, Virt’s now-infamous disco “Space Pirates” is by far the most creative – you can picture one of the crab-face Space Pirates in his disco gear with this. The song will never feel the same after you hear that one! That’s sure a lot mixes, but it’s also one of the best ending tunes out there.