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Ikaruga – “Ideal” (Hiroshi Iuchi)

March 4, 2010

Sometimes shmups are just a good way to end the day. Great action-packed music, always positive and determined to accomplish the impossible. Kind of the opposite of how some days turn out, right? Well, don’t fret because Ikaruga (Dreamcast, 2002) has some nice music befitting of a shmup and that type of over-the-top hero music evoking heroes who fit the title’s name. I will say too that the music is pretty intense, and the boss theme in particular was used for the Ikaruga trailer (actually, an ad for the superplay DVD). This is ultimately what made me interested in the game (especially because the player makes it look so easy!) and so here is another example of how music helped sell a game.

Ikaruga – “Ideal” (Hiroshi Iuchi)

The first stage theme, “Ideal”, by Hiroshi Iuchi (Gunstar Heroes, Sin and Punishment) follows the launch of the fighter craft from the base with an impressive drum roll and much fanfare. As the fighters soar out into the pure white clouds to defend the city, the main theme begins as the battle ensues high above. The song is very forceful and composed, with drumbeats and flurries of strings that record a constant and steady move forward, showing confidence and strength to overcome all obstacles. There is a nice break at 0:54 where strings float into the sea of clouds. When at 1:18 the song returns to the first part of the theme, though unlike most vgm, it does not loop through the song again, but, developing the theme further, takes it to the end. The stage ends, and so the song fades out and into the boss theme.

This makes Ikaruga unique and an example of how vgm can be well designed to fit the structure of the game. Shmup levels are finite in length because the screen automatically scrolls forward. For this reason, a song can be composed that perfectly orchestrates each frame of the stage, with a beginning, middle, and conclusion – only boss themes need be set to loop, and even the boss fights can be programmed to end. Note that the boss themes for each level are also unique.

Hiroshi Iuchi is a rarity among game designers, but a commonality among independent developers. Another industry veteran of over 20 years, he has worked with character design, background design, and music on many games produced by Treasure. His official Japanese homepage, Video Genome Materials, lists a few things he has worked on as well as contains a blog of his latest observations.

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