8-Bit Mondays: Metroid II – “Title Theme” (Ryohji Yoshitomi)

April 12, 2010

Metroid II (1990) happens to be one of my favorite soundtracks for the Gameboy. While it’s definitely not the best in the series, the game gets a little bit too much negative press, and I think these opinions happen to snowball the more they are repeated. It’s definitely one of the best titles on the Game Boy and worth checking out. One of the more unique things about the game is the soundtrack, which appears to be the debut of Ryohji Yoshitomi (Wario Land, Wii Fit). The “Title Theme” is one of my favorite pieces – it’s incredibly rich and dynamic with a wide range of instruments and some really unique sounds, even for chiptunes.

Metroid II: Return of Samus – “Title Theme” (Ryohji Yoshitomi)

The Metroid II title theme is divided into two sections. The first opens with a very harsh pinging sound,like sonar or radio signals traveling through space off of Sputnik or some other early satellite. While not pleasing to the ear, these illustrate the depths of space, and the danger that lurks within. At 22 seconds into the track, explosions are added as percussion – yes, one of the most unique things about this track is instead of using drums, Yoshitomi takes the sound channel and brings out full-on explosions instead of drum beats. I mean seriously – where else have you heard explosions used but in “The 1812 Overture”? It’s a very cool effect when placed against that pinging. Finally, at 32 seconds, we have the opening notes of the song, a short, mournful tune that signals the emergence of Samus from outer space: somewhere in that dark void, she’s out there alone, looking for her next mission.
After a short interlude, the second half of the song begins (0:54), which is marked by a sad, but hopeful heroic tune. Here, the pinging has been replaced with a pleasant chirp (maybe a flute?) reinforced by a square wave acting as strings. Next a mellow bass is added for strength and finally powerful explosions are added as percussion (1:21). The track winds down with a low, buzzing drone as explosions become more frequent and the volume begins to fade. The electric flute provides a nice counterpoint to the low drone and explosions: a sense of hope and purpose following a descent onto the planet below. Unlike other vgm, this one does not loop, but fades out as a complete composition.
The range of notes and combination of instruments produces a very unique effect that I simply don’t see anywhere else in vgm. It’s really a shame this piece gets overlooked because there are so many cool things going on in it – though it’s quite understandable, considering the unpleasant opening notes. It really makes the player want to exit the title screen and get into the game asap (especially since there are no animations or anything on the title screen). But that’s all part of the piece, and I don’t think it would have the same effect if it was meant to be pleasant – Metroid has, after all, always been dark. For a debut and as part of what was then becoming a well-known series, Ryohji Yoshitomi’s work is pretty incredible. These unique sounds are used throughout the soundtrack, especially in the clicking and buzzing crazy maze of Ruins Area 3 – I swear those bugs are clicking to a beat!


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