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Shin Onigashima – “Title” and “In the House” (arr. Masafumi Takada)

July 7, 2010

Shin Onigashima (1987), or “New Devil Island” is dubbed “A Famicom Fairy Tale”. It is the story of a young boy and girl who must defeat a giant dragon that is turning the people into oni (a type of troll-like demon). The story is loosely based on the traditional Japanese folktales of Momotaro (a monster-slaying boy with magical powers found inside a peach) and Taketori Monogatari (about an old woodcutter who finds a princess from the moon living inside a bamboo plant). Different from most Nintendo games other than the Famicom Detective series, Shin Onigashima is a visual novel, where choices are made from a menu and the story is narrated through text and cartoons. Due to the game’s traditional story as well as the obscure visual novel format (which probably would have appealed a bit more to PC gamers), it was obviously never translated and localized in the US. However, the game’s soundtrack is actually quite superb, a truly forgotten Nintendo gem with nearly 30 minutes of music on a Famicom. The most recognizable theme is the “Title BGM” or “Inside the House” (the second being an extended version of the former) from the game’s first chapter, a remix of which appeared on Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Shin Onigashima – “Title” and “In the House” (arr. Masafumi Takada)

The most famous remix by far is “Shin Onigashima” by Masafumi Takada (No More Heroes, Contact) in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. This thrash metal piece shreds through the theme with some pretty high-intensity rock with a progressive arrangement similar to most other rock mixes (it actually plays the theme three times before looping). It works quite well for the intense action in Brawl, though lacks the Japanese instrumentation of the original. I think many people who played Brawl in the West had no clue where this song came from – and even fewer will ever play it. However, the theme is still incredibly memorable and certainly one of the better pieces to come out of Nintendo, so it’s a shame the soundtrack has been largely forgotten.

Shin Onigashima uses some traditional Japanese-style music, particularly in the “Title” and “In the House“, which use some nice shakuhachi (bamboo flute) emulation on the Famicom’s sound chip. The long, full notes on the pentatonic scale make for a nice, gradual opening to a long journey. The melody, composed of confident and reedy notes, along with repetition and theme variation, create an incredibly memorable tune. While I feel the instrumentation in the “Title” theme is very mysterious, I don’t think the transition into “In the House” is very smooth, as it is essentially an extended version of the same song played in the “Title”; I feel they could have used a different theme in here or at least transitioned more smoothly into it. Here is some video of the title screen and opening chapter:

The soundtrack is also notable as being a collaboration between Koji Kondo and Taro Bando (F-Zero X Guitar Arrange, Animal Crossing).

Another good remix by Mario Freaks Orchestra appeared in Famicom Graffiti (1990). This one has an awesome shakuhachi and is great 80s electronica. Mario Freaks Orchestra created numerous Famicom game mixes in 1989 and 1990, all using a similar style. I actually find them much better than Akihabara Electric Circus, which did the Toy Music series.

Lastly, we have “Shin Onigashima (The First Part)” by Takayuki “J99” Aihara, longtime composer for Namco. This track is from Famicom 20th Anniversary Arrange Sound Tracks and is an epic synth medley of the first half of the game. There is some great character in this song; I can picture Toshiro Mifune swaggering along in feudal Japan.

The soundtrack is definitely worth checking out, though it’s a little hard to find. Two other songs that stand out are “Neighboring Village” which sounds like a lazy, rolling Sunday and “Ogre’s Gate Keeper”, a dramatic battle theme which contains an extended version of the “Ogre Fortress” theme. The soundtrack was released in two albums for the Game Sound Museum series and was originally released in medley form on Famicom Music Vol. 2 (1987).

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