Archive for the ‘8 Bit Mondays’ Category

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The Adventures of Bayou Billy – “Street and Swamp Fighting (Stages 1, 3, 6, 8 BGM)” (Hidenori Maezawa, et al)

November 29, 2010

The Adventures of Bayou Billy (1991), known in Japan as Mad City (1989), is one of the more obscure Konami titles and a forgotten soundtrack by Hidenori Maezawa. Nice graphics and tripping music, the game is forgotten because it was infamous for its difficulty (Spoony Experiment has a fantastic Until We Win feature about it). Billy West must save his girlfriend Annabelle Lee from the vicious gang of Godfather Gordon, fighting his way through swamp and street, driving a jeep through the bayou… Sorry, Billy, but it’s times like these when you’re probably better off just finding a new girlfriend! (and get a shirt while you’re at it!) Anyway, the music is fairly unique, quite a different sound from much NES music of the time, particularly the first stage theme, “Street & Swamp Fighting” .

The Adventures of Bayou Billy – “Street & Swamp Fighting (Stages 1, 3, 5, 8)” (Hidenori Maezawa, et al)

The piece opens with a funky guitar and hip swamp bubble popping. The main melody is played on a square wave whose identity is a little hard to pin down – perhaps trumpets or strings? – with some nice highlights from the trumpets. Its grungy slide is similar to that found in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Battletoads, a slam beat from the bayou. At 0:37 there is a nice break with punctuation from that dancing guitar. Coupled with the opening, the first loop is at 1:00, but after this, the loop length is 37 seconds, which is pretty decent, especially since the track is fairly dynamic.

The real reason I wanted to talk Bayou Billy though was this awesome arrange by Evil Horde called “El Lagarto“. I gotta say, this one took me by surprise, as I’d never heard the soundtrack before. The 70s disco-funk guitar is back with some slick Latin clapping and salsa-hot percussion – with a bongo solo at 3:16! Also check out that clapping break at 1:36 – this track is super-slick. This is sure to get your toes a-tapping and the ghost of Ricardo Montalbon dancing. Take a unique soundtrack and add a mix like this – a complete blast that’s also different from anything I’ve heard! The title, “El Legarto”, is the Spanish word for lizard – as in alligator!

The kings of this soundtrack are Jun Funahashi (Ys VI, Lost in Blue) and Hidenori Maezawa (Contra, Super C), who later collaborated on Castlevania III, which is some of the best music on the Famicom. The other composers were Atsushi Fujito (Castlevania: Bloodlines, Contra III: The Alien Wars) and Shinkon Ogura (Snake’s Revenge). Killer composers, all.

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What Makes it Memorable? – Mega Man 3 – “Title” (Yasuaki Fujita)

November 22, 2010

For the final entry into “What Makes a Song Memorable”, I’m going to take a look at one of the most beloved themes from one of the most popular game series: the “Title” theme from Mega Man 3. Composed by Yasuaki Fujita (aka Bun Bun), the Mega Man 3 soundtrack was one of the crowning scores of the series. Mr. Fujita later left to work at SNK on Pulstar, but has since returned to work on Mega Man 9 and 10.

Mega Man 3 – “Title” (Yasuaki Fujita)

Mr. Fujita pulled out all the stops with this piece. “Title” combines a memorable, jazzy intro with a high-energy main theme, smoothly mixing both the series’ jazz roots as well as modern pop music. It uses a simple melody, but one that has plenty of call and response – each bar expands on a theme presented in the previous one.

Also note the piece doesn’t just use a single chord, but varies the two square waves to play slightly different notes (see 0:12, for instance, as well as the nice jazzy line at 0:42). The layering here is excellent as well, particularly when accompanied by punctuation from the drums, with a pounding club beat. It’s right up there with the Mega Man 2 theme.

Out of all the arranges for the theme, my favorite is by Project X, Read the rest of this entry ?

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Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX – “Ballad of the Wind Fish” (Kazumi Totaka, et al)

November 15, 2010

Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was the best GameBoy game ever made this side of Tetris, so it only made perfect sense that when the GameBoy Color was released, Nintendo would release a DX version. Link’s Awakening DX contains 79 songs (versus 67 in the original). The soundtrack has an amazing selection of music, with a unique song for each dungeon (something not even A Link to the Past had at that time) for over 1 hour of music in the DX version. Out of these, my favorite is the sad-sweet “Ballad of the Wind Fish”, here sung by Marin.

Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX – “Ballad of the Wind Fish” (Kazumi Totaka, et al)

The Wind Fish which is – as the great sages of Koholint Island tell us – “neither wind nor fish” (oookaaay…) sleeps inside a giant egg at the top of Mt. Tamaranch. Waking the Wind Fish destroys the dream of the island, and everyone on it except Link and the Wind Fish fades into memory. Therefore, saving the island from the Nightmare comes at a bitter price, one that is foretold through the sadness at the heart of the “Ballad of the Wind Fish”. Was it all just a dream…?

Though played only on a single instrument (a square wave emulating Marin’s voice), the mournful calling of a siren across the endless waves is full of an emotion that is deep as the sea. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Castlevania III – “Clockwork” (Hidenori Maezawa, et al)

November 8, 2010

This week I’m going to look at music appreciation through vgm. Essentially, this is to help increase familiarity with different musical styles through videogames.

First up is the Baroque period of music (1600-1760). While the layman often classifies anything that is played on the music station as “Classical”, these are actually broken up into individual styles based on particular musical periods. Works by Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel characterize this style. Baroque style is a dead giveaway through the use of a limited number and variety of instruments, primarily violin, harpsichord, and organ. Handel is noted for using brass, but most composers of the time did not; same goes for percussion, which is nearly absent, though the harpsichord was more often used to mark meter than it was for melody. The period serves as the foundation of modern music through the development of the suite and the refinement of musical instruments. The most famous work from this period was Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, which demonstrated musical composition in each key (major and minor), demonstrating the flexibility of the keyboard.

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse – “Clockwork” (Hidenori Maezawa, Yoshinori Sasaki, Jun Funahashi, Yukie Morimoto)

This brings us to today’s Daily, “Clockwork” from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989). “Clockwork” is one of the most easily-identifiable pieces from the Baroque style from a videogame.  Though on the Famicom’s 2A03 sound chip (using a VRC6 expansion programmed by Hidenori Maezawa), we can still plainly tell that the instruments used are harpsichord due to the high-pitched plinking. The harpsichord is essentially a primitive piano played with a keyboard where strings are plucked rather than struck (hence the higher pitch). Harpsichord has rarely been used outside the Baroque period. The harpsichord here lends itself well to the mechanical gears of the clocktower, keeping time as well as remaining intricate like the spokes on a gear and the multitude of gears in the giant clock tower the level is played in (clocktowers have since become a staple for the series, requiring complex jumping maneuvers). Couple this with the low bass (could be used to represent a cello, harpsichord, or even an organ) and the track has a distinct feel of danger. In fact, the track also lends itself well to the organ, as demonstrated in the Castlevania Concert (sample in the trailer).

Of course, just because the piece was originally composed as a Baroque work does not mean that is how it has to be arranged. Dwelling of Duels demonstrated this with their special competition in 2004, which resulted in such compositions as the Latin “La Hora es Tarde” by Housethegrate. “Clockwork” has made appearances in Circle of the Moon‘s clockwork stage as well as in Castlevania Judgment, both of which are excellent arranges.

Castlevania III was composed by Yoshinori Sasaki (Illusion of Gaia, Ys VI), Jun Funahashi (Lethal Enforcers, Lost in Blue, Ys VI), and Yukie Morimoto (Gradius II and III, Ganbare Goemon series). Though no specific composer is listed in the soundtrack, Mr. Funahashi is credited with Special Thanks in the PC rerelease, which could place him as a consultant.

“Woodcarving Partita” from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is another fine example of Baroque. An accomplished pianist, composer Michiru Yamane has played this piece live at two separate concerts. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge for the Game Boy has another excellent selection of Baroque works, including Bach’s own “Chromatic Fantasy”. Clearly, the Castlevania series owes a lot of debt and inspiration to the composers of this period.

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SunSoft’s Batman (Nobuyuki Hara, Naoki Kodaka)

November 1, 2010

Usually movie, film, and comic book tie-ins to games are awful, the kind of shovel-ware that finds its way to the ‘we must pay you to take this from us’ bin. However, there are a few games out there that succeeded, and one of these is Batman (1990) by Sunsoft for the NES, which loosely followed the 1989 film. In addition to gameplay, SunSoft was also known for their proficiency with graphics and musical composition, particularly the work of Naoki Kodaka (Blaster Master, Journey to Silius).

SunSoft Batman (Nobuyuki Hara, Naoki Kodaka)

Batman demonstrates the capacity of late-generation NES sound chips through the use of sequenced drums and mastery over audio storage space (the loop is 54 seconds long and contains a unique opening). What matters more than technology, however, is composition, and the example here “Track 4”, which contains a feel similar to Journey to Silius, or perhaps a Castlevania track (particularly with the opening). This is pretty tense stage music, defined by edgy string chips and mellow square waves that surf their way through the narrow corridors. The core is a bit repetitive, but the track has enough dynamic movement to keep it interesting through the first loop while retaining its memorability. It not only makes Batman feel as cool as he is, but is some great game music to boot.

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Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – “Silence of the Day” (Kenichi Matsubara)

October 25, 2010

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest was the first Castlevania game I’d ever played. And once I did, I wished I’d played the game sooner, as I fell in love with it instantly. This was in the late 90s, so I was younger then, but even this – one of the poorer entries in the series – captivated me with the whip and jump action, as well as the power-up system. Today, the game is a bit tedious and so I enjoy other games in the series more, but it introduced a lot of elements that were later implemented into classics such as Symphony of the Night.

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – “Silence of the Day” (Kenichi Matsubara)

“Silence of the Day” is probably the most easily-recognizable piece from the game. An easy track, the piece features a well-defined drum beat and a strong melody defined by long notes with short steps between. The track has a march-like quality, as Simon trolls the streets looking for clues to help him lift his curse. We can see the shops and shuttered houses as Simon walks past, aware that the curse of Dracula still lingers on the land…

It is interesting to compare the Famicom Disk version with the NES version. The NES version has more timbre to its sound, meaty square wavs that sound more like analog audio than replicating orchestral instruments. The Famicom Disk System sounds better, though is less familiar. We never knew what we were missing out on!

“Silence of the Day” has seen multiple arranges – probably the most out of Castlevania II save “Bloody Tears.” The best of these has to be from Akumajo Dracula MIDI Collection, mainly for the amazing opening with drums and bells that sound like the interior of a church bell tower. The last half of the track is a type of dance theme accentuated by the bells and piano. It’s not bad, but quite a departure from the first half. Nice use of trumpets here, too. The track ends with some Halloween-style pipes.

The second notable one is “What a Horrible Night” by virt (Jake Kaufman), which uses a fugue of about a dozen violins, each played and recorded by Kaufman. What results is a rough estimation of a violin concerto playing the piece (far better than Dracula New Classic). The piece also contains “Monster Dance“, the night theme. When night falls, the memorable line “What a horrible night to have a curse!” haunts the screen, and you know you’re in for trouble!

Composer Kenichi Matsubara (The Lone Ranger, Gradius IV) was responsible for both Castlevania II and Haunted Castle, both released the same year. As a result, he had to reuse some tunes, such as “Bloody Tears”. This probably explains why the soundtrack is a bit sub-par to the arcade game.

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Legacy of the Wizard – “Theme of Meyna” (Yuzo Koshiro)

October 18, 2010

Legacy of the Wizard (Dragon Slayer IV – DraSle [Dragon Slayer] Family, 1987) is an amazing early soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro (ActRaiser, Streets of Rage). The game is not very well-known, but Yuzo Koshiro is certainly a famous name, and this is a good entry from his early years. Though each track is only 30 seconds or less long, Mr. Koshiro often manages to fit enough material into each song to make it feel like it is twice that length. The entire soundtrack has this nice, storybook quality to the soundtrack that makes it an excellent listen.

Legacy of the Wizard – “Theme of Meyna” (Yuzo Koshiro)

In Legacy of the Wizard, you play as the Warzen family, descendants of a warrior who slew a dragon many years ago. Each character has his or her own special ability. Meyna is the mother of the family, a flame-wielding sorceress. Her theme is divided into only two parts, both whimsical and and bright, with a feminine touch. The loop is only 25 seconds long, but this is enough to manage a tight, memorable melody.