Posts Tagged ‘Konami’


Sunset Riders – “Mr. Pink Poncho’s Western Rock Band” (Dr. Manhattan)

December 1, 2010

Ok, so I’ve already talked about the original version of “Shoot-out at the Sunset Corral” from Sunset Riders, but I was so impressed with this OCR arrange that I just had to give it its own post before this blog rides out into the setting sun. I’ve already posted work by Dr. Manhattan before (“Sudden Kiss” from Dracula X) and I’m definitely a fan of his rock style. Plus, the track contains “Fight Bravely”, the second level theme.

Sunset Riders – “Mr. Pink Poncho’s Western Rock Band” (Dr. Manhattan)

The instruments are quite close to the original, with guitars, drums, and trumpets played to perfection, emphasized and cued just where they need to be. I’d almost say this is just a straight-up cover for the first half, but when they’re this good, why would you really care? There’s a nice guitar wail at 1:55 that is just what you’d expect from a spaghetti western, and this opens into a blazing guitar solo where Dr. Manhattan really shows his stuff – YEE-HAW! And what’s this? The “Mexican Hat Dance” song! (called “Jarabe Tapatio”). Of course you have to have that with the rifle-wielding Cormano! (And yes, he does wear a pink poncho!). This is a nice bridge to the Spanish-themed “Fight Bravely”, which ends the mix beginning at 2:47.

OCRemix lists the composer as Naohisa Morota (Batman: The Video Game, Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness), but I think he’s just credited with the SNES version (Motoaki Furukawa did the arcade version).


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.


King Kong 2 (MSX) – “End of the Adventure” (Commandcom)

November 28, 2010

Konami seems to have a good track record of releasing two versions of each of their games: one for the Famicom, the other for the MSX. Castlevania/Vampire Killer; Contra; Metal Gear 1 and 2/Snake’s Revenge. And now we have King Kong 2, with the MSX version King Kong 2: Yomigaeru Densetsu (King Kong 2: The Legend Restored). In the Famicom version (Ikari no Megaton Punch), players took the role of King Kong himself in his quest to find his beloved Lady Kong. With Yomigaeru Densetsu, it’s the adventurer Mitchel, also out to find Lady Kong, only this time to give him a blood transfusion. The game even resembles the MSX Metal Gear in terms of graphics and level design. Anyway, this forgotten Konami game recently saw an arrange by Commandcom (aka Jorge Mira Boronat) on OCR.

King Kong 2: Yomigaeru Densetsu – “End of the Adventure” (Commandcom)

While I think the soundtrack to Ikari no Megaton Punch is better, I have to admit that the “Stage 1” theme (arranged here) is an absolutely fantastic, catchy melody and pushes what the MSX could do, and it’s great to see how both soundtracks ended up with such great scores. The thing is, I don’t really like the MSX as much as the Famicom (though admittedly, it does sound a little more ‘Japanese’). The MSX usually doesn’t have quite the same impact as the Famicom, which in the right hands (say Kuniyo Yamashita or Hidenori Maezawa) can create a score much more lively and dynamic, due primarily to the extra channels and grittier sound (though Kuniyo Yamashita composed Vampire Killer with about as much gusto as the Famicom version). Still, Commandcom does an excellent job of really fleshing out the ideas present in the original, with lively piano, an adventuresome march, and wicked drumwork. It presents a grand feel of adventure, thick jungles, wild animals, and (in this case) helpful natives. Commandcom references Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean in his musical style, all excellent adventure scores. This is truly where the strengths of game music arrangements lie, being able to take an original piece and upgrade it for modern ears. It’s truly an example of how the bamboo model of the original song becomes a fully realized building with more powerful technology.

The original soundtrack was composed by Motoaki FurukawaMetal Gear for MSX and Dracula X: The Rondo of Blood.


Castlevania: Harmony of Despair – “Ruined Castle Corridor”

November 27, 2010

I just discovered that in January Konamistyle is releasing the soundtrack to Harmony of Despair, the XBLA game that came out earlier this year which allowed you to play with up to three friends as one of Castlevania‘s heroes (and heroines!). What’s even cooler is there will be a bundle that includes this along with the Castlevania Tribute 1 and 2 albums (Tribute!? You steal men’s souls! And make them your slaves!). I’m hoping it won’t be a bunch of electronica… However, I’ve given the Harmony of Dissonance soundtrack a listen and was quite impressed. While it’s a selection from mostly newer games in the series (would have loved to hear some Castlevania IV and GameBoy arranges), Harmony of Dissonance has a truly rocking soundtrack with primarily new arranges. One of my favorites is “Ruined Castle Corridor”, the main castle theme from Aria of Sorrow.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – “Ruined Castle Corridor”

Konami’s heavy metal treatment of “Ruined Castle Corridor” is pretty intense, with live guitars and an excellent synth library. The track might be called Soma’s Theme, the young man who is cursed with becoming the next Dracula (though he must start out as a college kid with a penknife – how he learns to wield a 6-foot sword of demon slaying in six hours, don’t ask). Anyway, the piece has a slight tinge of sadness, of bearing the burden of fate. Ultimately, much better than the meatier metal of Rize’s “Soul of Axe Armor” (named after the blue Axe Knights who roam the castle).

Michiru Yamane composed the original version of this theme, but she also composed an arranged version for the Lament of Innocence soundtrack titled “Cross of Fate“. This fantastic piece has Mrs. Yamane’s trademark percussion line, mixing a standard drumbeat (well-defined here as usual) with weird synthetic whisperings (see also 2:40). The drums are particularly intense and mesh well with the string, piano, and trumpet-driven melody. The piece has some excellent organ work beginning 2:40, the type of intricate, virtuostic work Castlevania is known for. This ending section goes on for perhaps a little too long without variation though, but it is still a fantastic arrange and a far cry from the blurry audio of the Gameboy Advance.


What Makes it Memorable? – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – “The Warg” (Oscar Araujo)

November 19, 2010

A few months back, I had lamented about how Castlevania: Lords of Shadow had a high-quality soundtrack, but one with hardly any memorable melodies. In fact, most of the music seems to maintain a tonic note that, in conjunction with the track’s rhythm, produces a dominant atmosphere for the area in which it is played (slow and reflective for “Waterfalls of Agharta” or intense for “The Warg”). This observation still stands, but the more I have played the game, the more songs become immediately familiar. This highlights another aspect of what makes a song memorable: repeated listening and melodic texture. Here I would like to illustrate what has become for me the most memorable song in the game, “The Warg”.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – “The Warg” (Oscar Araujo)

“The Warg” is a battle theme that occurs first in a boss fight in the village in the game’s opening with a giant wolf (wargs have been in Castlevania before, and serve as mounts for orcs, lycenthropes, and other monsters; the name is derived from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings). Anyway, the song also plays in other major confrontations, particularly towards the end with rushes of vampires. Dominated by brass, strings, and choir, along with a pounding drum, the track is perfect for building energy required for tough battles.

Earlier, I mentioned how music gains its memorability due to its connection with memories. While I think this is true of “The Warg” (recalling fragments of battles and the exhilaration of combat), there is also the fact that the song was repeated enough times to both a) coincide with moments that became memorable and b) find its way into the subconscious.

Of course, there are other elements here too than just the repetition. Read the rest of this entry ?


What Makes it Memorable? – Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – “Clock Tower” (arr. Jorge Fuentes)

November 17, 2010

Extra Credits raised a good point when he mentioned how the music of games on old systems was more memorable: composers were given fewer instruments to work with (two square wave channels, a triangle wave, and a noise channel on the NES for percussion) and as such they had to deal primarily with melody and make that the most important part of the song. Further, they would often use chords – series of notes played in tune with each other. Plus, chords are easier to sing as it consists of a single melody that is easy to hum. Incidentally, three instruments and percussion was also the structure of a four-piece band, meaning the NES sound chip was designed with this type of music in mind. Chords are more recognizable in a melody because they have greater impact. However, the use of strong melodies has taken a step back in recent years due to the large palette of instruments and options available to composers.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – “Clock Tower” (arr. Jorge Fuentes)

Michiru Yamane’s “Clock Tower” from Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (here arranged by Jorge Fuentes) provides an exception to this trend, featuring a strong melody common to the Castlevania series and its 8-bit roots that demonstrates this point about chords. Here, the melody is especially punctuated by the use of chords that gain further emphasis in that the last note in a bar is the chord, punctuating the end of the pattern and the beginning of the next. This is very important for the song as it syncs with the setting of the clock tower that keeps time to a steady rhythm. Additionally, the song has not one strong melody, but three layered together – one played on the piano, another on the guitar, and a third on the strings. If you note, there is also a smooth transition, first at 0:36 from piano to guitar with piano fading slowly to the background, then again at 0:45 when strings take over, but the piano can still be heard clearly, albeit in the background. At the 1:10 mark, chords are plainly audible in the strings, and those long notes further punctuate the melody, breaking it into short stops that create a clearly identifiable pattern.

Note one of the other key elements of a memorable tune: repetition. Here, I am not talking about the repetition of an entire melody through loops (particularly as applies to shorter, sub-30-second songs of the early days of videogames), but the repetition of smaller segments. We see this repetition used throughout the entire piece, from the very opening with the mournful piano ticking away time to the guitar’s intricate upward sweeps of eight notes. All of this is easier to see in the XG-MIDI visualization – the virtuosity required of the notes. Pay particular attention to the rising blue notes of the guitar that hit one note below the strings at 1:09.


Suikoden II – “Fugue ‘Praise to My Master’ (North Window Castle BGM)” (Miki Higashino)

November 10, 2010

Following up on “Toccatta and Fugue in D minor”, this next song covers what the second half of Bach’s piece is – the fugue. Fugues are another musical form that came into its own in the Baroque period, this one characterized by two melodies playing in counterpoint – or contrapuntal (again, easily observable in the bar visualization). Essentially, this means that there are two or more melodies playing simultaneously, and both usually respond to (or play off of) the other.

“Fugue ‘Praise to My Master’ (North Window Castle BGM)” from Suikoden II (1998) is a fine example of a fugue in organ. Here, the two melodies are very clear, with each playing in call and response before crossing over to play simultaneously – so this is an example of a permutation fugue. Again, the piece appears in a large castle (this time that of the Neclord, a vampire). There is certainly an amount of praise going on here (particularly the triumphant rising section at 1:40). Unlike most vgm, this piece also has a conclusion. Further, it turns out the Neclord is actually playing this theme on the organ and the piece stops the moment you enter the room (actually, that website is pretty cool…). Kind of ironic too that the song is called “Praise to My Master” We can thank Miki Higashino (Suikoden series, Contra III: The Alien Wars) for this amazing composition. It’s too bad the game is impossible to find for less than $100 – Konami really needs to re-release it on PSN.

I would like to say there are more fugues in game music, but they tend to be quite rare in earlier compositions (mainly because there were so few instruments possible, but also because fugues are not easy to compose). One piece that is actually named a fugue doesn’t appear to be one – “Funky’s Fugue” from Donkey Kong Country. While it’s a wonderfully hip surfing dude theme befitting of the Main Monkey (and some awesome “HI-YA!” sfx), I’m not seeing much in the way of multiple melodies here – it is more a layering of multiple instruments. There is a little bit of countermelody at the 30 second segment, but I don’t think it’s enough to warrant the title, particularly as it is not sustained throughout. It’s not that Robin Beanland can’t write fugues, or that it is impossible to write one using the instruments chosen, it’s just that the track appears to be only in name for the benefit of alliteration.


Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – “The Final Toccata” (Michiru Yamane)

November 9, 2010

Often when you look at a Castlevania soundtrack (or even the title), you will think, “What does this musical name mean? I mean, I’ve heard it but…” Of course, to say that a track such as “Sarabande of Healing” and say, “Well, this must be a sarabande!” would be right on the money, but it wouldn’t tell you much about what makes a sarabande a sarabande. That’s one of the ideas here – to identify what a toccata is using an example of a toccata from a game as well as a classic toccata.

We’ll begin with the classic: Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” played here, which is one of the most famous organ pieces out there and one of the best examples of the form. The video was produced using the Music Animation Machine and so this uses (rather high-quality) MIDI. If this bar graph visualization looks like something off the Atari, this works quite well: “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” has been used in numerous game music soundtracks, primarily early ones, but also newer ones such as Final Fantasy VI (1994) and as lately as Deathsmiles (2008).

“Toccata and Fugue in D minor” is a combination of toccata and fugue – a common occurrence in toccata actually. The first three minutes compose the toccata, which may be defined as a virtuostic piece usually played on a keyboard instrument or a plucked instrument. Basically, it is a piece that taxes the skills of the musician as well as demonstrates that skill – that virtuosity. Thus, a toccata is characterized by the rapid playing of notes, often multiple hands on the same instrument if it is a keyboard, as well as jumps between notes. Read the rest of this entry ?


Silent Hill 2 – “Theme of Laura” (Akira Yamaoka)

October 29, 2010

Akira Yamaoka is a pretty cool guy. I got to see his presentation at GDC this year, and he couples his music with a great sense of humor, as well as some nice reflections on the world. Sort of a philosopher-composer, perhaps? Anyway, I love his work with Contra: Shattered Soldiers/Shin Contra and am interested in his new work with Grasshopper Manufacture, but I was also a little surprised to see his Silent Hill 2 (2001) soundtrack was picked as one of the top game albums (it’s also available on iTunes). “Survival horror” and “enjoyable game music” aren’t exactly two things you’d think would combine. Of course, we have Eternal Darkness, so it’s not like there is no precedent. So I figured, hey, let’s give it a listen! I was quite surprised – I’ve never played Silent Hill before, and so wasn’t sure quite what to expect. This album has a lot of great guitar pieces like “Promise” and “Overdose Delusion”, one of the best being “Theme of Laura”, but it also has a nice mix of atmospheric tracks such as “Null Moon” and “Ashes and Ghost” punctuated by brilliant and reflective piano pieces such as “Forest”. The ‘horror’ tracks are interesting pieces that aren’t atmospheric as in “OMG MONSTER IS COMING!” but more that there is something going on here psychologically. It gets me to questioning (again!) what exactly makes a ‘good soundtrack’. It probably isn’t listenability – I can think of better things to do than listen to the crazed scraping of “Betrayal”. Is it a good song though? If so, would it be good because it is well-composed technically? Or because it fits with the scene? (and again, context is lost to me). I have to wonder instead if the album is so highly rated simply because it has these great guitar pieces!

If we’re looking for one reason to listen to Silent Hill 2‘s soundtrack, it’s the guitar pieces, especially “Theme of Laura”.  Laura is a mysterious little girl who wanders Silent Hill, but is unable to see any monsters. “Theme of Laura” has the wistful curiosity and wandering steps of a child but also packs a strong sense of melancholy to go with its driving beat. It turns out that Akira Yamaoka spent three days composing this piece.

The track opens with an acoustic guitar playing a ballad; the piece is driving, mysterious, and ultimately endearing with a call and response between the two halves of the core melody. The echoing guitar notes present the track’s sadness, strings the mid-range, and the clapping of drums and metallic scraping of cymbals firmly establishes the piece’s driving beat. The haunting melody has a driving twang to it that seems lifted straight out of James Bond, rolling steps on a descent into madness and mystery (I have to wonder if Mr. Yamaoka is a Peter Gunn fan – but then again, who isn’t!). Yet the track in its entirety also has a distinct feel similar to “Hotel California,” a sad guitar, driving melody, and sense of impending, unavoidable disaster. The track is fairly long but never feels like it has gone too long; each new variation of the theme adds new perspective. I would go so far as to call this a perfect piece.

There is another piece on the album, “Theme of Laura (Reprise)” done in piano and violin Read the rest of this entry ?


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.