If you've read any of my reviews here, you may have noticed that I have a slight... um, disdain for Capcom's efforts in producing soundtracks for their recent fighting games. You may have noticed a quick jab at them here, a small quip at them there, a shot at composer Satoshi Ise here, another small quip there or even a quote that looks like this:
"If Satoshi Ise (the talentless idiot who composed both Capcom VS SNK 1 & 2, plus served as a sound designer for Marvel VS Capcom 2) is interested in pumping out generic crap that is best suited to line the techno, jazz, or hip-hop sections of American music stores, he should do it on his own time and not inside of Capcom's biggest fighting games. Maybe it's time for Yuki Iwai and Yuko Takehara to beat some sense into this guy before his "music" (and I use the term interchangeably with "noise" in this case) potentially ruins another good fighter." (Andy Byus, Marvel VS Street Fighter Original Soundtrack and Arrange Review)
However, the time has come to dispense with all of the minor insults and take aim at the most glaring example of Capcom's recent failures to deliver a respectable fighting game soundtrack: the Capcom VS SNK Millennium Fight 2000 Original Soundtrack. Be warned: This review is a negative one. It contains many evil thoughts, hurls plenty of insults and goes on seemingly forever. If you somehow harbor any kind of respect for this particular soundtrack, you're going to hate my guts by the time you finish reading. I personally guarantee it.
Let's start with the background behind this game. It all started back when fighting game giants Capcom and SNK decided to bury the hatchet and create fighting games based on crossovers featuring each other's characters. This was big news for 2D fighting game fanatics like myself, who had a great deal of respect for the Street Fighter series and the King of Fighters series and all of their various spin-offs. The main result of the deal was that SNK would make SNK VS Capcom Match of Millenium for their Neo Geo Pocket Color handheld (many years later, SNK would also make SNK VS Capcom Chaos for the Neo Geo arcade and home hardware), while Capcom would make the Capcom VS SNK: Millenium Fight 2000 game for arcades and home consoles. The Neo Geo pocket game was a frighteningly good game, featuring 28 characters, tons of play modes, and a very deep combo system, despite being limited to only two buttons and four-color sprites. On the other end of the spectrum, virtually nothing went right for Capcom vs SNK. Capcom came up with some ideas with the game that were simply brilliant, such as horrible-looking low resolution sprites on 3D backgrounds, ancient recycled sprites for most of the returning Capcom characters, stripping most of the SNK characters of their moves to create "EX" characters (this was to make people think the roster was bigger than it actually was), a poorly conceived ratio system that determined a character's strength based solely on their popularity and whether they were a boss or not, a nasty character imbalance that rendered most of the roster unplayable (*cough* Nakaruru?), a guard meter that took forever to get through (meaning the best strategy was to turtle in the corner all day), reducing their trademark six-button set-up to four (which made it impossible to use any of the Capcom characters properly), effortless link combos, and, best of all, a debilitating glitch that let people super-charge their energy meters, which indicated just how thrown-together it was. Yeah, great game. Morons.
"But Goldfish... Aren't you supposed to be talking about the game's soundtra... ?". Quiet, I'm building to it. Good negative criticism needs a healthy build-up. Note the tone thus far... I'm aiming for consistency.
In Capcom VS SNK, there were a total of 33 characters. Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Zangief, E. Honda, Blanka, Dhalsim, Guile, Cammy, Sakura, M. Bison, Morrigan, Balrog, Sagat, Vega, Gouki (aka Akuma), and Evil Ryu represented the Capcom side. For SNK, Kyo Kusanagi, Iori Yagami, Terry Bogard, Mai Shiranui, Ryo and Yuri Sakazaki, Nakaruru, Vice, Rugal Bernstein, Geese Howard, Benimaru Nikaido, Ryuji Yamazaki, Kim Kaphwan, Raiden, King, and Orochi Iori. So why did I just waste precious webspace by hammering out a character list for a bad fighting game? To make one point perfectly clear: Each character listed above has at least one major musical theme that is associated with them. That's right: ALL of them! Many of them have more than one, as they all appeared in quite a few games. These themes were some of my favorite pieces of music on their own, but they were really special because they were more of an extension of the characters and their various personalities and characteristics. Who could forget the steady beats of Ryu's old Street Fighter theme or the Chinese jingle of Chun-Li's theme? How about the innocent school-girl nature of Sakura's Street Fighter Alpha 2 theme or Cammy's sad but kick-ass theme from Super Street Fighter II or the good old synth-rock for both Ken and Guile, with melodies that were as fun to hum as they were to listen to in the game (I still can't hum Guile's theme right?). On the less mainstream SNK side, you have the epic nature of Kyo's 'Esaka' themes, the delightfully evil 'Arashi no Saxophone' themes for Iori, the sweet Japanese feel of the themes for Mai and Nakaruru, the blistering power-rock for Rugal, Kim and Geese, and even an aerobics theme for Yuri (appropriately titled "Diet"). In the Neo Geo Pocket Color game, each character was given a version of their old theme and, despite the crappy synth quality, it helped bring the game to life (the roster for the Neo Geo Pocket game was essentially the same, with some faces swapped out for others). So of course, I figured Capcom would take the time to ensure that each character would receive a nice, new version of their old themes for the arcade/console game or at least, new themes that would do the older ones justice. I came into Capcom VS SNK Millenium Fight 2000 Original Soundtrack with this assumption and man... there have been times where my assumptions have come back to bite me in the ass before. I'd say this one took a pretty good-sized chunk out of it.
I can almost get over the fact that the composer was too lazy to hammer out 33 individual character themes and decided to focus on making a small handful of themes only for the levels that the fights took place on. What I can't get over is how sloppily put together the music itself is. These themes consist of little more than random beats, grinds, whirrs, clangs, randomly placed voice samples, and synth so ear-piercing, it's like someone scratching fingernails across a chalkboard in a room with plenty of echo — clearly a far cry from the previous efforts in the Street Fighter and King of Fighters series. If I were forced to classify this kind of music, I guess I could get away with calling it techno music or maybe even industrial or some kind of dance music (although anyone stupid enough to want to dance to this needs to have their heads checked). I'm not big on classifying music, so I'll simply place it into a category that I refer as "random noise". There is nothing resembling any kind of stable melody anywhere on this disc and certainly nothing that offers any kind of hint towards having musical merit. I'm embarrassed to admit I even own this blasted CD. Given the poor quality of Capcom VS SNK as an actual game, I guess I really shouldn't have been surprised at how the soundtrack turned out: I just didn't expect it to be so horribly overshadowed by the Neo Geo Pocket Color's SNK VS Capcom soundtrack.
Outside of the game, you'll quickly find that this soundtrack is the closest thing you can find to burning a headache onto a CD and letting it in through your ears. Inside of the game, it sounds even more ridiculous because, while it's still loud and annoying, it goes completely against the action onscreen. The mechanical nature of the music is a terrible match for the lightly-toned anime-styled cast and the non-serious, over-the-top nature of the actual fighting. I speak from experience: I've been dragged to several tournaments for this joke of a game and I've had to tolerate the constant grinding for sometimes 10-12 hours at a time. If I didn't know better, I would have guessed Satoshi Ise was just an overzealous young punk, who found his way into a sound studio and started jamming away on a bunch of synthesizers at random, instead of a composer for a well-known game company like Capcom. I don't know how he managed to get away with this hack-job, but it's obvious he didn't give a damn about the quality of this soundtrack and neither did Capcom, because they were the ones who let it out the door. With efforts like this, it's no wonder fighting game soundtracks hardly get any respect anymore.
One thing that sticks out as being annoying is the extremely misleading way the tracks are named. You would think "stage of ryu" (yes, it's spelled without the caps on the album itself... apparently the people who put this CD together were too stupid to know how to use the 'shift' key) would bear some resemblance to Ryu's thoughtful old Street Fighter II theme. Wrong! It's little more than a bunch of randomly looped drum samples. You would thing "stage of sagat" would sound something like Sagat's old theme, right? Wrong! It's little more than random, ear-piercing grinding on auto-loop, backed up by randomly placed drum samples. Maybe the "stage of capcom" would provide closure from all of the headache-inducing noise? Perhaps it would be a cool arranged version from one of Capcom's older games, like Strider, Ghouls n Ghosts, or one of the Mega Man games. Wrong! Nothing more than a couple of notes on auto-loop, with more random drumming throughout and a moody synth thrown in later, in a weak attempt to fool people into thinking the composer knows what he's doing. Once you've heard the first five seconds, you can stop listening. Maybe the "stage of terry" would have some resemblance to the bluesy nature of the themes for South Town's favorite son or even his more recent themes, with their soft, Italian feel. Wrong! Just random electronic beats and more pathetic grinding noises. This one really annoyed me because Capcom went to some length to re-create Terry's original stage (the one where he's fighting on the back of a train). Obviously, they didn't think having a fitting music theme was as important as the background.
"stage of sakazaki"? A smorgasboard of random beats that fail to complement each other in any way and a low, droning synth that gets annoying after about two seconds. "stage of pao pao caf?"? Yet more mindless grinding and electronic samples, combined with voice samples to make the stage sound busy. "stage of snk"? An ear-aching duet between a constantly-grinding synth and a techno beat, both on auto-loop and neither of which complement each other. "stage of osaka"? Mindless beats and more "talking" to make the stage sound busy again, only this time the 'talking' is the only other instrument besides the beats. "stage of geese"? It starts out playing the first few notes of the classic Japanese-styled rockfest "Geese ni Shouryu", but then the composer realizes he's too stupid to figure out what comes next and puts those notes on auto-loop and backs them up with more random drum and voice samples. "final round"? This one sounds like it can explode into an exciting tune at any time, but it never gets away from the annoying loops that plague the rest of the soundtrack and it stumbles badly. Do I sound like a broken record yet? Good, because now you have a clear understanding about how this thing sounds: similar, scratchy, and annoying. Good luck trying to tell any of the above themes apart.
No matter how bad everything else on this was, nothing could have prepared me for "stage of final fight". It starts out with a light, stable beat in the background, along with some voice samples, which include a woman singing "Wa" over and over for no apparent reason. After that, a deep voice goes "One, two... one, two, three" and the beat becomes much louder, as if it's waiting for someone to come in and start rapping off lyrics. "Oh no, Goldfish... Don't tell me it's going to do what I think it's going to do?". Yup, afraid so? About 40 seconds in and right on cue, a guy comes in and starts rapping off lyrics in one of the saddest excuses of a "song" I've ever heard. Now, don't get me wrong: Mr. Jiggyfly here must be very talented, as he uses advanced singing techniques such as "using mangled English to make the words rhyme" and "cursing" during his performance, but putting something like this in one of Capcom's fighting game scores is just poor taste. Watching a Japanese schoolgirl fight a shrine maiden with Jiggyfly-san rapping in the background about how he's ready to "$%&$in' spill" is one of the stupidest things I've ever seen. Maybe if it were Mortal Kombat or some generic American-made game, full of crappy licensed music or stuff designed to sound like licensed crap (like this), I could understand, but not in a freaking Capcom fighter! I don't completely blame Jiggyfly-san for this travesty: I figure if he runs his mouth in real life the way he does in this song, he'll get his face rearranged in a ghetto so bad that he won't be able to sing anymore, meaning I won't have to listen to him again. Rather, I blame Ise for coming up with such a tasteless idea to begin with. This track is clear proof that he is simply more interested in experimenting with mainstream music than creating a respectable fighting game score. Too bad for him this whole CD isn't worth the cost of the "Explicit Lyrics" sticker that would probably go on it, if it were released in America. All I know is that I was ready to $%^$in' spill by the time this mess was over. On a side note, the lyrics were removed from the US version of the game, making our version infinitely intellectually superior to the Japanese version.
There is some other material on the CD, though extremely little worth noting. "chun-li vs mai" features a battle going on between Chun-Li and Mai, with their various sound effects and voice samples. All the while, a generic techno piece plays in the background, along with a woman's long, drawn-out breathing. Is this track supposed to be erotic or something? With Chun-Li and Mai fighting each other, it very well could be, but the breathing nonsense needs to go. "ryu vs kyo" is the same kind of track, but I'd much rather listen to Chun-Li fighting Mai for this sort of thing. The music certainly does nothing to help, as that part is as generic as ever. Also, there are arranged versions of "final round" and "stage of sakazaki", which is redone as a piece of wannabe-dance music. I'd much rather listen to these arranged versions than their original counterparts, but that's the equivalent of saying I'd rather be hit in the head with a wrench instead of a hammer. The synth in both is much cleaner, but considering the nature of the originals, it's not surprising that either track fails to hold my attention past the one-minute mark. Finally, we're treated to a voice collection of all the various characters. I was originally looking forward to this, as the new voices were one of the few highlights of the game, but even this track is nearly ruined because the game's robotic announcer is constantly chiming in with his cheesy "Round 1? Fight" dialogue. Sadly though, the announcer doesn't prevent this from being the most listenable track on the CD.
So given all that, I have to wonder just how hard it would be to land a composing job with Capcom. I mean, I have no experience at all composing music, save for an entry-level class in community college, and I'm certain I could have made a better effort than Ise crapped out. I can jam on a synthesizer and use random drum and voice samples too, so I'm already qualified. This is just a perfect example of a half-assed attempt: Ise got away with murder, composing only a handful of themes and ignoring the nature of the game it was designed to go into, just so he could try his hand at a lame attempt at more 'mainstream' music. To add insult to injury, Ise was asked to return to score Capcom VS SNK 2 and he managed to screw that one up as well. So much for second chances. Come on Capcom: Put someone with some actual skill in charge of composing music for these high-profile fighting games. Yuki Iwai or Tetsuya Shibata (who did the highly underrated Auto Modellista score) would be fine choices. Heck, put ME in charge of composing them! I'll end up doing a crappy job, but at least I'll try instead of slapping a bunch of mechanical-sounding nonsense together. At the very least, have some kind of quality-control, so junk like this doesn't make it out the door. This soundtrack is just a colossal failure, representing the very bottom of the VGM world... a soulless turd that goes beyond being a soulless turd.
Normally, I'm pretty liberal with handing out scores. If a soundtrack blows me away, I give it an 9 or 10. If I really like a soundtrack, I give it a 7 or 8. If I feel one can use a bit more work, I give it a 6. If I really don't like one, I give it a 5. However, every so often, there comes a soundtrack that not only manages to suck, but also to insult everything it has been and is associated with. Ise's attempt is a slap in the face of composers like Yoko Shimomura and Yuki Iwai (not to mention the whole list of SNK composers and the rest of the Capcom composers I don't know by name), all of whom busted their tails making great and memorable music for all of their various fighting games. This is an unforgivable crime, one that should be punishable by death. Capcom better get their act together with these newer fighting game soundtracks or else this won't be the last time the scale hits bottom. Then again, is such a thing possible? A soundtrack as bad as this? Even Capcom VS SNK 2's music showed some improvement, moving from a 1/10 into the 2/10 range.