After six adventures on the Nintendo Entertainment System fans witnessed as Capcom's blue bomber put the infamous Dr. Albert Wily behind bars. Of course, how strong is any prison wall when you have a set of robot masters waiting to bail you out a few months later? As with any of Capcom's infallible plot devices, most gamers knew Wily's time out was too good to be true when the series sixth sequel showed up on the SNES in 1995.
Even before experiencing the opening tones of Rockman 7, it goes without saying that the NES catalog of Rockman tunes would be a hard act for anyone to follow, even with the advantage of that sweet sound processor buried deep within the SNES. However, from a historical standpoint this is a formality: from a series that has never seen a static team of composers made responsible for maintaining a precise musical direction it is amazing so many ideas have come together and forged the melting pot that is Rockman music. Rockman 7 is certainly no exception, tipping its hat in the direction of its predecessors while forging its own identity.
Perhaps this is why the various problems obscuring the official soundtrack release (rogue sound effects, uneven looping, and cutting material to avoid the later) are all the more discouraging. Those familiar with the X1 ~ X6 box know this is nothing new to Capcom scores siphoned from the cartage format, but without additional, problem-free soundtracks to fall back on like a box set the listener is left with one single inconsistent listen that flat-out railroads any kind of positive first impression.
The title theme opens the disc in positive fashion but "Opening Demo 1" turns the tables quickly, introducing unwelcome sound effects and foreshadows the troubles ahead. This track presents an intriguing question as well: could this piece have been inspired by Breath of Fire II? It certainly has that unique musical quality associated with the game, were the composers cross-pollinating ideas in some kind of hidden, cult-like tribute? Even though the renegade sound effects take a hiatus of sorts at this point, related problems take a stab at handicapping wonderful tracks like "Opening Stage". Seriously, the treatment this track receives is a lot like blurting out "what the hell happened?" in shock the first time you see a loved one using crutches after an injury. Ironically, injury is the best way to describe the complete absence of the latter half of one of the game's most entertaining and prominent compositions. This is only made worse by the fact how well the track works despite its disembowelment if it wasn't so nauseating it would almost be laughable. In what could be viewed as an apology for the treason above, "Stage Select" and similar tracks exceed the standard loop; it's really nice to see these shorter themes gain some wingspan unlike their brethren on the 1 ~ 6 box but it (and the somewhat unwieldy tracklist) serve to show the lack of coordination between products.
Coming though for the better is the warm, creamy nougat center of stage themes. A theme-by-theme overview seems hardly necessary, each one containing its own brand of magic: Springman bounces around with its blissful, child-like sense of delight; a ripple of sadness hides in the isolated solace of Slashman; and the unrelenting pulse of progress drives forward in Turboman. The somewhat insisting mini-medley museum paints a musical history lesson with its rendition of the Guts, Heat, and Snakeman themes. Of particular interest is the Heatman portion where the musical context of the original is turned completely on its ear due to the overall change in tone. Wily's themes don't disappoint either, especially when taken as a collective whole. The contrast between the bass and synth in Wily Stage 1 carves out a piece with a mysterious amount of intrigue whereas the cold and methodical Wily Stage 2 deceives one into thinking its devoid of emotion when the exact opposite holds true. Wily Stage 3 has a forward flow similar in spirit to the lighthearted castle numbers from Rockman 4 and 5 only with a subdued amount of enthusiasm.
Accounting for some of Rockman 7's enduring allure are the boss themes. The standard robot master battle theme, "The Big 8 Bosses", is comparable to those in X5 and X6 where a thin coat of quirkiness is underscored by deep serious instrumentation. It works as well as one would expect but nothing can compare with the diabolically infectious "Wily Stage Boss". Even the return of those misfit sound effects can't keep a track like this down; its use of repetition is so seductive its borderline criminal. Bringing back painful memories of the game is "Wily Last Form", teasing and taunting the listener much like that infuriating (try torturous) game of peek-a-boo the doctor plays at the end of the game. Another musical hallmark for the series is the aggressive yet collected "Forte's Theme" that has become as much of a staple as Proto Man's whistle.
As with most Rockman soundtracks, the smaller/lesser themes are left to close out the disc. The duration of these pieces, much like "Stage Select", is impressive, though it does little to remove the stigma of the unforgettable/unforgivable amount of sound effects in message ("Happy") and its counterpart message ("Bad") allowing the former to be tarnished is especially shameful. Punching in with a rocking beat, "Weapon Obtained" complements the flavor found in Rockman 6 and 8's weapon themes while "Big Eddy" blares over the speakers in all its unimpressive glory, annoying in its quest for the accolades it shall never receive. "Helmet" is there to put a smile on your face as always and "Ending & Staff Roll" needs no introduction as it's as great as you remember.
It is disheartening to see a score such as Rockman 7 receive such an unpolished soundtrack, especially considering the royal treatment the first six games got in 2002. Even with the small boost in audio quality/recording volume whether or not fans will be willing to look beyond the flawed presentation and indulge in the otherwise A grade material this album has to offer is debatable. While it's possible to mentally phase out the warts found throughout, how many will find a reason to justify such a compromise? Regardless of the stance you take, all that is certain is that Rockman 7's music will be remembered for what it is, and unfortunately so will this soundtrack.