The Street Fighter IV Collector's Edition featured, among several limited edition items, a soundtrack CD. The disc features 17 character themes from the hit fighting game arranged in a somewhat random order. Most of the themes on the disc are derived from Street Fighter II, though there are some original compositions and remixes from spinoff games too. While the past games focused heavily on matching the character's style, Hideyuki Fukasawa starts with an electronic base and builds the authenticity on top of that. This gives the album a more cohesive feel than most others prior. I've always felt the music for the past entries were a tad disjointed, albeit a bit more fitting. The best thing about this entry, though, is the fact that Fukasawa was able to create a perfect image of the characters we all know and love while making the somewhat overused themes sound fresh and new.
A good example of how Fukasawa makes the character themes sound fresh yet authentic is "Chun-Li Theme". The track has a heavy Chinese sound to it, while layering an electronic beat under it. It doesn't seem to do a whole lot past that and there are more impressive examples out there. A more notable fusion remix is "Cammy Theme". This one rides strongly on the original theme, but rips out the feel and replaces it with a techno beat, wailing guitars, and a eurobeat inspired piano harmony. This is the definition of a "catchy" piece; it's just so hard to stop listening! A more radical example is "Guile Theme". The track is structurally the same as the original, but the entire feel of the track has changed. The brass intro has been changed to a percussive loop. The electric guitar section has been changed to some really cool synth. The best part, though, is the newly composed interlude, where a piano and acoustic guitar gives us a welcome break from the electronica. It is an amazing arrangement if you ask me, even if it was totally unexpected.
The character theme that changed the most is probably "Ken Theme", though. The track begins as though it is going to be a techno based piece, but that is quickly dropped for a solo bass guitar intro, which is then followed by the synth melody. This piece fuses some of the best implementations of rock and electronica on the album. It also boasts a very nice piano interlude just like "Guile Theme". This is yet another must listen, as it will drastically change the image of Ken as he's been known thus far. From the Street Fighter Alpha series, "Sakura Theme" is much more different than the rest of these. It still has an electronic beat, but the melody is taken by a violin with a piano taking up most of the harmony. The chorus section is a softer form of the synth used in the other tracks, and it all goes together making for a very serene character theme. "Zangief Theme" totally drops the electronic sound in favor of a more fitting jazz piece. We get to hear some great bass work mixed with a really nice saxophone melody. I wasn't expecting this at all, but looking back on the original theme this arrangement couldn't have been more perfect for Zangief.
There are also a number of new character themes featured on the soundtrack. For "El Fuerte Theme", Fukasawa melds so many different styles into one track. The piece begins with a Spanish flair, but quickly converts to a rock based melody. We still have a hint of an Asian feel to this piece as well, but I don't really know what that is symbolizing. "C. Viper Theme" stays relatively close to the rest of the tracks, but is still noteworthy. It begins with a similar hard rock / electronica intro like the rest of the pieces, but features a change for the melody. A distorted choir takes up the majority of the theme here, mixed with the piano and guitar we've heard so much of so far. It may sound like a strange combo, but it has grown to be one of my favorites on here. Abel is also given a solid new theme. It blends hardcore electronic beats and thunderous bass lines with rocking electric guitar melodies. It seems ideally for one of the most physically imposing characters in the game, though also features some piano interludes and unusual chord progressions to hint about his mysterious past.
No tour of the character themes would be complete without considering the themes for the antagonists. M. Bison, known as Vega in Japan, receives a remix with an extremely heavy techno feel. This one really doesn't do anything too exciting, but the power behind the heavy bass loop in the harmony is plenty enough to get you pumped up. There are also memorable versions of the theme for Akuma in the menacing "Gouki Theme" and the enchanted "Gouken Theme". The blend of Japanese instrument solos, tribal chanting, and hard electronic beats is very well done in both themes. Exclusive to this album, the final boss Seth is given a spectacular original composition. There are once again influences from epic cinematic composers with the brassy melodies and crisis strings, though hard techno beats also play a major role. The intensity and agony of the final battle is wonderfully reflected here. A major criticism is that these themes are scattered throughout the disc rather than clustered at the conclusion. This really disrupts the dramatic arch and it's particularly strange that "Seth Theme" opens the disc.
Hideyuki Fukasawa wasn't really too well known before the Street Fighter IV soundtrack, but I think he deserves a lot more exposure now. He has taken music from a 22 year old series and transformed it into something hip, modern, and unique. This is something you don't get to say for many other game music artists these days. I have heard a few complaints that Fukasawa deviated from the originals too much in his character theme arrangements, but I believe it's a welcome change that really shows a different side to this game that wasn't easily picked up until now. However, this particular disc does not provide the definitive Street Fighter IV experience since it misses original compositions such as excellent stage themes and is awkwardly ordered. Those who are really passionate about the game's music shouldn't hesitate to import the Street Fighter IV Original Soundtrack instead.