Famicom 20th Anniversary Arrange Sound Tracks
|Composed by||Хирокадзу Танака / Кэндзи Ямамото / Кодзи Кондо|
|Arranged by||Тиёмару Сикура / Кимитака Мацумаэ / Manabu "Santaruru" Namiki / Metal Yuhki Group / Мотоаки Фурукава / Мотой Сакураба / Shinji "Megaten" Hosoe / Takayuki "J99" Aihara / Ясухиса Ватанабе|
|Published by||Scitron Digital Contents|
|Release type||Game Soundtrack - Official Release|
|Format||1 CD - 9 tracks|
|Release date||February 18, 2004|
Almost everything about the Famicom 20th Anniversary Arrange Soundtracks sounded good in theory. With a series of famous composers arranging some of the most memorable Famicom themes, what game music fanatic could resist eagerly antipating its release? Something happened down the line, however, that made the majority of the arrangements dissatisfy. Track allocation was one problem — what producer in their right mind would give Motoi Sakuraba the chance to arrange the light-hearted "Super Mario Bros." in the style of a Star Ocean final battle theme? What were the producers thinking when they also sanctioned an arrangement to be made by a fifth-rate metal band? But unless the producers decided to drug some of our favourite composers, it doesn't explain why some arrangements, notably Shinji Hosoe's "Dr. Mario" and Kimitaka Matsumae's "Stack-Up / Gyromite" complete fail. I'll describe the tracks in the classic format of The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Inappropriate, as there's an approximately equal mix of each.
The album's opener gets the album off to a good, albeit misleading, start. Anime and game composer Chiyomaru Shikura creates a solid big band rendition that emphasises the original melody in an appropriate way, with the brass creating the camp factor needed. The added jazz samples are also very well done, with a piano-led solo being one of the more subtle features away from the standard saxophone and trumpet improvisation otherwise featured. It also includes some male voice samples towards the end, which is certainly an original addition, even if the balance is a little off, making the man practically inaudible. It's clear a lot of thought went into this rendition and it comes off well, despite these slight flaws and the fact it would have been more authentic with a live performance.
Studio Carnaval's Takayuki Aihara does an effective job handling the arrangement of the "Shin Onigashima" theme. It blossoms straight away with its symphonic introduction before moving into an amazingly effective tension-buiding section that undergoes an impressive crescendo and accelerando. It's the introduction of a solo Japanese flute passage that really eases the listener into the track, however, combining an oriental feel with a heartfelt melody before being joined by traditional percussions and some stately strings. The track goes off on a pleasant jazz-oriented tangent at the 3:00 mark, though soon returns to becoming a splendid orchestral theme once more, with even further diversity added by its bossa-nova conclusion. Former Zuntata turned Super Sweep member Yasuhisa Watanabe also stands out for stunning use of Japanese instrumentation in his delectable arrangement of "Nazo no Murasama Jo," the major difference from Aihara's arrangement being the integration of techno beats, vocals, and a harp, though a slightly smaller array of styles are also present.
The bad arrangements on the album are ultimately tolerable, yet fail to stand out. The earliest example of this is founder of Konami Kukeiha Club Motoaki Furukawa's "Yoshi's Cookie," which suffers from a complete lack of originality. Naturally, it opens with Furukawa's trademark semi-acoustic guitar solos a few phrases in and continues the dull jazz fusion approach thereafter. While the theme's well-articulated and catchy melodies are a winning feature at first, this delight soon wears off when the arrangement drags on for over 4 minutes lifelessly. After two listens at the most, it becomes difficult to listen to it in full without growing sleepy, and a so much more fun arrangement would have been created if Furukawa weren't designated it. I think Shinji Hosoe would have been more suited here, giving it a pleasant dash of electronica that it deserves.
Manabu Namiki's subsequent arrangement is also disappointing, though the producers are largely at fault here rather than Namiki himself. He was asked to cram arrangements of the main themes of Kid Icarus, Metroid, and Famicom Wars theme into a 5:40 piece. The Kid Icarus theme particularly deserved better as, despite Namiki getting the upbeat feel and hybridised instrumentation just right, it simply doesn't play long enough to be satisfying. As for the Metroid theme, the transition into a rock and electronica fusion is a little awkward — diversity of Famicom music is expressed much better without rushed and major changes of genre — though the upbeat arrangement of the "Brinstar" theme makes up for this to some extent. The last section of the track with the Famicom Wars arrangement is the best feature, nicely combining the light-heartedness associated with Kid Icarus with a touch of light rock associated with Metroid's arrangements. Seeing these three tracks receive individual treatment would have been much more satisfying, though what Namiki actually did wasn't too bogus.
One of the ugliest arrangements is Shinji Hosoe's arrangement of the absolutely zany "Dr. Mario" theme. Initially, it captures some of the original's flair through combining the original's extremely camp 'old school' melodies with an 80's robotic voice that recites phrases such as 'I am the doctor'. Such a bizarre combination creates even more psychadelic images than the original did, but these images soon become nightmarish, unfortunately. The theme relies far too much on the voice throughout, with Hosoe painfully emphasising its monotone nature by making it repeat a small selection of phrases over and over again for almost 5 minutes in total. The arrangement had potential, but suffered from an overall lack of inspiration, which is quite a shock coming from an electronica master such as Shinji Hosoe. For once, I can't pin the blame entirely on the producers, as this arrangement could have been a masterpiece if Hosoe were at his most inspired.
Nonetheless, "Dr. Mario" is quite charming compared to "Stack-Up / Gyromite". Kimitaka Matsumae attempts to arrange a large number of themes into one, including two abrupt fanfares and lots of sound effects along the way, apparently emulating gameplay. While this approach has some merits, the track is extremely challenging on a stand-alone level. There's no coherency there, as each piece 'arranged' just exists on its own and transitions from piece to piece are non-existent over an eight minute playtime. The sound effects make the track even more jarring and the trippy vibes throughout will further alienate most listeners. It sounds like a pile of sounds thrown together senselessly, and, quite frankly, my tortoise could do better.
It's really with the inappropriate arrangements that this album becomes truly hilarious and the producers definitely decided to leave the best to last in these respects. Motoi Sakuraba's "Super Mario Bros." is, quite simply, unmissable, though mostly for the wrong reasons. It's the most melodramatic arrangement of the traditionally light-hearted Super Mario theme available and the Star Ocean-esque symphonic approach taken completely misses the point of the Mario series. To Sakuraba's credit, he makes the best of the arrangement he is given while using his trademark style and this results in the creation of some sweepingly beautiful passages where the Super Mario melody is not featured. While there's no denying the arrangement is a complete misfit, it is the loopy producers made yet another grave error designating him such a track when he would have been much more fitting to arranging Zelda's "Underground" theme or something else that is naturally dark and epic.
Mikio Saito's interpretation of "The Legend of Zelda" is much worse for three basic reasons. First, this classic theme is far too light and melodic to suit a heavy metal interpretation in the first place — the ultimate destiny of arranging in such a way is comparable to the failure Metallica would have by making a rendition of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. Even if the theme did suit such an interpretation, however, the quality of the arranging is absolutely dire anyway. It suffers from its hackneyed and repetitive drum samples, a complete lack of any invigorating improvisation passages, and, worst of all, the absence of any guitar mastery, the fundamentals behind practically every heavy metal piece. Worst still, there is unforgivably jarring and unmusical transition at the 1:40 mark from a traditional yet straightforward rendition of the theme to the otherwise mentioned metal interpretation could rattle even the calmest person's nerves.
That's all folks. Yes, just nine tracks are featured. A meagre number, given that the three Famicom 20th Anniversary Original Soundtracks contained about 300 tracks between them. This is only a superficial disappointment when only three of the tracks are actually satisfying, however. With inspiring source material and talented faces behind the arrangement, what went wrong? Well, like all collaborative arranged albums, this needed clearly defined production in order to excel. Remember, if you ever produce such an album, it's no good telling your arrangers to go off and do their own thing, adding whatever quirky idea comes into their mind, as the album just ends up being an incoherent mess, exactly like this one. Only buy this one if you have money to burn and are looking for a source of great amusement, a pleasant cover to look at, or three strong arrangements in a sea of concentrated sulfuric acid. If you don't live in a mansion and are sane, avoid this one.
The Famicom (short for Family Computer) was a machine designed in 1983 by Nintendo to play games exclusively from a floppy disk or a cartridge inserted into a slot on or within it. The sound processor had a limit of four channels; three of these were varying tones for music while one was reserved mostly for sound effects. Despite these technical limitations, this didn't stop the composers at Nintendo to create some of the most memorable game music of the '80s. 20 years following the original release of the Famicom, a project was started to have arrangements of the most recognizable music from Hirokazu Tanaka (Balloon Fight, Dr. Mario, Metroid, Kid Icarus), Koji Kondo (Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, Nazo no Murasame Jo) and Kenji Yamamoto. Most selected arrangers have been in the industry for 15 to 20 years by the time this album was released. More importantly, they were given complete freedom over which games they would arrange and how they would arrange their choices. With that said, expect the unexpected in most cases.
The album begins with Balloon Fight, which is one of the several games here scored by legendary composer Hirokazu 'Hip' Tanaka. The arranger Chiyomaru Shikura is mostly known for writing songs for dating-sims and similar genres of games. The style of arrangement is big band jazz which presents the usual improvisation segments of the music genre. The melody is very easy to recognize and it does not take long to tap your feet to the pace of the theme. By the end, Shikura chose to record himself saying some comments in English, but the music is too loud to be able to make out most of what he says. Following Balloon Fight is Dr. Mario, which has Shinji Hosoe of Internal Section and Ridge Racer fame providing an arrangement in the style he knows best: electronic. The robotic voices will make or break this arrangement, depending on whether the listener can treat the voice bits as an accompaniment to the music. Some phrases such as "I am a doctor" are repeated often to provide some room to build up into the main melodic part of the arrangement. Like a few arrangements that will follow, Dr. Mario is a case of either you love or hate it.
Moving on with Yoshi's Cookie, we have Konami veteran Motoaki Furukawa providing the arrangement in a 'playful' fusion style. The guitar itself is never over-exposed and the fun feeling on the original theme is retained. For those looking for a light-rock arrangement of a classic theme, here it is. Next we have the first of two medleys, this one having music from Kid Icarus, Metroid, and Famicom Wars. Basiscape's Manabu Namiki whom is mostly know for Raizing and Cave shooter music surprises with the arrangement done in three distinct styles for each segment. Kid Icarus has a proper orchestral sound, which fits it perfectly. Those who played this game will fondly remember the main theme as it plays and eventually goes through a beautiful passage before the transition to Metroid. Metroid's Brinstar theme is arranged in a pleasant synth-rock style, which complements the ambitious adventures of Samus Aran. It eventually moves to the Famicom Wars segment on the medley, which is done in a 'synth-pop' style. Having no nostalgic connections with Famicom Wars (it wasn't released out of Japan), I can only credit it for having an excellent melody which likely stood the test of time. What follows is another Japan-exclusive title by the name of Shin Onigashima -Part 1-. Knuckle Heads and Drag-On Dragoon composer Takayuki Aihara provides an orchestral arrangement which has a very epic tone and would make the listener wonder exactly how good the original music was. It goes from a dramatic sound to a calm/mischievous one to an adventurous passage. It eventually brings up a jazzy segment and later returns to a calm stance and ending with a bossa nova sound. During the 6 minutes and 45 seconds playtime of this arrangement, this reviewer cannot find a dull moment.
The last Japan-exclusive arrangement is from Nazo no Murasame Jo, which was a game that played a lot like Zelda, except that it had a Feudal Japan setting. What better way to arrange than to use traditional Japanese instruments in this piece is likely what Border Down and Metal Black composer Yasuhisa Watanabe had in mind. The shamisen begins with a few ascending and descending notes like a harp followed by Watanabe's unique use of a sampled choir. The synths and shamisen then play an exotic melody accompanied by wind sound effects. Rain starts pouring as a techno beat is introduced with percussions and well-timed bells. An erhu eventually joins with the other instruments. Watanabe inserts his usual highly enjoyable improvisation in the end by re-using the sampled choir for just effect as it fits just right within the melody. As with the previous arrangement, no moments of dullness reside here. We return to some familiar music, this time a medley of Stack-Up and Gyromite, the only two games that required the use of the peripheral known as the Robotic Operating Buddy (or R.O.B.). Former S.S.T. Band keyboardist Kimitaka Matsumae provides the least accessible arrangement on the album. It is basically a collage of the various themes with sound effects of robots and toys. This reviewer still hasn't quite warmed up to this track yet he can credit it for its original factor.
Ending the album is two of the biggest series from Nintendo: Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. Super Mario Bros. is arranged by Star Ocean and Tales composer Motoi Sakuraba. Ever wanted to hear the music from the game completely devoid of its whismical sound? Sakuraba chose to show a very different side by arranging the music as if it were an epic RPG battle theme. This approach may be a welcome change or a joke to listeners depending whether they can accept this radical change in sound and tone. It is very bombastic and sounds like his highly appreciated RPG works. The Legend of Zelda has a slightly different arrangement, having two parts being in two opposing styles. The Yuuki Metal Group, composers best known for their compositions and arrangements on Konami's popular Tokimeki Memorial series, gave their own view of the music without any major changes. The first half of the theme is the overworld theme being done in a synth-orchestra style which goes hand-in-hand with the original music. The second half is a true surprise though... it is the overworld, underworld, and Death Mountain themes being done in a speed-rock fashion. Unless one absolutely hates rock music, this part should be a very pleasant listen.
What sets this album apart from most other tribute albums is how different most of the arrangements are from the original themes. While they are vastly different from their original versions, they do provide a unique musical perspective you'd likely not hear anywhere else. Thankfully, Shikura's jazzy version of Balloon Fight contains enough of the original melody to hook most listeners familiar with the title. Hosoe's Dr. Mario and Furukawa's Yoshi's Cookie both retain the original feel while bringing a new sonic element to them. Namiki proves that he can arrange in various styles while Aihara still attains his high mark with orchestral and jazzy music. Watanabe managed to mesmerize with a fresh oriental sound while Matsumae definitely alienated most of the R.O.B. players. Sakuraba wanted to show a completely new side of Mario while Yuuki Metal Group chose not to alter the feel of the Zelda music but just play with different instruments. It's all a matter of personal taste in the end. Those wanting to hear completely different styles of arrangements will enjoy this album the most. For those that want arrangements close to the original, it's unfortunately lost in the mix. 30$ for nine tracks of about 50 minutes of playtime might seem a bit much, but those willing to look past traditional arrangements will be highly rewarded with this unique collection of arrangements of some of Nintendo's best themes during their early years.
Chiyomaru Shikura (1)
Shinji "Megaten" Hosoe (2)
Motoaki Furukawa (3)
Manabu "Santaruru" Namiki (4)
Takayuki "J99" Aihara (5)
Yasuhisa "Yack" Watanabe (6)
Kimitaka Matsumae (7)
Motoi Sakuraba (8)
Metal Yuuki Group (9)
Hikari Shinwa: Palthena no Kagami~Metroid~Famicom Wars
Shin Onigashima -First Part-
Nazo no Murasamejo
Block Set/Gyro Set
Super Mario Bros.
The Legend of Zelda