VGM Entry 37: DuckTales
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)
Part of going over these older game scores involves a lot of legwork in tracking down their composers. Sometimes authorship is ascribed in a straight forward manner that raises no alarms, but more often developers were especially cryptic about their musical staff. Composers tended to go by aliases rather than proper names, and sometimes confusion between composition and sound programming lead to false assumptions. That is the topic I’d like to focus on again for this next 1989 NES title.
If you are not already familiar with NES music to some extent, this selection might seem like a joke at first glance. And after all, the first track in the video is nothing but a standard rendition of the original television theme. But as the standard expectation passes on and the soundtrack comes into its own, you’ll soon be forced to admit that DuckTales (Capcom, 1989) is indeed among the very best on the NES. If “The Amazon” (1:13) fails to instantly convince you, “The Moon” (2:16) most certainly should. It’s sad and beautiful to an extent approaching Yasunori Mitsuda’s “To Far Away Times”.
The funny thing is it’s not entirely clear who wrote it. You will almost always see it credited to Yoshihiro Sakaguchi (Yukichan no Papa)–the same Sakaguchi credited alongside Tamayo Kawamoto on Forgotten Worlds. This came into question in 2010. Yoshihiro Sakaguchi is actually a name I first encountered when I was listening to Mega Man and Mega Man 2, but I ran into an interview with Manami Matsumae, Takashi Tateishi, and Yoshihiro Sakaguchi on Square Enix Music Online (SEMO) which sorted all of that out.
I’ve mentioned a number of times the vaguaries surrounding the conversion of composition into actual game sound, especially in ports. When we’re talking Commodore 64 music this isn’t really an issue, as the composers were almost always responsible for the full project from start to finish as best I can tell. But when you get into platform systems like the NES and Genesis, and full sound teams like Taito’s Zuntata and Capcom’s Alph Lyla, the business gets excruciatingly vague. The interview expressly reveals that Manami Matsumae “did the background music and sound effects on the original Mega Man“, and Takashi Tateishi “did the background music and sound effects on Mega Man 2,” while Yoshihiro Sakaguchi “was in charge of programming the sound driver.” Where is the dividing line? Was Sakaguchi’s job to program the specific tones chosen by the composers, or did he choose the tones based on their compositions? Takashi Tateishi’s comments lead me to believe that there was some collaboration involed, and the divide in work load was by no means black and white. But we’re not talking the difference between say, composing a score and conducting an orchestra. The vast differences in quality between different ports, such as those I exemplified through “Dark Fact”/”Final Battle” from Ys I, should give you an idea of how absolutely critical the programmer/arranger/whatever you want to call its role must have been on these early systems.
My relevant point here is that any revelation that Yoshihiro Sakaguchi did not compose the vast majority of the music he is credited with should not necessarily downplay his significance. As for DuckTales in particular, it is quite safe to assume that it was composed by Hiroshige Tonomura, not Yoshihiro Sakaguchi. While the published content of the SEMO interviews never specifically addresses DuckTales, Chris on vgmdb, who had some insider knowledge, stated in responce to the DuckTales question that “there are a lot of other credits with his name in, sometimes only his name in, but Sakaguchi denied his involvement composing them.” User dissident93 followed this up by claiming to have contacted Manami Matsumae on Facebook and confirmed that Hiroshige Tonomura was the composer. Hiroshige Tonomura’s stint with Capcom was brief, joining Alph Lyla in 1988 and leaving alongside Tamayo Kawamoto for Zuntata only two years later, probably adding to the obscurity of his credits there. I am convinced he wrote it, and you probably should be too, but it does make for a fun little detective story.