VGM Entry 46: Konami in ’91
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)
It was to be expected that Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo would make magic on the Super Nintendo. Plenty of other composers did as well at an early stage. Konami in particular launched a number of impressive titles in 1991, and I think I’ll take a moment to showcase three of them.
Super Castlevania IV was composed by Masanori Adachi and Taro Kudo, both of whom remain rather obscure figures in the game music industry. There was actually a false rumor going around that Masanori Adachi died during the 1994 Sega Mega-CD port of Snatcher. In a sort of ‘meet the staff’ easter egg (in which Adachi also participated), Kudo jokingly wrote “Rest in peace, Mr. Adachi!” Credits to his name are so few that this has been taken literally by many, but it would make his future compositions quite a miraculous feat.
Super Castlevania IV marks a major reconception of the series’ sound, which will not be completely apparent in these opening tracks. Skip ahead a bit, to “The Chandeliers” (4:29) and “Secret Room” (6:35) for instance, and you will get a much better feel for the degree of diversity introduced in Adachi and Kudo’s new vision. At times the game embraces its classical roots to the fullest. They take full advantage of the SNES’s capacity for authentic piano, organ, and string sounds to cut out all the rock filler, when the situation calls for it. The album still has plenty of contemporary drumming, but it doesn’t feel quite as rock driven as the NES games, much to its benefit in my opinion. Rock would still infuse plenty of new compositions, but the SNES allowed a lot more room for diversity. I think Adachi and Kudo accomplish the most when they go for the straight classical sound, as on “The Chandeliers”, but they make a commendable effort to explore a large variety of styles appropriate for different elements of gameplay.
The first three tracks in this mix are of course the classic series staples “Vampire Killer” (1:05), “Bloody Tears” (0:00), and “Beginning” (1:50), from Castlevanias I, II, and III respectively. It’s certainly nice to hear the old familiar songs in an improved medium, and they did a fairly good job with them (though I do think this version of “Bloody Tears” could use some work–they play it too safe with the main melody and drum track for the addition of the flute and heavier percussion at the end to accomplish its desired effect), but what I think is more significant is that these three songs don’t stand out as anything really above and beyond the rest of the score. On the Nintendo they were exceptional, and familiarity is definitely a plus, but I honestly like a lot of Adachi and Kudo’s original compositions just as much.
If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you should be thoroughly familiar with Ganbare Goemon by now. If you haven’t been, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Six years and six sequels after the launch of the series, a Ganbare Goemon game finally made it to North America. The port, retitled The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, didn’t launch until 1992, but the Japanese Ganbare Goemon: Yukihime Kyuushutsu Emaki from which it derives came out in 1991. Though well in keeping with the traditions of the series, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja was something of a musical novelty for western gamers.
Its composers were somewhat obscure. I could find very little on either Kazuhiko Uehara or Harumi Ueko, and though Ueko continues to appear in soundtrack credits up to the present day (mostly under the peculiar alias Jimmy Weckl), Uehara seems to all but vanish after a brief career in the early 1990s. It’s a shame, if the two in collaboration were capable of producing this kind of quality. But Uehara may also be a Yoshihiro Sakaguchi type–a sound programmer confusingly credited with a few other artists’ original compositions. I’ve seen him specified as the programmer in certain liner notes, and it would also explain the occasional credit he receives for what was I believe Mutsuhiko Izumi’s Turtles in Time score. But again, I don’t know just how extensively sound programmers were involved in composition. So this might be the work of Harumi Ueko, or he and Uehara might both have played fairly equal roles.
The Legend of the Mystical Ninja presents an oriental score, as you can tell, and I think it does a delightful job of it. If it is reasonable to expect more out of a SNES title than improvements on the same old NES sounds, then perhaps a little more situational diversity was in order. The light-hearted and adventurous style can only capture so many moods. But what it does well–create a sense of light-hearted adventure–it does exceptionally well. It’s the hoaky town and shop themes that prevent The Legend of the Mystical Ninja from being a consistently excellent soundtrack. The music written for the field of combat is all spectacular.
0:36. That is where you’ll want to skip to if you can’t handle some classic 90s cheese. A year before it became known to most of us as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV, Konami released this game to the arcade under its SNES port’s subtitle, Turtles in Time. I was pretty shocked to find this, actually. Konami’s original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (that is, confusingly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game on the NES) and X-Men were by far my two favorite arcade games as a kid. I had no idea Turtles in Time even existed as such. Anyway, Mutsuhiko Izumi did the hard-rocking soundtrack. The music is largely the same in both games, and while nostalgia leads me to favor the SNES version, the arcade original is probably just a slight bit better–but only slightly, and this is debatable.
For instance, if you skip to 3:38 in the arcade mix and 2:43 in the SNES version–”Bury My Shell At Wounded Knee” if memory serves me–you’ll find a major disparity between the drum tracks. Turtles in Times‘s percussion is essentially indistinguishable from a real drum set. Turtles IV can’t compete there, but it does its best to compensate with some pretty wild sound effects and a really bizzare distorted bass. These features throughout the game grant the SNES port a unique and immediately identifiable sound all of its own. In some cases this paid off to such an extent that the port sounds slightly better than the original. Such is, I think, the case for the Super Shredder fight music.
I am lead to believe that Kazuhiko Uehara or Harumi Ueko, the same names associated with The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, were responsible for Turtles in Time‘s SNES port, and if so 1991-1992 was a pretty successful period for the both of them. Turtles IV is an outstanding and fairly faithful adaptation, recreating the original sound where technology allows and inventively maintaining the spirit of the original where it does not.
I can’t say I’ve heard too many instances, at a time when port soundtracks were necessarily different, of an original game soundtrack and a port both being equally exceptional. It worked out this time, compliments of Mutsuhiko Izumi, Kazuhiko Uehara, and Harumi Ueko.
Oh yeah, that brief nightmare at the start of the arcade version sampler? That was from the Turtles’ 1990 “Coming Out of Their Shells” tour. What