VGM Entry 27: PC-8801
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)
If I want to cover every field, it would be a certain mistake to overlook the impact of the NEC PC-8801 during this time. I have incorporated a few titles into the mix already. Thexder (Game Arts, 1985) by Hibiki Godai was the first noteworthy soundtrack for the platform I’ve found making use of the Yamaha YM2203 sound chip. Xanadu Scenario II (Nihon Falcom, 1986), predominantly the work of Takahito Abe, and Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished (Nihon Falcom, 1987) by Yuzo Koshiro the following year were developed for various platforms, but the PC-8801 seems to have been Falcom’s flagship. Unfortunately I’ve found it nearly impossible, between the language barrier and the myriad ports, to find suitable examples of most of Takahito Abe’s other PC-8801 works, and Yuzo Koshiro’s pre-1988 works seem to be just as obscure. But were they the only composers making the system shine?
Silpheed (Game Arts, 1986) was another product of Hibiki Godai, at least as best I can tell. The only credits I could find were for the 1988 MS-DOS port by Sierra On-Line, which list Hibiki Godai, Nobuyuki Aoshima, Fumihito Kasatani, and Hiromi Ohba. Since the majority of the other names in the credits are Americans, it’s quite possible that all four of these musicians had a hand in the original composition.
In a way, the music feels a little bland compared to that of the European musicians I’ve recently discussed. This is certainly a product of differences in sound chips, but I am at least a little inclined to believe that both the distorted nature of Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum sound and the atmosphere of experimentation and bold composition that permeated European sound programming did in fact inspire better music than competing scenes managed to produce at the time. Even so, Silpheed has some exceptional songs–most notably the one beginning at 13:00–and it’s a good example of what Japanese computer gaming sounded like.
Or so I like to believe. Sorcerian (Nihon Falcom, 1987) is yet another Yuzo Koshiro and Takahito Abe collaboration, with Mieko Ishikawa additionally credited. Kenji Kawai is listed separately as the 1992 PC-Engine arranger, so for once we can at least make some distinction in that regard. But so long as the same names keep popping up, I can’t help but think I’m only getting a very small sample of a much larger field. And furthermore, the significance of the PC-8801 for these titles musically is not a given. Almost all of Nihon Falcom’s games were released across an enormous spread of systems which typically included at least the PC-8801, PC-9801, Sharp X1, and MSX2. As has been shown with Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished, this entailed endless variation and reinterpretation of the central themes. “Dark Fact” almost seemed to evolve with every port, with no clear explanation as to whether Yuzo Koshiro changed his mind about how it ought to sound or port arrangers independently reinterpreted the music at every step, often basing their take on previous ports rather than the original.
If these composers knew that their songs would take so many forms, did they really write their music for the PC-8801 at all, or were they aiming for compositions which could function through a wide array of sound configurations? Or, if they were personally involved in the ports, did they perhaps gear their music towards a preferred system for which the game might not necessarily be released on first? No amount of exploring PC-8801 compositions has helped to clarify these questions.
The problem is compounded by a complete absence of credits for the vast majority of PC-8801 games. In the absence of a PC88 game library (I am eternally in debt to such sites as Lemon 64, World of Spectrum, and Lemon Amiga), I have absolutely no clue what Shinra Bansho (Nihon Telenet, 1987) is beyond the name of its developer. This is my second favorite PC-8801 soundtrack (after Snatcher, which I’ll be addressing later), but I haven’t a clue who wrote it. Perhaps Nihon implies Yuzo Koshiro and Takahito Abe, if they were the only house musicians, but since this is Nihon Telenet, not Nihon Falcom, and I have no idea what that distinction entails, it would be folly to ascribe any artist attribution.
I am entirely at the mercy of grad1u52 on youtube for finding PC-8801 music in the first place, as he is the only member taking active steps to preserve it, but the information he supplies for each game is unfortunately non-existent. Lots of other titles, the music for which is readily available, fall into this same boat.
The only substantial hint I can offer is that composers hardly ever freelanced at this time, and developers rarely boasted a large sound staff. If you can identify a developer’s house composer in the mid-80s, it almost always seems to be the case that they scored every release during their tenure. Square and Enix make a good case in point. Such obscure PC-8801 titles as Cruise Chaser Blassty (Square, 1986) and Jesus: Dreadful Bio-Monster (Enix, 1987) were composed by Nobuo Uematsu and Koichi Sugiyama respectively, not passed off to secondary musicians (not that Uematsu had succeeded in making a name for himself by 1986). Both soundtracks were second rate, with Uematsu sounding completely lost in a non-fantasy setting and Sugiyama cutting corners to the extent of including tracks from Dragon Quest, but that is quite besides the point. With the company consistently identifying the composer, there might still exist a means to figure these old, cryptically credited PC-8801 games out short of learning Japanese.