Neon Dream #7: 古川もとあき – One Night in Neo Kobe City

There is a common quip you’re likely to find if you read comments on Konami’s Snatcher: of all the games that I have never played, this one is my favorite. The game was ported and rehashed for much of the late 80s and 90s, appearing on the PC-8801, MSX2, PC-Engine, Sega Mega-CD, Sony Playstation, and Sega Saturn. The highly censored Sega CD port was the only English translation, and given how horribly that system flopped, you have almost certainly never played this game. That’s no fault of Konami’s. America and Europe are not exactly hot markets for menu-based graphic adventure games.

But Snatcher has a cult following of western fans regardless. Magazines reviewing the Sega CD port praised it across the board. It’s one of the earliest highly successful (in Japan at least) cyberpunk video games, and it merges this with a detective story, grasping the genre’s affinity with film noir. Its original 1988 score captured the essence of cyberpunk aesthetics, filled with jazzy melodies driven by futuristic beats where it could have easily gotten away with generic action music instead. And the game is deliciously dated: its post-apocalyptic earth–set in the oh-so-distant future of 2042–comes about as a consequence of the Soviet Union unleashing a devastating biological weapon. All of these factors make its obscurity a bit enticing. It’s not like you’ve never heard of the game because no one liked it. It’s more of a lost treasure.

The game’s western obscurity plays directly into the appeal of its genre. Learning about it, I felt like I was excavating a modern ruin from a digital trash heap, diving into long forgotten file-sharing archives and posting anonymous requests in dark corners of the internet for sources beyond Wikipedia. One of the most enjoyable stretches of my long-winded videogame music series in 2012 was the process of piecing together fragments of information to arrive at a fairly accurate break-down of the original score. It was a Konami Kukeiha Club project, which can often be a lost cause to dissect, but I dug until I found that the original PC-8801 version’s credits listed each track by individual composer. This was already complicated by the fact that it incorporated changes in the simultaneously released MSX2 port, awkwardly intermixing the staff who converted the sound. You can read my two-part entry on Snatcher below, if you’re curious:

VGM Entry 56: Snatcher (part 1)
VGM Entry 57: Snatcher (part 2)

“One Night in Neo Kobe City”, not to be confused with “Twilight of Neo Kobe City”–I had a lot of fun dealing with those sorts of naming conventions through a bad Japanese to English translator–is not original to the 1988 version of Snatcher. Motoaki Furukawa (古川もとあき) first composed it for the 1992 PC-Engine port, when greatly improved audio technology made a track like this possible. (Honestly, think about the sound quality in games you were playing in ’92. This was pretty advanced.) The song really sets the stage for the cyberpunk tech noir experience that follows. I suppose it’s not dark or foreboding, really, but when you connect this sort of sax-driven jazz to a futuristic city, the relation feels natural. When you connect it to Snatcher, it becomes cyberpunk to the core.

Hats off to Konami for letting Snatcher thrive on Youtube when so many other game producers routinely scour the net of their antiquities. (I personally had my account banned by Taito for posting some music to an obscure 80s arcade game.) I don’t know why cease and desist orders are particularly popular in the world of videogame music, but at least in my experience Konami seem to avoid that nonsense. It’s pretty cool, since the Konami Kukeiha Club doesn’t rate far behind Square-Enix’s illustrious list of composers.

VGM Entry 58: Illusion City

VGM Entry 58: Illusion City
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

Illusion City never saw an English translation. Micro Cabin first released it in December 1991 for the MSX turboR, and this was rapidly followed by versions for the PC-9801/PC-88VA (January 1992), FM Towns (July 1992), Sharp X68000 (July 1992), and a bit later the Sega CD (May 1993).

On a completely irrelevant note, I finally looked up why they called it the Towns, and apparently Fujitsu named their 1989 PC after 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics winner Charles Hard Townes. Aaanyway, Illusion City had a soundtrack to rival the SNES legends, and that’s about all you’ll ever find concerning the game in English. It *gasp* doesn’t even have an English Wikipedia page.

The music collections you’ll find scattered across youtube–and these are relatively abundant–showcase the MSX turboR version, so I will to. Two years behind our current historical progression or three years after the original release of Snatcher, I thought it best to bring the game up now since they’re occasionally compared. The two have next to nothing in common concerning gameplay, but they are both cyberpunk, and I gather they have some common plot features. (Not that I would know, short of digging up a fan translation.)

Illusion City is not a visual novel. It’s an RPG. The best you’ll find concerning what style of RPG are a few stills here and there; I am thoroughly convinced that no Illusion City gameplay video exists on youtube. You’ll find plenty of videos of the introduction, and there’s an ending/credits roll video out there for the Sega CD version. That’s about it. But with these credits, conveniently originally in English, and a last resort Google Translate of the game’s Japanese Wikipedia entry, we can piece together its authorship easily enough.

The music was composed by Tadahiro Nitta (the same Nitta responsible for Micro Cabin’s Final Fantasy MSX port), Yasufumi Fukuda, and Koji Urita (Kouji Urita in the credits). These are the names listed on the wiki, and the Sega CD credits clearly distinguish them (“Music Compose”) from composers contributing new material to the port (“Mega-CD Special Music”). This latter group consists of Hirokazu Ohta, who “arranged and computer programmed” the intro and end-game music, and Yasufumi Fukuda, who added new combat music. Lastly the credits list Hirotoshi Moriya and Masato Takahashi under “sound” for the “Mega-CD Work Staff”.

There we go: clean and concise credits. How often does that happen on a Japanese PC game port?

In so far as this is the first cyberpunk RPG I know of (the Phantasy Star series comes to mind as a similar comparison), Tadahiro Nitta, Yasufumi Fukuda, and Kouji Urita had their work cut out for them. Where Masahiro Ikariko and company were able to score Snatcher more or less like a movie, Illusion City required themes for all of the contrivances of a standard RPG. The sort of poppy vibe with which Tokuhiko Uwabo flavored Phantasy Star II, to use a game I’ve previously showcased, can’t fly in cyberpunk–if that is in fact what kind of game Illusion City is, as many have claimed. It needed something a bit more dark and grimy.

Whether they really pulled it off is debatable, but if “City Noise” (3:37 in the present video) is in fact the main town theme then they definitely had the right idea. Oh, it’s not dark on the scale of Snatcher, but I get the sneaking suspicion anyway–mainly from the Sega CD intro and outros–that this is more of a futuristic adventure game with cyberpunk overtones than Akira-worship. It definitely succeeds in creating a futuristic RPG soundtrack to a far greater extent than what I’ve heard of Phantasy Star, and it’s got a decently dark edge.

oldskoolgamertje on youtube has provided a complete soundtrack of the MSX version for your enjoyment. Cheers.

VGM Entry 57: Snatcher (part 2)

VGM Entry 57: Snatcher (part 2)
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

Needless to say, when a game is released in six formats over a span of eight years the list of credits gets pretty wild. If we take Wikipedia’s unsourced credit synopsis for every Snatcher release mingled into one, it would appear that Akira Yamaoka, Keizou Nakamura, Masanori Adachi, Kazuhito Imai, and Masanori Ouchi are responsible for the score. But let’s not do that.

Konami’s ost releases generally only credit the Kukeiha Club as a collective, so that’s of no real help. Thanks to Snatcher‘s devout fan base though, a video of the end credits is available on youtube for every version of this game. They struck me as a bit suspect in so far as every version except the PC-Engine was in English, when only the Sega CD version was officially translated. But I do get the feeling–I’m sure plenty of people could easily confirm or deny–that a lot of games in Japan for whatever reason have English credits.

In any case, the PC-8801 ending credits are perhaps the most thorough I’ve ever seen in a game, and whether their English (Engrish really) is a fan translation or the authentic original, I do think it would be nice to provide a transcript. This is the track by track credits as listed in the two-part youtube video posted by AFX6502, condensed to save some space. Most tracks were listed with two names: one in quotations and one in parenthesis.

Compositions by M. Ikariko:
“Prologue Demo” (Bio Hazard Snatcher)
“Title Telop” (Evil Ripple)
“Pursuer Part1” (Creeping Silence)
“Pursuer Part3” (Pleasure of Tension)
“Pursuer Part4” (Endless Pursue)
“Katrine Part1” (Innocent Girl)
“Katrine Part2” (Theme of Katrine)
“Bath Room” (Virulent Smile)
“Joy Division” (Decadance Beat)
“Blow Up Tricycle”
“Mortuary Part1” (Morg)
“Search Light” (Spreading Diehard)
“Game Over” (Lement for The Death)

Compositions by M. Shirakawa:
“Team Logo” (Slave to Metal)
“Jaime” (Theme of Jaime)
“Outer Heaven2” (Theme of Izabel)
“Title Part1” (Theme of JUNKER)
“Title Part2” (Theme of Randam)
“Title Part3” (Faded Memories)
“Title Part5” (Peace of Mind)
“Action” (Danger Dance…and Justice for all)
“Epirogue” (Beyond Sorrows)

Compositions by S. Fukami:
“Theme of Opening” (Twilight of Neo Kobe City)
“Outer Heaven1” (The Entrance to Hell)
“Goodbye Randam” (Eternal Promise)
“Requiem” (For Harry)

Compositions by S. Masuda:
“Pursuer Part2” (Criminal Omen)
“Pursuer Part5” (Follow up the Scent)
“Wrong Answer” (Axia)
“Transform Risa” (Virtual Image)

Compositions by M. Izumi:
“Ending 1” (Master of Puppets Among The Disease)
“Theme of Ending” (We Have to Struggle for Our Future Against Our Doubt)

Compositions by M. Adachi:
“Theme of Metal Gear” (Theme of Tara)
-remix from “Metal Gear” RC_750 1987-

Joint composition by I. Mizutani and M. Ikariko:
“Snatcher Title” (Squeak!!)

Composition by Pear Point:
“Jingle Bell” (Jingle Bell 2042)

So there you have it. Originally, Masahiro Ikariko composed 16 of the tracks, the rather elusive M. Shirakawa composed 9, and the remaining 13 were composed by a combination of Masanori Adachi, Seiichi Fukami, Mutsuhiko Izumi, Iku Mizutani, and another virtually anonymous figure, S. Masuda. Ikariko, Shirakawa, Fukami, and Masuda are given clear precedence over Adachi, Izumi, and Mizutani in the credits, and must have comprised the main music team. (While the credits to the original MSX version of Metal Gear are likewise confusing and Adachi is not listed where I looked, I have to assume he wrote the original song, “Theme of Tara”, upon which the Snatcher tune is based and had no direct involvement here.) We don’t even know M. Shirakawa and S. Masuda’s full names. Isn’t that something?

The PC-8801 credits tell us quite a bit more about Snatcher‘s music than simply the track-by-track credits. For instance, chief editors Hideo Kojima and Naoki Matsui named the songs. Iku Mizutani did the sound effects, and Masahiro Ikariko and Kazuhiko Uehara “arranged” the music–a credit Konami clearly distinguishes from composition.

The MSX2 credits are included in the PC-8801 version, so there’s no ambiguity on this front. Masahiro Ikariko and Kazuhiko Uehara made the MSX2 arrangements (with the exceptions of “Theme of Metal Gear”, converted by Uehara and Mizutani, and “Jingle Bell”, converted by Ikariko, Uehara, and Shirakawa).

The PC-Engine credits are in Japanese, and in the mess of a hundred open Firefox tabs I’ve lost track of the url to the translation I found, but I did copy it down:

Sound Program:
Kazuki Muraoka
Motoaki Furukawa
Kazuki Muraoka
Masahiro Ikariko
Seiichi Fukami
Mutsuhiko Izumi
Kazuki Muraoka

It’s kind of weird to me that Shirakawa, who wrote a quarter of the music in the game, is not included here, but perhaps he and Masuda had left Konami and were erased from memory. Or perhaps Ikariko, Fukami, and Izumi returned to write additional material, but based on the songs I’ve heard, I get the impression that the list of original compositions for the PC-Engine version is quite short. Based on how the PC-8801’s credits were worded, I am lead to believe the PC-Engine arrangement was Kazuki Muraoka’s baby, with Motoaki Furukawa filling in the few added original tracks, however Furukawa has referred to himself as being “in charge of the BGM” for the PC-Engine port. Whether he meant merely the new compositions or the arrangements of the originals is beyond me.

The PC-Engine version and future releases included a revamped intro scene, for which I’ve provided the Sega CD take in spite of its awful voice acting, so that you can hear it in English. “One Night in Neo Kobe”, the song beginning at 2:55 in this video, was one of the new PC-Engine additions written by Motoaki Furukawa (he also confirmed composition of “Tears and Stains”, which must be “Tear-Stained Eyes“), and it remains one of the most famous songs of the game.

The Sega CD port was the first major departure from Ikariko and company’s original score. The credits here, which I’ve derived directly from the English version of the game, are pretty vague:

SegaCD Sound Design:
Keizou Nakamura
Masanori Adachi
Kazuhito Imai
Masanori Ouchi
Akira Yamaoka
Sound Programmer:
Osamu Kasai
Akira Souji

This list is kind of strange, because it was the Sega CD port’s arrangement that made it so drastically distinct from the first three versions. The songs were still based on the originals, but in a manner akin to Rob Hubbard and Tim Follin’s liberal port adaptations (consider the C64 ports of Commando and Bionic Commando respectively, for example). The credits clearly refer to the Sega CD arrangement, and Masanori Adachi must have been directly involved this time around. Even so, some of the tracks, “One Night in Neo Kobe”, aren’t even arrangements, but rather the exact same songs appearing on the PC-Engine. It’s pretty odd that Motoaki Furukawa and Kazuki Muraoka are restricted to a “Special Thanks” mention at the end of the credit roll.

Also, the distinction between “Sound Design” and “Sound Programmer” is completely obscure here. Konami don’t even bother with distinguishing between music and sound effects. Some of the ‘sound design team’ credits may have almost no real involvement in the music. Keizou Nakamura is credited specifically for SFX in a later version of the game, suggesting that that was his role here as well, and someone claiming to have spoken with Akira Yamaoka says he had little to no involvement in the project.

At this point in time technology may have advanced to the point where “programmer” did not as a rule imply “arranger”, and it’s possible that Osamu Kasai and Akira Souji’s contributions comprised a technical task which made the audio possible but did not affect what it actually sounded like. Never mind my uneducated speculation though; suffice to say the Sega CD port is a grey area dividing the old Snatcher compositions from the new.

Most PSX/Sega Saturn Snatcher songs were in fact new compositions entirely distinct from the originals. “The Morgue” is an example in which the changes are pretty rewarding. I think they definitely improve the whole ‘surrounded by rotting corpses’ atmosphere, whether that is actually the appropriate atmosphere for the scene in context or not. It does little to compensate for the outrageous censorship rules Sony inherited from Nintendo, but whatever. Here are the credits for both:

Sound System Programmer:
Noritada ‘Nor’ Matukawa
Sound Mixer:
God Adachi
Music Composer/Arranger/Performer:
Hiroe Noguchi
Guest composers:
Hiroshi Tamawari
Akira Yamaoka
Kosuke Soeda
Guest Performer:
Original Score Composers:
Kazuki Muraoka
Motoaki Furukawa

Sound Programmer:
Sound Mixer:
Masanori Adachi
Music Composer/Arranger/Performer:
Syouichirou Hirata
Keizou Nakamura
Guest composers:
Akira Yamaoka
Hiroshi Tamawari
Guest Performer:
Original score composers:
Kazuki Muraoka
Motoaki Furukawa
Akira Yamaoka
Hiroshi Tamawari

If you’re curious about the aliases here, “Akiropito” is Akira Souji, “God Adachi” is Masanori Adachi, “Tappy” is Tappi Iwase, and I couldn’t find the slightest clue for identifying “KIDA-Sun”. This makes for an odd discussion, as “KIDA-Sun” appears to be the most responsible party for the PSX and Saturn soundtracks. It’s also rather strange that Akira Yamaoka, Hiroshi Tamawari, and KIDA-Sun are listed as original score composers on the Saturn but not on the PSX, as to the best of my knowledge the Saturn used the exact same songs, making only minor (but always for the better) changes throughout. I don’t know that this change to the credits indicates a real change though: Akira Yamaoka and Hiroshi Tamawari are listed as ‘guest composers” in both versions, and a guest composer is still a composer, so it might all boil down to redundancy. In that case, we need only ask what became of Kosuke Soeda.

So basically, our credits look like this:

PC-8801 and MSX2
Composition: Masahiro Ikariko (16), M. Shirakawa (9), Seiichi Fukami (4), S. Masuda (4), Mutsuhiko Izumi (2), Iku Mizutani (1), Masanori Adachi (1)
Arrangement: Masahiro Ikariko, Kazuhiko Uehara

Composition: Primarily the original 1988 staff, with additions (probably) limited to Kazuki Muraoka and Motoaki Furukawa
Arrangement: Kazuki Muraoka

Sega CD
Sound staff: Keizou Nakamura, Masanori Adachi, Kazuhito Imai, Masanori Ouchi, Akira Yamaoka
Sound Programmer: Osamu Kasai, Akira Souji

PSX and Saturn
Composition: Kazuki Muraoka, Motoaki Furukawa, KIDA-Sun, Akira Yamaoka, Hiroshi Tamawari, Kosuke Soeda (Saturn only)
Arrangement: KIDA-Sun, Syouichirou Hirata (Saturn only)

I’ll leave it at that. I hope you’ve enjoyed the sound samples in the meantime. I know I certainly have.

VGM Entry 56: Snatcher (part 1)

VGM Entry 56: Snatcher (part 1)
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

At this point I think it’s safe to talk about Snatcher. Snatcher has quite a long history. Konami first released it on the PC-8801 in November 1988, following this up with an MSX2 port the following month. In 1992 it found its way to the PC-Engine, and in 1994 it got its first English translation via the Sega Mega-CD. It would go on to appear on the Playstation in February 1996 and the Sega Saturn in March before all was said and done.

Snatcher was a cyberpunk visual novel, which isn’t the sort of thing North American and European gamers are particularly familiar with. It also featured some graphic violence, partial nudity, and cultural references, which didn’t jive well with North America’s outrageous censorship and copyright laws. All of these factors contributed to the long delay of an English port, and it’s quite remarkable that Konami ended up making one at all. The market was not in fact ready for it, and Jeremy Blaustein, who oversaw the localization, admitted that the game “only sold a couple thousand units”. He provided the legitimate argument that this resulted from Konami’s decision to release a game on the rapidly tanking Sega CD, not any shortcomings of the game itself. Snatcher remained popular in Japan however, and by the sixth and final release in March 1996 it also boasted six different variations on the main soundtrack.

What’s great for our purposes is that liquidpolicenaut on youtube already did all the legwork for comparing them. In some cases, such as “Decadence Beat (Joy Division)”, the original PC-8801 and MSX2 versions survive every port on into the Sega Saturn, but more often the songs get replaced for the Sega CD or Playstation and retain their new forms the rest of the way.

It’s by no means immediately obvious which take on this song is best. As songs by themselves, displaced from any game, the MSX2 version stands out the most to me, but the comments by actual fans of the game seem to denounce the MSX2 version as out of touch with the atmosphere of the scene. “Joy Division” (censored to “Plato’s Cavern” for the US Sega CD port) was Snatcher‘s general store chain. As a cyberpunk game, it naturally ought to be a little bit sleazy, but since I never played it personally I can’t say just how far that should go. The Sega CD version sounds like a porn shop, and the PSX version sounds like the score to what the Sega CD store is selling. The Sega Saturn take, despite being practically identical to the PSX take in construction, comes off quite tasteful due to better quality instrument samples. The potential complaint, of course, is that it’s too tasteful to be wholly appropriate.

If the PC-8801 take is a bit too funky and the PC-Engine a bit too weird, I’m left with the MSX2 take. It has a very technological feel to it. This is music for the sort of store I’d go to to buy my cybernetic crack injection kits for sure. The visual helps it out too; the store clerk looks a lot more seedy and a lot less evil on the MSX2 and PC-8801 than in the other takes, and the emphasis on grey (the PC-8801 has a brown floor) makes the whole place seem a little metalic–a little more futuristic. Oh the MSX2 take wins for me hands-down. But I’m listening to this with nothing but a song, a single image, and a general idea of cyberpunk to go on. I never played the game. Maybe the MSX2’s atmosphere, while consistent in audio and imagery, is totally out of place in it. One of the great benefits of Snatcher and liquidpolicenaut’s comparison videos is to bring these finer aesthetic considerations to mind.

I mentioned that “Joy Division” was renamed “Plato’s Cavern” on the Sega CD. It’s one of many censorship issues that forced minor changes in detail as new ports were made. The left-hand mask on the wall behind the store clerk on the MSX2 and PC-8801 was Predator, and it vanishes starting with the PC Engine. Amazing what petty things billionaires will file lawsuits over…

The censorship on “Pursuer Part 4 (Endless Pursue)” is a little more obvious. (Supposedly the dog was twitching, still alive on the original versions, and this was removed before they took out the image altogether.) Musically, this is another instance where the same song was maintained for all six versions of the game. Here the differences aren’t nearly as extreme, either. Again the Playstation take comes off the worst to my ears, and this time the Saturn’s improved sound does not sufficiently redeem it–at least if this is meant to be the fairly tense, down to the wire scene that the track title and early versions imply.

I can’t think of any context in which the PSX and Saturn versions might sound appropriate to be quite honest. The PSX take kicks off like some progy jazz piece that completely fails to acknowledge any sort of distress, or anything remotely unsettling (we’re still staring at a dog with its guts spilled out mind you, even if it’s censored). The bass drum beat is made no less obnoxious in the Saturn version by actually sounding like a bass drum, and its pace is totally out of touch with the melody. No, the PSX and Saturn versions are bad–no getting around that.

If you go back to the MSX2 take, you’ll find that it’s far more imaginative anyway. Variations in the intensity of the drum beats give it a dimension lacking in the last two versions. The higher-pitched notes behind the main melody in the PC-8801 introduction carry the song much more effectively than their MSX2 equivalent, emphasizing the pace of events, and the variations in percussion intensity are retained, but the main melody is just a bit too clean. The MSX2 take has a more hollow, raspy sound. I suppose I would characterize the MSX2 and PC Engine versions as prioritizing an element of danger, while urgency dominates the PC-8801 and Sega CD takes.

I could go on like this for every track, but I fancy it’s already gotten old. Tomorrow I’ll tackle who exactly wrote it all.