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Friday, November 4, 2016

S3: Sensational SNES Soundtracks Part 1

The Super Nintendo is widely reguarded as Nintendo's best console and arguably the greatest console of all time. It's an outstanding game machine with a hefty amount of games, visuals that still hold up well today and much of the music in SNES games is nothing short of amazing. SNES music is what we're here to discuss in S3, highlighting some of my favorite SNES soundtracks.


Composers: Yumiko Kanki, Naoto Ishida

When you launch a new console, it really is a good idea to showcase what the new hardware is capable of. The tech under the SNES hood allowed for some spectacular Mode-7 scrolling visuals. Pilotwings, one of the launch titles for Nintendo's 16-bit baby was big on Mode-7 but it took things a bit slow. Nothing wrong with that. But if you wanted Mode-7 with some serious kick, F-ZERO was where it was at. The speed you could reach in this game was, at the time, mind blowing. Not only was it fast, it looked good, futuristic (a given with the time period the game was set in) and it sounded superb. Still does. F-ZERO's music has some of the strongest use of baselines and trumpets in any SNES game. These days the F-ZERO games are known for their abundance of rock music and while you can certainly hear some rock in F-ZERO on the SNES, you might find this soundtrack on the quiet side compared to F-ZERO X, F-ZERO GX and everything else that followed this one. Those aforementioned trumpets and baselines are heavily dominant in this soundtrack and after being exposed to them, you'll be begging for more.

Mute City
Big Blue
Sand Ocean
Port Town
Fire Field

The Magical Quest Staring Mickey Mouse

Comopser: Mari Yamaguchi

Emperor Pete is up to no good. He's kidnapped Mickey's pal, Pluto. Well, golly, that's not swell at all. I know a lot of people think of the Genesis when it comes to 16-bit Mickey Mouse adventures, but Capcom's The Magical Quest is what comes to my mind. With the various costumes Mickey wears, this game has a very classic Mickey vibe going on. Mari's work includes, Mega Man 5, Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts and the SNES conversion of U.N. Squadron. The similarities between the music in this game and Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts are very noticeable. There's lots of brass and tons upon tons of wood wind intruments used throughout this soundtrack and it sounds so dang good. I just love the sound font Capcom used to make flutes and tubas on the SNES. They make for some excellent tension. Some of the music in The Magical Quest is just begging for live orchestral arrangements especially Dark Forest and Fire Grotto.

Dark Forest
Fire Grotto
Pete's Peak
Boss 2
Pete's Castle

Mega Man X

Composers: Setsuo Yamamoto, Yuki Iwai, Makoto Tomozawa
Yuko Takehara, Toshihiko Horriyama

Fans anxiously awaited Mega Man to hit Nintendo's 16-bit system. By the time Mega Man arrived on the SNES, the console had been on the market for more than two years. And when he did come, he was not the Blue Bomber we were expecting. In fact, he was a whole new Mega Man in more ways than one. Mega Man X was a totally different beast from his 8-bit counter part. He was taller, a lot more powerful and edgier. Folks tend to freak out when a series dips into that last one, but Mega Man X came along at just the right time. While the classic games weren't getting bad by any means, after five games, things were begining to get stagnent. Mega Man X was a much needed shake up and the truth is, lots of spin-off titles wish the could make such a strong showing as X. The tone of Mega Man X's music is set from the intro stage. X is going to rock your ears and your socks right off. From those killer drum rolls in Spark Mandrill's theme to those sick electric guitar riffs in Flame Mammoth and Armored Armadillio's stage, this game's soundtrack has something for every fan of 16-bit rock or just rock music in general.

Opening Stage
Storm Eagle Stage
Flame Mammoth Stage
Spark Mandrill Stage
Armored Armadillo Stage
Sigma Stage 1

Super Castlevania IV

Composers: Masanori Adachi, Taro Kudou

Plenty of games that made the jump from the NES to the SNES benefited a great deal and Castlevania was no exception. As much as I enjoy the NES Castlevania games, I was not sad to see the stiff movements on those games get the axe in Super Castlevania IV. Simon isn't super mobile, but you could influence the direction of his jump a bit and multi directional whipping is the best. That SNES sound chip did a wealth of good for Super Castlevania IV because this game has one of the best freaking soundtracks of the series and for a franchise with such highly touted music, that's saying a lot. True, the music has a dreary feel to it as it should, but it also sounds highly atmospheric. There's even some jazz in there with The Submerged City (3-3) that has a super sexy baseline. This game gave us the iconic Theme of Simon (take that, Richter!) which has a chilling organ start up and I've always loved the uneasy vibe that Clockwork Mansion (4-1) gives off. Super Castlevania IV also has what is without question the best version of Bloody Tears, the second most memorable Castlevania tune, right behind Vampire Killer, which is also in this game. But real talk? Bloody Tears in this game crushes Vampire Killer. Still a good beat, though.

Theme of Simon
The Cave (3-1)
The Submerged City (3-3)
Clockwork Mansion (4-1)
Bloody Tears (A-1)
Vampire Killer (B-1)

Final Fantasy IV

Composer: Nobuo Uematsu

Originally released in America as Final Fantasy II at a time when RPGs were a niche genre in the west and it was actually the second title in the series to hit our shores, the number nonsense with the Final Fantasy series has since been sorted out and RPGs are big business over here now. After composing soundtracks for three Final Fantasy titles on the NES, I can only imagine Nobuo Uematsu's excitement to write a score on the SNES sound chip. The Prelude theme sounds richer than ever and this is the game that added more to the theme with some impressive flute work. It wouldn't be a Final Fantasy without a main theme but for the first time, the series introduced a reoccurring main theme in Final Fantasy IV that could be heard in numerous tracks. Of course my favorite version of it is the default Main Theme that plays on the world map as it sounds so freaking lovely. The game has a number of different themes for dungeons but if I had to pick a favorite from the bunch, my vote goes for Within the Giant. It is such an encouraging, uplifting song and it even plays as you get closer to the final boss. Speaking of which, the game is packing one epic final fight track. Yes, the word epic is overused in gaming related discussions but I really can't think of any other way to describe it. I feel like I've commited a crime by only linking to six songs from Final Fantasy IV because I really haven't scratched the surface of the game's soundtrack. With tracks ranging from beautiful, melancholy and upbeat, there's a song for every occasion and I still say this is some of Uematsu's best work on the Final Fantasy franchise.

Main Theme
Troian Beauty
The Dreadful Fight
Within the Giant
Final Battle

Super Adventure Island 

Composer: Yuzo Koshiro

A platformer with girl trouble. That's original. Well, at least she wasn't kidnapped in this game. She was turned to stone. OK, so that isn't much better. If Super Adventure Island is your first entry in the series, I feel kinda bad for you because it really isn't the best place to start. Even if you're looking for a challenge, Super Adventure Island is unfairly cruel with it's level design, cheap hits the enemy can get on you and limited continues. The reason I'm glad I came across this game as a kid was the incredible soundtrack. Super Adventure Island's music screams early 1990s. It has voice samples that are instantly recognizable in a few of the tracks and much of the music has an overall jovial mood. Blue Blue Moon is a super soothing jazz beat and one of my earliest exposures to jazz in video games. Given that the game's score was written by Yuzo Koshiro, who was heavily influenced by western music, it comes as not surprise that Super Adventure Island's soundtrack turned out the way it did.

Follow Wind
The Island of Everlasting Summer
Hot Step and Jazzy Beats
Blue Blue Moon
Hot Reception 
Jungle Chase

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