Friday Castle Jukebox – Mega Music

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I did a lot of these but as they are mostly just posting YouTube videos, I didn’t want to go through and save all of them. This was my first and one of my favourites and is a good example of the format. 

Since the 16-bit era I’ve been barraged with almost nonstop comments that the SNES was capable of better music than the Mega Drive. As a guy who had a Mega Drive at the time, I’m here to say that, well…. the SNES did indeed have better music overall. But don’t let this be permission to assume that which is not better is bad, because it couldn’t be further from the truth.

So what better way to kick off this Castle Jukebox than to dedicate it to some of my most Mega Music Memories? In other words, if you don’t currently know what the Mega Drive can do, I’m here for you to hear.

Thunder Force IV or Lightening Force (yes, not lightning) as it was known for some ridiculous reason in the US, is an old favourite of mine. This is probably my favourite SHMUP and one of the few games that beat me. I only ever got to Stage 9 without cheating. Despite being excellent in its own right, this is one of those games that is worth playing for the soundtrack alone. Much of it (and indeed the piece featured here) provides the impression that composer Toshiharu Yamanishi really liked Metallica. And though the game opens with heavy rock which often plays during the game’s insane boss fights, there is still truly a lot of variety in the soundtrack. In a nutshell, Thunder Force IV is certainly proof of what the Mega Drive was much better at than the SNES: METAL!

Oh, and one little appendage: the composer actually comes from Aichi Prefecture in Japan, which is where I am currently living. How about that!

Our next track is from a game that has the unfortunate benefit of a much better sequel after it, both with soundtracks that I am very much torn between. But the track to the first stage of the original Streets of Rage is really something special. I used to reset the game just to listen to the opening again and again (even though the game had a sound test). It can’t be said enough that Yuzo Koshiro, who also lent his musical hand to titles such as Shenmue, Ys and ActRaiser, certainly provided some of his best work on the Mega Drive.

This track is from The Revenge of Shinobi, and it’s both some of Yuzo Koshiro’s early work and perhaps the first proof of what could be sonically achieved with the Mega Drive. It’s no surprise that my favourite Shinobi game and has also some of the series’ best music, a lot of which boasts an excellent fusion of dance and traditional Japanese tonality.

What, you didn’t think I would get away without mentioning a Sonic the Hedgehog tune in here, did you?! Of course, I’d personally prefer to select Ice Cap Zone but… most people know that one. And if you don’t, you’ll probably be curious enough to find out. So I chose my other favourite track from the same game. A very interesting thing about Sonic 3 & Knuckles was the rumored involvement of Michael Jackson, which wasn’t finally confirmed until shortly after his death. As for this track, Jun Senoue (who can still be found jamming it out on modern Sonic games), Tetsuyuki Maeda, Masaru Setsumaru, Tomonori Sawada, Masayuki Nagao, Sachio Ogawa, Howard Drossin and/or Michael Jackson had a hand in its composition — it’s fair to say prior to this I had no idea the game had so many composers. And if we’re going by the old adage of too many chefs ruining the stew, this soundtrack should be awful. But it isn’t.

One of the coolest things about the Sonic 3 & Knuckles soundtrack was the way its second act remixed the tracks of the first. This track is the first act of Lava Reef, so if you like it, be sure to check out the track for Act 2 as well.

Four is already more than pushing it, so we’ll leave it there. I hope you enjoyed these tracks, whether it brought back memories, or made you wish you had them. If you are one of those people that says the Mega Drive has a terrible sound chip or couldn’t produce memorable music, well, let this list serve as proof to the contrary.

Have a nice weekend everyone!

September, 2013

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