Thursday, July 23, 2009

Game Music Review "Gunstar Heroes"

NON & Nazo² Unit's collaborative Gunstar Heroes arrangement has a constance of catchy melodies, superbly-peppered with instrumental solos and downright funky, bouncy space-vibed dance beats faithful to the original sounds

My history of video gaming is fruited. I grew up in what I consider to be the golden age, or the 1990's. But even in such a time of rich exploration for gaming combined with advances in technology, I've realized now that I missed out on some of what are considered by enthusiasts as Treasures. We're talking about the company "Treasure", responsible for many of today's rarer, more sought after, steep-difficulty curved titles in the shooter genre. Just a handful of their titles include "Guardian Heroes", "Radiant Silvergun" -- all of which either didn't reach the North American shores or were marred by their limited print runs due to their SEGA-only formats (mainly, the ill-received Sega Saturn in the West).

Gunstar Heroes, released for the Sega Mega Drive in late 1993 around that same time made its way over to the Sega Genesis shortly after. We'll spare the usual hideous U.S. box art commentary to pale in comparison to the superior native version for this album evaluation (and if you think that's bad, go compare Guardian Heroes: U.S. and Japan).

A few months later, Pioneer Records released an album for Gunstar Heroes. Like many game music releases in Japan, the vague cover art doesn't suggest the music on the disc is actually "arranged" (for those unaware, "arranged" music is typically reworked as to remix, extend for the purpose of utilizing broader musical capacity or genre that may or may not have been limited by the original hardware) and not the original game's soundtrack. Luckilly, the team commissioned to perform the album with staple Treasure composer Norio Hanzawa (known as "NON"), a well-known in-house group led by Jun Irie, Hideki Matsutake and the phantom guitarist Nazo² Suzuki called the "Nazo² Unit", whose done composition work for Treasure (see: Dynamite Headdy, Alien Soldier, Silhouette Mirage).

Nazo² Unit, just another variant of a more commonly known "Nazo² Project" under Konami and its "Perfect Selection" releases in the early 90's and before that "Akihabara Electric Circus" under various Nintendo releases. "Nazo²" has also appeared on countless other works, mainly for Konami and even Falcom, nevertheless employs a signature electronic-funk fusion sound. And, if you can forgive them for their infamous' Dracula "rap" album (to which I'm a proud owner of), you'll be glad to hear of their vocal-free Gunstar Heroes effort.

Irie (Keyboards) and Matsutake (Synthesizer) know how to arrange; they've been doing it since the early 80s under their group "Logic System." The results are, as usual, nothing short of excellent with arranges that never stray too far from the material. Over the course of the 90's, they've carved a signature sound for themselves that makes them rise above other arrange groups.

If you don't know the original soundtrack well, you'll be oriented to enjoy it anyway because of its constance of catchy melodies, superbly-peppered instrumental solos and downright funky dance beats making it faithful but also supplemental to the original works.

To go along with the theme, those who've heard Nazo² works will known of their well-stocked bevy of always impressive guest musicians who spice-up various tracks against Irie and Matsutake's funky-electronic sound. Following with the trend, this one's no slouch with the frequency of such musicians as Masato Honda (A. Sax, S. Sax), Ken Shima (Keyboards) and Willie Nakao (Guitars) -- with some of those names who've appeared on their previous Konami works.

NON & Nazo² Unit have selected 12 tracks to arrange (though opening and endings are on the shorter side), the ten on here are heavy on the bass and satisfying. Whether it be my long-time favorite "Last Party on the Moon" with Nazo² Suzuki's signature cool guitar riffs against bouncy beats or "Dice-Dance-Days" with Masato Honda belting out a series of fantastic, tight alto sax solos, the album has steam from start to finish. Other favorites include "Military on the Max Power" and "Stairs to High" which has their synthesizer sound in-tact against. Honda later appears on "End of Our World" with a slower, nasaly soprano sax effort and a taste of the group's chilled-out diversity.

Gunstar Heroes is a successful effort; faithful to the original music and co-existing with a happy medium to make it a solid arrange album. While this one has always been a lesser preferred Nazo² works to, say, mainly because this album leans more dance-funk across the board with less musical diversity than their superb Konami discography. Still, it stands up there as a classic, having been apart of my digital library for many years now. Though long out-of-print, and pricey to obtain on the used market, there's no exception as to why anything by Treasure is a sought after Treasure.


Gunstar Heroes

01 Legend of the Gunstars
02 Empire~The Final Assault~
03 "Good Night, Baby!"
04 Theme of Seven-Force
05 Dice-Dance-Days
06 The End of the Battle ~to our world~
07 Dancing~Smash~Hero
08 Military on the Max-Power
Stairs to High
Last Party on the Moon
11 Rolling chaser
12 Heroes~reprise for Yellow

Cover Image Courtesy: VGMdb (submitted by Kewing Darksun)

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