Friday, July 31, 2009

Game Music Reviews "Rockman 1~6 20th Anniversary Arrange Ver."

Oh, Rockman 1~6 20th Anniversary Rock, Techno Arrange Ver.: you could've been so much more: vision, execution and value.

Ever since the early 1990s, I like many others in my now early 20s age range, in my childhood grew up playing Mega Man games. Not just playing them, living (live role playing, yes I did it), playing outside the game (had the Bandai show-based action figures), watching (the U.S. TV series) and humming the music outside the game since before there was even an internet to distribute line-in rips of each track. Delving deeper into the wonderland of game music arrangement seeking, never found was a full-blown arrangement treatment done to the original Nintendo/Famicom series. Sure, it took some indie bands and later doujin covers to do a few tracks here and there, but nothing grand.

Now Rockman X received an outstanding jazz-fusion arrange in 1994, but the original series was limited to keyboard-frenzied mixes done by mainly by Alph-Lyla (Capcom's in-house sound team moniker). The closest we ever got was the fun remixes included in the "Complete Works", but they skimped and swiss-cheesed on the first three in the series.

Wanting more, I had always imaged hearing the catchy, melodic 8-bit tunes done up in something of an eclectic live musical foray -- which is why my jaw was on the floor when TEAM Entertainment released early bits on two arrange albums for the 20th Anniversary of the blue bomber.

To commemorate Rockman's 20th Anniversary, Capcom commissioned two albums be made to celebrate a decade or so of wondeful Rockman music (considered by myself as some of the greatest video game music ever composed) with a Rock Arrange Ver. and a Techno Arrange Ver. Thinking the Rock Ver. might follow in the mighty path of the recently released Wild Arms Rocking Heart, the results were of high expectation -- and the result was not of that same ilk.

In fact, dare I say whom ever commissioned these albums should be shamed -- I want a do over.

It's not to say both albums are terrible. In fact, they're decent -- but the expectation of waiting far too many silent years for a quality musical treatment will have to wait even longer for a true arranged musical tribute. Instead of gathering up a team of the industry's greatest, the Rock Arrange Ver. was given to Tohru Iwao, a heavy-rock guitarist known for his work on a couple Guilty Gear games but mainly Valkyrie Profile while the Techno Arrange Ver. was given to techno and sampling king, Shinji Hosoe who needs no such introduction.

After learning of the arranger choices, I believed these were golden from the start (well, at least with Hosoe). For Iwao, I had thought he won a raffle or something. Having not really heard of him, it was expected having anything to do with Guilty Gear would qualify for doing a rock-centered remix album. However, this selection as a guitarist of such a shallow resume in front of a line of the myriad brillant guitarists to be chosen is beyond me. Not to say one with a shallow history can't do great works -- Nittoku Inoue certainly surprised us all on Wild Arms Rocking Heart.

Either way, a mystery it shall remain.

Let us begin with the Rock Arrange Ver.

I don't know what happened here. Call it an uninspired couple of weeks in the studio, a lacking budget or a dubious director in charge of the playlists on both albums -- the burden to undertake Rockman music is something of a colossus. What's here is highly disappointing, steming right from the production. Skimpy, non-creative arranges and a short, oddly picked track list leaves too much more to be desired here begging further question. And why not two discs? If we're covering 1~6, why only ten tracks spanning the entire series?

The musician breakdown was another blow -- a simple "quartet" Tohru Iwao (guitar), Atsushi Hasegawa (Bass), Okky (Who? Drum *programming* -- not even live drums!), Masao Nakano (Keyboards/Programming). There's no guest artists, no eclecticism or surprises (truth be told, I was hoping for a sax or trumpet inclusion), and the guitar solos are slouchy in spaces. Did I mention those drums aren't even live? Not to dis Mr. Iwao, but these are lethargic and a giant slap to the face of the composers who worked legend to create the legendary Rockman sound tracks.

Putting aside the juggernaut disdain for the lackluster production of the album, that doesn't go without the tracks being engaging and ultimately salvagable though the material here never quite lifts off and results in being dry, often flat. They're all listenable, even if you try to block out what could've been. Actually, Dr. Wily 1 (Rockman 2) mix is pretty mean; exactly the amount of slobbering guitar meat I'd expect minus the extra polish and steam found on other superb guitar-centric albums like the aforementioned Wild Arms Rocking Heart, Konami Dracula & Shooting Battles, SEGAROCKS, Metal Slug 5, Shin Sangokumusou (Dynasty Warriors series, but specifically 3 & 4) and F-ZERO X Guitar Arrange Edition.

Each game receives a good two tracks (for the most part), which includes the Boss Mix medley, and well-performed at that (my blood starts to go when original Rockman comes on halfway through) even if they burned my ears by using Rockman 2's lame battle as the foundation here. The melody idea should've carried seeing the team only sought to pick ten tracks, but the "mix" at the end of each track will mislead a bit. Upon intial listen, I was hoping for "mix" to suggest inklings of other themes thrown in for good, well, mix.

And for gosh-darn-darn, who thought Get a Weapon (Rockman 3) should get its own of the sacred ten? A good track, but hearing three plus minutes of an originally under-minute tune to do nothing terribly special in that time is unacceptable.

Yamatoman mix
was done with a native Japanese twist, Shadowman mix sounds off-beat at the chorus, Cutman mix is decent but don't know why Tomahawkman mix had to be here -- perhaps to get something in there that diversifies with a Western sound a bit? Not hearing trumpets here is just wrong. Dr. Cossack 2 mix was good on the Complete Works iteration, but is just ho-hum here. Most of the tracks pace too slowly, even ones intended to be slower, like Dr. Wily (Rockman 5) mix doesn't have the intensity, so I found it hard to really rock out to these arranges.

The disc rounds up the list with ten bonus tracks -- but don't get too excited. They're all the original 8-bit versions of ones arranged here. You can have them all on Suleputer's now-I-can-finally-die-in-peace three-disc complete boxset of the original tunes released back in 2003.

Shortly after, Techno Arrange Ver. reared itself.

Here's a brilliant composer whose career and diversity in arranging talent was built upon the vast Namco sound history including the hyper-sampled Ridge Racer, later the fusion-edged Street Fighter EX series and simply far too many games to mention and his work with the first six Rockman titles' is nothing short of painful mediocrity. Did you hear Rockman EXE Transmission (Mega Man Network Transmission)? I thought that might influence him here a bit -- a smooth electronica. Nothing of it here. Instead, the techno used on the album is more of his classic, foundation material -- not bad, but not satisfactory by any means.

Still, Hosoe exhibits his mastery in the field of techno -- though not to the best of his abilities here. The tracklist is what it is -- like the Rock Arrange, Hosoe likely chose a bunch of tunes that would be ideal for a techno arrange -- and he chose well. Again, there's too much material left aside, and the creativity train has no steam. Though my musical umbrella is spacious enough for a plethora of genres, these are tried and true techno mixes -- like the rock ones, you won't find any surprises here.

Though I know Dr. Wily 1 (Rockman 2) is a sensation across the world (a BA song, yes, appearently, they're nuts for it in Japan too), I'll take the rock version over this raver edition. Snakeman might take you back to racing 170 kph on a the highways of a Rave Racer, especially with the voice samplings. Quickman takes a while to warm up, Magnetman is just too slow and Dr. Wily 2 (Rockman 4) misses out. Starman can't help feeling off-sound, which disappointed the most after expecting something as funky as the aforementioned Complete Works version. And poor Rockman 6, again for the shaft. Who picked this? Flameman? Oof.

Oh, and they put Dr. Wi -- I mean "Mr. X". Aside from the contrast to the Rock Ver. cover, there's no such Mr. X Stage Arrange here.

We're glad Rockman got some official recognition for its 20th on the arranged music front, but both albums had high standards to live up to -- and both have failed to meet them. Both albums were handled like late-term projects, feeling rushed, soulless and underproduced. To reiterate, both are not horrible, but the lackluster production values halt both albums tremendously.

But there's still time to pull out all the (guitar) strings for the forthcoming 25th...





All scores are graded on a scale of 1~10 (1 / Worst, 10 / Best).

Here samples on YouTube, Buy Them at CDJapan or Play-Asia.

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