Sunday, June 2, 2013

Game Music Review "We are ROCK-MEN! 2"

If this were IGN, a spiky-haired fanboy blogger with giddily, syrupy ooze might laud a full CD of mostly guitar-drivin' Mega Man beats a novelty, especially in a generation of nostagiaholics. A quaint joy for 'hardcore' or 'old-school' fans he'd say. Something buzzworthy to praise the overseas in-house collaboration that is We are ROCK-MEN! 2
For regular 'VGM' listeners who know their composers, the industry and are well-versed on what an OSV is/was, might critically mark this yet another installment in the fledgling series that started with a few of Capcom's younger composers. Sure, none of these guys (or gal) had a stake in most of the pixelated Mega Man-era compositions but it doesn't mean they can't survive and celebrate it for a generation who did (or they themselves likely enjoyed).

In 2012, We are ROCK-MEN! premised an array of selected tunes from the glorious heyday of Inafune's once CAPCOM powerhouse series Mega Man or Rockman in a drivin', modern rock style with distorted and grungy guitars against mostly furious drum kits and an organ and synth backing. The live sounds brought once soundboard music alive in not only heavy rock but also a contrary techno and electronica with inklings of other music styles. In fact, the initial impress was fun; having not really been explored in the over 20-year history of the music from the original Famicom and Super Famicom 'X' series. 

I guess fans just want techno with their rock, as channeled by two volumes of (dismal) Anniversary projects. ROCK-MEN deliver most of the same, though their approach leans towards more of a youthful, dare I say, organic and raw sound, much like what the jdk Band has done lately (but not Kamikura). Frankly, it's never kind to turn away a rock arrange but the creativity in every such Rockman arrange has struggled to make a leap to, say, this one.

ROCK-MEN had too much techno interfering with the battle-guitar-drivin' Armored Armarge Stage, and that oddball rap opener (which I found delightfully addictive), the album was a stage set to expect more of the same, simple mission of delivering arranged Rockman music you can certainly rock out to.

Nearly a year past, ROCK-MEN 2 slimmed down to just two members willing to produce the album cuts this time around: Yasumasa Kitagawa and Masahiro Aoki, who did most of the album's arranging. With the new blood comes new universes invited into the Rockman fam including Ryuusei no Rockman 2, Rockman Xover and Rockman EXE. Wha? Worry not, most of the material will cater to the 20-somethings who'll recant sitting on their living room floors, hours past and tirelessly trooping through Tunnel Rhino's frickin' stage and back.

The results aren't much different either. As with last year, the material satisfies, but still lacks that polish demonstrably stated with, say, The Black Mages or Konami's Perfect Selection Battle series. There's a slew of potentially furious and energetic bouts of guitar-slinging and some surprising takes on tracks you'd want to hear rock-infused, including more badass favorites from the X series as they displayed last time around.

X3's Doppler Stage 1 roars with that unmistakable melody along with Explose Horneck, which may have been one of the lesser ones I would've liked to hear from Kinuyo Yamashita's mostly rock-inspired chipset. Doppler gets it better than most of the selections here while Horneck quickly becomes a redundance. X5's epic battle tune X Vs. Zero, a longtime favorite, has been screwballed by Black Mages III syndrome, drowning in synth where there should be flat-out guitars.

The originals are there, but aren't allowed to flourish enough outside their sound and arrangement. Rockman 4's Skull Man Stage, which I've always found to be the game's least interesting yet most challenging tune to arrange, comes out never taking off at two and a half minutes and at a stumbling tempo that never picks up.

Napalmman Stage rides the wave (man) from last year's energetic Rockman 5 chapter with Dark Man (R-Side), feeling a little like a demo, clocking in at under two minutes. But it's some of the best jolt on the disc.

Rockman 3's Wily Stage 2 earns selection praise, keeping the intensity and finality of the original's heavy bit drums onto Aoki's grunge. 

I wouldn't be the first to suspect that CAPCOM seems to have a requirement clause with Rockman 2's Wily Stage 1 to appear on every Rockman arrange until the end of time. It's listenable, but it's been done too many times and it's taking up space.

And like before, more filler in-between. Any kind of ballads or ending themes weren't considered this around, which seems disappointing since Rockman 3's ending was done so well on the former disc. 

The otherside, the techno. And the WTF's.

Following suit with the ROCK-MEN staple of matching techno/electronica with rock tracks (but never fusing the genres) carries on with a bevy of mostly snoozers and disappointing takes like on Snake Man Stage, which flopped on Shinji Hosoe's 20th Anniversary Techno Ver. arrange. 

Flutter Vs. Gazel Shaft (wait -- again?) is back and guest arranged by Super Famicom-era Makoto Tomozawa, who worked on quite a bit of Rockman X, X4 and Dash (or Legends). Though the acoustic take on last year's ROCK-MEN was billed as the album's outliar, the vet star power here continues with a competent electronica beater with a surprisingly jazzy piano solo (and keyboard-synth guitar and sax -- ugh) within.

They set out to underwhelm and if you felt let-down on ROCK-MEN's techno, it's only going to do the same here. 

The addition of Rockman 2's co-composer, Takashi Tateishi, which fanboys sunk many years of their life deciphering as in-game accreditation went to his former alias Ogeretsu-kun, dusts off his sage skill for a... non-Rockman piece?

Tateishi's contribution to the album Time Again invites an even more inexplicable guest appearance by the group DIMENSION, a three-piece jazz-fusion group, since the early 90's, has kind of been a big deal in Japan. It, and Metamorphose are roughly lounge-jazz with light (synth) brass accompaniment, peppered with a freeform of guitars, backing organs and dressed with alto saxophone soloing. 

Not sure what they were trying to accomplish here or why weren't allowed to play on the rest of the album's actual Rockman tunes.

Both original tunes also reprises with a ROCK-MEN version (don't know why they needed their own) to add to While Dimension's interesting melding of rock and jazz stylings would have made ROCK-MEN 2's actual Rockman arranges a much more dimensional ride, the group was confined to only two tracks, unrelated and forgettable original works that sound like they were auditions for, perhaps, a gameshow Rockman game or an EXE-universe.


Round Up ...if you just don't want to read the meaty parts.

The Winners: Doppler Stage 1, Napalmman Stage, X Vs. Zero (kind of). Oh, and that cover art and Protoman looking mysterious and awesome.

Almost had something with Skull Man. But it's like they took a lunch break and gave up to force the album out. Though the originals captured a Rockmania about them, they're still a tad flimsy

The Losers: Most to all of this drab techno stuff and ruining a rock opportunity for Snake Man. It's got no guitars therefore it's boring. Quantity and/or track length may not be an indicator for quality, but some of these tracks are, still, too damn short.

The WTF's: What the hell is DIMENSION doing here? Why couldn't they play any actual Rockman arranges? Reprisal of Flutter Vs. Gazel Shaft may or may not have been necessary.

In ROCK-MEN 3... More jazz or something that fuses guitars and horns like Dragonball Z. If there's more techno or electronica or whatever you want to put in the mix, do more of what Nazo Nazo Project did. Oh, and more James C. Wilson rap, yo.

SHUFFLER'S SCORE: 6.5 / 10.0
We Are ROCK-MEN! 2
01. METAMORPHOSE (Original)
02. THEME OF ROCKMAN Xover (from Rockman Xover)
03. NAPALMMAN STAGE (from Rockman 5)
04. SKULLMAN STAGE (from Rockman 4)
05. Dr. WILY STAGE 2 (from Rockman 3)
06. EXPLOSE HORNECK STAGE (from Rockman X3)
07. DOPPLER STAGE 1 (from Rockman X3)
08. X vs ZERO (from Rockman X5)
09. Dr. WILY STAGE 1 -OMEGAMAN MIX- (from Rockman 2)
10. SNAKEMAN STAGE (from Rockman 3)
11. THEME OF ROCKMAN EXE (from Rockman EXE)
12. SKY WAVE (from Ryuusei no Rockman 2)
14. TIME AGAIN feat. DIMENSION (Original)
15. TIME AGAIN ROCK ver. (Original)
Buy it: CD Japan
Sample it: YouTube

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