Irem Retro Game Music Collection
Irem Retro Game Music Collection
September 29, 2010
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In 2010, Team Entertainment started started a series of albums to commemorate the retro game music of lesser-known or defunct Japanese companies such as Irem, Data East, and UPL. Irem Retro Game Music Collection is a single disc release that features five of Irem’s most significant shooter scores outside the R-Type series. Featuring non-looped music from Image Fight, X-Multiply, Dragon Breed, Gallop, and In the Hunt, it covers quite a lot of ground for a reasonable price.
The soundtrack opens with one of Irem’s finest old-school soundtracks, the space shooter Image Fight. Tracks such as the first stage theme “Introduction” really reflect the dense funk sound that Masahiko Ishida integrated into Irem’s soundtracks at the time. They offer a much richer sound than R-Type with their improved synthpads and elaborate stylings. The samples still sounds quite primitive, given they are from a 1980s arcade game, but rarely are a detriment to the composer’s intentions. Other tracks range from “Organic Zone” with its atmospheric blend of aseptic and expressive sounds, to “Theme from Factory” with its piercing licks and hard beats, or “Loose, Loose, Loose” with its more superficial pop-influenced melodies. However, easily the most exciting track is the beat-heavy final stage anthem. A number of menu, event, and boss tracks round off the release. While a lot of these tracks are too short to be of interest, most are serviceable in the game and the boss themes are particularly experimental.
Ishida develops these stylings further on X-Multiply, a shooter set in a woman’s body. The first stage theme “Into the Human Body” demonstrates Masahiko Ishida’s great sense of rhythm. The thrashing rock riffs and elaborate synth overlays throughout the theme capture the dynamism and intensity of the action. However, everything is so punchy throughout that the track is difficult to resist on a stand-alone level too. The “Boss Theme” takes a darker shift with its apocalyptical tribal rhythms and heavily distorted leads. Moving on, “The Rolling Worms” captures the imagery of one of the most disorientating stages in the game with its fast synth runs and hypnotic backing beats. Ishida supplements his typical beat-heavy approach with surreal effects and industrial influences on “Bloody Boom”, while “Twilight Sight” is another favourite with its slower, more surreal approach. The score is rounded off with an action-packed final stage theme and excellent final boss track, both of which reaffirm this score is something special.
The soundtrack for Dragon Breed, a dragon-riding shooter, is likely to be a divisive listen. The first stage theme “Theme of Bahamut” reflects Masahiko Ishida’s talent for providing twists on Irem’s typical funk sound. The typical compelling licks featured on his earlier scores are complemented with some Eastern tonalities, likely inspired by the Chinese influence of the dragon’s design. The other stage themes on the soundtrack take a more moody approach. “Eyes” won’t appeal to those looking for amazing melodies, but compensates with its rhythmical idiosyncracies and booming bass, while “Color” and “Dadada” are impressive feats of ambient soundscaping that exploit the capacity of the sound board. The boss theme “Theme of Zambaquous” is certainly threatening and energetic with its thrashing chords and piercing melodie, but suffers from a muddy sound due to the arcade sound board. The overall score is certainly not as catchy as predecessors, but compensates with awe-inspiring rhythms and soundscapes.
Another title inspired by R-Type, Takushi Hiyamuta’s score for Gallop (aka Cosmic Cop) is a complete exclusive to this release. With just nine tracks, the score is a brief one, but fortunately the focus is kept on the stage themes. Right from the first zone theme, Hiyamuta reflects his stronger rock influence with the booming bass line and 80s-influenced melodies. The final track is frenzied and disorientating, but not without its stand-alone merits. The composer shows a more introspective side for “Zone B”, colouring the punchy opening riff with dreamy synth improvisations, before livening up the night sky with the more traditionally funk-influenced “Zone C”. There are also a number of harder tracks on the score, including the rhythmically chaotic boss theme and a momentous final zone theme. Although not as accessible as Ishida’s soundtracks, the music for Gallop will be a worthwhile addition to the collection for those that like hard and fast synth tunes.
The soundtrack is rounded off by another exclusive soundtrack, the submarine shooter In the Hunt, composed by the mysterious Ai Ai. With its punchy hooks and funk stylings, the first stage theme “The South Pole” isn’t much different from themes headlining earlier soundtracks. Despite being released several years after Gallop, it doesn’t offer any substantial technical improvements, but it is a solid composition regardless. Going deeper into the soundtrack, “Sunken Town” captures the undersea setting with its distinctive soundscaping, while “The Channel” features a typical riff-heavy rock sound that is bound to appeal to casual listeners. Also enjoyable are “Deep Dark Sea”, which shifts from a light-hearted introduction into a more intense bass-driven cue, and “The Enemy Base”, which captures the critical final stage with its low distorted chords. While not a wildly original soundtrack, the music for In the Hunt is mostly an enjoyable complement to the other albums featured on this release.
Overall, Team Entertainment have done a good job of commemorating Irem’s shooter scores outside the R-Type series here. After all, this release features five complete scores, including two exclusives, at an accessible price of 3000 JPY. That said, this release does have its presentation issues. Most significantly, listeners should note that this release is somewhat cramped — with 74 tracks featured on a single disc — meaning that many tracks are brief and most do not loop. This will be a deal-breaker for some people, though the release still covers enough ground to be worthwhile otherwise.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.