Justice High School -Legion of Heroes- Original Soundtrack
Justice High School -Legion of Heroes- Original Soundtrack
January 29, 1998
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With every age of gaming comes a renaissance for a genre or two. While many will attest that RPG hounds were having their cake and eating it during the 16-bit era, those that deny the magic developers were churning out during the 32/64 bit era are few and far between. By the same token, fighting games may have benefited from the third dimension even more. Some of the earliest fighters like Battle Arena Toshinden showcased what was to come, though in an ironic twist it would be quickly buried by franchises that managed to push the envelope forward.
Released later in the Playstation’s life cycle, Justice High School: Legion of Heroes (known as Rival Schools: United by Fate by most) unsurprisingly did little to advance Capcom’s name when it came to three dimensional fighters — much like Star Gladiator a few years prior — when its forays into the traditional two dimensional realm (Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter VS series) were still quite viable. Regardless, even though Justice High School mostly sprinkled the defined elements of the aforementioned games into a rather standard 3D fighter (Star Gladiator was more along the lines of Namco’s fighters) the two disc home version was an enjoyable romp loaded for bear with extras.
On the audio side of things was Setsuo Yamamoto, a veteran Capcom composer known for his contributions to the original Mega Man X score (and, thanks to Ippo Yamada’s reprise of his original Zero theme in first Mega Man Zero, is the only composer that has been given an individual credit for a piece on that soundtrack). Armed with this knowledge one might be expecting an all out rock-fest of some sort. However, when one considers the artists Yamamoto lists as personal influences in the soundtrack’s booklet, the wide variety of genres he enjoys is undoubtedly reflected in the music he crafted for Justice High School. The result is a subdued and off-beat score that taps many of the right emotions but in ultimately fails to form a concise whole in the end.
Unlike most scores for Capcom fighters, Justice High School forgoes the standard route of having stage themes that act as individual character themes. Here the pieces relate more to the fighting environment and, more importantly, the schools and what their students stand for. Each school has one to three pieces that usually connect with one another though a common motif, or perhaps more appropriately revolve around a certain “mood.” There are a few arenas that lack any kind of concrete school association but in an effort to relay the above I will tackle the main portion of the soundtrack school by school while presenting a little about each one and how it relates to the music.
First up is Taiyo High School. This school encourages balance in all aspects of a student’s life; scholastic responsibilities are expected to be maintained in conjunction with participation in a school sport. Because of this, after school / part time jobs are expressly forbidden. From a musical standpoint, Yamamoto primarily focuses on the unbridled passion these students posses in “Taiyo High School Rooftop” and “Taiyo High School Classroom” with compositions that are intoxicating despite the fact certain elements (such as Rooftop’s guitar and Classroom’s organ) are restrained from dominating the experience. From a personal standpoint I like to think this is related to the idea of “balance” the school practices; these are easily the most the forward and accessible tracks even though that “in your face” attitude lies deeper within than usual. Balance may explain why the remaining piece — “Taiyo High School Athletic Field” — doesn’t conform to the previous entries. Having a little more in common with the pieces for some of the other schools it lacks that exciting edge the previous pieces thrive off of despite its strong and proud pronunciation.
Pacific High School is home to the children of foreign diplomats and other political figures. Generally, the American born students of this institution have an icy disposition towards their native Japanese counterparts. “Pacific High School Back Gate” brings the above to life in astounding detail; the melancholy beats are almost devoid of any kind of warmth, signifying the sadness of these characters’ initial arrogance. As methodical as the piece appears to be in expressing this view, the main synth line somewhat counteracts this as the thin layer of hope and apathy foreshadows how these students learn to accept others as they fight towards their goal. Again, easily another high point for the soundtrack.
Home to the “morally challenged,” Gedo High School is the ultimate example of the saying “at the wrong place at the wrong time.” Originally a friendlier habitat, the school began its decline into its current form as the environment around it slowly gave into greed and corruption. The rough and tumble students that make up the student body are searching for their missing principal / gang leader Diego. As expected, these themes express seedy and shady environments yet some serve to mark the point were the drabber pieces start to hinder the overall experience. Of positive note is the surprisingly laid back “Gedo High School Construction Site” that really fights against preconceptions of a fighting game soundtrack and deserves to be heard by anyone. It’s the second Gedo offering “Riverbed Near Gedo High School” where the tide turns, and Yamamoto’s ability to take a style (in this case jazz) and make it malleable and compatible with the rest of the experience is stretched to its limits. By no means is it horrible, but even if it is interesting from an architectural standpoint, its schmaltzy tone doesn’t make for great listening in or out of the game.
Being the main source of conflict in the game’s narrative, the rather ill-named Justice High School seeks to control the nation’s politic though its youth. Its founder / principal Razio and sword-wielding student president Hyo (yes, a sword-wielding student president) employ a secret, family developed mind control technique to expand their faculty and student body with desirable candidates. The aspect of mind control and mental manipulation is rather deep-seeded in the oppressive aura contained within “Justice High School Main Gate” and “Justice High School Library” as they drone on in a predictable fashion. The instrumentation of “Main Gate” certainly has more grit to it than the later which opts for a more surreal experience with some chilling piano work at the beginning. When all points are considered both leave much to be desired.
The most disappointing school as far as themes go has got to be Gorin High School. Centered on its athletic programs, this school’s students range from the cool and calm to the fiery and passionate and utilize their equipment as their weapon of choice in a fight. However, since their individual attitudes vary these tracks tend to strike in the center when it comes to intensity. The Caribbean vibe that the congas of “Gorin High School Training Camp” present perfectly reflects Natsu’s interest in volleyball, though it’s as generic as they come. “Gorin High School Gym” suffers from similar symptoms all the while still portraying the electricity within a packed arena quite well.
As with most Capcom soundtracks, small collections of similarly used, shorter tracks are left to close out the album. Out of the “Theme of” series (tracks 21 to 26) “Theme of Taiyo High School” has an arousing sense of tenacity and determination that complements the school’s two upbeat stage themes very well. The other standout here is the techno-influenced “Teacher’s Theme” that, while rather simple from the outset, is a great representation of the no-nonsense approach that Hideo and Koyko take with their mission of finding desirable students for Justice High Schools’ “adoption” program. The ending themes (tracks 29-37) are rather standard musical expressions of the end game scenarios; most have no real charm like those found in the various editions of Street Fighter II although “Hope of Taiyo High School” is simply a short loop of “Taiyo High School Classroom” that can make for an interesting intermission when listening.
There are other little gems for active listeners to discover throughout the album as well. Even with a playtime of fifteen seconds “Prologue” is a morose piece that conveys the havoc Justice High School has brought on through its actions, but is seriously no way to start off a soundtrack. “We’ll Protect Our School!,” “Today’s Event,” and “Staff Roll” are perhaps the most concrete items the soundtrack has when it comes to maintaining a main theme or musical identity while cleverly alluding to its forbearer Street Fighter. The rocking character select theme “Selecting Students” offers a pleasant, free flowing experience as well.
Even though it offers an interesting take on what some may consider a stale formula, the experience presented in Justice High School: Legion of Heroes is rather uneven in the end. Some of the directions Yamamoto takes this music in can be seen as “gutsy”, though there are more than a few occasions where these efforts fizzle or can be labeled negatively with little consideration. While you don’t need to play the game to enjoy what is here, this is a case where I can safely say that the standout tracks only get better when one understands the world and characters they’re meant to represent. Hopefully, the tidbits of information above relay some of this but, even for someone that has delved and enjoyed the mythos surrounding the game itself, the experience presented here is just not built to last.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by John Niver. Last modified on August 1, 2012.