Monster World Complete Collection Original Soundtrack
Monster World Complete Collection Original Soundtrack
March 8, 2007
Buy at CDJapan
The Monster World series comprises a subset of games in the Wonder Boy series that were developed by Westone Bit Entertainment and published by Sega in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. Crafted by Shinichi Sakamoto, the music for the subseries was largely upbeat and melodic, and achieved a cult following. Wavemaster commemorated the release of Sega Ages Vol. 29: Monster World Complete Collection with a long-desired album release for the subseries. Across the two disc release, listeners are presented with the soundtracks for Wonder Boy in Monster Land, Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, Wonder Boy in Monster World, and Monster World IV, as well as a bonus guitar arrangement. It might not be the much-desired Wonder Boy complete sound box, but it’s still a good consolation prize.
The album begins with the soundtrack for the second game in the Wonder Boy series, Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Released on Arcades back in 1987, the soundtrack is unsurprisingly technologically primitive and about as chippy as NES soundtracks being released around the same time. Nevertheless, Shinichi Sakamoto used the sound chips to his advantage to emphasise the cutesy and peppy image of the game. This is immediately evident in the opener “Monsterland”, a simple yet elegant piece that places the emphasis on the melody. Other themes like “Town”, “Beach”, and “Cave” are even more cheery and have a danceable quality to them. A few like “Shop” and “Bar” simply come across too gimmicky though even in their transient contexts. Aside the iconic themes, the soundtrack has surprising other moments. For example, it’s fascinating how Sakamoto brings so much tension to the boss theme or grandeur to the castle themes despite the limiting synth. At the end of the soundtrack, listeners are treated to an especially dynamic last boss theme and the mild yet upbeat ending theme. There are also quite a few jingles and two unused compositions. Even in these humble origins, the series’ music proves quite charming and this soundtrack is among the better ones of the 8-bit generation.
The rest of the first disc is dedicated to the music of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. This is featured in two sound versions, first the fairly expressive Game Gear version from 1992 and then the much choppier Master System version from 1989. While the first sound version is a better stand-alone listen, many will have fond memories of the Master System game, so it was a good idea to include both. As for the music itself, it is once again highly thematic — perhaps even more so than its predecessor given the harmony line is usually faint and monotone. Tracks with enjoyable melodies such as “Marine”, “Mind of Hero”, or the misplaced “Monsterland Revenge” really drive the soundtrack and are enjoyable to revisit all these years later. However, there are a number of improvements, such as more moody tracks like “Opening” and “Desert Zone” or more driving ones like “VS. Dragon” and “Take It Easy”. As a special treat, Shinichi Sakamoto elaborates on the ending theme with a bonus arrangement at the end of disc one. Stripped down, this track is just a straightforward steel-stringed guitar solo, but there are enough nuances in the performance to capture the warm spirit of the series and people’s memories of it. It’s quite short at 2:07, but an acceptable length compared to Sakamoto’s Gradius Tribute solo.
Shinichi Sakamoto was relatively technologically liberated on the Mega Drive’s Wonder Boy in Monster World. As a result, he takes the opportunity to produce a number of more elaborate compositions in terms of both development and harmonisation. The synth almost begins to resemble the timbres of organic instruments in tracks such as “Monsterland Returns”, “Princess of World”, and “Village of YOUSEI”. As a consequence, these tracks manage to be more scenic in context and also more expressive too. Rather than feature peppy chiptunes, “Into Cave” makes a clear attempt to be moody and ambient, while “Sand & Sun” recreates the feeling of being in an Arabian desert with its warped synth effects. Other themes such as “Dry Dry & Dry”, “Touch & Go”, and “Lair Lair Lair” are much more jarring and a fitting complement to a range of tense and action scenes. Still, there is a still a strong melodic focus throughout and some pieces such as “Theme of Purapril”, “Remember Me”, and “Fun to Swim” are especially reminiscent of those of earlier games. Even “Dragon’s Lair” is surprisingly peppy. It’s also great to see homages to earlier themes in the series, such as Monster World‘s boss theme in “Revenge Boss”. At least in my opinion, this soundtrack is the best in the collection, since it is fleshed out and expressive while still staying true to concept of the series.
The final soundtrack on the album, dedicated to the Mega Drive’s Monster World IV, is something of an outsider. The main reason is that Shinichi Sakamoto did not return to composing duties and instead was replaced by Jin Watanabe. Watanabe’s musicality contrasts to Sakamoto’s in several regards, most notably in its milder tone and ambient inclinations. Nevertheless, Watanabe does offer a memorable main theme for the series that captures the upbeat and melodic flavour of the series in its various incarnations. Its arrangements range from the predictable, such as the quasi-orchestral overture, to the downright out there, such as “Try the Trial” and “Lamp de Godjarre”. However, the focus on the melody is sometimes to the point of overkill and the composer sometimes uses the theme to hide lack of inspiration otherwise. For example, “Stream Sanctuary” and “Volcanic Cave” don’t create much imagery due to their focus on this theme. The rest of the soundtrack is a slightly mixed experience. Some tracks are so minimalistic such as “Long Distance” and “Spirits” that they are best reserved for contextual experience. Other themes such as “Kool Dude” and “Malevolent Deity” are certainly striking, but risk being jarring on a stand-alone basis. However, there are some highlights such as the gothic “Fade into Darkside”, dreamy “Over the Clouds”, or the tranquil finale. It’s a decent soundtrack overall, but not quite on par with Sakamoto’s works.
It’s great to see the Wonder Boy series at least partly commemorated with a soundtrack release. Monster World Complete Collection Original Soundtrack certainly packs a lot into two discs, bonus arrangement included, and it’s good to see the complete soundtracks to four games be faithfully recreated. While the series’ music certainly sounds old and simplistic all these years on, many will still find it charming and memorable. Perhaps some years down the line, Wavemaster might release the remaining three soundtracks too. If you’re a fan of Wonder Boy’s music, this album is the one to go for.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.