Recca -Summer Carnival ’92- Famicom Soundtrack
Recca -Summer Carnival ’92- Famicom Soundtrack
Scitron Digital Contents
September 21, 1995
Buy at CDJapan
It was at Summer Carnival ’92, Naxat Soft’s gaming competition in Japan, that a small number of shooting game aficionados played the Famicom’s Recca for the first time. I first learned about the game when searching for soundtracks written and arranged by Nobuyuki Shioda. Like the games he worked on, Shioda has become another by-gone from an era of club music, catchy melodies, and the gradual rise of the game musician in Japan. While fellow club musicians Yuzo Koshiro, Shinji Hosoe, and Manabu Namiki all benefited from plenty of attention, Shioda slid into obscurity. The majority of his works were for little-known, often licensed games that were never localised. As a result, the only soundtrack release ever featuring his works was Recca, finally made available by Scitron in 2005. The end result showcases his skill with sample manipulation using the Famicom’s internal sound chip. Shioda’s main misstep was in forgetting to make a memorable and intrinsically unique soundtrack, one now lost amongst a crowd of similar soundtracks from around that same time.
Shioda doesn’t waste any time in setting up a framework for the rest of the in-game soundtrack to follow. “RECCA” is as to-the-point as a title track could possibly be in a score, but that isn’t to say it’s a sparing one. Much like the rest of the score, it isn’t big on melody, and it doesn’t worry about channel-rich textures and harmonies. Instead, the two-tiered piece emphasises rhythmic variation between phrases and gradual development of melodic elements on top of pulsating bass lines. Though this definite direction gives Shioda opportunities to explore his usage of samples and rhythmic structures, his focus on rhythm prevents adhesive melodies and creative contrasts. “RECCA” condenses every contributing element in the score into itself and is able to stand alone well as a result.
Such defining moments cannot last forever, and few other portions of the main soundtrack stick out as much as “RECCA”. While this soundtrack certainly holds together as a cohesive whole, few tracks have progressions worth noting and they develop rather subtly. Nor do they benefit from stand-out arrangements or from additional sound channels for real-time sound effects. Tracks like “JETTER” and “ELM-39” come and go on a moment’s notice, meaning most players normally wouldn’t pay much attention to the music outside of cursory concentrations. But perhaps that’s how it should be. Perhaps Recca‘s soundtrack works best not as a memorable series of licks and song-like structures, but as background rhythmics. Recca focuses on providing players with a shooting-game experience meant to transcend all contemporary barriers of hardware restrictions and player preferences. The same applies to the music, which straddles a fine line between providing ambiance and keeping a presence in one’s eardrums. And how does Shioda’s soundtrack achieve this? The rhythms continually change, even if the melodies stay the same!
Most of the official soundtrack comprises of stage-specific tracks that focus on percussive development. By comparison, the melodic lines are rigid and repetitious, like technical exercises. This is first demonstrated with the first stage theme “M.O.M”, before listeners are subjected to the meaty beats of “D.A.D” and “GELGOOG”. One of the most interesting properties shared by these a-melodic tracks is that, through their variations in percussion and repetitive chord progressions, they mirror the mini-boss encounters and ruthless enemy attack waves in the game. Recca‘s soundtrack doesn’t work very well outside of context, but moments like the second half of the game’s first stage and the endless fighting in its score-attack mode house brilliant interplay between musical textures and interactive mayhem. Yet technical proficiency and good timing can’t make up for a lackluster stand-alone listening experience. The soundtrack’s frequency barrage wears thin after several tracks of similar material.
While there are melodic hints in “GELGOOG”, perhaps the most prominent instance where Shioda lets precedent stand is “AD 2302” at the opening of the album. Its subtle yet simple chord progression offers the first signs of compositional contrast on the album, but ultimately it wasn’t incorporated into the actual game. Perhaps Shioda applied some stylistic discretion here or, more likely, the game cartridge simply couldn’t work with that much more data stored. But elements from “AD 2032” pop up where one would least expect it: in the latter half of “HYDE”, where a similarly slow-paced melodic progression bridges a hectic hell of sampled brass hits and hi-hat roping. This short moment may not seem like much at first, but it builds on the player and telegraphs one singular idea — that the worst is yet to come and they’re up to the point of no return. Elaborate melody takes on a unique role in Shioda’s soundtrack because of its rarity, almost akin to the way Aeschylus sometimes wrote in silent characters who, after some time in the tragedy, would inevitably speak their mind at some time. But the sole presence of “HYDE” isn’t enough to make up for the monotony of the other stage tracks.
Nevertheless, Shioda made sure to give the Famicom processors a break at some points. “DEATH-TROY” and “DREAMIN’ YOU” ground the original soundtrack in a kind of conventionality that gives finality to Recca‘s rough main game modes. The former adheres to Shioda’s club-dance music stylings while bringing a sense of closure by incorporating licks from earlier moments in the soundtrack. “LOVIN’ YOU”, “DREAMIN’ YOU”, and “THROBBIN’ YOU” are little ditties that likely rewarded players on unique high-score screens. All I know is that they reference an earlier period in Shioda’s career, back when he wrote music for KID Software. Though each is derived from surprisingly complex chord progressions, the tracks vary in musical invention — from the lax waltz rhythms of “LOVIN’ YOU”, to the developed dance stylings of “DREAMIN’ YOU”, and ultimately the chipper club rhythms of “THROBBIN’ YOU”. This brilliant move from oppression to freedom is either genius on Shioda’s part or a happy accident that somewhat redeems Recca‘s musical monotony.
Two brand new arrangements were created for the 2005 Scitron release. Shioda arranged “HYDE” into a noticeably different interpretation of Recca‘s specific dance music style. New elements appear throughout the track, like reversed speech samples and bass tones, that augment the distinctive “HYDE” chordal lick. Thankfully, Shioda kept the original percussion largely intact, though the backing beats no longer suffer from grainy sound distortion and the original chord progression feels separate from the new mix. All in all, the musician’s rearrangement of his most distinctive track from his most distinctive game music score doesn’t disappoint. There is a similar revisionist mood from Manabu Namiki’s contribution to the Scitron release, “JSR $2302”, which presents a straightforward adaptation of tracks like “AD 2302” and “JETTER”. It benefits primarily from Namiki’s advanced sound manipulation and expertise in electronic sound-crafting. Together, these arrangements provide contrasting reflections of Recca‘s soundtrack and add up to an exciting conclusion for the 2005 album.
Where is Nobuyuki Shioda now? His most recent appearance on a game music album came four years later on Chiptuned Mega Man album, where he underscored the original melody of Shadow Man with impressive sound effect sampling and bass-lines reminiscent of his 2005 Recca arrangement. In some ways, I listen to his more recent works and notice how much he’s stuck with past, given both of these arrangements reek of the by-gone era of ’90s club music and jungle beats. Recca‘s music was good, even innovative, for its time. However, it has has run its course and only sticks with me now because of its overall effect. Shioda’s breakout soundtrack seems perfect from the outside, but it’s rarely as ambitious as it could have been, and contemporary musicians like Yuzo Koshiro accomplished more with less. Still, Scitron’s album release is still cautiously recommended for fans of such stylings.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Leon Staton. Last modified on August 1, 2012.