Technosoft Game Music Collection Vol. 1 -Illusion-
Technosoft Game Music Collection Vol. 1 -Illusion-
May 1, 1989
Buy at Official Site
The first of fifteen albums dedicated to the developer Technosoft, Technosoft Game Music Collection Vol. 1 -Illusion- features original and arranged music from a wide variety of their early games, spanning the MSX’s Legend of Nine Gems and D’ to the Mega Drive’s Herzog Zwei and Thunder Force II. Of all the descriptors one can give to this album, Illusion would be, without a doubt, the most befitting of all. In the earliest days of Technosoft’s game development repertoire, any steady foundation for the growth of a Technosoft sound team had nebulous bearings, and sound designers and programmers often took it upon themselves to program the sounds and music for Technosoft’s early Japanese PC releases — Naosuke Arai and Tomomi Ohtani, in particular. Combined with a greater variety of titles produced by the small developer in the late 80s, this variety of different approaches to these different soundtracks would only come to an end by the turn of the decade, when Technosoft began to focus more on their shooting game talents and develop for Sega’s aforementioned platform.
Many of the soundtracks featured on this album had never had full soundtrack releases — most likely to their obscurity relative to the great Thunder Force releases to follow — and some tracks only appear on this album in rearranged form, only resembling their original counterparts. At the same time a historical testament to the sheer virility of the Japanese PC gaming scene in its early years, Illusion also represents short-lived careers in game musicianship, and a constant inability to fully reveal every facet of Technosoft’s early productions. The actual arrangements are just as unpredictable and odd as the context they’re given, with dated sampling quality and questionable instrumentation, and reveal the various attitudes of each composer and arranger — composers and arrangers that, aside from the abovementioned select two, have fallen off the map entirely.
Naosuke Arai and Tomomi Ohtani are still active today to various degrees, and both artists had definable styles that they employed from the original Herzog PC game all the way though Thunder Force III. The efforts of both musicians start the album with “A Ray of Hope”, before transitioning from this short orchestral stage theme arrangement to “The Wind Blew All Day Long”. These early arrangements, based on compositions from Thunder Force II, indicate a strong influence from contemporary J-rock and J-pop influences, with remarkably intricate melodies and, surprisingly, complex chord progressions.
“Knights of Legend” follows up the previous track with its own brand of lyrical, yet percussive and well-paced hard rock, only let down by the low-quality synth sampling of the day. Ohtani’s quasi-classic influences are also at play in the chord progression itself, contrast valiant passages with more brooding lows, and punctuated by his creative use of synths as on lead and accompanying parts. The same approach can be heard in “Back to Square One”, where trumpet, harpsichord, and bass now feature in an intense battle montage. Though the arrangement quality certainly sounds dated, the level of arrangement and composition is sufficient enough to entertain and complement their game’s equally well-developed settings and situations. Both ex-composers, however, have moved on from their former musical careers — other Technosoft alumni, however, barely make a dent in any music cartographer’s eyes!
Ide, for example, only contributes two tunes to the album, both for “Black Spot Tanuki’s Great Adventure” — the uninitiated game historian would certainly have not heard of this game or the alias before, and perhaps for the best. The game’s “Main Theme” is horribly saccharine and clearly composed — and arranged, to speak critically of Arai’s album arrangement — to accommodate more dated PC platforms of the era. No one is missing anything with this track and its bubbly one-dimensionality. “Tanuki no Ballad” tries harder with some more developed classical inspirations and polyphony, but in spite of this, it doesn’t fare much better. Contrasting with both of these tracks is the only album-original piece on the album, with the fitting title of “Charge”. Yuao Tanigawa’s one contribution to game music isn’t that much to speak of either: typical 80s pop-rock chord progression, present-yet-distant melodic hooks, and a general lack of contrast and development all define this track more than easily. This series of tracks ultimately prove to be little more than historically-pertinent album filler, and their inclusion certainly feels embarrassing once you take into account how much better other parts of the album are.
The final two arranged tracks both come from “New Legend of the Nine Stars”, and benefit from the greater compositional talent of one Yoko Namba. With “Straight Away”, Namba takes it easy with a slow J-pop groove, with organ on the melody and with an extended solo section not present in the original — fitting for a visual novel or, in this track’s case, a typical JRPG adventure by Technosoft. Namba is no “Stranger” to just composing that sounds nice. After the sonic torture of the Black Tanuki tracks and Tanigawa’s stereotypical odyssey, listening to extended J-fusion solos and grooves — arrangement courtesy of Naosuke Arai — would seem like heaven for the ears.
The real meat of the album, however, lies in the inclusion of the original tracks for many of these older Technosoft releases, and also gives the listener an indication of how old these games really are. Arai’s first compositions to appear on the album come from Legend of the Nine Stars and Comsight, both utterly-unknown and both blessed with suitable music. The opening track provides a typical JRPG opening anthem, while “Power of Gems” provides some variation to its shrill flute melody with a host of rhythmic changes. Neither are too bad for a game produced for old NEC PC-88 hardware, even considering how tinny the FM synth and PSG chip sound today. “Electric World” has the most compositional development and effective arrangement of the three. Yet it ultimately becomes dull around the looping section, despite initial promises of great contrast between isolated piano wanderings and underlying distortion in the general scene.
Ohtani took over as arranger for the subsequent two tracks, both from Herzog Zwei and one being the original version of “Back to Square One”. This original version places more emphasize on punchy FM percussion, and certainly sounds just as good in its own unique way. Yet, “Originate the Strategy By Yourself” is little more than an event scene jingle, which someone thought would have been a great way to complement the switch from JRPGs to action games. And, on top of that, it’s nothing to sneeze at in terms of development, instead facilitating the album’s progression. Arai returns as a “Sniper”, with more fusion of baroque melodies and chord progressions with rock instrumentation, a similar style to that of his contemporary. And, to complete the cycle, he inserts “The Dawn of a New Age” to bookend the Herzog Zwei section of the album, another short piece with a more optimistic tone than other contributions.
D’ seems like a strange name for another Technosoft game, but Arai certainly isn’t a stranger to providing effective opening themes, as is evident in “Macro Cosmos”, featuring his baroque rock style with a more oppressive and dreadful twist to the melody and harmony. And, because one opening theme wasn’t enough, he even included some “Feedback”. Compared to the slow and depressing opening for D’, Feedback‘s opening truly is a call-to-arms battle cry — nice at the start and explosive by the end. Also improved is the sound quality itself, showing how much younger the game was in comparison to its older brethren of the time (and the arranger this time is Ohtani, and that does begin to matter). It doesn’t end here, though — Arai included *another* opener — a rearranged version created for Legend of the Nine Stars‘s newer sequel, a new stranger by the name of Kenji Kawasaki arrives to compose the original version of “Straight Away”, the second opener of the game.
The growing maturity of each composer, and the rising quality of each game’s sound setup, can be noticeably felt even in the more upbeat tracks later on the album. These include “The Load of ‘HOTOKE'”, a whimsical and floaty character theme that showcases the numerous new sounds and ideas being toyed around with by the recurring artists. Continuing the trend of contrasting short jingle and event scenes with more substantial tracks, in Technosoft’s attempt to showcase the different strengths of different composers for different scenarios, Michiko Shomura enters the album on a high note with “Look For the Number Eight – Game Over”, combining an upbeat, up-tempo dungeon theme with a music box requiem of sorts. “New Legend of the Nine Stars” ultimately has the most substantial and well-executed representation of tracks on the entire album, though this is only in relative terms — given the number of tracks found in each game, one would rather have a full release than a teaser!
With some encroaching finality, the ending themes for three Technosoft releases in particular now begin to make their appearances one by one. “Last Chance” provides a fitting end for Feedback, with its J-pop melody and instrumentation, all collaborating to form scenes of victory and the like. Yet “Star Dust Requiem”, also from Arai, begins as a romantic-era piano ballad before emerging as a mournful funeral dirge, and eventually blossoms into a more optimistic keyboard-driven power ballad — a great showcase of the variety of contexts the artist was able to compose and arrange for. Ohtani also sneaks in his last contribution on the album, a remastered version of Thunder Force II‘s ending. Though “Take Off One’s Gloves” initially resembles one of Naosuke’s ending themes in most ways, the arranger focuses more on distorted synth and guitar lead contrasts, doing just as much with the FM synth hardware but in different ways than his colleagues. Either way, these ending tracks also provide a firm conclusion to an overall shaky and inconsistent album.
Illusion is inconsistent both in compositional and arrangement quality in both sections. Remarkably, the album showcases not only the relative maturity of Naosuke Arai and Tomomi Ohtani on a musical level in comparison to their associates, but also the relative instability of Japanese developer personnel in an age where it took remarkably less effort to make game and soundtracks than it does today or, as Technosoft would soon find out, in just a year or two more. Also present is a growing contrast between older sound engines and systems and newer setups, distinguishing each game musically and, by proxy, historically. As a result of this overall inconsistency, the consistencies that are present become much more notable and elucidate the context in which this album was put together and released. Yet, one rearrangement and compilation album cannot compensate for the lack of full soundtrack releases, or the lack of information and notability of the early Technosoft productions presented within. Regardless, Illusion is the best look anyone has ever had into the early years of Technosoft as a developer.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Leon Staton. Last modified on August 1, 2012.