Toaplan Shooting Chronicle
Toaplan Shooting Chronicle
November 14, 2011
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Toaplan developed numerous titles for arcades over a ten year period before going bankrupt in 1994. Their most high profile and influential releases were a succession of scrolling shooters; they ranged from early Taito-published titles such as Tiger-Heli and Twin Cobra, to later experiments such as Zero Wing and Batsugun. Composed by names such as Tatsuya Uemura, Masahiro Yuge, and Toshiaki Tomizawa, the soundtracks for the titles were quite powerful and memorable. During the 1990s, Pony Canyon released album releases for their biggest hits, but most were a little underwhelming in length and are now long out-of-print. Fast-forward to 2011, SuperSweep decided to dedicate an impressive compilation of the company’s shooting soundtracks. The Toaplan Shooting Chronicle features 14 soundtracks from the company’s shooting catalog, spread across five discs, along with a bonus disc tailored for classic arcade gamers.
The first disc of the compilation features five short scores from Toaplan’s earliest titles. The Tiger-Heli, scored by Tatsuya Uemura, was their first high-profile shooter released back in 1985. As a result, it doesn’t have too many substantial themes on it and the more substantial ones are still quite limiting. “Look Out!” conveys that feeling of flying with its uplifting chiptune melodies, but lacks any real development like many arcade themes back in the day. Similar things could be said for “Fire!” but overall it does a better job of hooking the listener in, thanks to the ascending and descending melody line. The two name entry themes are also worth mentioning. “I am the Tiger” is the entry theme for the top 3 scores in the game and has a very heroic, congratulatory sound. “Hero,” the name entry theme for the rest of the high scores has a similar melody to “I am the Tiger” and is very jovial overall, but it doesn’t convey the same sense of accomplishment either.
1986’s Slap Fight, soundtrack, composed by Masahiro Yuge, is a bit more substantial like the game itself. The first area theme, “Expert Success,” has a very bubbly and catchy melody. While it doesn’t develop too much over its play time, it is still worth listening to, thanks to its infectious nature. “Gain a Victory,” the second area theme, is a bit darker in tone. The bass line is invigorating, while the melody manages to convey a sense of adventure. The third area theme, “Lost Everything As”, is one of the weaker themes on this game’s soundtrack. Its short length doesn’t help the melodic development, but the atmosphere is quite joyous sounding. “Reaching a Dream,” the fourth area theme, has a very playful, quirky sound to it. It’s quite vibrant overall and while it doesn’t develop much, it does manage to succeed in creating a sense of moving forward. Lastly, the final area theme, “Feel Brand New” has a very sinister and mysterious tone to it. While the melody isn’t much to write home about, the atmosphere does make this theme a bit more successful.
The Flying Shark (aka Hishouzame) soundtrack, composed by Tatsuya Uemura and Masahiro Yuge in 1987, offers the first real substantial score on the compilation. “Asia,” the first stage theme, has an invigorating and adventurous melody with an Asian influence. It’s a nice way to start off the soundtrack as it definitely gets the energy flowing. In addition to being more elaborate than predecessors compositionally, it’s also a step up technologically. The second stage theme, “Against the Attack,” has a very heroic soundscape with the B section, in particular, offering quite a joyous atmosphere. The bass line is also quite invigorating. “Water Front,” the third stage theme, has a bit of a tribal feel to it, particularly in some of the accompanying chip tones. The rest of the theme has a sinister, but adventurous tone. It’s quite catchy overall. The fourth stage theme, “Behind the Bush” has a very motivating melody and I particularly enjoy the rhythm in this track, as it gives off a bit of a funky groove. The last stage theme, “Last Fighter,” has a very uplifting melody and a sense of adventure into the unknown. It’s definitely the best tune on the album, as there are a variety of emotions and lots of interesting things going on with the various portions of the melody.
The Twin Cobra (aka Kyuukyoku Tiger) soundtrack, composed by Uemura and Yuge around the same time as Flying Shark, is the most definitive soundtrack on the first disc of this compilation. “Break a Leg” is an infectiously catchy chiptune with some awesome invigorating bass line accompaniment, a slick solo breakdown, and an extremely memorably melody, especially those opening notes. Similarly, “Good Figure,” has a great sense of drive with a melody that is pretty memorable. The whole tone of the piece has a bit of a serious aspect to it, which contrasts nicely with the more bubbly nature of “Our Life,” a stage theme with an upbeat, airy, and heroic vibe. “Over the Sea” and “Tsugaru” both feature some really nice bass line rhythms, whereas their melodic counterparts suffer a bit compared to the melodically focused stage themes mentioned above. The former has a nice sense of adventure, while the latter has a bit of a shamisen influence present in its rhythms. While still limited technologically, Uemura and Yuge broke a few barriers on this score.
The Truxton (aka Tatsujin) soundtrack, composed by Masahiro Yuge in 1988, is also fairly successful. “Far Away” is a catchy theme with a melody that definitely gives off the feeling of adventure and flying. I like the contrast between the low and high pitched notes in the various sections of the melody. “Sally” has a darker, brooding mood compared to “Far Away.” The melody isn’t as successful, I don’t feel, but its B section is absolutely stunning with its extremely memorable and catchy qualities. Unfortunately, “Hope” is one of the least successful themes on this soundtrack. Given its short length, it doesn’t really develop much and the aspects of the melody that are quite memorable are only present for a short amount of time.
The boss theme, “Crisis,” is mildly successful. It definitely captures a bit of that sinister nature normally associated with boss themes, while at the same time giving off a heroic vibe in the melody. It just doesn’t really catchy my attention though. “Friend” is a theme that succeeds both in terms of providing a catchy melody and some nice rhythmic accompaniment. The melody itself has a very peppy, heroic, almost spacey vibe that really works well with the infectious rhythms. Lastly, “Unknown” has a very sinister tone to it, giving off that sense of the unknown. The melodic sections of the theme do give off an adventurous tone, but the more mysterious aspects of the tune are what make it stand out among the other stage themes.
Opening the second disc, 1989’s Hell Fire soundtrack by Tatsuya Uemura provides a lot of different soundscapes throughout its various stage themes. “Captain Lancer” is an invigorating chiptune that has a lot of atmosphere in it. Although not the most memorable, the melody is quite strong, given it conveys a variety of moods — some more tense while others are more motivating in sound. There is also a Type-B version of this theme that changes up the instrumentation slightly. “Egypt,” as one may suspect, has that Egyptian flair in terms of atmosphere, while focusing on intricate rhythms and darker chiptune sounds to convey a sense of darkness. The melody, particularly in the B section, has quite a heroic and adventurous vibe and is the highlight of the track.
“Mystic Green” also has an exotic flair to it, thanks to its catchy rhythm and melody. Overall, it’s quite a strong theme that offers a pretty decent melodic hook, especially in the B section, where the melody takes on a bit of groove and follows up with a more adventurous tone before the loop. “Jumping Roll” is one of the weaker themes on this soundtrack. The melody and accompaniment, while offering a darker tone, don’t really do anything that exciting. The B section is a bit better with its more chaotic soundscape, but doesn’t save the track in the long run. “In Side Drive” is an upbeat theme that has quite an exhilarating atmosphere. The melody has a fun, bubbly, adventurous tone that works well with the accompaniment. It’s not the best track on this soundtrack, but it is quite a good listen overall. “Last Chance,” the final stage theme, has both a heroic tone that works well with the rocking accompaniment, but at the same time, also has a bit of a mysterious tone to it during some portions of the melody. The B section, in particular, is noteworthy with its triumphant soundscape.
The Twin Hawk (aka Daisenpuu) soundtrack, composed by lower-profile Toaplan employee Osamu Ohta during 1989, is probably the worst part of this compilation. All four area themes convey a variety of moods, with the first contributing some industrial influence, the second contributing a dark mysterious tone, the third dark Asian soundscape, and the fourth a groovy rhythmical emphasis. Unfortunately, all four of these themes drone on with very little change or development throughout their duration, making for a very lackluster listening experience.
The Zero Wing soundtrack, composed by Tatsuya Uemura, Masahiro Yuge, and Toshiaki Tomizawa, is one of the more successful soundtracks on this compilation. While most people may know of the title due to the “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” meme, this soundtrack is from the original arcade version released in 1989, before that cinematic opening was added to the Mega Drive version of the game. The soundtrack starts off with “Open Your Eyes” with its heroic, adventurous tone and catchy rhythms. The melody is also quite successful, despite the overall short track length, and gives off that feeling of an epic journey ahead. “New Day for Me” is the longest theme on the soundtrack, although it loops many times, making me wonder if the stage in that game takes eight minutes to complete. It offers a variety of soundscapes and some great melody and accompaniment. The melody has that sense of determination and adventure and is extremely memorable. This is definitely one of the best themes on the soundtrack.
“Babylonia Nights” has a very exotic soundscape, due to the chiptune manipulation, with an invigorating bass line to match. It features a very catchy melody with an atmosphere that is a bit dark at times. Overall, it’s quite a successful theme that captures the adventurous tone of the preceding themes. While the other stage themes preceding “You Get” have been quite catchy and memorable, this theme suffers from being pretty forgettable. The overall atmosphere of the track has a dark and heroic tone, but the melody doesn’t really stand out. “Old Sense” has a bit of a militaristic tone to it, particularly in the rhythmic sections. The end result is a very tense atmosphere. Fortunately, once the melody really kicks in, the brooding atmosphere is offset by a fairly bubbly and memorable melody that really gives off a wonderful sense of freedom and adventure.
“New Say” is a short, but memorable chiptune with quite an adventurous melody and some more sinister tones, particularly in the B section. Surprisingly, despite its short length, it manages to develop quite a bit. “Same One” has a very upbeat, playful theme that gives off a sense of adventure. The melody is a bit lacking in terms of development, but it does manage to catch the listener’s attention on occasion. Lastly, “Hit Man” is another very successful theme. It features a very catchy melody, that heroic tone that captures the final assault, and some slick rhythms. While not the strongest theme on the soundtrack, it does manage to succeed in capturing the many moods heard on the soundtrack.
Masahiro Yuge’s soundtrack for Fire Shark, also known as Same! Same! Same! in Japan, is another interesting one from 1989. “Fire Shark” is a rocking theme that has some Asian influence, particularly in the introduction, before moving into a darker, but energetic, melody with the occasional heroic flourishes. “Give Me Your Heart” is a short chiptune theme that has both an intense A section and a heroic B section. The B section has a sort of romantic feel to it, despite the tempo, that really personifies the title of the theme quite well. “Vice in Tokyo” has a dark, Asian inspired melody to it. It doesn’t really do much to capture my attention in terms of melody, but some of the rhythms are quite intricate and fun to listen to. “Sadness in Your Eyes” is an invigorating chiptune track, but unfortunately one that doesn’t really develop over its short length. The overall tone of the track is quite pleasing though. Lastly, “From the Sun to Me” is a fairly successful theme that carries an intense, yet heroic tone. While the A section doesn’t really capture any sort of real attention, at least to this listener, the B section, with its more frenetic passages, helps give off a sense of an epic journey coming to an end.
Of the two soundtracks on the third disc of the compilation, the Vimana soundtrack, composed by Toshiaki Tomizawa, is definitely the more successful. Reflecting technical and musical innovations in the two years following Zero Wing, it’s also one of the most successful on the entire compilation as well. “Space High” is an extremely memorable chiptune theme with an infectious melody and a great atmosphere — there’s that sense of adventure and heroism, combined with a feeling of flying. It’s a fantastic way to open up the soundtrack. There’s also a Type-B version of this theme that changes up the instrumentation slightly. “The Power of Darkness” is another invigorating and catchy chiptune. It has a sense of darkness, mainly due to the accompaniment, but the melody is absolutely marvelous, capturing both sinister moments and more heroic aspects.
“Max Power Up” is another amazing catchy chiptune melody that gives off a great sense of adventure, while at the same time, offering a bit of mystery, while “Bit Man” has a very catchy rhythm and a pretty decent chiptune overall. The lack of length in the track hurts its development a bit, but it still manages to capture the energy of many of the tracks on the album. “Hyper Voltage Wars” has a slight Asian influence, mainly in the accompanying harmonies, combined with some more Middle Eastern inspired moments in the melody line. At the same time, there is this fantastic sense of adventure and a futuristic vibe from the rest of the melody. Combine that with some insanely catchy rhythms and it’s a winner. Lastly, “Like Unto Fire”, has a very futuristic and heroic tone, thanks to the catchy melody and harmonies. The frenetic bridge before the loop really helps accentuate that feeling of the adventure coming to an end. The rhythm is also quite nice, providing a nice tempo and accentuating that feeling of invigoration.
Most of the fourth disc of the album is dedicated to 1992’s Truxton II (aka Tatsujinou) soundtrack. It is actually featured in two versions here — the disc starts with a stereo version and ends with a monaural version. This will be interesting for certain audiophiles, but the differences are only slight and most consumers would have preferred omitted soundtracks such as Fixeight and Out Zone in their place.
Regardless, Yuge’s soundtrack has a much brighter atmosphere compared to many of the soundtracks on this compilation. “Live in Future” has a very futuristic, spacey, and upbeat vibe to it. It definitely captures the feeling of flying quite nicely; however, while I find the melody to be quite nice, I think it could have been developed a bit better. The boss theme, “Heavy Long,” is a funky track offering a bit of a sinister atmosphere, but at the same time, it doesn’t develop much, and may turn listeners away after a while. “I Defend STM” offers a very dark, industrial atmosphere with its heavy rhythms. The melody, which does take a while to come into the fray, has a bit of an exotic touch to it, but at the same time, its uplifting nature does contrast a bit too much with the brooding nature of the accompaniment at times.
“Gratify” is an extremely jovial tune with a bright, cheerful melody. It is reminiscent, in ways, of the soundscape presented in “Live in Future,” but overall, I find this theme to be much more enjoyable. Likewise, “No Delusion” offers an upbeat, yet mysterious tone. It does a good job at conveying the same atmosphere in “Gratify,” but at the same time, I find the actual melody to be a bit less captivating. “Still Love You” is an interesting chiptune. Compared to a lot of the melodies, this one seems a bit out of place. It has a very romantic soundscape to it and has a bit of a soulful touch, but in the end, it manages to captivating with a great progression and it works well with the mellow accompaniment and drum pads. Lastly, “Faze” has a bit of a groovy atmosphere, particularly due to the rhythm, while at the same time, offering a pretty rocking melody and some more intense and sinister moments. It really sums up that final stage atmosphere quite well.
The subsequent selection is dedicated to one of Toaplan’s lower-profile releases, 1992’s Dogyuun!!, and comprises the rest of the fourth disc. “Dogyuun!! Magic” offers an upbeat mood with an Asian influence. Uemura offers some intricate rhythms, though it’s the overall progressive rock nature of the track that really manages to capture the attention of this listener. Uemura to provide a synth melody that works well with the groovy accompaniment. “Theme of Boss” develops quite nicely, given the genre. It has a sinister tone, but at the same time, it offers some amazing rhythms and a pretty catchy melody as well. It’s definitely one of the more successful boss themes on the album.
“Power On” offers some great rhythms and a pretty decent melody at the same time. There is a definite celebratory tone in the track, but at the same time, I love the mellow passages that contrast nicely with the more invigorating aspects of the track. “High Speed Queen” offers an interesting combination of upbeat melodies with some slower tempo sections that help give it a bit of mystery. Overall, it’s quite an intriguing track with some great rhythms and a serviceable melody as well. As the name suggests, “Onmoroid Boogie” has a very funky atmosphere with a bit of progressive rock flair. The B section offers quite a fun synthesizer melody that really works well at capturing a lot of energy. Lastly, “Gamushalism” has a very industrial soundscape to it, thanks to the mechanical rhythms and futuristic accompaniments. The actual melody itself is a bit more mysterious sounding, but still adopts a sort of a progressive rock tone; however, I feel it’s one of the weaker themes on the soundtrack.
1993’s Grind Stormer (aka V-V) soundtrack, composed by Masahiro Yuge, is worthy of its esteemed reputation. “Wonderful Dreamer” is an upbeat and cheerful chiptune with some nice melodic development. It gives off the feeling of flying as well as a dreamy soundscape. It doesn’t provide much of a catchy melody though, compared to other stage one themes, but it does provide a fulfilling experience overall. The boss theme, “Night Bird,” offers quite a funky rhythm and some sinister tones. It features a mix of more industrial synthesizer tones in the accompaniment, as well as some slick synthesizer solos in the melody line that would work well with a nice keyboard set up or an electric guitar.
“Heads Up” offers some intricate rhythms and some very progressive rock style melodies. It has a very dark tone with a very chaotic melody line at times, offering what sounds more like improvisation on occasion, while at the same time, offering some slightly worldly influence during its duration. “Large Charge” is another track with some slick rhythms. While the melody line isn’t the greatest at times, it does manage to provide quite a variety of tones, from more industrial ones to more cheerful ones. The keyboard solo sections, though, are definitely the highlight of the track. “Free At Last” also features a very upbeat melody that contrasts with a lot of the soundtrack. While it does mirror the atmosphere heard in “Wonderful Dreamer,” I think it does a better job of grabbing the listener’s attention with its stronger melody and overall accompaniment.
“Pepercussion,” perhaps a misspelling or typo of Repercussion, offers some industrial tones, but overall, I find the melody to be a bit lacking and the accompaniment to be a bit basic compared to a lot of the soundtrack. Lastly, “A Poisonous Snake” features a dark atmosphere with some pretty groovy rhythms. While the melody isn’t always the forefront, I think it offers some great passages when featured with its progressive rock nature. All in all, a solid soundtrack for one of Toaplan’s best games.
The final soundtrack on the compilation is Batsugun, composed by Yoshitatsu Sakai in 1993. The title was Toaplan’s final shooter before they went bankrupt and it started a wave of manic shooters, popularised later by Cave. The soundtrack features a variety of stage and boss themes, all with varying success rates. “Heart Beat” is an upbeat and cheerful chiptune, particularly in the A section, before it progresses into a slightly darker tone in the B section. Both sections feature some very memorable melodies and the rhythm helps give off a slight industrial, yet poppy feel overall. The corresponding boss theme, “Dark Echo,” features a dark atmosphere with some slick rhythms and accompaniments. It definitely portrays a sense of menace, although at times, there are some melodic sections that give off a sense of hope.
The second stage theme, “Skim the Surface of the Sea,” although upbeat, still manages to give off that aquatic vibe, in part. It has a great rock vibe overall, with the percussion lending itself quite well in providing a motivating force for the track. The melody itself is successful and reminds me in many ways of some of the lighter soundscapes present on the Mega Man 7 soundtrack. The stage 2 boss theme, “King Bird,” features a very menacing, industrial soundspace with its fast past tempo and slick bass grooves and percussion. The melody line, when present, gives off a very futuristic and heroic sound. The third stage theme, “Bomber Dance,” is an intense chiptune focusing on industrial and rock tones, particularly in the various synthesizer accompaniments and bass line rhythms. The melody itself has a very progressive rock tone with plenty of keyboard passages. For the third boss, “Psycho Paranoia” fails to really capture any attention. The rhythms are nice and contrast nicely with melody line, but neither really do much, given its short length.
The fourth stage theme, “Complimentary Ticket,” is an upbeat theme that gives off a sense of flying with its airy and wispy melody. It’s fairly catchy, although the short B section really manages to grab the most attention with its energetic tone. The fourth boss theme, “Premonition,” offers a sinister tone overall, thanks to the menacing bass line; however, the melody line, featuring bell tone sounding synths, makes for a strange combination that doesn’t always work, in my opinion. Lastly, “Geo Frontia” offers a very somber tone compared to the rest of the stage themes. It’s a nice contrast though, as it definitely gives off a sense of uncertainty of the future. At the same time, the heroic flourishes are quite pleasant. It’s definitely one of the more successful tunes on the soundtrack as it develops well. The final boss theme, “Final Attack” offers a surprisingly heroic and cheerful tone, given it’s the final boss theme. However, I do like the progressive rock nature of the track and despite its short length, manages to be quite entertaining and fulfilling.
At the end of the fifth disc, there is also an 18 minute melody featuring music from the various games on the compilation album. It’s a nice little bonus, but not entirely necessary. Sadly, there are no true arranged tracks here, but maybe SuperSweep will consider an arranged album dedicated to the company at a later date. There is also a bonus sixth disc featuring artwork from the various games and Japanese interviews with several of the composers. It’s an excellent tribute to Toaplan that will be enjoyed by fans of the classic games.
In the end, the Toaplan Shooting Chronicle showcases the majority of Toaplan’s shooter soundtracks. There are 14 soundtracks here, none of which are available elsewhere and many of the earlier ones are exclusive to this album. In fact, only two prominent shooter soundtracks are missing in the compilation, probably because they didn’t fit the theme for the album due to their run and gun focus. While the featured releases vary in length and quality, there are some major highlights along the way such as Zero Wing, Grind Stormer, and Vimana. Fans of classic chiptunes and this company’s work would be the best candidates for the collection. At this time, it is now sold out at the Sweep Record store, so the only way to obtain this box set now would be through an auction site. While the music is a mixed bag, this is an excellent production.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on August 1, 2012.