We all know the Turbo can pump out
some awesome tunes, even through its modest PSG sound chip. But who actually
made these songs we love? Hopefully by the end of this article, you'll
have some names of composers to go alongside your favourite soundtrack. But
before I get to that, I'll quickly list my personal selection of:
| Top HuCard Soundtracks |
| 1. Legendary Axe II / Ankoku Densetsu | 16. Bonk's Adventure / PC Genjin |
| 2. Devil's Crush / Devil Crash | 17. Keith Courage / Wataru |
| 3. Dungeon Explorer | 18. Blue (Aoi) Blink |
| 4. Magical Chase | 19. Chinawarrior / The Kung-Fu |
| 5. Neutopia | 20. Battle Ace |
| 6. Neutopia II | 21. Air Zonk / PC Denjin |
| 7. Soldier Blade | 22. Salamander |
| 8. Maniac Pro Wrestling | 23. Shubibinman 2 |
| 9. Super Star Soldier | 24. Somer Assault / Mesopotamia |
| 10. Jackie Chan's Action Kung-Fu | 25. Ninja Spirit / Saigou no Nindou |
| 11. Legendary Axe / Makyou Densetsu | 26. Tatsujin |
| 12. Batman | 27. Aeroblasters |
| 13. Aldynes | 28. JJ & Jeff / Kato & Ken |
| 14. Blazing Lazers / Gunhed | 29. Galaga '90 / Galaga '88 |
| 15. Sidearms / Hyperdyne Sidearms | 30. Jinmu Denshou |
Don't get all up in arms if you think X game should have been placed higher, or if Legendary Axe and Jackie Chan should have switched places or whatever. This ranking is a very general list of my favourite tunes, so you should bunch together 15-30 as all being very good, 6-14 as excellent, and 1-5 as the best there is. Straight conversions of great compositions that appeared first in the arcades or on computers might not have gotten a very high ranking from me, especially if the instrumentation is too conventional or unimpressive.
I have missed out on ranking all the PSG soundtracks in CD games; maybe in another issue, eh? I will add that Dragon Slayer 8: Xanadu, Dragon Slayer 2, Ys I-IV, Xak 1&2, Snatcher, and Puyo Puyo CD all have especially wonderful PSG music, and deserve a listening-to.
So, who are the best Turbo musicians?
It's a hard question to answer. Some games have a clear musical genius behind them. I could point to some games and say, "Yep, Tim Follin did that one!" or "It's Koji Kondo's best work." but while I was doing some research into who made a lot of the PCE's music, it was always entire TEAMS of people in the "SOUND" section, and they used confusing terms like "engineer", "music design", and "sound director". Nothing simple like "composer" or the like. It's almost as if their bosses didn't want them to get headhunted...
* an asterisk means that a game is attributed to a composer on a webpage somewhere, but there's no solid proof that I could find. Consider these entries unreliable.
But anyway, Number 1 is easy for me:
1a) Tsukasa Masuko
Works: Dungeon Explorer, Bonk's Adventure / PC Genjin, Kyukyoku Tiger, Maniac Pro Wrestling (as "Sound Director"), Tatsujin*, Tensei Ryu*
Comment: "Macco", as he likes to call himself, is really the heart and soul of Atlus' PCE music. As far as I can tell from research, it's Macco who programmed Atlus' sound engines for the PCE, SNES, GameBoy, and maybe other systems too. His sound engines are hard to miss: while they use very basic instrument settings (narrow pulse waves for bass, a throaty "trumpet" for lead instrument, a cutting sawtooth wave as secondary lead) Macco knew how to layer them in pairs such that the square waves could sync in and out of phase at low frequencies, generating lots of rumbling bass, for example. The effect of his full-bodied use of the 6 channels in the Turbo sound chip was that every song that used his engine (whether composed by him or by other musicians) wrapped itself around your ears in an all-encompassing way. Even conversions from arcade games like Tatsujin and Tensei Ryu almost improve upon the arcade thanks to his unmistakable sound driver (unlike conversions such as Rastan Saga II or Space Harrier, etc.)
1b) Hirotoshi Suzuki
AKA Hiro T. Suzuki AKA "Steinberger" Hiro
Works: Legendary Axe II / Ankoku Densetsu, Maniac Pro Wrestling, King of Casino*, Nekketsu Dodgeball
Comment: Does this guy even exist? The ultimate in hard-to-find pseudonymous music composers, Hirotoshi Suzuki is not fully mentioned by name in any Turbo / PCE game that I could find. However, his use of Macco's sound driver in games like Axe II and Maniac Prowres goes even beyond Macco's virtuosity. You can easily hear Hiro's distinctive style in Axe II: thunderous, gritty basslines, slow-motion arpeggios and trills in the lead instrument (usually a nasal "wah" setting, a sawtooth wave, or a piccolo flute), and a walking percussion line: "dat-dat-dat-DIT da-dat-dat-dat-DIT..."
As an aside, Cosmo Tank on the GameBoy, while having its sound composed by Macco, credits Hirotoshi Suzuki as a "debugger". Wonder what that means...
1c) Hirohiko Takayama
Works: Bonk's Revenge / PC Genjin 2, Tensei Ryu, (PC Genjin 1*), Galaxy Gayvan (CD), Death Bringer (CD)
Comment: Mr. Takayama may not have done a lot of work on the PCE, but he was extremely prolific on other systems and shared a similar sound to Hirotoshi Suzuki and Macco, especially the walking percussion line. He made some "PCE-style" music on the Famicom for Namco, using their 8-channel N-106 mapper. King of Kings is one, and Erika to Satoru no Yume Bouken is another, the latter sounding quite close to Bonk's music on the Turbo. You may not have known this, but Takayama did a lot of LJN's US-only NES game music, such as Karate Kid, Gotcha!, and Friday the 13th, which are all pretty good for early NES tunes.
Takayama's unique style is most noticeable in the NES game XEXYZ / Kame no Ongaeshi and the Famicom game Bio Senshi Dan, in which he uses the two square channels as a lead instrument with echo effect, sending the notes into a looping, slow arpeggiated chorus.
1d) Hidehito Aoki
and Katsuyuki Inose
Work: Somer Assault / Mesopotamia
Comment: If the music to Super Star Soldier is too quiet, then Somer Assault's is DAMN LOUD! Containing the same poppy energy as Macco's music but having its own individual style, Mssrs. Aoki and Inose's musical score is hard to ignore when you're playing the game. The music uses the same "wall of sound" stereo panning techniques and instrumentation that Macco's and Hiro's do, but instead of rumbling bass, it's all crackling pop music. Unique on the PC-Engine! I have nothing else to add about these guys, but they did go on to compose for the Megami Tensei series on the SFC.
By virtue of sheer quantity and quality, Hudson's team of in-house musicians wins its spot among the best on the PCE -- and rightfully so. There are a ton of musicians in the credits list for Hudson's games, so it's hard to know where to begin. Hmmm...
2a) Keita Hoshi
Works: Aldynes, Neutopia II, Super Star Soldier, Soldier Blade, Ys I-III PSG, Dragon Slayer PSG
Comment: Mr. Hoshi is a proven, versatile composer for some of Hudson's most popular Turbo games -- mainly its great shooters and RPGs. Who can forget the sci-fi / military drumbeats in Super Star Soldier, or the more evolved compositions in Soldier Blade and Aldynes. As for Neutopia II, I was at first disappointed that the sequel didn't have the same heavy, growling, grandiose music that the first Neutopia game had -- Neutopia II had quite a tinny and cheerful sound in comparison -- but the compositions eventually grew on me. Hoshi also arranged Falcom's original music onto the Turbo, and many PSG tracks from Ys and Dragon Slayer sound just as good as the original PC versions' FM.
2b) Tomotsune Maeno
Works: Neutopia, Battle Ace, Sengoku Mahjong, Shanghai*
Comment: Mr. Maeno's heavier sound is quite a blessing on a system that sometimes felt a little bass-deficient. While SGX Battle Ace disappointed many gamers and reviewers for looking and sounding not much better than a PCE game, on its own the music is fantastic. It uses some growling bass, sine-wave percussion (which gives it that typical "Hudson" musical style) and metallic square lead to give it a "Neutopia on speed" type of vibe. Neutopia itself has the perfect quest music: lonely lead instruments for the overworld, driving boss music with clever compass "beepings" blended into the melody itself, and a kick-ass final boss tune to wrap things all up. 1990 Turbo music was basically Maeno on the one hand and Macco on the other producing some unforgettable soundtracks.
2c) Masakatsu Maekawa
Works: Timeball / Blodia, Jackie Chan, Final Soldier, Genpei Tomaden
Comment: Maekawa's compositions could best be described as "serene". But "unrelenting" would, paradoxically, be an apt description as well -- maybe it has to do with most of his songs having a constant, galloping beat with few bridges or breaks in the rhythm. His soundtracks for Timeball and Jackie Chan both have a lilting and soft melody which takes the listener away to deepest China (and wherever Timeball is set.) While Timeball is a rhythmical puzzler and Jackie Chan more poppy, both soundtracks have dreamlike layers of instrumentation to them and are some of the best on the Turbo. Final Soldier is also a solid soundtrack delivering the same unrelenting feeling as Maekawa's other works.
2d) Takeaki Kunimoto
Works: JJ & Jeff / Kato & Ken, YuuYuu Jinsei, Victory Run, Break In
Comment: Some of the first soundtracks that gamers heard on the PC-Engine were also some of the most stylish. Kunimoto's style is distinctly jazzy, with synthesized organs aplenty, a throaty, percussive lead instrument, and ska-style backbeats. The compositions are also endearing, and the whole never fails to get your head a-bobbing.
2e) Shin-ichi Sakamoto
Works: Dragon's Curse / Adventure Island, Aoi Blink, Appare! Gateball, Star Parodier PSG, Keith Courage*
Comment: Westone's go-to man for Wonder Boy games, Mr. Sakamoto also composed a selection of cheerful soundtracks for various PCE games. Aoi Blink and Dragon's Curse stand out the most, adopting a classic '80s platformer style reminiscent of lazy summer days and the long adventures that lay ahead.
2f) Jun/Atsushi Chikuma
Works: Bomberman series, Cratermaze / Doraemon Meikyu Daisakusen, Legendary Axe / Makyou Densetsu, Necromancer, Military Madness / Nectaris
Comment: A few of Mr.(?) Chikuma's soundtracks are very middle-of-the-road, but Bomberman and The Legendary Axe have catchy, standout songs. Chikuma's compositions are decent, but it's the layering of unique-sounding instruments and attention to rhythm that make them special.
Souichirou Harada Aoi Blink
Toshiaki Takimoto Battle Ace
Keiji Sakata New Adventure Island / Shin Boukenjima
Makiko Tanifuji Soldier Blade
Mieko Ishikawa, Masaaki Kawai Ys I-IV, Sorcerian, Dragon Slayer 1&2 (PSG?), Xanadu
Atsushi Shirakawa Dragon Slayer 2 (PSG?), Xanadu
Finding precise composer credits for Compile's games is hard enough, let alone spotting the company's name on title screens (Hint: it's usually not there!) The company that brought us The Guardian Legend on the NES, Golvellius and R-Type on the SMS, and Blazing Lazers, Spriggan, and the Crush series on the Turbo handed the publishing credits over to companies like Naxat and Tonkin House. The games that Compile makes are usually identified by their soundtracks -- which is quite easy, actually, since they're impossible to miss.
Compile's music usually has clean use of drumbeat samples, muted saxophones and a chorus as instruments, and heavy metal styling. The pinnacle of Compile's music must be the main theme of Devil's Crush as it is exquisitely layered, superbly-composed, and after 3 minutes reaches a satisfying climax as good as any heavy metal pop song out there. Blazing Lazers is a favourite, but I also recommend Cyber Knight as it has a similar sound to Devil's Crush, as well as great experimentation in instruments. Check out tracks 20 and 27 for a growling, distorted sound never heard elsewhere on the PCE. Track 8 of Cyber Dodge similarly has a Japanese flute instrument which is surprisingly realistic considering the PC-Engine's more limited wavetable synthesis hardware.
Blazing Lazers / Gunhed*, Devil's Crush/Crash*, Keith Courage / Wataru*, Tatsunoko
Fighter* (Did he work for Compile, for Vic Tokai, or was he freelance?)
Osamu Kasai, Junko Yokoyama Cyber Knight
Katsumi Tanaka Puyo Puyo*
Shidon Inoue Gunhed
Toshiaki Sakoda Alien Crush, Devil's Crush/Crash, Cyber Knight
Masanobu Tsukamoto Gunhed, Devil's Crush/Crash, Puyo Puyo*, Cyber Knight
Einosuke Nagao Puyo Puyo, Cyber Dodge
4th: Hitoshi Sakimoto & Masaharu Iwata Magical Chase, Death Bringer (CD)
These guys didn't do a lot on the PC-Engine, but they are absolutely legendary on other systems. Hitoshi Sakimoto is one of my favourite game composers, mostly for his early 16-bit and 32-bit work. He coded an excellent FM sound engine for Japanese PCs back in the '80s, an engine which was used almost unchanged on Mega Drive and arcade games, it was so versatile. Sakimoto's best work includes Gauntlet IV, Verytex, Midnight Resistance, Master of Monsters, and Devilish / Bad Omen, all on the MD. He is also well-known for Radiant Silvergun and Soukyugurentai on the Saturn, and in modern times for the Final Fantasy Tactics series.
Masaharu Iwata made many early soundtracks for Pixel/Quest, including Conquest of the Crystal Palace / Maten Douji and Over Horizon on the Famicom. He also contributed with Sakimoto on Verytex, Gauntlet IV, and King Salmon on the MD, as well as on the Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre series on many systems.
While Magical Chase sounds a bit on the cutesy side, it still has plenty of hardcore tunes in it. Later stage and boss tracks have a rich, deep sound to them, with plenty of stereo phasing, rumbling bass, and a rare use of arpeggio in a Japanese game. Sakimoto's and Iwata's unique styles come through even in the first stage's music which, if you compare the two, is a lighthearted version of Verytex's first stage theme.
Ummm... sorry for recommending nothing but Sega soundtracks there.
NCS was apparently the first company to get sampled drums playing on the PC-Engine. As a result, many gamers cite Moto Roader as one of their favourite soundtracks on the PCE/Turbo. Moto Roader II, for its part, sports short sampled guitars, a decent attempt at a piano instrument, and a full-bodied stereo space to its music. The compositions are also extremely "Anime Theme Song"-like and quite catchy. Credit is due to the sound team named "OPUS".
Also excellent are some of the soundtracks to NCS' computer game conversions like Guyflame and Gaia no Monshou. Shubibinman 2 also treads the line between decent and fantastic, including a couple epic themes that would be revisited on CD in Shubibinman 3.
Dragon Egg, Ranma 1/2 (CD), others?
Kouji Hayama Shockman / Shubibinman 2, Gaia no Monshou*, Guyflame*, NHK Taiheiki, Shubibinman 3 (CD), Cho Aniki series
I'll wrap up this quasi-Top 5 with several other companies that get honourable mentions in the best music sweepstakes:
Takashi Tateishi Sidearms (composition)
Yoshihiro Sakaguchi & Manami Matsumae (nee Gotoh) Son Son 2
Mari Yamaguchi SFII ("music design")
Shogo Sakai, Yuji Suzuki, Yusuke Takahama & Takafumi Miura Bloody Wolf
Tatsuya Watanabe Aeroblasters, Heavy Unit, NEXZR (CD)
Miki Higashino Salamander
Yoshiaki Hatano (as "engineer") Salamander
Kazuki Muraoka Parodius, Salamander, Gradius
Hisashi Matsushita Coryoon, 1943 Kai, W-Ring
Daisuke Morishima Coryoon, 1943 Kai, W-Ring, Air Zonk / PC Denjin
Nobuyuki, Kodaka Batman
Tatsumi Yano City Hunter
Masashi Kageyama Out Live, Benkei Gaiden, Gimmick! (Famicom/NES)
Much of the composer data for this article was taken from the Japanese Composers Wiki at http://www36.atwiki.jp/gmcomposer/pages/1.html