A Review of...
My Game Music CDs.

I have always been a fan of videogame music, and ever since I found out that game music CDs were plentiful in Japan, I have always wanted to go there on a shopping spree. This was about 1991 or so. I kick myself for not realizing that I should have tried to look for these CDs in my city's Chinatown music shops, because recently (2001), I did exactly this. And what I found, although not exactly my dreams come true, surprised and enlightened me. I therefore went home with a few cheap game music CDs, which are mostly (if not all) HK or Taiwanese copies of authentic Japanese CDs. They've done a good job of copying, but it still is pretty obvious that these are not the real deal (Konami does not distribute their CDs from Taipei, for example). :-) Eh, anyway, it doesn't bother me much. I still get the chance to listen to some great -- and not-so-great -- music. Read on...

Akumajou Dracula Best

This CD is basically a compilation of the original audio from the first three Dracula (Castlevania) games on the Famicom. The CD begins with a couple of arranged tracks, which are nothing special. Then, we get to listen to music from Akumajou Densetsu (Castlevania 3), with the extra MMC6 audio channels. It sounds great if you are only used to the NES version. After that is the music to Dracula II from the Famicom Disk System, and then the first Dracula game. The CD ends with a few tracks from the NES version of Castlevania II.

What can I say about this CD? If you love the music from the NES Castlevania games, then you'll love this. There are few added frills. Those who can't stand NES-quality music, stay away. Or, Hell, try it anyway! You might fall in love too.


Akumajou Dracula Best 2

This double-CD extravaganza features the original music tracks to Akumajou Dracula (Castlevania 4) on the Super Famicom, and Dracula Densetsu I & II (Castlevania Adventure) on the Gameboy. Although I had always known that the music to SFC Dracula was great, I found myself falling absolutely in love with the music from the Gameboy versions. The music to Dracula Densetsu II, especially, is extremely well-composed. The same rule applies here as for the first "Best" CD: if you liked the original videogame music, you'll love this.

The Gameboy tracks sound as though they have been sent through some kind of DSP to modify their harmonics. The effect is more bass and a less tinny sound from what the GB is normally known for. Plus, there's no LCD buzz like on the real Gameboy! This is a great CD set!


Dracula Battle II: Perfect Selection

This is, again, music inspired by Konami's Dracula (Castlevania) series. However, it is arranged in "Battle" style. For those of you who don't know what Battle music is, it's a distinctly Japanese arrangement of music combining hard-rock riffs with some orchestration. Needless to say, if you like 80's head-bangin', hair-swingin' hard rock, then you will fall in love with this CD. I did.

Especially great are Tracks 1, Beginning, which jumps right into the fray with an energetic version of the familiar Castlevania theme; 2, Theme of Simon, which is a great pounding takeoff of the first level music from the SFC version (as well as the X68000); 8, Reincarnated Soul, which gets moody but very tense; and 9, Iron Blue Intention, which concludes with a wonderful plaintive guitar wail. If you love Castlevania music, then you owe it to yourself to find this CD!


Dragon Quest II Suite

This is a cool CD with orchestrated and arranged versions of all the major themes from Dragon Quest II (Dragon Warrior II) on the Famicom. Even though I'm not a big fan of the original game, the arranged music is still very good. The title theme is quite well done with all the pomp and grandeur of Baroque music (and performed by a real orchestra as well!). The other tracks get variously jazzy and are equally well done. Finally, the last track of the CD is a 25-minute long recording of the original Famicom music, so you can hear what they originally worked from. Great, but a little short.


Garou Densetsu Special

This is the original music from the NEO·GEO version of Fatal Fury Special. As such, it's not bad, but definitely not great. You can listen to it while performing other tasks and it doesn't get in the way much, but most tracks will not hold your attention or your awe. Some songs also get a little noisy, but that's what a lot of mid-90s NEO·GEO music was, anyway.



This is the original music from the arcade game G-Darius. I picked it up because it was composed by Zuntata, the group that makes some rather odd music, including the BGM to Syvalion on the SFC. However, this music is not much like Syvalion. It isn't even very good on the whole.

To be fair, you can play this music at a low level, do something creative, and it'll make the time pass easier. However, the CD is rather short, and many of the tracks are just weird and cacophonous. I'd pass (unless you loved the arcade game, or something).


Chris Hülsbeck's Apidya Soundtrack

Chris Hülsbeck (also spelt Huelsbeck) is a German videogame composer who has been doing some stellar work since the mid-80s (when he was still a teenager). He moved from doing good stuff on the C-64 to doing GREAT stuff on the Amiga computer. He has been selling his CDs through mail-order for quite some time now (try Synsoniq). One of his best soundtracks is for the shooter Apidya, which has some good orchestral tunes, some dance tracks, and one all-out rip-snorter of an 'oldskool' techno track.

However, the last two-fifths of the CD aren't from Apidya at all, and are just a hodge-podge of some of his other songs. Crazy Lover and Theme from Merland cause me to wince in pain occasionally, but the rest is fine, if a little dated. At any rate, the excellent Apydia tunes more than make up for it. Chris lavishes care on all of his arranged game soundtracks, recording them digitally from his studio setup. As such, the tracks are clear and bursting with energy (am I advertising a chewing gum here?).


Chris Hülsbeck's Rainbows

Ahh... Rainbows... I have some great memories associated with this CD, primarily because I received Rainbows on the same day that I went on my first real date. But anyway, I digress... This CD contains 15 tracks of arranged music covering a large spectrum of styles. There's plenty of dance-music here, as well as a couple of moody pieces. My absolute favourites are tracks 3, Jinks, which is a fabulous Amiga Demo-style dance track; 5, Hyperblast, which is a pounding ambient remake of an Amiga game's title song (!); 11, Station 2045, which is a simple but atmospheric synth-dance track; and 12, El Ritmo, which is a groovin' Latin dance/techno track (but which steals from Mr. Vain, unfortunately). The CD even contains a couple of arrangements from the Giana Sisters games, for those that like it.

In short, this was one of my favourite CDs ever, for a long time. I thoroughly recommend it for a good introduction into Chris Hülsbeck's dance-music talents (in 1994, at least!).


Chris Hülsbeck's Shades

This is another hodge-podge effort from Chris, but that's okay, because it was his first CD! Of course, the main reason that I bought the CD was its glorious 15-minute Turricanmedley, which, obviously, pays tribute to the first two Turrican games on the Amiga. Needless to say, Turricanmedley is fantastic. I only wish it were longer and paid attention to more of the great music in the second game. There are some other good and memorable tracks on the CD, notably tracks 5, Shades, the first song that started him on a professional career in music; 9, Heaven's Gate, which is dark and plaintive; and 11, Tale of Glory, a wonderful, wonderful cinematic march (and which was actually written by Chris' friend, Rudolf Stember).

Overall, the CD is more of a nostalgic retrospective of Chris' work, but it still contains several impressive songs (especially for 1991!), and I recommend it.


Chris Hülsbeck's Sound Factory

This isn't a bad CD; it's just that not much stands out on it, especially compared to the Rainbows CD which preceded it. This CD is geared more towards those wanting an introduction to some of his work, as it contains arranged (and re-arranged) tracks of Shades, Jim Power, Easy Life, and Apidya.

However, something special that this CD does contain is a CD-ROM data track containing volumes and volumes of Chris' Amiga game soundtracks, in TFMX format (playable in several MOD players). Many, if not all, of Rudolf Stember's game compositions are included as a bonus. This is a vital collection for Amiga music fans.


Chris Hülsbeck's Turrican Soundtrack

This is a completely arranged CD containing many major songs from Turrican 2 and 3 on the Amiga. If high-energy action tunes and military marches are what you like, then this CD will not disappoint. It is full of fantastic and memorable songs from the aforementioned series of games (but it also has a few "battlefield" recordings which, although they are authentic and atmospheric, take away a little bit from the music).

The tracks which stood out especially for me were tracks 3, Main Title; 5, The Desert Rocks; 8, The Hero; 9, Bionic Action (which you might also recognize from Super Turrican on the SNES); and 11, Climb to Survive. The CD even includes the original Turricanmedley as a bonus final track, (so you don't even necessarily have to get Shades just for the Turrican songs (although I still recommend it.)).

I've already said enough. If this sounds appealing to you, get it!


Metal Gear » Solid Snake

This is a compilation of arranged and some original music from Konami's Metal Gear series on the MSX computer. It mainly falls into the category of atmospheric accompanying music, being primarily energetic but cerebral -- which mirrors the stealth-like atmosphere of the game. However, there is plenty of variety to the musical styles, including acid techno, rock, and some jazz thrown in for good measure. It's kind of a hard CD to describe, really.

Is it any good? Yes; I'd say it's a worthwhile purchase. There probably won't be any tracks that absolutely stand out on the first sitting, but after you listen to the entire CD a few times over, it will have a certain pull on you. I especially like the level of bass present in the music, especially when it kicks in all of a sudden on the first track. Nice.



Another Zuntata production, is this as weird as the others? Yes. Some of the music in Raystorm is rather odd, falling once again squarely in Zuntata's own style. A lot of the music is slow and ambient, but there are several techno-ish tracks, some groovy ones, as well as a few that approach something sounding like Jean-Michel Jarre. Weird. Finally, near the end of the CD, it gets all great and orchestral, and thus redeems itself (somewhat).


Rockman Kiki Ibbatsu

Since the descriptive writing on the cover was in Chinese (not even in Japanese!), I didn't really know what I was going to get when I bought this CD. Well, as it turns out, what I got was a glorified radio play, and in Japanese to boot. The first five tracks are episodes of a narrative tale about Rockman's sister, Roll, who desperately wants to go to school as regular humans do. Dr. Wily takes advantage of this and kidnaps her. Rockman has to go and rescue her with the help of his friends. It's bizarre in the way that only the Japanese can be.

So, I got a pretty crappy CD. The sixth CD track is interesting... It's a ranking of the top 10 best music tracks in the Rockman series... as chosen by whom? They make some pretty odd and inexplicable choices in their rankings. Only one track from Rockman 2 gets in the top 10!?!? I got the general impression from this that Capcom is really trying to sell Rockman 5 with this. Completely off-the-wall bizarre.


R-Type Delta

This is the soundtrack from the Playstation game, I gather. It's not bad. It starts out with a couple of good and driving songs, but gets somewhat stuck in slow, ponderous fare. There are a few good songs scattered about, and it ends alright. I bought it expecting some great remixes of the original R-Type (or even Super R-Type) tracks, but there is none on offer here. Kinda disappointing, as both those games contain some memorable and far superior melodies to what is for sale here.


Samurai Spirits: The Best Selected by Characters

I bought this CD expecting some great traditional Japanese songs, and I was not disappointed there. However, the format of the CD is rather odd. It intersperses the music tracks among commentary tracks by the voice actors from the Samurai Spirits (Samurai Shodown) series, as well as a small narrative story for each character. As such, the music-to-narration ratio is 1:2, far too unbalanced to be an essential purchase.

The music that is on offer, however, is GREAT, except for a couple of poor vocal tracks near the end. I wish it were all continuous music, though.


Shadow of the Beast

Yeah, I know this isn't an actual game soundtrack, per se. It's the game itself, from the Turbografx Super CD-ROM system. However, before DeliTracker came out on the PC, I would get constant e-mails from PC owners asking me how they could play the Amiga Shadow of the Beast music on their computers. (I would often tell them just to give up and buy an Amiga again.) Anyway, GET THIS GAME. The music is entirely on CD, and it is oh, sooo good! If you remember hearing the Amiga Beast tunes and thought that was good, then you haven't experienced it until you hear this music! It really is that good.

The Beast music is mostly folksy, moody, instrumental pieces. Flutes and wooden instruments abound. There are only, oh, seven music tracks on the game CD, but they are atmospheric and great. My favourites are the title music, as well as the superb final music track on the CD. Highly recommended. (Oh, yeah, remember to skip the data track (track 2) and don't forget that the final track is data as well.)


Snatcher » Policenauts

This is an arranged CD containing songs from both the Snatcher and Policenauts games, naturally. It is somewhat similar to the Metal Gear soundtrack (as mentioned above), but contains less of a techno influence. Some of the tracks are memorable, and even a little hummable; however, some of it is also purely background music (well, that's what BGM means, doesn't it?). I rather liked tracks 3, One Night in Neo Kobe City; 4, Theme of Katharine; and 5, Old L.A. 2040.


Virtua Fighter 2

I picked this up (among the several other poorer CDs here) on a whim. I felt intrigued, and I didn't hesitate much at $5 per CD. Well, it's essentially the music from Virtua Fighter 2 in the arcades, with a few voice samples mixed in. If you loved the arcade game, then perhaps this will bring back fond memories. I didn't love the game, so to me it's just an okay CD. It contains the standard beat-em-up-style music tracks, and that's pretty much all there is to say about it.


Back! Send questions or comments to Chris.