Monday, 5 October 2015

Favourite Videogame Music #2 - Tekken 2

Tekken is one of my all-time favourite series' but if there's one thing I must reluctantly lambast newer installments for, it's the music. A modern Tekken game's soundtrack has far too many techno, electric or 'epic' orchestral scores that while perfectly serviceable (I will not say they are awful) are not memorable. Of course, there are the odd exceptions and I will cover those in time on this blog to prove that I hold no real grudge against modern Tekken. For now though, I want to take you back to the 90's when Namco's sound team were on some sort of incredible high that hasn't ever been matched in my opinion. Tekken's OST's began to decline in quality from around Tekken 5 onwards in my experience (I have played all of the games extensively) but of the older material, it was the home arrangement of Tekken 2's OST that really caught my attention and continues to keep a firm hold on it to this day. Here was a set of tracks that were all individually distinct and highly atmospheric with a broad range of inspiration. This was when Tekken soundtracks still included beautiful, traditional Japanese sounds and a delicious, upbeat 90's arcade flavour. More importantly, this is an OST that made me realise the value of music in a videogame (there were other big influences but T2 was perhaps the most notable). Here then are my top five tracks from the arranged Playstation BGM but if you're asking why I'm snubbing the original arcade BGM then hold those thoughts and keep reading to the end...

Note: The featured music is of course property of its copyright holders and the linked videos are the work of the relevant uploaders, not myself.

1. Morning Field (Theme of Jun Kazama)

A track such as this is the polar opposite of what you can expect to find in a modern Tekken where high energy music is expected alongside the fast and furious gameplay. In the mid-90's however, it was okay to have a peaceful and serene track like this to accompany a beautiful backdrop of blue skies, green fields and distant villages. This is such a calm and relaxing track that I didn't actually mind getting my ass handed to me over and over by Miss Kazama if it meant hearing the entire thing. The closest alternative to 'Morning Field' that I have come across in modern Tekken is Dark Resurrection's 'Amnesia' which also comes with a similar kind of stage. 

 2. The Head Shaker (Theme of Yoshimitsu)

Has there been anything like 'The Head Shaker' in any other fighting game? I'm struggling to recall a suitable candidate. This one blends a modern bassline with some truly atmospheric chanting that brings to mind ancient temples or ninjas leaping between tree trunks within a great forest. The simple but effective stage background (a forest of immensely tall trees with shafts of light piercing the canopy) couldn't be more fitting for a track like this which induces (pleasurable) chills. I don't practice meditation (though I probably should with the stress of my job!) but this would be a great track to listen to whilst doing so I think.

3. Silent Assassin ~Cool Headed Mix~ (Theme of Nina Williams)

I see a lot of people likening this track to a something that should be playing in a shopping centre. Personally it sounds to me like something that would fit right into a modern Shin Megami Tensei: Persona title. In any case, I really like the upbeat, catchy nature of this track, the frequent jingles and enthusiastic trumpets. Sure, it doesn't really match the personality of an assassin and I have no idea what the Acropolis in the background has to do with anything but who cares when the music is this good? 

4. Emotionless Passion (Theme of Kazuya Mishima)

How do you start describing just how good this track is? Well I'm not too sure but what I DO know is that it has a superb traditional Japanese feel and the promise of a deadly boss battle rolled into one. It was a promise that was kept too - I have fond memories of being soundly thrashed by Kazuya and his insane 10-hit combos that culminated in a cry of "TWOOOAARGH!" (I think!) and a lightning screw uppercut that well and truly finished the round. This track totally goes with the dimly-lit dojo background and I would be happy to spend a lot of time battling here to this fantastic music. Such a shame that modern Tekken's feel the need to have ridiculously OTT cataclysmic stages and epic scores for the final battle...

5. Be in the Mirror (Theme of Devil/Angel)

When I talked earlier about Namco's sound team being on another level in this era, this is the type of track that justifies my stance on the subject. The stage was a simple blackness with endless mirrors leading off into the distance but was this really a battle against a supernatural creature or was this Kazuya battling his own demonic side? There are a number of different interpretations of Tekken 2's plot but it doesn't really matter because ultimately, the player was rewarded with the kind of foreboding track that really said "this is the end" and oozed sadness. If you were playing as Kazuya himself, the track seemed to take on a whole other meaning, becoming a part of the protagonist's desperate struggle against the Devil Gene. This is the type of music that I simply don't believe a modern sound team come whip up from scratch and if they could, would they use it for a final boss battle? Would a dark stage featuring only a floor and mirrors be enough to satisfy the players? These are questions which I think we will not ever get the answers for. 

As I promised, I haven't forgotten about the original arcade BGM. Using the arcade hardware to produce the sound, the arcade BGM is naturally less evolved than its CD-based remix and the tracks are constructed of much shorter, much simpler loops. This doesn't mean that they are any less enjoyable however because after all, it was these tracks that the arranged BGM was based on and several were different enough on the Playstation version to make the originals a bit more unique in their own right. I use some of these over their arranged counterparts in Tekken Tag Tournament 2's 'Tekken Tunes' customisation mode and I even have the arcade OST CD so I'm as much a fan of these as the remixes.

While it's disappointing that Kazuya and Devil both have the same track in the arcade version, it must be said that this mix is a much darker and sinister version of Kazuya's theme which gives it a different edge. I also enjoy the arcade versions of Paul and King's themes as well as the faster music for Jun Kazama's stage. I'm sure I'm not the only personal who regularly accessed the options menu in the Playstation game to switch the BGM's about from time to time to experience them both! The fact that I didn't ever truly settle on one single arrangement to always have 'on' is a testament to the quality of both mixes. Now if only I could get my hands on the two 'Strike Fighting' CD's that contain the home conversion's arranged soundtrack...

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