Makaimura Music Collection :: Review by Chris
The Makaimura (aka Ghosts 'n Goblins) series is one of Capcom's longest runnest franchises along with the 1940s and Commando series. The knight Arthur first battled against zombies and demons to rescue the princess at Arcades in 1985. Gamers were captivated by its fun challenging gameplay resulting in several sequels and numerous ports. The mainly orchestral and Baroque music for the series was enjoyed by most that played the games and is fondly remembered especially for the first stage theme. However, the series' was scarcely represented in album releases until recently only a Game Boy arranged album and the multi-series Capcom Game Music and G.S.M. Capcom compilations were available. Having revived the series with new games and enjoyed success with Mega Man and Resident Evil compilations, Capcom decided it was time to publish a box set featuring the series' music in 2005...
The Makaimura Music Collection features seven discs of music from the series featuring a mixture of unique soundtracks and ported soundtracks. There are seven unique soundtrack soundtracks in total. For the main series, the scores for the Makaimura (aka Ghosts 'n Goblins), Makaimura for WonderSwan, Daimakaimura (aka Ghouls 'n Ghosts), and Choumakaimura (aka Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts) are featured. For the Makaimura Gaiden mini-series, Red Arremer Makaimura Gaiden (aka Gargoyle's Quest), Red Arremer II (aka Gargoyle's Quest II), and Demon's Blazon Makaimura Monshou Hen (aka Demon's Crest) all appear. In addition, there are two Makaimura, five Daimakaimura, one Choumakaimura, and one Red Arremer II port soundtracks. In other words, the bulk of the box set features usually unchanged or inferior ported music rather than original pieces. Finally there is a bonus region II DVD featuring gameplay footage from Daimakaimura and Choumakaimura. Is the album worth its $100 price tag?
Makaimura Sound Collection
The box opens with Ayako Mori's score to the Arcade's Makaimura, the original Ghosts 'n Goblins. Following an introduction featuring a mixture of fanfares and frenetic synth runs, the score jumps straight into the unforgettable and much-arranged "Grayeyard Stage" theme (also used for the second stage theme here); it captures the adventurous spirit of the game with its strong melody and dance-like rhythms, but makes explicit the dangers lurking ahead with its eerie progressions and pseudo-gothic instrumentation. The "Twin Cyclops" boss theme presents a darker take on the theme by focusing on repeating the harmonic progressions in the absence of the catchy melody. For the subsequent two stages, Mori offers a less memorable but more intense theme featuring nothing but a repeated rock-tinged bass line and descending crisis motifs. The "Twin Dragons" boss theme relieves the repetition of the original theme somewhat, but suffers from relatively weak source material.
Moving towards the climax of the score, "Astaroth's Castle" combines another rock-tinged bass line with pressing crisis motifs in the melody. The cross-rhythms and unpredictable development of the accompanying boss arrangement makes the initial encounter with Astaroth all the more memorable. His subsequent emergence as Satan Astaroth is represented by an ominous introductory fanfare. The final boss theme creates a powerful sound with its use of organ and harpsichord, though suffers from underdevelopment and a focus on scalar motifs once again. Quite a few fanfares and subsidiary pieces follow, though there are some moderate highlights such as the jubilant ending theme and ranking themes, some of which take the form of a waltz. The sound effects dedicated to doors opening and thunder serve as a reminder that the score was technically accomplished for 1985. Overall, the score for Makaimura introduces some memorable themes and fits the game's atmosphere despite musical deficiencies.
The rest of the first disc mainly features the music for various console ports of the game. A lot of the mood and maturity of the Arcade version is lost in the Nintendo Entertainment System port due to the console's superficial sound chips and limited number of voices. Furthermore, most of the boss themes and some less important tracks are absent to keep the length of the sound version short. It is nevertheless quite enjoyable given it unintentionally adds a childish twist to the music appropriate for the young target audience. The PC-8801 best of selection has greater fidelity, but lacks stylistic coherency due to odd instrumentation choices, especially the excess harpsichord use and peculiar bass lines. The Game Boy Color version is even more disappointing due to the warped and distorted sound chips despite effectively capturing the dark feel of the game. Overall, these ports are welcome for the sake of comprehensiveness and nostalgia, though can be safely skipped by most listeners.
Makaimura for WonderSwan Sound Collection
The new score for 1999's Makaimura for WonderSwan is hidden at the end of the first disc. Following a gothic introduction, the unknown composer arranges the classic first stage theme with impressive sound quality and dense instrumentation. Continuing with the stage themes, "Swamp & Castle" is dense and murky, "Caves Pt. I" interweaves a variety of forces to increasingly awe-inspiring effect, and "Firebridge" declares impressive melodies above frantic bass lines. The initial boss themes are relatively homogenous, focusing on creating motion and tension with a mixture of dazzling runs and suspended chords. However, the score exceeds expectations with the intense Baroque polyphonies of the two third stage boss themes. Further Baroque intricacies can be heard in the two "Astaroth's Castle" themes and the dazzling final boss themes. Overall, the little-known score for Makaimura for WonderSwan is an enjoyable bonus to the box set. It competently blends Baroque and modernist compositional techniques to create the most intense soundtrack in the series.
Daimakaimura Sound Collection
The music for 1987's Arcade hit Daimakaimura was a mixture of continuity and change just like the Arcade game itself. Introduced with fanfares and a brief cinematically inclined composition, the first stage theme "The Execution Place & Floating Island" is a light arrangement of Makaimura's "Graveyard Stage"; its silly introduction, plodding bass line, and surprisingly superficial synth elaborate on the 'ghost dance' feel presented by the original. Fragments of the theme reappear for the boss encounter with "Dullahan", but it's mainly an original theme inspired by atonal action pieces. Perhaps inappropriate given the numerous dangers of the second stage, "Village of Decay & Town of Fire" is a frivolous dance with very few haunting components. Fortunately, the accompanying boss theme "Fire Cerberus" creates a very foreboding sound by inverting the melody and layering all sorts of abstract forces. The American avant-garde influence is maintained by the atonal brass and woodwind utters of "Baron Rankle's Tower & Horrible Mountain" and its exciting boss arrangement "Gasutto".
Minimalistic and crystalline, "The Crystal Forest" enhances the imagery of the fourth stage, though "Crystallised Maggot" lacks the internal rationale to be a particularly accomplished boss theme. As the final boss nears, "Castle & Tower of Evil Demons" provides an epic accompaniment to the final stage, featuring of course the organ and lots of augmented chord progressions. The motion of the flying demon "Beelzebub" is successfully interpreted with rapid 'Flight of the Bumblebee' style bass lines and sporadic treble chords. The final battle theme "Astaroth & Loki" focuses on building tension by assimilating many of the compositional techniques previously featured achieving a climax around 1:17. This climax is followed by a set of less important pieces, though the 'rock meets nationalism' ending and ranking themes are among the highlights here. Overall, Tamayo Kawamoto's score for Daimakaimura is a significant improvement on the original in terms of quality of composition and synthesis. It broadens the stylistic range of the series, ensures a more dynamic accompaniment to gameplay, and introduces quite a few memorable themes.
There are a total of six full versions of the score to Daimakaimura featured on the box set, spread across three discs. The remainder of the second disc features the Mega Drive sound version, which has strengths and weaknesses relative to the original, but is an admirable port overall. The other four ports omit some of the themes from the original, including the ranking and display tracks, so are not definitive versions of the Daimakaimura score. The TurboGrafx-16 version suffers similar bass problems to the PC-8801 port of Makaimura resulting in harsh soundscapes despite some accomplishments. The Master System version features superficial sound chips like the Nintendo Entertainment System of Makaimura, though does a good job considering the massive limitations of the console. It also introduces a "Shop" jingle based around the first stage theme. Finally the two X68000 versions on the fourth disc seem especially excessive despite the strong synth quality of the MIDI version. Purchasing the $100 box set seems less worthwhile when redundant ports fill whole discs of music.
Choumakaimura Sound Collection
Mari Yamaguchi's score for the Super Nintendo's 1991 classic Choumakaimura (aka Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts) is the pinnacle of the box set. Following the precedent of Makaimura and Daimakaimura, it opens with fanfares and a brief but rather well done cinematic piece. The iconic first stage theme returns for "The Execution Place & Floating Island"; due to a combination of excellent arranging and sound synthesis, this version simultaneously portrays jubilance and darkness more convincingly than previous versions. The "Cockatrice" boss theme sets the bar high with a strings and organ theme containing fragments of the first stage theme as per series' tradition. The "Graveyard of Ships & Raging Ocean" theme is at last a strong second stage theme; so much excitement is created by the combination of gliding oboe and trumpet melodies with brisk string punctuation and the elegant development does not disappoint. The variation in the "Barnacle Kraken" boss theme is also very well done, retaining harmonic structures while considerably intensifying.
Suitable for the mysterious locations, "Volcanic Mines & Sardius Tower" focuses on building tension by assembling various unresolved progressions with a noble palette. The dark orchestral instrumentation is retained in "The Living Caves, Esophagus & Intestine" despite the pulsating location arguably deserving something more abstract. However, it is clear that Yamaguchi still carefully considered the location given the dance-like rhythms and peculiar development inspired by movements of living creatures. "Forest of Ice & Frozen Mountain" creates imagery of its accompanying stage more explicitly with its lavish use of woodwinds and tuned percussion. Though the intermediate boss themes sometimes lack individual characterisation, they achieve the desired effect with their powerful orchestration. "Sardius Castle & Sardius Castle Tower" returns to the organ-infused gothic flavour of the series before two bombastic orchestrations accompany the final encounters with Astaroth and Sardius. Relatively few subsequent tracks follow, but the nine minute orchestral ending theme is a very impressive achievement.
Tomohiro Masuda and Nobuhiko Isa arranged and implemented the score for 2002's Game Boy Advance remake. This version pushed the console to the limits to achieve high clarity and impact just like the Super Nintendo version. The actual arrangement is appropriately minimal, though several of the stages now have two themes to accompany them. Daimakaimura's "Village of Decay" is remixed to successfully combine intensity with joviality, while Makaimura's "Firebridge" makes a surprise appearance with a bold and well-developed arrangement. An abstract jazz-influenced arrangement of the first stage theme accompanies the intestines section of "The Living Caves" while "Arctic Mountain" is another short-lived minimalistic crystalline piece. Overall, the excellent score for the Super Nintendo original makes the Game Boy Advance version largely redundant despite its accomplishments, though there are nice bonuses to be found.
Red Arremer Sound Collection
For the Game Boy's 1990 spinoff Red Arremer Makaimura Gaiden (aka Gargoyle's Quest), Yuki Iwai (née Satomura) handled the majority of the music while Yoko Shimomura created an unspecified composition. The soundtrack demonstrates its emotional capacity by offering slow laments for the "Title Screen", "Hell Field", and "Game Over" themes. A large proportion of the score imitates Baroque music, such as the simple ornamented "Village" theme, intricately interwoven "Dark Road", and brisk dance-oriented "Field Battle". However, rock flavour is exhibited in the fast-paced "Boss" theme and the gritty "Sand Maze". There are a few weaker additions such as the "Short Stage", "Big Tower Monster", and "Loose Keep", which quickly bore with their static harmonies. Moving to the end of the score, "Breager Palace" blends Baroque and rock influences to create an enjoyable final stage theme, though the final battle theme is surprisingly average. "Ending" is a final mundane entry to a score with a roughly equal mixture of hits and misses.
The Nintendo Entertainment System version of 1992's Red Arremer II (aka Gargoyle's Quest II) follows. This time Baroque music mainly dominates Iwai's soundtrack; themes range from the dynamic and dance-like "Mansion", "Gaza's Cavern", and "Hall of the Evil Mirror" to the modest and contemplative "Field" and "Village" themes. To give a bit of diversity, a melancholic feel is successfully created with the "Title", "Opening", "Hinnom's Woods", and "Demon Border", while "Short Stage" and "Breager's Palace" are accompanied by fun rock tunes. "Boss", "Deserted Ruins", and "Mount Imaus" are further copiously decorated Baroque-oriented pieces, while the "Ending" theme is a trite triumphant affair. Ported by veteran Norihiko Togashi, the Game Boy sound versions that opens the final disc of the box set is a decent rendition lacking a few frills. Overall, the score for Red Arremer II is more consistent than its predecessor, but lacks originality and memorability due to the sheer number of simple Baroque imitations.
Demon's Blazon Sound Collection
The box set concludes with Yuki Iwai's score for 1994's Super Nintendo hit Demon's Crest (aka Demon's Blazon Makaimura Monshou Hen), the third title in the Makaimura Gaiden mini-series. "Legend of Firebrand" is reminiscent of the laments of the Red Arremer titles, but is far more dramatic due to the powerful use of the console's synth. The ghostly ambience continues with "Choose Thine Options", "The Chronicler", and "Prelude to Horror" before "Battle of the Zombie Dragon" introduces a bit of eerie action to the score. The boss battle theme "Challenge of Devils" is very effective at putting listeners to the edge of the seats with its fast-paced organ runs and brisk string punctuation. Even "The Shopkeeeper" and "Headbutting Game" emanate an evil sound with their obsessive use of horror motifs. Influence from Baroque chorale composers is evident in the first stage theme "Beyond the Colosseum", which grabs listeners divine organ work, and the overworld piece "Over the Demon Realm", where dabs of synth vocals add to the dramatic mix.
The second stage themes "Metropolis of Ruin" and "Catacombs of the Dead" are among the most enjoyable entries to the score given they feature very natural and memorable melodies despite the continued moody soundscapes. "This Enchanted Forest" and "Within the Tidal Reefs" also add to the diversify with a mixture of fantasy and minimalism, appropriate for some of the most mystical areas in the game. For the later stage themes, the intensity is maintained with the ghostly choir use in "A Sunken Aqueduct" and "Caverns of Ice" and the heavy organ chords and racing melodies of "Cursed Towers", "Dance of the Snowy Barrens", and "Palace of Decadance". The organ mastery continues with the Messiaen-inspired final battle themes "Phalanx Arising" and "The Infinite Tower". Given there are multiple endings for the game, the five ending themes are assembled differently in context depending on how much the player has completed. These themes essentially bind the score together in terms of style, instrumentation, and theme to achieve a wonderful conclusion to the score and box set.
With each of Makaimura's original scores, Capcom's composers and sound programmers pushed various consoles to the limits to produce high quality scores. With Makaimura, Daimakaimura, and Choumakaimura, the series evolved admirably to refine a dark action-packed orchestral sound that fitted the scenes of the games. The classic series is especially strong thematically, remembered not just for the first stage theme but for other striking compositions. The series has demonstrated plenty of diversity over the years with the Baroque-influenced approaches to Makaimura for WonderSwan and the Red Arremer titles, the exceptionally ambient score to Demon's Blazon Makaimura Monshou Hen, and the dabs of avant-garde and rock influence in the classic series. All these factors considered, the series has secured the legacy of being one of the most musically and technologically influential video game franchises.
The Makaimura Music Collection provides a testament to this legacy with a comprehensive collection of soundtracks from 1985 to 2002. It provides a unique opportunity for gamers to enjoy all of the series' classic music and provides even rare scores such as Makaimura for WonderSwan as a fine bonus. Carrying a $100 price tag even before it sold out at VGM World, is it really worth it? For nearly half the price, Capcom could have shaved the largely unnecessary port soundtracks that dominate the set to produce a succinct four disc set. The port soundtracks have some merit for nostalgia value or collector's sake, but three discs worth of Daimakaimura ports was inappropriate. The box set will be worth its pricetag for hardcore fans of the series desperate for the soundtracks, but the decision to purchase it should not be taken lightly.
Overall Score: 8/10