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Super Mario RPG Original Sound Version :: Review by Dave

Super Mario RPG Original Sound Version Album Title: Super Mario RPG Original Sound Version
Record Label: NTT Publishing
Catalog No.: PSCN-5047/8
Release Date: March 25, 1996
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Yoko Shimomura is pretty well known nowadays as the composer for the music to Square and Disney's Kingdom Hearts and the more recent Kingdom Hearts II game, but quite a few have forgotten about her earlier days, composing for such classics as Street Fighter II, Breath of Fire, and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Street Fighter II had some nicely developed themes, Breath of Fire and Front Mission saw her introduce some new styles, but I am sure that you will be disappointed to hear that her last work for the Super Nintendo is one of her weakest scores to date. The Super Mario RPG Original Sound Version offers very little to the critical listener, as although it has some very catchy themes, very few are developed and most grow annoying. One could argue that this type of score is perfect for a Super Mario game (with a hummable melody always being a necessity of the games), but the truth is that the music shouldn't have even warranted an album release. Rest assured however that everything works well in the game, with tracks such as "Fight Against Kajidoh" actually adding a bit of tension to the scene despite giving a picture of hilarity on the whole. If you are looking for something as sophisticated as her later works, turn away now, but if you are just after some simple and fun tracks, then carry on reading to see why playing the game instead may be a much more fulfilling experience.


The album starts off with "Happy Adventure, Delightful Adventure," a track that truly lives up to its name but fails to impress with its mere catchiness and mediocre percussion accompaniment. The track lacks any substance whatsoever and we find that Shimomura resorts to relying solely upon the percussion on more than one occasion. Not only this, but with the theme being one of few tracks that actually exceed the three minute mark, our hopes are ultimately destroyed when it loops not once, but twice, with little variation in between. The next theme, "Let's Try" is a poor reprise of one of Koji Kondo's infamous, though equally as lame, Mario melodies. Disappointingly, the following tracks, "In the Flower Garden," "Fight Against Koopa," and "Super Pipe House," are all reprises, too. Each and every one of these themes fails to impress, with only the humble "Super Pipe House" managing to raise an eyebrow. The next theme, "Where Am I Going?" is no better, "Victory!!" is laughable, and "Explanation!!" is probably the most unfulfilling creation known to man, so immediately the listener is sure to be put off straight away. Indeed, you'll be pleased to hear that Shimomura places a few treasures amongst these themes, with the likes of "The Road is Full of Dangers" having at least some sophistication. The truth is that this just isn't good enough for the opening to an album, which I have always seen as the single most important stage.

The journey continues, and Shimomura lets the listener come across a number of different styles, ranging from the downright childish to the tense and dramatic. As you may have guessed by the nature of the game, it is the childish themes that dominate this Original Sound Version, thus making it extremely hellish for the critical listener. "Fight Against Monsters" is the next obvious occurrence of a needlessly upbeat track; having a highly melodic basis and with the bass line being made up solely from percussion, it doesn't really go anywhere. Following on from this is the more sophisticated, though hardly perfect, "Hello, Happy Kingdom." This track has a nice harmony added to it, and it is great to see what a difference this makes. Indeed, it is hardly one of Shimomura's finest creations, but it is relatively good. Following on from this, "The Road is Still Full of Dangers" is another highlight of the album; featuring a great xylophone melody and some inspirational string motifs, this is a far more bearable theme, despite the fact that it doesn't portray the danger that the title suggests. Admittedly, as from now, Shimomura's upbeat themes become far more bearable, and this is down to one factor: she gives the themes a bit of harmony. "Let's Go Down the Wine River," for instance, stays as lively as the previous tracks, but with a fun harmony, too, it is a pretty relaxing theme.

We then come to the highlights of the upbeat themes, "Beware the Forest's Mushrooms." This track has a sense of creativity about it, and with a promising development, too, Shimomura proves that she can do so much more. It just goes to show that a melody doesn't have to be extremely lively to be captivating. Even so, with a whole disc lying ahead of the listener, the barrage of fun and cute themes just keeps coming in an endless massacre of one's eardrums when Shimomura lowers her standards once more. "The Merry Mary Bell Rings" is somewhat of an exception; featuring a bland, though fully functional, harmony, a nice melody, and some bells, it is a pretty nice composition, albeit a repetitive one. Indeed, repetition is a key flaw with these themes, with the likes of "Going Shopping in Ripple Town" and the Final Fantasy victory theme remix, "Victory Over Culex," failing due to this. Nonetheless, by far the greatest light-hearted theme on the album, "Let's do the Fooka-Fooka! (Fluff Fluff)," comes up next. With some great development, an absolutely superb bass line, and more on top of that, this theme is what everything else should be. It's enjoyable, sophisticated, and superbly fitting with the gameplay, too. If Shimomura's other cute themes were as good as this, then I am sure that the album wouldn't have such a sour taste to it.

As well as the light-hearted themes, Shimomura relieves the listener by offering quite a broad selection of darker themes, too. The first of these is "Koopa Castle (First Time)," which receives quite a nice arrangement later on with "Koopa Castle (Second Time)." The atmosphere created is acceptable, but one can't help but to fear that Shimomura is reverting back to her old habits of not developing her themes. "The Sword Descends and the Stars Scatter" is another dark theme, but once again, development doesn't seem to be a priority for Shimomura, who just lets it die out with a repeated xylophone melody. "Here Are Some Weapons!" comes up next, and with two failed tracks preceding it, Shimomura doesn't make the same mistakes again. The theme receives a nice development, and with an intriguing bass line, it becomes a theme that is easy to enjoy. Its aura is pretty suited to the situation too, and this is very much the same with later tracks such as "The Dungeon is Full of Monsters," which falls victim to a lack of development, but excels through its character. "From Inside the Earthen Pipe" is another theme that is made great by its atmosphere, and, being a reprise of one of Koji Kondo's original Mario themes too, Shimomura does well to keep a sense of familiarity about the track, creating a sense of nostalgia at the same time.

Imagery and atmosphere are most certainly important aspects of Shimomura's themes, and this is made all the more obvious with tracks like "Sunken Ship." "Sunken Ship" has some great synth in it that sounds like the sails flapping and the wood creaking as the water pressurises the ship, and with a sense of caution being formed with a staccato bass line, a perfect ghostly image is created. "Margarie Margarita" carries on from this ghostly theme in a Baroque fashion. A harpsichord takes control of the melody and manipulates it in such a superb way that it carefully interweaves with the somewhat out of place, ghostly effects. Following this, "Barret Volcano" is another atmospheric theme, but this time, it is far more action filled than the rest. Indeed, it is pretty uninventive, but much like "The Dungeon is Full of Monsters," it excels due to its atmosphere. "Weapons Factory" is the last of the decisively atmospheric themes before we move onto the battle tracks, and the great thing is that it is certainly one of the best, too. It starts off with a phase synth that leads into a drum kit beat; not only does this add an effective flavour, but it really gives the track a good start, too. Strings come up over the top of the percussion accompaniment to give off feelings of apprehension. The melody is repeated quite a lot throughout the track, but due to the timbre of the track, you are never quite sure when it has looped. This track is more for the open-minded, as it is quite futuristic, with hints of industrial influences everywhere.

Amongst the last tracks that I would like to discuss are the action filled tracks and the predominant battle-like themes. "Fight Against Koopa" reveals Shimomura's love for a fast pace when it comes to battle themes, and the likes of "Fight Against a Somewhat Stronger Monster" confirm this. Each theme has an interesting melody, but the most important features are the tension enhancing bass lines and the instrumentation; combined, the two work well together, creating an aura that would be hard to duplicate. "Fight Against an Armed Boss" takes an even more aggressive approach, and all of the power is put into the bass line. This is a track that just thumps and thumps, and will never cease to persist with its tense vibes. "Heart Beating a Little Faster" is similar in nature, but is perhaps the most annoying track in the world. All it is, is a five second melody that is repeated over and again, and is one of the reasons that this album nearly makes my head explode. Tracks such as "The Axem Rangers Drop In" are a lot more pleasurable to listen to, however, and the final group of battle themes really do the album a lot of justice. "Fight Against Kajidoh" and "Fight Against Kajidoh, Who Likes Transforming" are two of the best on the album; suspended violin notes are added to give an image of uncertainty, and the addition of further instrumentation later on in the tracks truly makes them impressive compositions.

The closing themes on the album are great to listen to, and almost relieve the listener of the rest of the album. "Goodbye Geno/Seeking Dreams Through the Window of the Stars" is basically the same as "Geno Awakens," but is far slower, and features an orchestral passage, too. The orchestral passage is pretty impressive, and it really heightens the experience of the track, which admittedly, seems a bit average when played after "Fight Against Kajidoh, Who Likes Transforming." We then come to the best track on the whole album: "Happy Parade, Delightful Parade/And the Parade Draws to a Close..." This theme is a typical ending theme in that it has a great melody and it is a medley of themes used earlier in the game. The track is coherent on the whole, and the overall atmosphere is outstanding, especially when the development is nothing short of excellent. This theme is an unforgettable end to the album, and it is a pity that the other tracks weren't as good. Lastly, the album ends with "The End!", which pretty much sums up the relief of anybody who takes their time to listen to the whole thing. It isn't as good as "Happy Parade, Delightful Parade/And the Parade Draws to a Close...", and being so simple, there is nothing very special about it, despite its nostalgic qualities.


The sad thing about this album is that there are so many themes that have an unreleased potential. It becomes too easy to see that Shimomura doesn't like to develop her themes to the extents that they could have been, and with this resulting in an utter lack of harmony in places, the whole album fails because of it. Occasionally, she offers a good theme such as "From Inside the Earthen Pipe," "Fight Against Kajidoh, Who Likes Transforming," and "Happy Parade, Delightful Parade/And the Parade Draws to a Close...," but the truth is that the unbearable experience beforehand totally destroys these themes since it is now very hard to relax to them. The synth is pretty good for a Super Nintendo game, but for a game that has such high quality graphics; one would expect so much more. Overall, I hated listening to this album, and it is probably one of the worst experiences that I have had with game music. I understand that many of you love this score for its fun-loving factor, but aside from that, it is relatively poor. I would suggest that you don't buy this album, and that you play the game instead. These themes weren't meant for an album, and far better when combined with the game.

Overall Score: 5/10