Bare Knuckle II :: Review by Don
Of the three soundtracks in the Streets of Rage series, I feel that the second is definitely the high point of the series. Based on my involvement with the game music community over the years, it seems like I'm hardly alone. For the most part, Streets of Rage 2 (known in Japan as Bare Knuckle II) continues the style of the original. However, it is a more ambitious and accomplished beast overall. Alfa Records released the first version of this soundtrack in 1992, though it has since been remastered in a domestic print and featured on two compilation albums.
On Streets of Rage II, Yuzo Koshiro offered many tracks that built on the concept of the original. For instance, the first stage theme "Go Straight" is reminiscent of its counterpart "Fighting in the Street" with its club stylings and compelling rhythms. What I appreciate most about this track is the way Koshiro uses the FM sound chip to emphasise a contrast between the soft jazz-influenced melody and the harder bass lines. It continues the original's concept, while offering richer music and technical innovations. Likewise, the "Never Return Alive" features the same siren-like synth glissandi and gripping bass lines as the boss theme from the previous game. The original elements and cleaner synthesis nevertheless ensures it's a substantial improvement.
Nevertheless, there are tracks where Koshiro pushes the boundaries of the series by exploring more intense tones. "Spin on the Bridge" and "Alien Power" both provide powerful accompaniments to later stages in the game with their overwhelming bass lines and experimental soundscapes. Both demonstrate Koshiro's appreciation of the rave sounds emerging from Tokyo nightclubs and once again demonstrate incredible mastery in FM synthesis. They're incredibly stimulating in the context of the game, while still having enough hooks to entertain most stand-alone listeners. Together with Shinji Hosoe's similarly styled works, the Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack certainly helped to put electro game music on the map.
Perhaps the most enjoyable track on the soundtrack is "S.O.R. Super Mix". It combines several themes from the rest of the soundtrack into an incredibly well-produced five minute mix. As other reviewers have said, this track isn't just stylistically or melodically impressive it's also very emotional, right from the start. How Koshiro managed to achieve this with such limited technology is beyond me. Among other more personal tracks include "In the Bar", an upbeat lounge theme that manages to transport listeners into a smoky jazz bar, as well as the more ethereal "Into Logic". Both bring some welcome variety to the gameplay and the stand-alone soundtrack.
One of the three guest contributions by Motohiro Kawashima a collaborator who helped shape the soundtrack's direction "Expander" features an even faster pace and heavier synthesis. Like some of Streets of Rage 3's themes, it may be too much for most listeners, though it works wonderfully during the stage. The themes for the last bosses, Kawashima's "Max Man" and Koshiro's "Revenge of Mr. X", provide memorable pace-setters. While the former is filled with hardcore techno influences, the latter is as motivating as it is formidable. There are also a couple of unused tracks here, Koshiro's incredibly funky "Walking Bottom" and Kawashima's Hammond organ-centric "Little Money Avenue". Though both are enjoyable bonuses, they were both too light to fit the main gameplay.
Streets of Rage 2 features one of the most influential and successful video game soundtracks ever made. It synchronises perfectly with the visuals, no doubt because the game and the music were both designed by Yuzo Koshiro's studio Ancient. What's more, it makes a tremendous listen even on a stand-alone basis thanks to its bold stylings and great rhythms. A must-have for techno lovers. That said, fans of the entire series' music should consider picking up the Yuzo Koshiro Best Collection Vol. 2 or Bare Knuckle Rage Original Soundtrack instead.
Overall Score: 9/10