Bare Knuckle III :: Review by Don
Streets of Rage 3 (aka Bare Knuckle III) was the final instalment of Sega's legendary beat 'em up franchise. Following their widely celebrated work on Streets of Rage 2, Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima returned to create an all-new soundtrack. This time, the duo decided to shake things up with much more experimental music inspired by hardcore techno artists and even aleatoric composers. They succeeded in creating a very different soundtrack for the series, but in the process alienated the majority of the fans of the first two games.
In past soundtracks for the Streets of Rage series, Koshiro impressively combined experimental stylings and technological innovations with memorable, emotional music. On Streets of Rage 3, he continues to pioneer new approaches and produce the very best sounds out of the Genesis, but falters in offering accessible music for listeners to enjoy. The title theme "Beat Ambience", for instance, combines distorted industrial beats and sporadic synth phrases into a low-key mix. The final sound created is quite abstract and certainly different from just about any other game music being produced in the day. But there isn't a single part of this track that inspires emotionally, hooks melodically, or entertains otherwise. Instead, it repeats the same elements with minor variations for a dull six minutes.
Moving onwards, the first stage theme "Fuze" is even more intense than the final tracks in the Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack. Motohiro Kawashima fills the track with hardcore techno beats, distorted synth lines, and irregular rhythms. It's nowhere near as repetitive as the opener, but many argue it is too heavy for the first stage and, indeed, stand-alone listening in general. Other tracks, such as "Cycle I", "Cycle II", and "Moon", throw listeners into endless loops of intentionally unpleasant phrases. The penetrating sounds continue through "Dub Slash", an early incarnation of dubstep, and "Buldozer", blending hardcore beats with chiptune elements. These tracks are more creative and impacting than other items here, but still prove divisive among Streets of Rage followers.
But some influences from the original Streets of Rage games continue here. For instance, the boss theme maintains many of the approaches of its predecessors with its siren-like synth leads and strong rhythmic impetus. However, it's been suitably distorted and amplified to fit the overall style of the soundtrack. Kawashima also did a really nice job with "The Poets I", which tastefully combines the experimental elements of this soundtrack with danceable beats and motivating melodies similar to Streets of Rage. It's one of the few tracks on the soundtrack that maintains an accessible balance, but sadly there aren't many more like this. Also of note is "Shinobi Reverse", which seems to speed-up and reverses a classic from The Revenge of Shinobi, as well as the uplifting jazzy ending theme.
Motohiro Kawashima wasn't Yuzo Koshiro's only collaborator on Streets of Rage 3: he also made extensive use of automated composition technology. While a dubious decision, it's not quite as bad as it sounds he didn't use such technology out of laziness, but rather to produce bizarre, inhuman phrases that could be scattered across the score. These phrases pervade throughout the soundtrack, from the seemingly random synth leads of the title theme, to the unusual Peter Gunn remix "Percussion", to suitably titled tracks such as "Random Cross" and "Crazy Train". Even the climactic "Inga Rasen" is little more than a collection of repeated beats and random notes. The end result is certainly unusual, but they don't offer much more than that. Most of these tracks sound aseptic and, worse, are very repetitive.
After the stellar Streets of Rage 2, it's difficult not to feel disappointed by Streets of Rage 2. The majority of the tracks are repetitive, aseptic, and sometimes downright oppressive. There are very few stand-out tracks, not to mention hardly any conventional melodies or groovy rhythms to speak of. The soundtrack was met with a notably negative reception at its time of release, though a few revisionists have expressed their appreciation of its creativity. For me, there are moments of genius here, but the majority of the soundtrack is worth skipping. It's best to avoid this album or, alternatively, hear the score within the Yuzo Koshiro Best Collection Vol. 2 or Bare Knuckle Rage Original Soundtrack compilations instead.
Overall Score: 4/10