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Metroid Prime & Fusion Original Soundtracks :: Review by Jon Turner

Metroid Prime & Fusion Original Soundtracks Album Title: Metroid Prime & Fusion Original Soundtracks
Record Label: Scitron Digital Contents
Catalog No.: SCDC-00276/7
Release Date: June 18, 2003
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


Nintendo's Metroid series was an unusual franchise for the company in two ways; for one, it was the first series to feature a heroine, the galactic warrior Samus Aran, and two, one of the few series to have more of a huge fan base in America rather than its home country of Japan. Its music, incidentally, didn't receive much attention other than a single album release, Super Metroid Sound in Action, and occasional concerts. With the release of Metroid Prime & Fusion Original Soundtracks by Scitron Digital Contents (whose previous Nintendo soundtrack releases include the reissues of Famicom Music Volume 1 & 2 and The Legend of Zelda The Wind Waker Original Soundtracks), fans of the franchise now have another album to add to their collection.

As fans can guess, the album features the soundtracks to not one, but two Metroid games which were released in 2002 — the oft-delayed, but ultimately spectacular, Metroid Prime for the Nintendo GameCube, and its cousin, Metroid Fusion for the Game Boy Advance. The music for the original Metroid was scored by former Nintendo Sound Staff member Hirokazu Tanaka. Although his score won over fans, Tanaka did not return to score the remaining games. Other members from Nintendo's Sound Staff, including Ryoji Yoshitomi (Metroid II: Return of Samus), Minako Hamano (Super Metroid), and Kenji Yamamoto (Super Metroid) would use Tanaka's themes in the corresponding scores while adding their own style and themes to their scores.

The duo who scored a hit with Super Metroid, Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamano, contribute to the music on this 2-CD set; yet interestingly, Yamamoto was chosen to do Metroid Prime with Koichi Kyuma while Hamano teamed up with Akira Fujiwara to squeeze a decent score into the Game Boy Advance's limited memory capacity for Metroid Fusion. It is interesting to listen to these scores to pinpoint the composers' styles.


Given the surrounding popularity and hype, it can almost be said that with Metroid Prime, Kenji Yamamoto and Koichi Kyuma created a modern masterpiece. With no memory restrictions on a cartridge based-system, the duo churn a high-quality, crisp orchestration for the game's score, which is probably best described as hybrid. It's eerie, atmospheric, driving, occasionally rollicking, sometimes bizarre... and of super-high quality. Most of the tracks are somewhat ambient-based, yet Yamamoto and Kyuma mixes in percussive instruments to prevent the music from ever becoming dull. The highlights of the score are not just some of the new pieces, such as "Chozo Ruins" and "Phendrana Drifts", but remixes of classic themes from the original Metroid (the title theme, Brinstar, item and appearance fanfares) and Super Metroid as well (a jamming, groovy rendition of Ridley's theme, and occasional statements of the moody main theme composed for the Super NES smash hit). The resulting score is so phenomenal and so visceral an experience that it would be glaring to find any fault with it. But alas, Metroid Prime isn't perfect.

The surrealness and all the other great ingredients about this score have its flaws. First, the battle themes: while a lot of them are extremely good, and all fit the intended game sequence, others come off as obnoxious cacophonies. This fault is made all the more glaring by the occasional synth voice which comes off as lame, despite maintaining a crisp, nearly authentic quality. In scores like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which use a somewhat small (limited if you will) orchestration, any dated samples are less than noticeable, but in the case of Metroid Prime it tries so hard to churn forth first-class sounds that it becomes disappointing to hear bad ones. In spite of its faults, however, Metroid Prime is still a fine score, and it's not hard to see why it's become a favorite with GCN owners.

Discussing the game score for Metroid Fusion may require an explanation of the Game Boy Advance's sound system. While the handheld console is indeed capable of producing fine, almost SNES-quality sound samples, it's disheartening to hear even the slightest traces of tinny, 8-bit synth on games which spend more memory on graphics than on sound. I've only played two GBA games as of this writing, and Metroid Fusion was the second. I was disappointed that the music for Contra Advance EX: The Alien Wars (the first I played) sounded like it could have been churned from regular Game Boy or NES, especially since a lot of the sound effects sounded good enough to be 16-bit. Fortunately, the problem does not apply to Metroid Fusion. The synthesized instruments almost sound nearly as high-quality as the SNES. Nearly, because the overall score's sound reproduction is somewhat muffled and not as clean as the GCN or the SNES. On the flip side, any occasional dated samples do not feel out-of-place or glaring, unlike Metroid Prime. Sound quality aside, the music for Metroid Fusion is surprisingly darker and more ambient, save for a few action tracks. At times, the score is every bit as suspenseful, dissonant and shrieking as Bernard Herrman's Psycho, or any other B-horror movie score. I'm guessing that Minako Hamano's style is more of the darker, atmospheric type and Yamamoto a little bit of both. I could be incorrect about this, but it is interesting to make comparisons and contrasts between the two works while listening. There are not very many musical references to previous Metroid games, save for the haunting title theme, Ridley's theme (in two versions; one slower and another faster), appear and item fanfares. It's also less memorable than Metroid Prime, but even with that said, it's a very good score, functioning impeccably in the videogame.

Topping off the music portion of the album is a five-minute arranged track of Metroid Fusion. It's definitely of higher quality, sound-wise, than the game's actual music, but for the most part, it's about as dissonant and scary as the score itself. I wouldn't rank this track as one of the best "arranged" versions I've ever heard, but it's certainly one of the scariest.

The album release is another matter. Those who have heard the game's music countless times will no doubt be shocked by some of the minor differences in this album release. For example, on Disc One, track 11, "Chozo Ruins", is missing a synthesizer sample noise which comes in at around 2:41, and the battle with Flaaghra is extended. The orchestration also feels less loud and more reserved; almost like it was mixed down to an album listening level. I'm not sure if there were minor music alterations in the Japanese release of Metroid Prime or not, but this will no doubt cause controversy from purists. The track span is also uneven; a large majority of the pieces loop only once while few are played twice. In addition, some songs, particularly on the Metroid Prime disc, fade before they're even finished playing or just stop all of a sudden. Technically, the music of Metroid Prime *can* fit onto one disc, but there is at least one track "Ancient Chozo Ruins" which COULD have been cut, as it's basically the same as "Chozo Ruins", only without the driving rhythm and more of the percussive bass. Also, the themes could have been more consistent in terms of looping, too. Why not have *all* the tracks loop once and not have a few of them play twice? That could fit the entire music of Metroid Prime better than this album can. With Metroid Fusion, it's easier because the music is just short enough to fit it onto one disc, but the curiosity as to why Metroid Prime didn't receive the same treatment is an oddity.


Faults aside, fans will find Metroid Prime & Fusion Original Soundtracks to be a rewarding purchase, with two great videogame scores to boot. I tip my hat to Scitron for following up their excellent 2-CD set of The Wind Waker with this solid, if somewhat odd, two-disc packaging of two fine scores from two great Metroid games.

Overall Score: 8/10