Streets of Rage 2 Original Soundtrack (US) :: Review by Mustin
When video game fans think of video game music, they tend to think of the Super Mario Bros. main theme or the interludes and sound effects from Pac-Man or maybe Galaga. When video game music fans think of video game music, they often tend to think of music from Final Fantasy, Castlevania, and maybe Mega Man or Super Mario games. When asking someone about game music, Streets of Rage 2 isn't usually the first thing that pops into mind. But without this monumental and landmark soundtrack, one might forget an important turning point in video game music history.
In 1992, Sega released the much anticipated sequel to its fighting/action game Bare Knuckle with Bare Knuckle II (known as Streets of Rage 2 in the United States). Not only was it a great action game, but this is also the first game where a composer kept the copyright to his music. His name even appears on the title screen. This kind of attention to game music or its composer was so uncommon it was unheard of at the time. Even today with the increase of game music fans, mention of the composer is rarely seen on a title screen (though the games of today play out more like a movie with opening credits, etc.).
For 1992, the Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack was far beyond its time. This soundtrack sets the pace for all video game techno soundtracks, years before techno soundtracks were commonplace in video games.
I have so many favorite tracks on the album, but if I have to choose just one, it would be the "S.O.R. Super Mix." I've never felt so much emotion in an electronic dance track. Just hearing the first few haunting tones gets me riled up and motivated. These days I'm easily moved by electronica favorites like BT and Paul Oakenfold. But at the same time these guys were just starting to get their name out in the late 80's and early 90's, Yuzo Koshiro was writing dance floor anthems that have still yet to be heard by the masses. While no one in London's trendy clubs is shaking and sweating to "Go Straight" right now, who's to say they couldn't be? Good dance music is good dance music. But in this case, this is great dance music.
For fans of harder hitting dance music, tracks like "Never Return Alive" and "Jungle Base" are really going to hit home. Arguably the hardest hitting song, "Expander," was actually written by Motohiro Kawashima. This track will make you move no matter who you are. With its raunchy synth bass, panning synths, and the fastest tempo on the album, you will move. Kawashima assisted Koshiro and it's a real treat to get a chance to hear his works. "Expander," along with "Mad Max" and "Little Money Avenue," are really great tracks. Although Koshiro did not compose alone on this soundtrack, the consistency in style is never an issue. All of the tracks flow together well and make for a wholesome experience.
In contrast there are a few tracks that I usually skip because I feel they lack the intensity and feeling that the rest of the soundtrack provides. "Good End" is just too "lonely" of a piece for me. It is a little monotonous and lacks some substance. Without drive, it always makes me want to not beat the game, which doesn't resonate since it's the ending theme. In addition, while "Too Deep" gets its ambient point across, I don't think it holds up against the rest of the other tracks on the album. The piece also includes some sound effects that are very grating and catch me off guard because they sound like a ringing phone.
Yuzo Koshiro pushed the primitive Sega Genesis sound processor to its limit with this soundtrack. The voice samples are all clean and the sound effects are as thick and realistic as the primitive FM synthesizer would allow. It only takes a minimal understanding of music for a video game player to admit that during gameplay it's the music that gets all the attention. Whereas Squaresoft's latest offering at the time, Final Fantasy IV, had a great soundtrack (and arguably timeless in the realm of game music), the sound quality is weak. Streets of Rage 2 sounds like what most people considered "real music" and it still does today. I've never had a complaint when listening to this CD around friends (unless they just don't like electronic music in the first place). "This is video game music?" It's always a question/statement that I love to hear.
But on the whole, if you haven't been convinced by now, everyone who is a fan of game music should at least hear this album at some point. The game is great, and the music is great in the game, but when the music stands on its own that's where Yuzo Koshiro really shines. Even though he's an amazing game composer with epic and soaring orchestral soundtracks like Ys and the highly acclaimed ActRaiser, it's humbling to know that he also is the pioneer for good electronic dance music in games, and maybe even electronic dance music as a whole. After all, BT claims that video games and game music have been a big influence on him. Maybe Koshiro had an influence on him and others like me who can say we are where we are today because of Yuzo Koshiro.
Overall Score: 8/10