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Rockman 8 Original Soundtrack :: Review by Ashley Winchester

Rockman 8 Original Soundtrack Album Title: Rockman 8 Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Team Entertainment
Catalog No.: KDSD-00172
Release Date: November 21, 2007
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


Much like the games they appear in, Rockman scores tend to follow in the consistent steps of their predecessors. To the uninformed, the existence of an underlying formula may suggest that the music is one-dimensional, in need of new sources of inspiration. However, taking a deeper look such exploration already exists: from the abstract work of Yuki Iwai in Rockman X2 to the deserted ideas of the original Rockman Zero, these scores draw attention to the fact musical departure is possible while at the same time presenting experiences that are undeniably Rockman. Whether or not Rockman 8 qualifies as such is subject to question, the majority holding true to its lineage.

There are many reasons why Rockman 8 feels different than its counterparts, one being the quick jump from the 16-bit realm to the 32-bit realm. This disallowed the development of fixed standard in the sound department, something that greatly benefited the first six soundtracks (the lack of a auditory standard would be complicated even further when the series eventually returned to the Super Nintendo with 1998's Rockman & Forte). Still, the more likely cause for the indifference some show towards the score is its soft, often laid back temperament; there is an odd impression that there should be more to the pieces than what is there due to an almost synthetic void. It's like a voice echoing off the walls in an empty room; you almost expect to hear a reply but all you hear is your own voice ricocheting since there is nothing there to absorb it. To imagine such a quality clashing with the crispness of bit tunes isn't hard, though it's hardly the stake though the heart some believe it to be. In fact, some of Shusaku Uchiyama's best pieces live and breathe off the effect created by it.


The soundtrack wastes no time, presenting the listener with a powerful combination of energy and movement in "Title Screen". Presenting these elements, which are more timid and reserved elsewhere, at this point is important to the soundtrack as a whole. Things settle back down into their normal posture with "Stage Select" maintaining the flow of energy with its mellow and unrelated techno style. However, around this point a relatively minor issue comes to light: the down time between the beginning of a fade and start of the following track is quite excessive. Content and humble, "Laboratory" unfortunately disrupts that sense of drive from above before the upbeat "Opening Stage Above Ground" can continue it. Being somewhat of a play on the title theme, the catchy but rather uninspired sense of discovery is befitting. Its counterpart "Opening Stage Underground" works in much the same way, and is the first piece to reveal the darker side of the score.

Touching off the main assortment of stage themes is the enchanting Ice Stage where the peculiar aspects of Rockman 8's sound become its advantage. That odd seemingly hollow void alluded to above is put to work as the simultaneous chill of merriment and sadness resound throughout the surrounding emptiness. This makes the appearance of the soundtrack's only true recording flaw (the omission of a loop transition) all the more ironic. Though it hardly seems to matter due to the wonderful feeling this track leaves behind, given the source of the audio this time around (CD-ROM) one can only wonder what was trying to be accomplished and why. The deep, piano laden sections of the playful "Alternate Dimension Stage" create a similar atmosphere, interacting with and providing a clever reprieve from the track's quirky overtone.

Whether the remaining stage themes live beyond their in-game context for the right reasons is debatable. The almost boorish sense of laziness within "Base Stage" doesn't seem to stick out until your mind unintentionally reflects back on it hours after listening to it but the stereotypical "Amusement Park Stage" is a real surprise, not being nearly as disposable as one would initially think. Dissection of the Aztec-like "Ruins Stage" and the calm almost lullaby-ish "Underwater Stage" requires the consideration of the larger picture: while standard musical representations of their respective environments at face value, they're notable but not memorable for being unlike anything else in the series. Uchiyama's Wily themes attempt a similar yet altogether different ruse, disguising compositions whose roots lie within the bounds of the Rockman sound with curious choices in execution. Peeling away the layer of deception reveals a set of themes that are somewhat related with those from the previous game. At its core, interaction between the concave backdrop and lead synth in Wily Stage 1 is reminiscent of the contrast between the instruments used in Rockman 7's Wily Stage 1 while initially appearing to be a completely different idea. Still, attempting to find such a link with the dark and brooding Wily Stage 3 is another story.

Boss themes account for the soundtrack's greatest area of inconsistency. Things start off on the right foot, the methodical beat of the quasi-mechanical "Mid Boss Battle" reinforcing the menacing disposition of Wily's creations as they grind to their death. Emphasizing the mystery and intrigue surrounding the robot masters is the fever pitch of "Big Boss Entry", resisting the urge to give into that standard declaration of dread associated with their appearance. In line with the boss theme from Rockman 7 is "Big Boss Battle" where the semi-playful context is mined hollow by the underlying seriousness. Such emotions co-exist more peacefully with one another in "Midway Stage Duo Battle" where the heroic call of the day is answered with a befitting character theme. This is perhaps what makes the reprise of Forte's theme in "Bass Battle" all the more disappointing; that tense sense of controlled tenacity from the original is replaced with an unimpressive haunting warble. In what has become somewhat of a standard since the NES games, the final battle themes have once again undergone extensive retooling; the idea of thematic drama being toned down in favor of compositions that tease the listener. This is something that the oppressive technological atmosphere of "Wily Second Form" and "Wily Third Form" can barely accomplish with their abstract structure, failing to provide an adequate level of poignancy.

Closing out the album is the music for the game's various video sequences. It's surprising how well the Sunday morning cartoon feel of "AS Forte", the inherent sadness and lament within "Reminiscence", and the boldness of "Duo Entry" generate such emotion outside the comfort of their accompanying scenes. Exclusion of the opening theme, the piece that replaced the original J-pop opening in the NTSC and PAL versions, is regrettable and could have been another solid way to open the album. As unfortunate as it is, this isn't the only thing that throws the completeness of the soundtrack into question. With the music only derived from the Sony PlayStation edition of the game, the alternate composition for "Sky Stage" and remixed renditions of the Cut Man and Wood Man themes from the Sega Saturn version are left to the ages. It's understandable why the Playstation version was used as the standard for the soundtrack but does that really warrant ignoring the existence of additional material? No.


Regardless of the grievances above, it's obvious that the music of Rockman 8 lacks the clout of its predecessors; the time elapsed between the debut of the game and soundtrack (ten years) only serves to support such a view. It's not hard to find fault in Uchiyama's work here, but those willing to overlook the score's lack of sheen can and will find something to enjoy.

Overall Score: 7/10