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Rockman Rockman & Irregular Hunter X OST :: Review by Ashley Winchester

Rockman Rockman & Irregular Hunter X Original Soundtrack Album Title: Rockman Rockman & Irregular Hunter X Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Capcom
Catalog No.: Promotional
Release Date: September 17, 2009
Purchase: Buy at eBay


In 2009, Nintendo's Game Boy celebrated its 20th anniversary. Outside of making me feel a lot older than I have a right to, Nintendo's little light gray brick more or less brought handheld gaming to the masses. Handheld gaming may have existed prior to that point but it was much more limited, often times a device being devoted to a single game. Breaking down such barriers is impressive on its own; what is perhaps even more impressive is how the Game Boy and its future predecessors managed to hold their own despite usually having the least advanced hardware in the field at any given time. Systems like the Sega Game Gear, the Nokia N-Gage and Neo-Geo Pocket may have come and gone, but some version of the Game Boy was always around regardless.

Still, when it comes to competitors, Sony's PlayStation Portable is generally believed to be the most substantial rival Nintendo has ever faced. The PSP is a lot of different things to different people. From its cool looking UMD discs to its somewhat sagging sales, it's the kind of machine that screams Sony from the top of its lungs. All jesting aside, it's also referred to by some with another, slightly negative moniker: port city. To those that grew up during the reign of the original Playstation, can one look at the current line-up of games and not come down with a case of "enhanced" déjà vu? Great games may deserve an expanded audience, but they don't exactly radiate the luster needed to make the PSP a crowning jewel in the current jungle of handheld hardware.

While it may be easy to play the blame game and point out companies that lean towards this questionable policy, Capcom may deserve a little more credit (or a little less distain) for digging back through the past a little bit deeper for some of their ports. In the case of Mega Man: Powered Up and Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X, the adaptations contain enough new content to slyly exit port territory and plant a foot on remake island. But as everyone knows, re-imaging the past — or even going as far as rewriting it — is a risky proposition. This pertains to music as well, but before one can pass judgment on these upgraded tunes, one must revisit the tunes of yesteryear.


The Original Mega Man, It's Music, The Sequels, and These Soundtracks

For one to gauge the degree of success Toshihiko Horiyama achieves in reshaping the music of Mega Man, one has to look back at the original game itself. Not only that, but one has to expand their view to at least the first sequel as well. Focusing in on the games to the level that follows may seem extreme, but what the environments tell one visually is vital in what Manami Matsumae and Yoshihiro Sakaguchi portrayed to the listener. As odd as this may sound in this day and age, Mega Man's initial adventure on the NES in 1987 was undoubtedly unique. I'm not talking about things like having six bosses instead of the standard eight or the lack of energy tanks, but the impersonal, industrial feel the stages. Other elements, like gun turret traps, the drab color palette, and lack of support characters helped fuel the feeling that you were truly alone — that you were charged with terminating six humanoid robots with little to no explanation. All you knew was that they had to be destroyed. The composers took this into consideration when musically depicting the world, and an abstract sense of "isolated solace" found its way into their compositions. Unsurprisingly, there are a few tracks that flat-out break this ideal (like the free-for-all anomaly that is "Cutman Stage") or bend it (the forward movement in "Gutsman Stage" and the hints of quirkiness found in "Bombman Stage" and "Iceman Stage") but most adhered to the structure of what is a moody soundtrack that isn't terribly engaging.

This begs the question: what is the original Mega Man known for? Its collection of robot masters? Its insane crash damage when fighting the Yellow Devil? Its somewhat peculiar and forgettable level design? All of these are good answers, but perhaps the best answer is its place in the evolution of the series. There would be no Mega Man 2 (or beyond) without it; games with environments that are surprisingly void of the feel outlined above even though they aren't any less inviting for would-be intruders. This doesn't make the game any less important in the scheme of things, though it does make it less likely to be brought up in conversation than its predecessors.

So what does all this have to do with the music of Powered Up and, more importantly, this disc? Lots. With the original version of the game not topping most people's favorite lists, was it really the best choice for a remake outside of the fact it was obviously coordinated with the release of Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X? The lower than expected sales figures may have surprised Keiji Inafune but they didn't surprise me. What did surprise me was Maverick Hunter X ending up in the same boat despite the obvious advantage it had with its success in its original form. From here, it's easy to see why Capcom decided to put them together on the same UMD in 2009 (in Japan) and included this disc to sweeten the pot. If both games had sold as projected, this release probably wouldn't exist. That's irony. Still, the craziest thing professed about Powered Up was Inafune stating that this is how he had envisioned the game from the very beginning. With such knowledge out in the open, how does the musical aspect of this "vision" turn out? Read on to find out.

Thoughts on Mega Man: Powered Up

As expected, with Powered Up's cute, chibi-esque characters and bubbly world comes the removal of Matsumae and Sakaguchi's original moodscapes. The sole survivor in this respect (that's presented here) is "Wily Stage," where a happy medium between the two styles is reached, where the darkness is only infused with a side order of peppiness rather than dominating it. This fails to be the case almost everywhere else you turn, though it leads to some spectacular results. "Boss Battle" gains the most from its upgrade, the beat and layering adding a considerable amount of girth to what was a rather skimpy and sporadic piece. Speaking of things being a little less sporadic, "Fireman Stage" has also grown in a similar respect with thicker synths eliminating the illusionary gaps between the notes while enhancing its pulse. "Wily Boss Battle" also comes out ahead, acquiring the kind of haunting depth that was sorely missing from the original.

When it comes to the remainder of the tunes (save for Cutman's) just add a cup or two of happiness to the themes you know and love. Obviously, such a formula does little in dissecting new additions like "Timeman Stage" and "Oilman Stage" which makes them extremely hard to judge. One can't help but think how they would have been presented on the NES with the game's initial tones in check. Such thoughts only lead to uncertainty, although one certainly gets the idea that it's hard to amend the past, much like it is when taking in Oilman and Timeman's designs in when thinking of the MM1 robot master crew.

However, when it comes to conflict, nothing tops Horiyama's introduction of a new central theme. It's not the composition itself that causes the problem, but the fact I thought Mega Man already had a central theme, the one it ended with and shared with Mega Man 2. Given the game's emotional facelift, the theme is more than appropriate yet overreaching in its effort considering how previous games got by without such connections. (Mega Man Zero tried this with its "Area ZERO" theme which never really grabbed me.) This isn't to say that thematic reprises can't serve the series musically, but they are simply few and far between compared to RPGs, games which generally have more bases to cover.

In the end, given the revamped, colorful world Toshihiko was presented with, it's my belief that he did what he could with this score while staying in bounds of what was expected. Furthermore, I don't think anyone else could surpass his work with such restrictions in place, but the fact remains that Horiyama can create far more superior music when he's allowed to craft his own compositions (i.e. Mega Man X4) instead of prettying up old ones, something that mirrors Powered Up as a product when taken in as a whole.

Thoughts on Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X

Although it may not seem like it given their different textures and polar opposite worlds, it's almost too good to be true that selections from Mega Man: Powered Up share a disc with those from Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X. While I may have gone on about the lack of freedom Horiyama had above, the arrangers for Maverick Hunter X had even less freedom. Restrictions and expectations based solely on preconceptions may not exactly be fair, but the amount of success Mega Man X received in its original form on the SNES (compared to the NES debut) means that things are going to be scrutinized on a different and higher level. A lot of this has to do with the idea that the series musical direction was at full term by the first game and that each subsequent soundtrack didn't really evolve as much as they took on the faces of the composers behind them.

Unfortunately, it's one of the most unfavorable "faces" that takes the reigns here — Shinya "Midnight" Okada. While Okada may have others by his side — Kento Hasegawa and Seiko Kobuchi — it does nothing to ease my feelings that this group knows next to anything about Mega Man music, unlike Akemi Kimura (aka Naoto Tanaka) or Ryo Kawakami. Okada's obvious penchant towards techno-flavored pieces has managed to worm its way into games like Mega Man X7 and X8, where it has more or less tried to (annoyingly) declare war on convention. In all honesty, it was only with Mega Man X: Command Mission — a game that had very little to do with that series' canon — where it didn't run afoul and actually worked. Capcom basically gave him a blank check with that game, and he cashed it as hard and as quickly as he could because no one had any idea what a Mega Man RPG was meant to sound like. In many ways he succeeded (I actually enjoy and appreciate the Command Mission soundtrack for what it is) and got his wish of drenching a game with his sound. Sort of. It's not to much of a stretch to believe that Command Mission lacks the clout of an action oriented Mega Man title, thus the audience reached was significantly smaller. Enter Maverick Hunter X. But what happens when you take away the freedom to create a new, original score that Command Mission afforded? You get a hybrid that screams "I want credit too!"

Intelligently, instead of completely fighting against the grain, Okada and crew play a game that governments often employ to increase their own power. In knowing that a complete 180 in terms of policy (in the case style) is suicide, they ever so slightly chip away at ideas and opinions in order to achieve their goals. To put it another way, it's easier to rewrite history a little at a time than to do it in one fell swoop. This is the sole concept that the experience revolves around, and like the government officials they parallel, they do a more than efficient job in doing it. However, efficiency and strength are two different beasts, and it's pretty obvious the reason this version is efficient is because of the strength of the original, underlying material. Need some proof? Check out "Theme of VAVA." It's amazing how terrible this piece is despite how appropriate it is for the character it represents. Be that as it may, the only other piece that truly winds up in any kind of trouble is "Sigma Battle 2," where an effort to make the piece more epic winds up creating an ugly mass of instrumentation.

Beyond the music and the perceived motives behind it, there is another item of interest buried within the tracklisting. The title for the opening stage music "Opening Stage ~Theme of X~" brings up a question on how one perceives opening stage themes. Has anyone ever thought of these pieces as more than just area themes? Personally, I never started viewing them as character themes until X4 when the music in the Sky Lagoon changed depending on which character the player played as, which (combined with their reappearance in the game's ending FMVs) more or less implied them as such. Zero's dedicated themes in X1 to X3 also did their part in implanting such a view in the listener. However, looking back at this particular composition, it's not hard to see how it can be seen as more than a backdrop for the chaos and destruction Sigma's minions are causing throughout Abel City. Thinking about it now, it also personifies the confusion running rampant throughout X's mind as he works his way towards the center of Vile's disturbance.

When all is said and done, there is little doubt that the arrangers of Maverick Hunter X aimed to take a previously successful score and make it their own. What's confounding about this is how such a feeling exists even though they don't do anything truly radical — like forging a new main theme — to the score. If anything, it's a thinly veiled plot that hardly encroaches on the original music at the heart of the matter, and while it's neither harsh nor abrasive, it most likely has nowhere near the longevity that any of its crafters had hoped for.


In the end, the music for both games covered on disc try their best to make one re-envision the origins of what are two of the most important Mega Man series to date. Blunt as it may sound, the truth is that neither score is likely to act as a gateway to either series musical continuities for newer, younger listeners. In terms of overall quality however, Toshihiko's work on Powered Up pulls ahead for not taking itself too seriously or as seriously as Maverick Hunter X's self-serving techno edge. As surprising as this may sound coming from a true-blue Mega Man fan, this disc will mostly likely only end up in the collections of those who consider themselves as completists, something I once viewed myself as not to long ago, but have grown beyond.

Overall Score: 7/10