Update: I just noticed that an old friend of mine, Ben Schweitzer, translated the liner notes for this album over at SEMO. If you want some great insight from Koshiro himself, this is a great resource. Koshiro’s self-aware choice of using “club music” is very interesting, and that’s only the first paragraph!
Yuzo Koshiro’s older soundtracks are very hard to come by. All those G.M.O. / Alfa Records releases (catalog prefix ALCA-) would cost you hundreds of dollars to collect.
Fortunately, the three separate soundtracks for Bare Knuckle I, II, and III (known as Streets of Rage in North America) have been compiled into one handy-dandy set thanks to publisher Wave Master (catalog number WM-0691~4). It’s four discs: the three OSTs (with a whole bunch of previously unreleased tracks) take up the first three discs. In fact, the second half of each of the first two discs have the Game Gear versions of their soundtracks (II first, then I).
And then, on disc four, a recording of a live set of music DJ’d by Koshiro back in 2002 that runs over 40 minutes in length. WOW! Talk about rare. Wave Master went well out of their way to give us the definitive Bare Knuckle / Streets of Rage album.
After the jump, I’ll be giving you my take on the album. I’m new to the franchise (GASP!) but I’m a long-time Koshiro fan. Let’s see how it turns out…
So we have a one-two punch, followed by a two-one punch. In my mind, Bare Knuckle and Bare Knuckle II are the meat and potatoes of the franchise. So getting them twice, once in Mega Drive format and again in Game Gear format, is just an awesome second helping.
That opening theme, “The Street of Rage,” is at-once danceable and endearing. It’s a simple tune, but a fantastic one. Then there’s the super-lengthy first stage music, “Fighting in the Streets.” Koshiro knows how to make people want to dance while they beat-em-up. The other stage themes give different perspectives, but generally remain at the same tempo. “Dilapidated Town” has an Asian ethnic feel to it; “Keep the groovin'” isn’t as busy as “Fighting in the Streets,” but is just as catchy; and if you were looking for a fast tempo, check out the seventh stage music, “Violent Breathing.”
Also, I have to point out the bad ending theme song is entitled “You Became the Bad Guy!” — spoiler alert? That’s straight-up awesome. If you’re looking for something super chill, check out “My little baby (good ending).” Reminds me of some of the early Ys ballads, or Koshiro’s work on the visual novel / graphic adventure Misty Blue.
Part 2 of disc 1 opens with the Game Gear version of “S.O.R Super Mix,” which is a short arranged track. It’s neat, but pales in comparison to what we’ll get on disc four. And, real quick, a note about the Game Gear versions of the first game (found at the end of disc 2): there are less stage themes, and the songs have all been chopped down to fewer audio channels, and the high-octave stuff really stands out. Personally, I find a few of the songs sound better in this format, especially that final stage track “The Last Soul.”
Now then, on to Streets of Rage II (which was strangely mis-spelled on its old OST as “Bare Nuckle” instead of “Bare Knuckle”). If you listen to the soundtrack in order, you get the Game Gear version first, then the Mega Drive (aka Sega Genesis) version. The same rules still apply, but because Koshiro really learned how to harness the capabilities of the Mega Drive by the time the second game came out, I very much prefer the Mega Drive version of the second game. So I’m going to just focus on that.
Alright, so the track “Go Straight.” This is the definitive theme music of beat-em-ups. You get the syncopated dance beat, sure. But then you also get this frantic, mode-shifting melody, that makes you feel like you’re actually doing some duck-and-move of your own just by listening. After the first minute, this beautiful B section starts up, a major-key transition away from the craziness of the opening and into something a little more victorious. However, this section is fleeting: the main melody kicks back in in less time than it took me to type this sentence. Yikes! Keeping up pace is difficult: so just keep walking right! GO STRAIGHT!
My favorite track from Bare Knuckle II, and perhaps the entire collection, is “Dreamer.” This just oozes the Koshiro dance vibe. Very, very cool musical theme.
But there’s a lot of diversity on BK2. “Alien Power” and “Under Logic,” which appear in succession, have some interesting melodic patterns and chord progressions. And “Wave 131” is downright creepy: and yet, danceable. Are we noticing a pattern here?
If you’re ready for some intense action, there’s the final boss music, “Revenge of Mr.X.” Don’t mess with the X. Or rather, do mess with him, and be ready for a serious battle. Without resorting to straight-up rock band music, Koshiro manages to bring an industrial vibe to the dance tracks on this final battle theme.
Now, Bare Knuckle III … I don’t know how I feel about this one. Actually, yes I do. I can say with confidence that it’s my least favorite of the three. This might have to do with the fact that Koshiro didn’t work solo on this one: he and Motohiro Kawashima worked on it together. More importantly, though, the sound palette is just weird. I find it very distracting, in the sense that I want to enjoy the melodies, but then I hear some weird warbling garbage and I can’t focus. This is as true for fast tracks (“Dub Slash,” “Fuze”) as it is for slow tracks (“BGM II Mr.X”).
If I had to pick favorites from disc 3 … and this is a stretch … I kind of dig “Moon” and “Crazy Train.” But I’d like to see both of them forced into the sound fonts used in the Mega Drive BKII. Can someone make that happen, please?
Okay, enough whining. Let’s just get to the dessert.
Yes, back to the food analogy. If discs 1 and 2 are a double serving of meat and potatoes, and disc 3 is some sort of weird snack food or salad that you didn’t order, then disc 4 is a super-awesome hunk of chocolate cake for dessert. A la mode (of course).
This “LEGEND Mix” is 42 minutes long, so right there, it’s the answer to everything. It hits all the key themes from the series: “The Street of Rage,” “Player Select,” “Go Straight,” “Dreamer,” and so much more. The quality of the tonal synths is slightly superior, and the drum loops are far superior.
Having schooled myself in this wonderful trilogy of beat-em-ups with this album, I think it’s safe to say I’m envious of the people who attended the LEGEND DJ session one decade ago. But the pain is greatly mitigated by the fact that we all are now able to hear the recording of the mix.
Now, Wave Master releases aren’t always easy to get one’s hands on. The Enterbrain Shop stocks it, but that can be a challenge for non-Japanese consumers to order from. Nonetheless, I’d say it’s totally worth the import. It’s a definitive set, which is great for collectors, and there’s something here for anyone who’s ever found themselves impressed by Koshiro’s other works (everything from Ys to Etrian Odyssey and everything in-between). Get it before it’s gone.Tags: Bare Knuckle, Game Gear, LEGEND, Mega Drive, Motohiro Kawashima, Reviews, SEGA, Sega Genesis, Streets of Rage, Wave Master, Yuzo Koshiro