Game Music, Reviews

Fantasy Zone Ultra Super Big Maximum Great Strong Complete Album (Review)

August 14, 2009 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook Fantasy Zone Ultra Super Big Maximum Great Strong Complete Album (Review)on Twitter

While I won’t claim to be the biggest fan of the Fantasy Zone series, I do have fond memories of the Tengen version of Fantasy Zone for the NES. I never owned it, but I rented it several times from the local game store and loved the quirky visuals, the amazing gameplay, and of course, the upbeat music.

Even though I didn’t play the other games in the series, I was just as excited as anybody when SEGA announced their Ultra Super Big Maximum Great Strong Complete Album (what a great name) that came out last year as a part of the retromazing Sound Shock Series. It’s super cool that SEGA put this together, and I’ll tell you right now it’s a pretty exhaustive collection spanning 4 discs. And yes, there’s even a new live arrangement that you’re probably going to love!

Hit the jump for our ultra super big maximum great strong review!

I’ll tell you right out that, just like the Daytona USA collection we reviewed earlier, you’re going to hear a lot of the same music over and over again, as there are countless versions of these games for various systems. If anything, though, this allows you to pick out the sound set that you prefer, whether it be FM, PSG, or whatever else tickles your fancy. I’ll try to tackle this beast one game at a time.

The collection opens with a cool development demo sample track titled “OPA-OPA!,” which is a nice treat. It’s basically a crude version of the “OPA-OPA!” theme that appears throughout the series, but it sounds like a live improv with a less defined melody. This is definitely cool to hear. From here the System 16 version of Fantasy Zone starts with a more refined version of “OPA-OPA!” that should be immediately familiar to anyone who’s played the game, as it’s a super upbeat and catchy theme. “SHOP” is another short but catchy tune with a shrill melody and some cool hi-hats. “BOSS” is agressive and bassy, working in some cool drum builds as well. From here on out, you’re in store for a series of amazingly catchy and upbeat tunes, of which “SAARI [RD.3]” with its rapid-fire melody, “PROME [RD.4]” with its amazing chorus, and “DREAMING TOMORROW [RD.7]” with it’s chipper synth leads are my favorite. Oddly enough, given the mind-blowingly happy score, “VICTORY WAY [ENDING]” is rather subdued with its measured pace and contemplative melody.

I’ll mention a few little bonuses here. “HARRIER STAGE” is an arrangement from the Space Harrier theme from the X68000 version of Fantasy Zone, which sounds right at home among the rest of the Fantasy Zone material. Next, SEGA is kind enough to include an arrangement of “OPA-OPA!” from their blackjack arcade machine. The arrangement is a convincing jazz lounge take on the theme, and is one of my favorite tracks on the album. There’s also an interesting track from Virtua Striker 4 where the crowd suddenly starts singing and chanting the “OPA-OPA” theme, which is bizarre, but funny for them to include in this set.

Finally, on to the arrangement that was created specifically for this set, the “Fantasy Zone Medley 2008 Version.” It’s a 12-minute masterpiece with Hiro on keys, Takenobu Mitsuyoshi on bass, vocals, and chorus, Takahiro Kai and Keitaro Hanada on guitar, and Mitsuharu Fukuyama on trumpet. As you can gather, it’s a jazzy take on various themes from the game. I particularly enjoy the various solos throughout (every instrument gets a moment in the spotlight), and the improvised feel of the arrangement. The “KEEP IN THE BEAT [RD.2]” segment is particular groovy, while “SAARI [RD.3]” is downright trippy. Mitsuyoshi doesn’t start singing until the “YA-DA-YO [RD.8 BOSS]” segment, but of course it’s worth the wait as he does this cool call and response between his one-man chorus saying “YA-DA-YO!” and his solo vocal responses.

It’s back into the core Fantasy Zone games with the Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 3 version of Fantasy Zone, which features some additional zones, all of which attempt to sound similar to the classics, but fall a little short in that they’re not nearly as catchy and memorable. They’re appreciated additions nonetheless. Next, the Fantazy Zone Neo Classic version pretty much mirrors the original Fantasy Zone, but with a more muddy and dense sound set that doesn’t quite capture the magic of the original. The second disc starts with yet another version, the Mark III version of the original Fantasy Zone, which is definitely more in line with the original, and may be what you’re looking for if this was the first version you played. Although Opa-Opa finally takes us to a new game, you’re in for more of the same, as most of the music here is arranged material from Fantasy Zone. There are three different versions presented here as well, inclduing the System E, Mark III PSG, and Mark III FM versions. Again, pick your poison; mine’s the FM version!

The entire third disc is dedicated to another new game, Fantasy Zone II, and there’s actually some new music this time around! The Mark III PSG, Mark III FM, and System 16 versions are included, and while the tracks are cute and fun, they don’t pack the same oomph that the original did. This may be due to the fact that I didn’t play the game, but hey, good music is good music, and while this isn’t bad, it doesn’t have that same magic. I feel they’re slightly more serious than their Fantasy Zone counterparts. This time, I think I actually prefer the System 16 version the best, as it has the best low-end sound, giving the tracks a nice groovy bass. It also features some arrangements from the original Fantasy Zone, and I love the oh-so-smooth “MYSTERIOUS SHOP [SHOP SECRET].” “FLY HIGH [RD.6]” also stands out as particularly energetic, and I love the whistle instruments used in this version.

There are three games featured on the fourth and final disc of the collection: Fantasy Zone Gear, Super Fantasy Zone, and Galactic Protector. All three feature original music, and the first two do a great job capturing the spirit of the series with some very memorable moments. Fantasy Zone Gear is the Game Gear iteration of Fantasy Zone, and follows the original formula quite closely while working in new themes. “OPENING [DEMO]” is a sweet and dreamy starter, while the chirping sounds and upbeat melody “WOOD STAGE [RD.1]” will make you right at home. They even abandon tradition with the super happy “FIRE STAGE [RD.2],” as we all know fire stages are supposed to sound angry! Super Fantasy Zone, on the other hand, takes the series onto the Genesis with music by Naoki Kodaka, Shinichi Seya, and Nobuyuki Hara. In a change of pace, “OPENING [DEMO]” is actually a rather aggressive theme, indicating that perhaps Opa-Opa is ready to kick some ass. “PICNIC [RD.1]” works in high-pitched woodwinds and marimba, while “MANGO [RD.2]” is actually a tango! I love all the tracks from this score, and you may think I’m strange, but I swear that they remind me a bit of the music from Legend of the Mystical Ninja on the SNES (another amazing soundtrack). The collection ends with the Galactic Protector Mark III PSG and FM versions. There are only a few tracks featured in the game, and they sound pretty similar. It provides a pretty anti-climactic ending, and it would have been better if they had put these before the Super Fantasy Zone score.

In terms of packaging, there’s nothing particularly special. All four discs come housed in a single, two-sided case, similar to the Daytona USA “box.” There are psychedelic colors aplenty, and the booklet contains several pages of comments. Again, they know what you’re after, and that’s the music. This is an exhaustive collection with tons of great tunes and musical oddities for you to enjoy, so there’s no excuse for you not to pick this up. Go grab it at VGM World, as you’re certainly in for a treat!

Do you have fond memories of the Fantasy Zone series from your childhood? Do you have a particular favorite in the series?

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