Game Music, Music Production, Reviews

Street Fighter II The Definitive Soundtrack (Review)

Street Fighter II The Definitive Soundtrack (Review)

December 26, 2015 | | 6 Comments Share thison Facebook Street Fighter II The Definitive Soundtrack (Review)on Twitter

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What is Brave Wave’s Street Fighter II The Definitive Soundtrack? It isn’t a remix album and it isn’t necessarily a new arrangement of the music, although you could easily be convinced otherwise. It’s the first in the label’s Generation Series that aims to painstakingly revitalize some of gaming’s unreleased, incomplete, or poorly preserved soundtracks. For Street Fighter II that meant making new source recordings directly from Capcom’s CPS-1 (Street Fighter II) and CPS-2 (Super Street Fighter II Turbo) arcade hardware.

A lot of work went into cleaning up the recording before it was finally mixed and mastered and ultimately signed off on by original composer, Yoko Shimomura. Did the months of delicate, elaborate work pay off? Play the side-by-side comparison within and know that you’ve never heard Street Fighter II’s music so clearly before, and not just because you aren’t in a raucous arcade.

Fighting games and I are fair-weather friends at best. I’m not competitive or determined enough to master any character but even I couldn’t resist the original Street Fighter II’s hype in the arcade. It’s still my favorite entry in the series — one I’ve loved listening to for nearly 25 years — but this compilation made me realize that I’ve barely heard any of it. Sure, I know the main character themes by heart but I’ve never beaten the game with each character, never spent much time with Super Street Fighter II Turbo and I totally forgot there were “critical” versions of all the themes. I was just hoping for a cleaned up recording of Zangief’s music but I got so, SO much more.

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The album encompasses a whopping 115 tracks with 46 representing the original Street Fighter II, 68 from Super Street Fighter II Turbo and a final track of voice and sound effects. The physical releases span four gorgeous blue and orange vinyl LPs or three color printed CDs. I don’t own a turntable so I was spared the heartbreak of seeing the vinyl editions sell out instantaneously. I opted for the CD version which comes in a standard double-disc jewel case with that classic album art and Brave Wave’s simple but stylish packaging. Inside are the three full-color discs adorned with Ryu, Bison and Dhalsim artwork and simple labels denoting CPS-1 (Disc 1) and CPS-2 (Discs 2 and 3).

The liner notes start with an introduction from Brave Wave and a huge tracklist page followed by a foreword from Capcom’s Yoshinori Ono. The current Executive Producer of the Street Fighter series, Ono relates his experience with the games, its music and Shimomura’s influence with his trademark boyish charm. Most interesting are the following pages with a short Q&A from Yoko Shimomura. It’s not a pensive tell-all interview but she does briefly explain how Super Mario Bros. and Dragon Quest inspired her and how she lucked into working on Street Fighter II. Best of all, she adds a few thoughts on each character’s theme and what she had in mind while composing them. Finally, Matt Leone from Polygon.com relates his own unique experience with the series after spending most of 2013 absorbed by a Street Fighter retrospective piece. Interspersed are more (but never enough!) vintage Capcom illustrations from artists including Akiman and Kinu Nishimura.

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Street Fighter II: The World Warriors (1991, CPS-1)
The music itself is even more lovingly produced than the physical trimmings. At first it just sounds cleaner than I remembered but as Ryu’s theme begins there’s a new depth to be heard in the syncopated pop of the traditional Japanese percussion. The drums and claps start Zangief’s theme with a bang and the warbly, tinny main melody sing over a newly restored bass line. Blanka’s theme in particular sounds like an entirely new song. The drums, the organs and the layers of melody come at you fast and unyielding. It’s a totally new vibe that fills the space this restoration has swept clean, and it happens with nearly every track.

Then there are the eleven ending themes; surprisingly upbeat vignettes evoking Ryu’s hunt for the next challenge, Ken’s unexpected reunion and Chun-Li’s graveside prayer/female awakening. I’ve never seen all the endings in the game but from an audio standpoint they serve as unique accompaniment to each of the characters’ themes. Similarly, the next twelve “Critical” tracks take the character themes and tweak them up to lightning speed, played when their health dips dangerously low. The endings and criticals are nice to have for the sake of a definitive collection but they aren’t as repeatedly listenable as the main themes.

There are also the remaining jingles for “Continue”, “Game Over”, “Victory”, “Ranking”, “New Challenger” and even a rare “Unused Jingle” that Brave Wave dug out of the game. It’s all capped by the Staff Roll which soars high and triumphant with a fast paced melody and driving bassline. It has that perfect feel that puts a bow around the entire Street Fighter II experience no matter how you played or listened to it.

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Super Street Fighter II Turbo (1993, CPS-2)
After two years of hardware advancements the CPS-2 brings more layers, fuller bass and an overall smoother sound that remains a major point of contention for Street Fighter music fans. The sound is definitely clearer and more nuanced but for me it lacks the personality of the original; it really depends on which version you encountered first. The structure of the music hasn’t changed much between the two versions but the instrumentation clearly has.

Nevertheless, Super Street Fighter II Turbo gets the same loving restoration as the original along with the addition of five new character themes. It’s presented in the same fashion with a playlist of 67 tracks for main themes, endings, criticals, all the jingles and another “Unused Theme” found hidden in the hardware. Don’t fear, fans of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, my brevity with this larger part of the compilation doesn’t mean it’s lacking or unimpressive. The production and scope is as definitive as the Street Fighter II portion.

From the packaging to the playlist and the audio itself, Street Fighter II The Definitive Soundtrack is exactly that: definitive. At the same time it’s also symptomatic of a greater problem facing video game preservation. Until Brave Wave did all this work we had no idea how much fidelity was lost in our previous OSTs, mp3s and gamerips. It’s worth buying the album just to support future conservation efforts like this. If preservation isn’t a concern of yours you can still regard this album as the definitive collection of Street Fighter II music and one well worth buying digitally or physically.

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