Among the staff here at The Wired Fish, there’s no mistaking that I like me some old-school games from my youth. Much of what I bought this past Christmas was old PS1 games off the Playstation Store, chief among them being Wild ARMs 2. When talking it up on Retro Weekends, I reminisce about simpler times when all I had to worry about was going to school, doing my homework, and get further in that new game I got. Times have changed, with life moving at a faster pace now that I’m older, and info being fed to me faster than any magazine ever could back then. So when I happened upon Senran Kagura Burst, I came in expecting pretty much what I expected (and being all the more happy for it). But the bodacious package came with a neat little treat that I didn’t expect.
Before getting the game, I expected lots of life and lots of hometown. I read up on the story when the website went up, but packed away in that site was music that sorta took me back. So in the middle of my bodacious bumping of bountiful booty, I lent an ear for a sec to the music of the game and came away rather impressed. Still, this was in the middle of fights so I could only hear so much in the midst of the mayhem. It wouldn’t be until I delved into the music gallery that it got a little cozy.
Accompanied with each music track is a short description by the game’s composers, AkiHee Motoyama and Mutsumi Ishimura. They pretty much explain their thought processes in making each song, whether its something that goes with the personality of a character or a moment of the story. Listening to the music, it brings forth a certain feeling that’s hard to describe. Like playing an old game on the SNES, Genesis, PS1, or N64, you get a feeling that the people who made these games enjoyed what they were doing, so much so that they want to talk about it in the game itself. Though it’d be unwise for me to not acknowledge that there probably were some in the industry back that probably didn’t like their jobs and wished they did something else. Likewise there’s probably some today who enjoy doing what they’re doing. But when playing certain games, there’s a sort of… click to it, that all the gears fell into place and the developers had fun doing what they did and loved it.
In other words, the same carefree attitude some of us had as kids during our free time can be felt with some of the older, and newer, games, I’ve played. The music is even more telling of either preferences of the composer, being the product of something for its time, or trying out music styles they don’t try often. Take for instance Envious Gaze, Yomi’s pre-transformation theme. Something about this song reminds me of some of the old puzzle games back then, or even a couple of fighting games. Probably the closest thing I could think of is Sakura’s Theme from Street Fighter Alpha 2 (especially the Puzzle Fighter II version). Such a cheerful theme, reflective of happier times.
Yagyu’s theme, Believe in Yourself, combines hard guitar riffs with synth melodies, something that was quite popular among composers in the 90s. You could hear this in games like Megaman X4 and a few shmup titles. This brings to mind two things. First it reminds me of the very Top Gun-ish themes of the first Ace Combat games, which I’m very fond of. It also reminds me of a Capcom game, either Megaman or Rival Schools… probably more Rival Schools. Above all, it takes me back to one of my favorite genres: Shmup games. That intro hook with the guitar takes me back to just how pumped I was during the first stage of Gate of Thunder.
Keeping up with the mix of guitar and synth, we have Seeking a Heart, Hikage’s pre-transformation theme. The synth melody has a sort of sway in it that makes it rather catchy. It leads into a steadier melody, but ends on a high note with a short guitar solo backing it up. Then this funky guitar comes in to sweeten the deal. Something tells me AkiHee had a lot of fun making this one. While we’re on the subject of Hikage, let’s talk about her post transformation theme, Frenzied Soul. This one goes all out with a stronger guitar riff, more synth, and this time with a piano playing out the chorus. It’s hard to pinpoint which other game this reminds me of (I’m inclined to say Rival Schools again), but it’s definitely got a late 90s/early 2000s vibe to it.
One of the biggest throwbacks in the soundtrack is Yomi’s post-transformation theme, A Silent Fury. Right away you can tell that melody came straight out of 90s dance music. It’s like AkiHee flew a plane to New York, raided the offices of KTU, and told them, “give me everything you got by Alice DeeJay and Eiffel 65!” Even one of the youtube comments make mention of something developer Tamsoft made back then, Battle Arena Toshinden, with the character Ellis and her cheery theme. While the playing field for dance music has certainly changed, it’s nice to hear a good ol’ throwback every now and then.
To round this all up, the Crimson Girls theme, The Crimson Law, is something of a bridge in all this, a coming together of strong vocals reflective of retro anime and musical arrangements with modern instrumentation. While it can be viewed as sounding like another anime theme, it mixes it up with your usual Japanese intruments and kickass guitar work. Probably the best contribution to The Crimson Law is the vocals by Eri Kitamura. I’m not usually a big fan of high-pitched vocals (so you probably can guess how I feel about the Skirting Shadows theme, Chaos in Bloom), so hearing her voice definitely brings me back to some of older anime themes when they had, for the most part, more mature sounding voices.
There are a few more songs I’d like to talk about, but I’ll leave it to you to play the game. Overall the music of Senran Kagura was definitely a nice surprise, and one that I’d like to hear more of if Shinovi Versus is released here. While I could be going on a tangent here, especially since this is more design wise, this is the kind of stuff I like to see in the games I play – seeing devs having fun making what they like and injecting lots of soul into their craft without fear of outside influences or crazy ass suits making crazy ass demands. While we can be serious all we want, it’s nice to see something not take itself so seriously and just be fun. Seeing all this come together just makes me nostalgic, devs goofing around and having fun (while still remaining serious and working). And I’m certain Kenichiro Takaki would agree that when you have a cozy hometown, it’s when you realize that life is good.