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My Top 10 Retro Konami Soundtracks
I've mentioned in other hubs that I loved Konami games since young for their fantastic music. I've also done two hubs on Konami soundtracks, one for Castlevania and one for Gradius. This time, I'd be listing my all-time favourite Konami compositions. All these hail from the pre-2000 era, in other words before game music went the ... ambient way. So that I don't flood the list with just Castlevania and Gradius entries, I'd be following the "Mojo Top 10" rule. One game per franchise. Or in this case, one soundtrack per Konami franchise.
(This list is not in any ranking of preference)
Konami manuals from the SNES era
1. Castlevania: Heart of Fire
Simon Belmont is the most prominent character in the picture above. And so I'd start with his series!
While there are many other great Castlevania soundtracks, Heart of Fire remains my all-time favourite. I took a really long time to reach it in Castlevania 1. (Cough!) It was also an early taste of what video game music would eventually evolve into. Not just repetitive, cheesy jingles, but proper compositions with intros, verses, choruses and outros. Till today, I still listen to Heart of Fire regularly, especially the remixed versions. If you haven't, please do check out the creative re-arrangements of Castlevania and other Konami soundtracks in YouTube. The magic of many franchises is well alive there.
2. Gradius II: Overheat
When I did my Gradius list, I had difficulties describing why I loved Overheat most. That problem persists here.
Let me try again. This time, I'd say, it's simply so intense. So determined as well, for that bright light at the end of the road. (Gofer's head exploding) If you've ever played Gradius II, you'd know that Overheat was used in the penultimate stage. The one where you have to kick into overdrive mode, and prepare for the most intense fight. The melody seems to say, keep your chin up! You're nearly at the end! At the same time, there's also a very slight sensation of ... regret? Gosh, I'm not making sense, am I? I'd leave you to listen to it yourself, and decide what's this soundtrack is really about.
3. Contra: Stage 2 (Base 1)
Most gamers, I suspect, would pick the jungle theme if asked to state their favourite Contra soundtrack. That is indeed a great opening, but I have always felt that the stage 2 soundtrack has much more kick in it. The emphatic first beats correspond so well to the action, yes? Especially when coordinated with the punctuated 3D progression of the stage? And the introduction. So gritty. Does it not invoke a picture of commandos Bill and Lance chewing on grass, coldly examining the alien base before them? *Spit* And they're off. Purple alien blood splatters everywhere. Earth's saviours don't even break a sweat while doing it.
4. Axelay: Mother (Stage 3)
Axelay was ahead of its time, mostly for choosing to go partially 3D. It was also one of the most challenging SNES shooters around. Throughout the game, you don't get to upgrade your weapons. Even after you hit the later stages, you get no more than a few measly options added to your arsenal.
It had splendid music too! Many songs from which are worthy challengers to the Gradius ones for top Konami soundtracks. Mother, for the third stage, is particularly memorable. The jungle drums and melancholic undertones are so apt for the design of that stage. Check out the gameplay to see what I mean. Stage 3 was incidentally, also my favourite Axelay stage. I never fail to bob to the tune, when flying through that stage.
5. Hi No Tori: Stage Theme for Distant Past
Back then, I didn't know that Hi No Tori (火の鳥) was based on an acclaimed, highly philosophical manga. I just thought it was a very colourful Japanese-themed game, with incredibly catchy stage music. Out of the three stage soundtracks, my favourite is this one for the prehistorical levels. That best way I could describe this composition, it's so infectiously positive. It's exactly the way one should be, when on that kind of adventure.
Incidentally, Hi No Tori was my tenth NES game. With it, I was convinced that Konami soundtracks were the best among its peers. This very quickly made me a lifelong fan of Konami creations.
6. The Goonies: The Goonies R Good Enough
This is the odd one in the list. 'The Goonies R Good Enough' is not an original Konami composition, but the title song for the movie the game was based on. (Cyndi Lauper sang it) For me, it was another harbinger of what video game music would one day become. It would go beyond being just digital beeps and shrills, and be recognised as a proper music genre. With no offense to Cyndi, I actually prefer this 8-bit version to her vocal version. It just feels, more fun. Of course, this also makes all the subterranean exploration in the game so much more atmospheric.So much more, adventurous.
7: Gambare Goemon 2: Hokkaido
Gambare Goemon was renamed to Mythical Ninja when marketed to the west. Unfortunately, it didn't do as well as other Konami exports. Maybe it was just too quirky and weird. Or maybe It required too much understanding of Japanese culture in order to play easily. Personally, I also disliked the later SNES episodes that incorporated giant robot fights and outer space exploration. These pseudo sci-fi elements felt very divorced from the earlier games.
This soundtrack comes from the NES days. When GG was still decisively medieval Japanese in feel and touch. It's very ... bubbly. (Yeah, yeah, I prefer upbeat themes) It's also extremely catchy, to the extent I always hum it when traveling in Japan. By the way, GG is for some reason, near abandoned by Konami. I do hope that it returns some day. It would be splendid to see those exotic Japanese settings rendered with today's 3D technology.
8. Getsu Fuuma Den: Go! Getsu Fuuma!
I mentioned Getsu Fuuma Den (月風魔伝) in a hub about retro games I'm hoping for remakes. What I didn't highlight in that hub was that Getsu Fumma Den was also one of the most expensive NES games when it first came out. It was promoted as being exceptionally rich in content.
It didn't disappoint; it was one of the best NES games I played. The music was equally satisfying, even if there weren't that many songs. (Compared to a Gradius game, for example). For this list, I picked the one that most gamers would agree to be the top Fuuma song. The overworld theme. It has such a poignant touch to it, don't you agree? A rather matured feel too. If you like this, do check out the final boss theme and other Konami soundtracks from this game. The overworld and final boss themes were, by the way, featured decades later in the last stage of Castlevania: Harmony of Despair.
9. Gokujou Parodius: Space Hit Parade
My opinion is that the Parodius series is something you either love or hate. It revels in absurdity. In some episodes, it gets downright sleazy too. You fly your ship between a dancer's legs, and ... ... ...
In my case, I enjoyed the Parodius games for their creative medleys. Every Parodius game arranges famous classical or folk compositions into medleys, then modernizes them by adding disco or funky beats. For Space Hit Parade, don't you agree it's such a refreshing take on popular children's rhymes? Bet you never thought Mary had a little lamb could be the BGM to an intense space dogfight. Bet you also didn't 't expect it to be so catchy and upbeat too.
10. Wai Wai World: Moai Head's Theme
Wai Wai World was a kind of celebration for Konami. It compiled their best selling titles for a drawn-out adventure that incorporated both platforming and space shooting. Naturally, the most famous Konami soundtracks were also featured in it. Vampire Killer, the original Gambare Goemon theme, etc.
Not every songs in it were from other titles though. Moai Head's Theme was an original. Now, this is a queer one. Definitely not something you'd expect for the final hero to be rescued / recruited. I mean, doesn't it sound more appropriate as an ending song? When all the heroes are dancing on the beach in celebration? It's so utterly ... cheery. Maybe Konami wanted to complete the joke they were pulling with the Moai Head hero. It's like, he's literally a Moai Head. With no arms, and who attacks by bonking his forehead against you. Yup. You can imagine my HUH?!?! when I first encountered him. A big HUH, as I uncontrollably swayed to this breezy, sunny tune,
Most Konami Soundtracks have fantastic remixes on Youtube. Please check them out!
Which of these Konami soundtracks do you think is the best?
Do you have any favourite Konami soundtrack? Please comment and share!