Beats of Rage
We could easily sit here and list off the number of games with memorable sound tracks but we all know one of the first things that pop into your retro loving heads are the Streets Of Rage games and rightly so.
Below Olly023 is going to take you through just why exactly the mastermind behind these iconic pieces of music so rightly deserves his god like status. Testing, testing 1,2,3.....Take it away Olly!
Everybody loves Yuzo Koshiro. Whether you know him by name or simply by compositions alone, everybody loves Yuzo Koshiro. Equal to the general love of such a great man is the decade defining soundtracks he produced for Sega's legendary beat-em-up series: Streets of Rage (Bare Knuckle in Japan).
This article seeks to wax lyrical on the musical work of video game super-composer Koshiro, so gameplay alone as a review isn't what this is about. The intent of this article is more to flash up in the faces of the unawares of just why Koshiro is so damn good and why the SoR original soundtracks remain some of his, if not; his most beloved work.
The son of a pianist, Koshiro was born on December 12th 1967. His musical background, while mostly self-taught, includes a stint studying under the legendary Japanese film composer Joe Hisaishi (the man who has for many a year helped bring to life the animated brilliance of Hayao Miyazaki). Clearly, this shows sign of some kind of pedigree and Yuzo Koshiro is just that. Back in high school, a young Yuzo started his soon-to-be career as a hobbyist, producing compositions on the NEC PC-8801 in a much similar manner to the chiptune artists that remain strong to this day. Influences from the sounds of the arcade that included the likes of Sega's own Space Harrier (a mighty soundtrack in its own right, composed by the equally legendary Hiroshi Kawaguchi) compelling Koshiro to try his own hand in this hot new media form.
His demo tapes soon got the prodigy noticed and at the age of 18 he was snapped up by Nihon Falcom which soon lead to him composing some of his best known works backing the Ys series. The original chiptune of "Feena" being one of the more famous examples. His trusty PC-8801 serving him well, by his side throughout. But after two years with Nihon Falcom, Koshiro went freelance and was soon causing a storm of awesome music, with the most memorable soundtracks defining pretty much an entire era for Sega. Fusing a wide array of musical styles and genres, mastering both 8-bit and 16-bit systems of the day, Koshiro killed it with compositions for the likes of Shinobi and of course, the main feature of this article: Streets of Rage.
Koshiro took the hottest sounds of the club and chucked it in an epic blender. Whether it was electro, breakbeat, jungle, house or even noise - he seamlessly blended them to perfectly match the crime-ridden streets for which Axel, Blaze and co would do battle. Now, many could see the Streets of Rage/Bare Knuckle series as a straight Final Fight clone. Yet what is it that makes it so darn special in the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere? The music is the most easily noted point of contention outside of simple playability. It raised the cool factor, brought a new kind of relevance and cemented the franchises legacy.
The opening theme of Streets of Rage is known the world over by any MegaDrive/Genesis owner. The track itself a seeded mix of Soul II Soul and Enigma, perfect for the time. Koshiro's influences from popular "black"/African-American musicians of the period were rife, he wanted to pioneer the chiptune sound that could resonate those heard in the clubs. He wanted to be the first, so quite frankly; he was.
Utilising his trusty PC-8801, in a reason he explained to 1Up: the "sound chip is very similar to the 88. It's maybe 90 percent the same. So what I did was, I created the music on an 88 machine and then ported that to the [MegaDrive].", he developed his own programme he called Music Love to help develop the sounds he envisioned and continued to use this method of heavily modified MML on the whole trilogy of video games. The original soundtrack for Bare Knuckle was released back in 1991 featuring the original tracks from the Sound Board II/Yamaha YM2608 sound chip as opposed to the MegaDrive's own.
Sampling Roland sounds via PCM, he was able to recreate that club vibe in chiptune form in a way many others had failed. It was unique, it was different and it stuck. Much like the drum samples defined the genres of which influenced him, he managed to influence the future sounds of those who sought to replicate his work. When anyone tells you the MegaDrive/Genesis had that special drum and bass quality that was lacking in other home consoles of the time, a much of it can happily be attributed to the excellently executed talent of Yuzo Koshiro. In an interview on Sega-16, Koshiro mentions: "I purposely created the new bass sound for adding more punch to the low-end frequency. This gave more emphasis to low-end, which is very important for common club music."
Although the original Streets of Rage soundtrack was essentially entirely composed and performed by Koshiro, some tracks on the critically-acclaimed Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack are composed by Kawashima alongside him. Much like the game itself, building upon the original; the OST is bigger and better than ever. Tracks like the "SOR Super Mix" remixing previous tracks into an epic take of the original games arrangements and then you have the Public Enemy fuelled brilliance of "Too Deep". But literally every track is memorable and helped shape the way we listened while we played.
In an interview on Sega-16, Koshiro mentions: "I purposely created the new bass sound for adding more punch to the low-end frequency. This gave more emphasis to low-end, which is very important for common club music." and also in another interview with the GIA he says: "As for creating Streets of Rage, in those days I used to go to many dance clubs and love to listen a lot of dance music’s. And I took those essences into the sounds and programmed eagerly to recreate for Sega MegaDrive. Streets of Rage's style is like house music, and Streets Of Rage 2's one is like hard-core techno." - which all but confirms what this articles previously stated, direct from the horses mouth.
With Streets of Rage 3, Koshiro went in a new direction. Not so much abandoning his previous work, rather pushing it to a next level that at the time was difficult to comprehend. Why? It was quite simply: ahead of its time. That aint no hyperbole, neither. Precursing the mainstream trance craze, Koshiro developed an entirely new way to create music. The Automated Composing System as developed by Koshiro himself, allowed for production of heavily randomised beats. They were fast, they were hard and at times utterly intense. A more experimental style of work emerged from all this, standing the game and its soundtrack on its very own pillar away from the originals. Impossible to ever call generic, Koshiro and Kawashima were composing chiptunes unlike those ever before heard and rarely seen since.
On this new style for SOR3, Koshiro holds no grudges or regrets to some of the negative criticism received from sets of gamers and press at the time, knocking the OST as a step down in quality. Again it was his influences playing a role, as he said in an interview with Square Enix Music: "In contrast, for the third game, I used the most advanced techno technique of the time by incorporating heavily randomized sequences. I think researching the featured genres deeply led the scores to have a highly complete feel. In addition, the special sequencing program that I made with C++ helped the Streets of Rage 3 score in that regard."
To pick but a handful of choice cuts from the Streets of Rage musical catalogue is extremely difficult, mainly due to the large amount being so close to perfection. Whether its GamesRadar, Square Enix Music Online, or perhaps even modern-day artists and musicians such as Childish Gambino and Labrinth - they will all tell you. What Koshiro created here lasts a lifetime and is simply, some of the finest work ever known in the world of video games. Retro or not, it doesn't matter. Koshiro is a boss. Simple.
But yes, it is easy to recommend the likes of "Fighting in the Street", "Moon Beach" or "Violent Breathing" - just as easy it is to recommend the likes of "Go Straight", "Under Logic", "Dreamer" or the series' defining "SOR Super Mix". SoR3 brought the world the likes of "Beat Ambiance" and "Crazy Train".
It's a frequent mention from Koshiro that the trilogy discussed here as some of his proudest works. You really, really cannot blame him. Any other man would have every given right to me smug about it. But his likability is part of that, he's not smug. He's a cool, down to Earth dude who just happens to make insanely good tunes for video games. DJ sets from the man himself often include mixes of the Streets of Rage music and I'm pretty sure if it hit the speakers of a club in the present it would easily get folk dancin'.
So before someone tells you the PlayStation and Sony were the ones who brought that rave culture to the home with WipeOut and the like, just remember there's a guy who got there first. A guy who did it in style on the system that presented itself as the cool gamers choice. The one and only Yuzo Koshiro and his timeless Streets of Rage trilogy of soundtracks.
Being the genius he is, he obviously didn't stop his career with chiptune. His orchestral scores for the likes of ActRaiser and much later the overall amazing Shenmue have continued to resonate with gamers just as his club style classics have, but in differing ways. Being a man who was exposed to the likes of Bach as a child and someone who can play the violin and the guitar alongside his synth-laden keyboard skills, its hardly a surprise. Never underestimate the power of Yuzo Koshiro.
Next time you pump out those jams or whack on the latest bit of Dubstep, raise a glass for Mr. YK. Without him, it wouldn't be the same...
Olly's Final Thoughts...
Music in every single possible way is as important to a game as any other component such as the graphics or the camera or the game engine itself, it helps set the tone of play and if done right can be the most memorable thing about a software title.
What Streets Of Rage did for the Side Scrolling Beat 'Em' Up genre is something for another article but what Yuzo Koshiro did for Streets Of Rage itself is that of legend.
When you next sit amongst fellow retro enthusiasts and simply say 'Streets Of Rage' watch people start to head nod or hum the tunes, in that exact moment the magnitude of what he did for video game music and games in general comes alive for all to see. Put in the simplest form the man is a complete and total genius.