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This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

2361209-nes_castlevania2

Listen: Bloody Tears

  1. Castlevania 2: Simons Quest / Composers: Satoe Terashima and Kenichi Matsubara / Release Year :1988

There are those who argue in favor of the soundtrack Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse over Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. I’m not among this camp…not at all. While still excellent, Castlevania 3’s musical accompaniment somehow feels forced. You can’t shake that disease: the sinking feeling that it has been worked over numerous times, changed hands, redrafted then abandoned, then yet again further retuned; the band has simply been playing too long. It tends to happen when you’ve been commissioned to follow up the sounds of a genre landmark, a masterpiece: everything bitter.

Simon’s Quest, as judged solely by its accompaniment, is an invariably fascinating narrative, where every hundred to thousand listens only enhances the nature of its perfectly metered, yet fleeting couplets. In theory, simplicity such as this usually begs some level of ephemera, but it is that same concise use of assonance, that fluidity of the tongue that extends its lifespan infinitely. Simon’s Quest, more so than residing incumbent entries or past manipulators, equips the series with a true identity, and makes incalculable inroads on every single sound made in its name going forward.

More proof? How many more times can you possibly remix Bloody Tears?

You see my point.

Essential Tracks: Bloody Tears / Message Of Darkness / Monster Dance (night theme) / A Requiem (ending) / Silence Of Daylight / Within These Castle Walls

stridernes

Listen: Transmission Screen

  1. Strider / Composer: Harumi Fujita / Release Year: 1989

One of the more unlucky recipients within the late 80’s Strider trifecta (part manga, part arcade game, part original NES title) had to be the team behind Strider NES. The game, completely stripped of ALL the glamour of the headlining arcade machine, being piloted by a truly baffled collective left to interpret the still burgeoning, unwritten lore, and minus ALL the trademarks of a then single entry series, would make any sane individual reach for their transfer form, or at worst, accept terms of severance from the company. The story of NES Strider’s island of mock-ups and submission rejection letters remains an untold legend.

Despite the numerous setbacks and the scant prickly thistle with which they were given to work with, Strider NES was an ambition given light by the smallest band of only the most zealous of believers within Capcom. Composer Harumi Fujita makes her unforgettable, one of a kind monotype print from a combination of every scattered, impossible, and nonplussed moment: a scramble to set tone and create enough plausibility for Strider Hiryu to exist in the frame.

Fujita drags in every last favor ever owed to her, making adjustments and taking payouts in real time, forcibly projecting her still gargling sing-song onto Hiryu. It’s an INCREDIBLE ride as she’s unfazed and ready to set over the top of Strider’s world, whatever the moment brings, whether a conscious stream or a rambling cuckoo’s nest of flying irrelevant debris. Scope is not something Strider is left wanting, and Fujita’s lens has covered the world, all of it, brilliantly.

Pyramids, future world, dictators, red dragons…Africa: whatever, just toss it on the pile, and give her a minute.

Essential Tracks: Transmission ScreenKazakh Theme / China Theme / Africa theme / Red Dragon Theme / Title Theme

A break next week, but the list comes ever closer to the end.

Happy 4th of July everyone! Go play some NES!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

LAGRANGE POINT

Listen: Departure and Arrival

 

  1. Lagrange Point/ Composer: Akio Dobashi / Release Year 1991

A powerful piece of 80’s Japanese pop nucleus Rebecca, composer Akio Dobashi, now newly leased from the rigors of his record company following the group’s implosion, sought a refuge both immediate and vastly distant from his unraveling present. Unwilling to surrender, and perhaps caught amongst an avalanche of inter-band political disputes and documents foisted upon him thick with alien legalese, Dobashi voluntarily lost himself inside the work for Konami’s Lagrange Point.

Confrontation, long the hallmark of Konami’s established sound, was something lost on Dobashi. The expectation to dedicate all available midi rifles on the decoration of boorish action set pieces was turned instead to light tufts of airy meringue. Lagrange Point lies between the dulcet lyrical introspection of Paul Desmond’s indigo melancholy, and the smoldering psychedelic all-hours apothecary the likes of John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space. Despite this, Dobashi’s lines for Lagrange remain compulsively clean, leaving plenty of room for his melodies to gambol free of mother ship turbulence. Lagrange Point is Akio Dobashi’s final demarcation whose forward trajectory flies completely bereft of the weight of his colorful past… and all the more for it.

Essential Tracks : Satellite Base / Theme Of Iris / Physical Energy / Fighter’s Sadness / Fighter’s AwakenDeparture and Arrival / Fortified Zone / Last Fort – Bio Palace

Double Dragon 1

Listen: Mission 2

  1. Double Dragon / Composer: Kazunaka Yamane / Release Year: 1988

It has never been easy to speak of Double Dragon’s rapidly advancing age, but age it has. So much so, that I find it hard to comment on it with any sort of length when asked. It comes with loving something so intently for so long. And I’ve loved…Double Dragon’s the reason I am here now.

Once a record found specially, specifically sewn into the sleeves of my jacket, is now more in line with composer Jerome Kern’s tired, and receding standard The Folks Who Live On A Hill, than Walter Hill’s Warriors. It’s a lazy approximation at best, and one of contempt more driven by the fear of my own passing years, than anything laid within the grooves of its shock black vinyl. BUT. Shaking away those preconceived thoughts, the disaffected memories of some youth long gone, reveals much the savant in its composer Kazunaka Yamane. Double Dragon’s carefully earmarked mix of tracks STILL burns the back of the throat when ingested without caution. A prophet’s goulash of athletic tenor, staccato no-wave, and lowest-brow street funk, Yamane heard the sound of the genre in the oak, LONG before his imitators began bludgeoning his corpse for loose change. While the attraction may not draw the numbers it once did to its storied sights, it remains an essential cassette tape unaffected by warble, and ambivalent to the lost decades. Still snarling and all spittle: that’s my boy.

Essential Tracks: Mission Start / Mission 2 / Title Theme / Mission 1 / Secret Area (cave) / Mission 3 / Boss theme

The end is near, stay tuned!

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

mother

Listen: Dungeon Theme

13. Mother / Composers: Keiichi Suzuki & Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka / Release Year :1989

Think loose and play faster! It’s how composers Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka perform 1989’s NES classic Mother, like some fabled fear and loathing lost weekend dragging around in an addled stupor, down a couple grand, but with just enough energy to make the sunrise. Hilarious, strangely but beautifully cool, defiantly bohemian, and singularly offbeat, their instruments may have died in the making of this experiment, and the pair may have narrowly escaped with nothing more than mail order catalogs, but boy…that was some siesta. Mother’s score is the summit of a towering holy mountain.

Essential Tracks: Fallin in Love / Field Theme / Battle Theme 1 / Magicant’s Theme / Dungeon Theme / Live House Song

Final Fantasy Box Art

Listen: Title Theme

12. Final Fantasy / Composer: Nobuo Uematsu / Release Year: 1987

From every angle, and from any perspective, Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy has no equal rivals. Uematsu’s rudimentary foundation still stands statuesque, born of complexity, and far out measures the available pant sizes found within the NES sound storefront. These pieces push the hardware to limits of shattering exhaustion. For every second of film, our composer is at the reins charging harder and louder and longer than his previous now seemingly infantile siege. The sound of a man, turned new man, turned man alive. To quote the Pixies Black Francis, “Gigantic, gigantic a big, big love!”

 

Essential Tracks: Battle Theme / Garland Shrine / Matoya Cave / Airship Theme / Overworld Theme / Title Theme

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Listen: Little Mac Down

11. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out / Composers Yukio Kaneoka, Kenji Yamato and Akito Nakatsuka Release Year: October 1987

I once likened the soundtrack of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out to that of an operatic Cthulhu: a beast who will wow you with its vocal range, then devour your torso as you have been sufficiently hypnotized and possessed by its disease. Read into that what you will, but I still stand by that statement, as it aptly summarizes the work of our three composers going elbows deep into your brain matter, prodding, and testing…waiting for that one true desired Pavlovian response. Punch-Out remains an elixir of near perfect proportions ingested under the false guise of sugar water placebo, but once absorbed carries all the concentrated wallop of thousands of side effects in full play, all at once.

Everything in moderation.

Essential Tracks: Fight Theme/ Bicycle Training / Opening Title / MatchWon / Game Over

Stay tuned for the top 10!

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

Snake's Revenge

Listen: Searchlights Searchlights and Sentries

15. Snake’s Revenge / Composer : T Ogura / Release Year 1990

Despite Snake’s Revenge being a sloppily ill-coordinated takeover of creator Hideo Kojima’s legendary series (shame this wouldn’t be the last time), it does retain one truly remarkable asset, composer’s T Ogura’s largely, criminally overlooked score sheets. Half a collection of snapshots of some stillborn Bayou Billy sequel and half a mixture of dashes comprised of Life force, Commando, and Contra, Ogura’s compositions cleanse the palette, clearing the slate of the previous decade of Konami soundtracks. This track-list isn’t something that could have been developed in 1986, 1987 or 1988, and it plays fixatedly reaching towards this new decade (you can actually hear it on Searchlights and Sentries). Ogura employs grandiose 17 piece drum sets, where every cymbal has some form of resolute purpose, and hires in excess of a hundred plus session players all contracted specifically to play some VERY heavy bass. There’s so much lobbing about of the thick and heavy, that it’s amazing they were able to stamp and package its contents into something so small, gray and ordinary.

Welcome to the 90‘s.

Essential Tracks: First Mission / Searchlights and Sentries / Boss Battle /

Enemy Train / Metal Gear Fortress / Surrender Theme / Underground Theme

nes_gyromite

Listen: Game A Music

14. Gyromite / Composer: Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka / Release Year: 1985

To Hirokazu Tanaka, 1985 perhaps felt no different than any other year, as his order of day went blessedly unaltered. Up he went sometime about 3 A.M, he’d score out hundreds of sonic billboard legends until around noon, maybe a short ride in the country then a return to tinkering until 2 A.M. where he’d begrudgingly sit (not lie) and catnap, his hands still pressed against the keyboard should the mood strike pre R.E.M. sleep. He’d done it for years; this particular Wednesday saw no cause for alarm. It was just Gyromite.

If you can name it, and it’s NES, chances are Tanaka wrote it, half lucid but STILL dreaming. It’s what separates him from EVERYONE else: That one eye open, one eye shut, never a foot in either plane, all dream, but somehow manifested on very real 8-track reels. In 1985, Tanaka seized the opportunity afforded him by Gyromite’s spastic, haywire hard lines, and one by one, inch by inch, volunteered to unknot the bedraggled mess of coils and strands now somehow impenetrably fused together.

This is at the precipice of the NES, and Gyromite is a crude, oafish and unreceptive choir to Tanaka’s gorgeously resuscitated harmonies. In a gaming music landscape still vastly littered with the likes of Atari’s soulless bleeping Morse-code long-players, Tanaka openly fought the rot, and taught the hardware to sing: bright combinations, doubled keys, and looping scales. It’s all basic, but that makes it no less revolutionary. Sure, there might be others, but here, I’m counting it as a true first.

Essential Tracks: Game B Music / Title Theme / Game A Music / Phase Begin

Stay tuned!

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

geno 1

Listen: Journey To Silius: Stage 2 / Blaster Master: Area 1

18. Blaster Master/ Journey To Silius / Composer: Naoki Kodaka/ Release Year/s 1988 and 1990 respectively

Despite everything contained within composer Naoki Kodaka’s recordings for 1988’s Blaster Master, and despite its master tapes indicating in bold that indeed these takes were the finalized project of some many years of work, Blaster Master’s score wouldn’t see total completion until Kodaka and developers Sunsoft released Journey To Silius two years later. The software titles may have been billed as separate projects and created under totally different guises, but their makeup and melody feel largely complementary, logical extensions of each other. Where Blaster Master is swathed in color, more lively, and purposefully artless, Journey To Silius is just the opposite, and plays MUCH more measured and alarmingly grey: a drastic departure from the swaddling clothes of its sibling. STILL. This is ONE single vision split across years, and when gathered together under one roof, it becomes plain that these once adjacent tenets have shared housing before, a line of string laid across the floor being all that separated them. Their matching collection of DNA, makes light of their trivial differences and begins to align and adhere with little fuss made between its molecules. The idea that these scores were sovereign unto themselves was simply an act of subterfuge through business enterprise. This is meant to be heard as a dual album, and one single, startling opus.

Essential Tracks: Blaster Master: Area 3 / Area 1 / Area 5 / Area 2

Essential Tracks: Journey To Silius : Title Theme / Stage 2 ThemeStage 3 ThemePrologue

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Listen: Ghosts and Goblins: Stage 1 Theme

17. Ghosts and Goblins / Composer: Ayako Mori / Release Year 1986

Composer Ayako Mori’s score for Capcom’s 1986 NES port for Ghost and Goblins, is an indurate drill of reverent Kumbaya simplicity. Mori, not one for lengthy conversation, prefers to illustrate Ghosts and Goblins as an extenuating figure: threadbare, with only a few largely garish and inconspicuous flourishes to fill out the soul of the dehydrated Goblins supplicants. It’s not about the excess of words, it’s about simple statements in the presence of something celestial. Here, Mori places most of her emphasis in Ghosts and Goblins on the sound of stunned deferential gawp. This is a yokelish slack-jawed prayer that focuses on the repetition of single syllables of incantation instead of verbose, sputtering, winded sermons to ingrain its message. Mori’s is a voice both constant and droning, yet her reiterations, her unnecessary repetitions remain incredibly passionate, and likewise should be considered more than just some humble radio amplification…this is an invocation: follow the benediction, these are the words, hallelujah.

Essential Tracks: Stage 1 / Stage 4 / Stage 2

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Listen: Duck Tales: Himalayas Stage

16. Duck Tales / Composer: Hiorshige Tonomura / Release Year 1989

It’s with no considerable lack of graft that I imagine composer Hiroshige Tonomura went about the business of scoring Capcom’s 1989 Duck Tales. The television show on which it was based was mere weeks away from its production end. The idea of enticing its now aging original child audience to look back on Duck Tales both nostalgic and with some measure of retrospection at the curmudgeon age of 10, would be like asking them to provide pointed examples of alliteration throughout James Joyce’s Ulysses: They wouldn’t understand, and it’s never going to happen. This was the year of Batman, not Disney’s Scrooge McDuck. Armed with no tested or gorgeous simulacrum for Tonomura to imitate, and no template with which to vanquish this indifference, our composer ,tottering and disjointed, entered into the contract to conceive the compositions for Capcom’s Duck Tales. Despite the mood, Tonomura succeeded. The temptation may have been to score the game purely with saccharine: sickly glazed, aimless but irritatingly bright, like some condescendingly kaleidoscopic game of stick and carrot. Rather than insult though, Tonomura discards that caloric emptiness for genuine feeling, and succeeds in tapping into all the base emotions of a child: joy, fear, and love. Tonomura muses playfully, gently cajoling his skeptical onlookers to join him, no matter their imagined embarrassment on playgrounds and no matter their psychological need to fight their passing infancy. Tonomaru wants them to realize that there is nothing wrong with being incredibly young and that no harm will come to them for simply singing along. Ardent, funny and unapologetically warm, Tonomura’s recordings demonstrate just how effective tone of voice can be, no matter the passage of time.

Essential Tracks: Moon / African Mines / Transylvania / Amazon

Stay tuned next week as we continue the countdown.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

geno1

 Listen: Inside The Tree

20. Wizards And Warriors/ Composer: David Wise/ Release Year 1987

Developer Rare has worn many a wedding ring, and money has changed

hands in pursuit of its exclusive courtship more times and for far more capital than any corporate ledger would likely (within the realm of comfort) admit to. It wasn’t always this way though. At some point, Rare pre-transmogrification to behemoth studio, were just some guys, likely not even guys…dudes: swearing, funny, OCD eccentrics who loved text adventures and who favored command line computer code over vodka and tonic. To be fair, maybe they had a few tiny flasks. Composer David Wise’s score for 1987’s Wizards and Warriors feels like peering through a, for your eyes only, garage days memoir: nuts and bolts, labored failed experiments anchored by dryly comedic notes on the best of days, and single filthy drawings illustrating the worst. Wise’s Wizards and Warriors was an album decades beyond its time, spearheading and prophesizing the intimate attachment of the player to the score laid within the cart. Despite the hiccups in its fevered stitching, Wizards and Warriors remains one of the earliest and best examples of VGM exploiting a feeling. Some prefer later-era Wise, but I’ve always thought this was him at his most candid.

Essential Tracks: Forest Of Elrond / Outside The Castle / Inside The TreeTitle Screen

geno2

 Listen: Title Theme

19. Skate Or Die/ Composers: Rob Hubbard / Kouji Murata/ Release Year 1988

When this list reaches completion, if nothing else, please remember the number one spot, and do not forget Skate or Die. For those who argue against the merits of 8-bit generated scores: you’ve truly not heard enough, nor have you heard the right pieces, and most certainly have had no acquaintance with the anarchic proclamations of Rob Hubbard and Kouji Murata’s Skate Or Die.

The orchestration here is beyond the scope of creatively barren company mandates, not by numbers created, nor its complexity stripped for the sake of cash: It’s real.

Skate or Die’s cassette tape demos can be likened to a runner’s high: air in the lungs, a tensing and then relaxing of muscles brazenly insistent on their own immortality, yielding only to moments without law or reason…physically letting go.

The gorgeously reworked album comes courtesy of Konami composer Kouji Murata, who burnishes the original’s instructions by increasing the tempo, lending a spangled falsetto to the treble, and un-muting whole channels of seemingly lost and questionably muddied, scuttled audio layers.

Despite the reins being handed over, this is ALL Murata’s show. Live and altogether unstable, Murata’s presence as a new front man, is one that gives all. Hours later, despite all those bottles to the head and all stage dives gone spectacularly wrong, Murata’s credible and exceptionally authentic. After all, if we are being real here, skate boarding is nothing more than a wheeled rock show waiting for a bit of glass.

 

Essential Tracks: Title Theme / Skate To Jam / Skating To Downhill / Skating To Pool Joust / Skating To Ramp Freestyle

Stay tuned next week for more of the very best NES soundtracks.

Dedicated to Jacob Thorp.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Measuring the worth of hundreds of Nes musical scores isn’t something I would call an enviable task. For one, you’re somewhat limited by your own scope: what you’ve heard, what you love, and what your definition of classic consists of. No matter what you do, someone’s bound to disagree. Then, there are the lines that have already been drawn out: it’s been done to death; we’ve already seen this particular pattern play out… what could possibly be different here? Instantaneously, a short list of candidates begins forming inside the head: it’s Zelda, Metroid and Mario Brothers, or some switching of position of those three. So, I’ve chosen to disregard this common holy ground: You might not see them in this countdown…I know. BUT. If we can’t even have an open dialogue about what also might be just as worthy of those top spots, then we’re not being realistic. Let’s have some fun!

Agree or disagree, here are 25 of the very best NES soundtracks ever made.

geno1

Listen: Castle Entrance

 25. Shadowgate/ Composer: Hiroyuki Masuno / Release Year 1989

Composer Hiroyuki Masuno, was no stranger to the crafting of beautiful things when he signed on with Japanese development house Kemco in 1985. Early on, Masuno’s arrangements show promise, and his employers, eager to build upon his sparse balsa wood compositions, are desperate to provide him with a fitting muse.1986’s Uninvited plays a minor footnote to 1988’s palatial Deja-Vu, but it is Masuno’s 1989 score for Kemco’s reinterpretation of Icom Simulation’s Shadowgate is where he finally leaves all fragility behind. Shadowgate is a sequestered bitter labor of protracted, carcinogenic stanzas and boreal darkness. All stone, all remoteness made possible through the draft created by Masuno’s frigid echo.

Essential tracks: Title Screen / Subterranean Cavern / Banquet Hall / Courtyard And of course…Castle Entrance

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Listen: Bernard’s Theme

 24. Maniac Mansion / Composers: David Warhol, George Sanger, David Hayes / Release Year 1990 

When looking back through all of your library of NES vinyl, one thing becomes alarmingly, glaringly apparent: Most musical scores were handled by a single individual. At the time, while integral to every game they were written for, the creation of these records was seen as nothing more than a burden put upon game development companies: It ranked a costly expenditure eating away at the collective’s profit margin. Why pay three musicians to do the work of 1? While this stingy method of corporate rancor may have thrived for most of the NES’s lifespan, there are those few rare instances of hiring a dedicated house band. David Warhol, George “The Fat Man” Sanger, his band “Team Fat” and David Hayes all had a hand in banging out Maniac Mansion’s schizophrenia, one frenetic jam session at a time. Maniac Mansion’s score is a towering monolith hemorrhaging thick, slovenly streams of both diatribe and compromise. The confusion all this interplay generates is fascinating, though, as the languages these composers speak tend to stumble over the others’ more complex dialect. Any effort made to make directions clearer, only adds to their voices growing louder, drowning out all aim and meaning. Sophisticated as it is entertaining, Maniac Mansion is potent math rock for 80’s console sects.

Essential Tracks: Dave’s Theme / Razor’s Theme/ Syd’s Theme/ Edison Family Tentacle theme/Bernard’s Theme

geno3

Listen: Stage Theme

 23. Kung Fu /Composer: Koji Kondo / Release Year 1985 

Take a minute, and think of your favorite NES soundtrack. Now, strip and separate each and every layer that you can from it. What do you hear? Chances are, not much. The addition of sound on sound on sound works only when all the pieces are present. The melody you hum inside your head ceases to work once you’ve extracted some of the required pulp. Now, test it further: can you hear the tune in its entirety without omitting any of the piece’s subtler elements…on the blades of a moving ceiling fan? Try it. Can you hear it on the air? Composer Koji Kondo’s flawless translation of arcade coin-op Kung-Fu Master’s single theme in no way relies on the fattening of the anemic source material. Kondo’s take is one to one: Exact. Kung Fu’s rolling monotony, while admittedly meager, rubs on you like an infection, and hearing it for less than 5 minutes comes with a guarantee: As you’re lying there, trying to fall asleep for the night, you can still hear EVERY single inch of it mercilessly rotating overhead.

Essential Tracks: Stage Theme/s

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Listen: Stage 1 Theme

 22. Rygar/ Composer:Michiharu Hasuya /Release Year 1986

It’s 1986 and Tecmo’s Rygar is mere months from completion. Sadly, Composer Michiharu Hasuya’s ardent love of Red Sonia comics and Sundays spent full regalia in a small band of Japanese Amtguard enthusiasts have failed to reach the heights of immersion requested by his employer. Time had grown short, but looming deadlines can be kind. So what makes up Hasuya’s Rygar? All the leather as seen in Krull, all the official D&D rule books by TSR, and ALL the many legions of brass: Exhibit A: the noxiously loud trumpets from Stage 1… fairly hard to forget. Hasuya is THE barbarian, and not Lothar playing amongst barbarians. Heavy costuming aside, Hasuya’s exhaustingly physical musical presence demands examination and multiple replays.

Essential Tracks: Theme For Stage 2/ Theme For Stage 5/ Theme For Stage 6 / Overworld theme

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Listen: Second and Fourth Guardian

 21. Aliens 3/ Composer Jeroen Tel /Release Year1993 

By most accounts, the NES was a dead system by 1993. Yet, there were those still clinging to the innards of a machine whose carcass had no new secrets to reveal to whoever probed it. Dutch composer Jeroen Tel, however, would most likely relate a very different tale. Tel’s last and desperate act of NES console archeology produced this anomalous and sprawling corridor crawl: it’s not about what’s left to be uncovered, but what is already in situ. Aliens 3, however, isn’t just an assemblage of existing sound frames. NO. Tel’s redirection of the old circuitry, produces some rather brilliant scrambles of code. Aliens 3 is all hot solder, and dangerous sparking experiment.

Essential tracks: Prisoners Die , Missions 1 and 2, Missions 3 and 4,

Stay tuned next week as we continue the countdown.

What are some of your favorite NES soundtracks? Sound off below.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

mk1

The original Mortal Kombat was an idea with little or no interest in long-term fitness. Why bother to fixate about upcoming sequels that hadn’t been green-lit? The money had yet to be made. At this pupa stage, investors were unlikely to shovel bottomless capital at either of the series creators Ed Boon and John Tobias. Yet, somehow between their derelict backyard steady-cam video shoots, their ingenious sleight of hand, and their earnest, willing circle of friends, Mortal Kombat’s creation became an arresting and industry-altering D.I.Y. empire. Key to their placement at the top tiers of the fighting game scene of the early 90’s was composer Dan Forden’s opulent original score/s, and that will be the focus of this article. I will not, however, encompass the entire compositional history of Mortal Kombat, but instead focus on Forden’s albums for the first three games of the series.

Here are four of the best compositions from Mortal Kombat 1, 2 and 3.

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#4: The Subway( As heard in Mortal Kombat 3)

Having spent the years preceding 1992 germinating as a seedling, the Mortal Kombat of 1995 had reached its peak as a full blown glitterati pop phenomenon. Mortal Kombat 3 brings with it all the baggage of any boozed-up, over-worked rock star. It’s looking a bit peaked, a bit treaded on and a bit jealous of anyone who’s seen more than an hour’s worth of sleep: It’s had none. The work though, had been noticed. The excessive licensing, the branding of cartoons, its casual invasion of lunchboxes and figurines bearing its likeness were flooding retail channels. All of this brings money: lots and lots of money. The production of Mortal Kombat 3 was an affair completely removed from the squeamish anorexic budgets of old, and was replaced by a meter-less always running clock with no set time constraint or due date for the finished work to be delivered. Every time an alarm rang, more cases of money arrived, and they would keep arriving and arriving…and arriving. The term “When it’s done” became short-hand speak for exfoliating the very deepest layers of Midway’s coffers. For composer Dan Forden, this meant the fullest, most realized scale orchestration he had yet produced. “The Subway” is a moment of crystallization, and it remains so as it gathers shards from every patch of DNA the franchise had inherited over its short 3 year rise to celebrity. Everything is here. From its promotional mob-rule fist bumping commercials, to its ridiculous melding of machismo chop-sockey ka-ra-te ala Lovecraft. The Subway delegates equal pieces of industrial synth versus noxious yet beautiful butt-rock like no other tune before or after. Head banging is required and not optional.

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#3. TIE Listen: The Living Forest Listen: Air Combat

Imagery is everything to Mortal Kombat, by either suggestion or direct visual cue, and in Mortal Kombat 2, the series poised and ready, looked as if it had been remodeled by minds saturated and poisoned by a litany of late 70’s to early 80’s metal album covers. Floating druids? Check. Bondage? Check. Skull fetishes? Check. Some form of Iron Maiden in either the literal device meaning or allusion to Bruce Dickinson’s long heralded metal super group? Check! While these albums may or may not have been part of Forden’s own musical genesis, he plays along superbly with the given set of directions. At times creaking and gnarled, Forden plays up the ridiculous master and servant leather camp with all the concrete focus of some black magic priest. It seems effortless, and Forden’s Living Forrest is a flawless appraisal of the tortured unclean spirit that is both intrepid and visceral. Air Combat exemplifies further Forden’s knack of drawing out the phantasms within, and he turns the standard Mortal Kombat trade paperback into a gritty graphic novel visualization with some percentage of Def Leoppard’s Rock Of Ages mixed live and high octane caterwaul with the more silver studded of Judas Preist’s most uncomfortable wardrobe. Gunter Glieben Glauchen Globen!

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#2. Listen: Warrior Shrine(As heard in Mortal Kombat)

 Having borne witness to the origins of the original Mortal Kombat, I recall the exact moment of departure from its heavily vested persona of the darkened, dangerous mystic to inebriated slurring comedian sloth. Look no further than the Baballity and the Friendship. These devices, while entertaining, served to detract from Mortal Kombat’s own hard won mythos. Which is one of the reasons why Dan Forden’s original Mortal Kombat long-player is also one of his very best. Of these highest honor candidates is Mortal Kombat’s Warrior Shrine. Forden’s Shrine is a work of slow-marination, a searing of Boon and Tobias’s initial unsullied, unclouded ultra-violent vision, and he makes that permanently. Forden gathers all these disparate elements, both benign and integral, weaving the two designers’ more general touchstones of John Carpenter films and multi-colored karate gi’s into something starkly rancorous and evil. Forden’s initial score is not only about generating a slight discompose from players, but it is also meant to agitate them greatly long after the session with the machine has ended. It’s supposed to be absolutely unsettling and something about it feels a bit cursed. You’re meant to walk away feeling a bit jarred and disoriented. I know it, because I felt all of the above the instant my initial encounter with the first Mortal Kombat machine had ended: so much so, that I even remember the exact date. October 24th, 1992. It’s a fantastic but chilling memory that was made all the more redolent by Forden’s blighted material.

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#1. Listen: The Pit (as heard in Mortal Kombat )

FINISH HIM!

What? You were expecting something else? Something LONGER? Wrong.

A very special thanks and the absolute highest of praise to the genius of Dan Forden and his incredible decades of work.

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Listen, I never thought it would get this bad: Video game collecting I mean. I’ve talked to you about this scourge before: buckets of money I don’t actually have in my account soullessly sopped up procuring limited editions and musty old NES carts. You know all about my trembling trigger fingers on a closing Ebay auction, and you can imagine with great detail those MANY weeks I’ve gone hungry just to satisfy some slaving collection taskmaster. Thing is that’s NOTHING. When you start collecting, you start small, you stay domestic, and you make rookie mistakes. BUT. As your hubris grows with confidence, you begin to look East, and that’s when the logistical and financial nightmares truly begin. Yes, you’ve decided to import from Japan. My condolences to you and your soon-to-be bewildered direct deposit checking account. Here’s a quick guide to some of my most favorite and most trusted online Japanese videogame retailers who just so happen to ship to the United States.

I wasn’t going to let you do it all alone! We’re pals you know.

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 4. Play-Asia.com-

Play-Asia?

Sure, you may be rolling your eyes, you expected this old war horse, didn’t you?

It can be argued at some length that the flagship Japanese exporter has seen better days, but I’m guessing like many of us, you started here, and to this day, you’re still a frequent customer, albeit with some hesitation. It’s become increasingly, and in some cases, outrageously overpriced. I seem to recall a Premium Edition Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for the cost of a first class ticket to Medford Oregon. You COULD be a part of Medford’s legendary Red Robin Spring Fling Brunch complete with indoor waterslide, but INSTEAD, you’ve chosen the come hither of a disembodied set of metal fingers. I should know, I bought this very same prosthesis and denied myself the very same trip. Anyway, the recent increase in overall pricing and a new highly taciturn policy regarding cancellation of orders are indeed hiccups, but it doesn’t undermine their history of excellence when it comes to regular boxed Japanese releases. The sheer whale enormity of the catalog on offer makes Play-Asia a fantastic option: for those just starting out, or those so old to the game, the customer service agents know them by name or ridiculous pseudonym. They groan as the screen flashes with yet another angry follow-up email they will need to answer. Yes, that’s me…but only sometimes.

PROS

  • Trusted brand.
  • Secure payments through Paypal.
  • Prodigious library of games and video game soundtracks and some film.

CONS

  • Returns and cancellations are best left to a multilingual legal counselor.
  • Prices and shipping frequently draw out breathless gasps.

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3. Ami Ami Character and Hobby Shop– You’d be wrong to think Ami Ami ONLY does figures. Though it may appear that way from a passing glance, Ami Ami actually plays all manner of cards. Videogames (regular/limited/collector’s editions), Manga, DVD, Blu-Ray, books, actual card games, model kits and of course…high end figures. On top of all this, you wouldn’t believe it, but most everything is actually quite affordable. Another thing to note, their used stock is well…not really used. A couple of months ago, I purchased a “used” Mercedes figure ( a character from Vanillaware’s peerless Odin Sphere game) I expected signs of wear, maybe paint chipping or fading, anything that might reveal the item’s true nature. NOTHING. The box was still sealed; the figure was still perfect, and it was still classified as used. It’s much too labyrinthine a term in Japanese, I suppose, where they are still trying to nail down and decide upon its exact meaning. As it stands now, used lies along the lines of being gently pressed upon during manufacture. One thing to be aware of when ordering from Ami Ami, your first order must be paid in full upon check-out and through Paypal. For in-stock items, this is of course expected, but for pre-orders the same rules apply. Think of it as a small tax to become part of a very exclusive club. After you’ve made that initial purchase, however, all your pre-order items can be paid at a later time, closer to their shipment date. Ami Ami will send you an invoice once your goods have arrived, or in most cases two weeks prior to their release, and you will have 7 days to pay. This is a fantastic option, but it’s one that can get you into trouble if you fail to make the purchase on time. Ami Ami will suspend your account and you will no longer be able to order from them. On this, there is NO debate. Be upstanding about your orders though, and you’ve nothing to worry about.

PROS

  • Used figures have no comprehension of what the term actually means.
  • Prices are usually a notch or two lower than most other import sites.
  • Offers diverse spectrum of goods from figures and trading cards to video games.

CONS

  • First order has to be paid in full upfront. Really though, that is not a con.

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 2. Nippon-Yassan.com-It’s a DELICATE thing when you’re first branching out from under the safety of trusted websites. BUT. Something happens, and you’ll suddenly have no choice. Let’s say your premium edition of some game based off the console wars has suddenly and unceremoniously sold-out on all the websites you usually frequent. GONE. How will you pre-order now? Ebay? No, that’s a last option, and one that usually admits you’ve been defeated. You still have fight in you, I know it. So you begin a search in earnest. Just who can be trusted though? Then, up comes Nippon-Yassan.com. Things look good: Site looks legitimate, stock updates look current, and prices…they’re really LOW. This is too good to be true? NOPE. I stumbled across this last year in an attempt to secure that gorgeous E-Capcom Strider set, which…I did, and I did it through Nippon-Yassan. The adage at least for now and probably not for long, is that if everybody else is out, there’s always Nippon. Why people don’t come here first is beyond me. You’re paying the lowest end possible for just about everything on the site, even shipping is a few dollars cheaper than most everywhere else. Making orders is a painless process, and for pre-orders you’re given the option to pay up front or just before release. Much like Ami Ami though, Nippon will also cancel accounts for unpaid orders so again, order within your means. Customer service is courteous and quick to respond to inquiries with the turnaround in some cases being mere minutes. Nippon-Yassan is quickly yet quietly becoming the platinum standard for all import video game shops.

PROS

  • Most absolutely EVERYTHING.

CONS

  • A somewhat limited catalog.

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1. Solaris Japan.comFollowing up Nippon-Yassan is tough. Solaris Japan however takes the top spot on this list for a number of reasons, not least of which they have actual boots on the ground. Need something a bit harder to find? Need something older? Check them out first. Last year, I ordered hundreds of dollars worth of hard to find Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid stuff. All of it new, all of it discounted heavily when compared against a vast number of Ebay sellers and online import shops. In one instance, I saved almost 200 dollars. Solaris Japan looks frequently to adjust their prices. If one day, you stop in and the price is a little high, come back next week, as chances are the price has dropped, in some cases, significantly. This is the fervor of a young retailer actively battling those who’ve already dug in their heels. This also means that the contact you have with Solaris is one on one. Anytime I had a question, I dealt with the same person, and quickly got to know his name. On the single occasion that I had a problem with my order, that same person not only shipped out a replacement that very evening, but covered my expenses in returning the product in question. You won’t find that sort of service anywhere in dealing with these online video game storefronts. Solaris Japan brings back the idea that the customer is not just a moment at the point of sale, but a relationship to further and nurture continuously. The products were always exactly as described, the packing was always impeccable, and the price was always surprisingly competitive. Solaris Japan should be at the top of your shortlist when it comes to navigating the confusion and disorientation that accompanies buying video games from Japan.

PROS

  • All that money wants!

CONS

  • Money runs out eventually leaving you haphazard, stumbling and in a state of constant nameless desire.
  • Your wallet has been warned. See you next week.

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

It’s 1993, and young, universally celebrated composer Yuzo Koshiro has grown tired. His living space is no longer his own, and months ago he began taking resumes and holding interviews in the hopes of hiring a full time staff to see to the managing of his seemingly endless cache of awards. These talks…have yet to bear fruit. What began as a small trophy room in the back of his house sometime in1986 was now inching up his leg like bottom feeding moss and lichen. So praised was Koshiro that his every waking moment guaranteed another sumptuous congratulatory bouquet. His physical awards were more numerous than the throng of ardent and fanatical fans who had slowly taken up residence on his front lawn. Everyone wanted a piece; everyone had an agenda…everyone wanted Yuzo Koshiro. Employers, handlers, friends, fans, things had gotten way out of hand, and a fraying Koshiro, nearly incapacitated, retreated from the impenetrable wall of expectation and endless homage to craft a record that defied all assumptions, labels and objections placed upon it. From seed to birth to masterpiece, this is a celebration of Yuzo Koshiro’s Streets Of Rage 3.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Streets Of Rage 3: Beat Ambiance

When you think of Koshiro, it’s likely you’ll immediately recall Streets Of Rage 2 and its musical centerpiece Go Straight. And why wouldn’t you? It is a stunning piece of black and white negative capturing Koshiro at one of his most pronounced and analyzed peaks. A gorgeous print will remain a gorgeous print, and it’s one of the reasons why you store its image in memory…it’s something beautiful. With Streets Of Rage 1 and 2, Koshiro became something of a vigilante exposing the more complacent side of audio within the video game industry. His typeset, however, was so radical and so unexpected that the massive waves Koshiro himself created, dictated a change in sides from Cerberus to outlaw.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Moon

Streets Of Rage 3 finds our youthful composer at a particularly thorny crossing. He was THE golden boy, a no-brainer first draft pick chosen to helm a host of triple-A releases the likes of Actraiser, Ys, and Sega’s Revenge Of Shinobi, all before he hit the age of 22. Koshiro’s work went from high watermark to higher watermark, as with each release his ear tightened and his layers became ever more intricate. BUT. No doubt, he was being watched, directed and told in some manner to skew and tame his more outlandish touches. While Streets Of Rage 1 and 2 present him in a furious bare-knuckled state of creative carte blanche, Streets Of Rage 3 is the all dispensatory enema of contracts and direction from his masters.

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Listen : Yuzo Koshiro: Streets Of Rage: Dub Slash

Streets Of Rage 3 on the surface is the sound of Koshiro finally baring his teeth at all those who ever once told him no, and to those more concerned with crafting him as a marketable brand instead of the genius musician he clearly is. It’s stark, abusive, and overrun . That’s just it though, you see, all of that is merely its surface. SOR 3 is Koshiro at his most powerful, at his most in-synch, and at his most chaotically unapologetic avant-garde. You HAVE to listen and listen carefully. It’s not that the tunes in SOR 3 don’t come as easily as his freshman and sophomore efforts. Not at all. It’s that there are tunes inside of tunes and melodies tripping over hooks. It’s that there’s so MANY points of articulation that if you turn your head too suddenly you’re likely to have missed one of his more central choruses.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Streets Of Rage 3: Spinning Machine

Let’s take an example. In each of the tracks for SOR 3, you’re never made to stand on the ground floor. Just when you think you’ve interpreted Koshiro’s jargon, he changes his dialect. The opening number, Spinning Machine, while not adding up to much in terms of time on the clock at a mere 25 seconds, consists of three very different levels. The first 11 seconds play out like blunt force head trauma, but with the later 12 comes a lightness of touch more akin to fusion jazz… much more Bob James. Each of the two very distinct stanzas have their very own legs, but then it becomes 3. Their collision point is where the song actually begins… never mind that each of these 3 verses is STILL very much its own complete piece of music.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Happy Paradise

On that note, let’s listen a bit further down the LP tracklist at Happy Paradise. While Spinning Machine briefly illustrates this point, Happy Paradise showcases this method with far greater detail. As the song begins, and then begins to wear on you, you’re deceived into thinking that you’ve heard all there is to this particular offering. As you toll the minute mark, however, you uncover Koshiro’s gold. My God! Listen to it. Moreover, listen to HOW it is done: all inside the pocket, that sweet spot. Like some saccharine sweet glaze. He plays it like nothing! Listen to his fingers because when you hear them barely bristle the tops of the keys, that’s your signal to cross over into one of several hundred dimensions Koshiro has created specifically for this album. Believe me, when you hear it, OH MAN.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Inga Rasen

Those looking for that immediacy, that unmistakable Koshiro signature, and that direct sequel to the sounds of SOR 2, will not be disappointed as Dub Slash, Beat Ambiance and Random Cross are in fact the heirs apparent to the likes of Go Straight, Alien Power, and Never Return Alive. BUT. Where SOR2’s signature singles were mere anarchy and intermittent brush fires, SOR 3 is a state under martial law and curfew .The audio for SOR 3 IS brutal and Koshiro plays both manic and unpredictable. Koshiro seems to self-medicate though, and as he toys with the levels of lithium in his blood, the more erratic his creations become. Bulldozer, Cycle 2 and the particularly busyInga Rasen,whose beat chafes and ultimately dismantles the underlying melody, and buries the listener in sheet upon layer upon slab of bombastic babbling and indefatigable discordance. They are also markedly brilliant and widely ahead of the established dance music curve set for 1992. Crystal Waters and The Shamen this is not.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Shinobi Reverse

What is also just as fascinating is how brazen Koshiro is about dismantling, satirizing and caricaturizing his own work. Shonobi Reverse and pieces of Percussionare a tantrum born of necessity, a middle finger resolutely engaged in the kersplat of all that has come before it. Mocking, jaded and spent, Koshiro’s backwards squall of lampooning fried noise picks apart his legacy, destroys any notion of him returning to previous form, and sets a dangerous, cloaked precedent of ambiguity for the road ahead. It’s a risky proposition, but from time to time, all great composers need to censure and rebuke all that makes their fortunes stand, and here, Koshiro’s condemnation of his own artistic affluence stands self-assured and void of defect.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: The Poets 1

Closer to the end of side two of the SOR 3 LP, you’ll find two songs The Poets 1 and The Poets 2.

Go ahead. Listen to the first 10 seconds of each. Not only are these completely alien to all of the other works on this record; they are perhaps the only ones working with a structure of verse, chorus, verse. What’s interesting here isn’t so much that fact, nor the fact that it is so strikingly different from all Koshiro’s previous takes, it is the sound, the style of it, and how he has split this obviously single epic composition into two. The Poets 1 and ThePoets 2eschews our composer’s penchant to straddle all genres of dance and instead finds him focused on delivering some kind of sermon on the mount, a definitive rock performance. Not just rock though, this is the early 90’s: the burgeoning of alternative music. This is where aging new wave and college rock meet the 90’s Manchester Sound, Chapel Hill, and Shoegaze. Albeit brief, both remain strikingly fresh today: snarling, dynamic and cutthroat. Koshiro’s radio singles play like all the best from that era: individual, peculiar and entirely euphonious. Yeah, listen again.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Good Ending

Streets Of Rage 3 is a stunning about-face, a reckoning whose applications of bedlam and chaos served to give birth to Yuzo Koshiro as a singular, visionary artistic force.

While the scores of Streets Of Rage 1 and 2 are without question masterpieces like that of The Beatles Revolver or Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Streets Of Rage 3 is a masterpiece for the Orwellian times in which we currently live and much more akin to David Bowie’s Low or My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.

Koshiro’s insistent and frigid rejection of both his own past master tapes and the shunning of direction from admirers and superiors, facilitated an audacious work going far beyond the present for which it was written. Streets Of Rage 3 is Yuzo Koshiro’s ultimate test of faith, a double bind bet made under extremely tenuous conditions, but it ushered him from mere mortal to untouchable sonic deity. Sometimes, you just have to run with it.

Side Note: Readers, please note that the opening story in this piece is a work of fiction.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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