Game Music Saturdays: Mega Man 11 Soundtrack Project

I love Mega Man. Objectively.

As I have said before, Mega Man contains that black and white morality within all of us, something even a child can understand. Whenever something new comes out involving the Blue Bomber, I must buy it. I even purchased that E-Tank that cost so much in shipping that I am borderline insane just thinking about it.

Still, for a number of reasons, Capcom refuses to state its plans for a new game. Most likely, Keiji Inafune’s departure caused the cancellation of both Mega Man Universe (create your own levels? What a great concept!) and Mega Man Legends 3 (even though I’m not a big fan of the Legends series in general, I was hoping for a reason to buy a 3Ds). Capcom’s mascot continues to linger in cameo appearances, a shadow of his former status even as his 25th anniversary approaches.

Rockman/Mega Man fans desire a new game so badly that they’ll use any method possible to show Capcom their support, from Facebook pages (100,000 strong for MML3) to fan games (Rokko-Chan comes to mind) and even soundtrack for games that don’t even exist (yet, we hope). This explains Xavier Dang’s new soundtrack release, which seeks to emulate the style of Mega Man game music by using certain restrictions. First, Dang only utilizes sounds that could possibly work on the NES soundtrack (which, thankfully for most chiptune artists, FamiTracker performs admirably). Second, these songs must sound like a Mega Man game; that objective appears an easy task, but how does one create such catchy music from scratch?

Does this album succeed in recreating the Mega Man of old?

Answering this question involves some subjective analysis. Having listened to most 8-bit Mega Man tunes extensively, I can judge whether or not these accurately represent the feel of Mega Man. The title theme, for one, take cues from the later NES Mega Mans, with a more relaxed tone leading into more up-tempo effects. Dang copies the menu theme and recreates the “Game Start” theme from Mega Man 4 as well. However, the Robot Master themes show some unique song progression. “Dash Man” exudes an adventurous feel, equivalent to the pace of Tornado Man, though I find it much faster than most Mega Man tracks. “Sound Man” displays a fugue-like adeptness with multiple musical lines, more in line with electronic chiptune than Mega Man music.

In fact, I find many of the sounds have the exact same structure – they have a backing beat, followed by a bunch of catchy musical lines which are supported by said backing beat. Rinse, repeat. Is this is an easy way to recreate Mega Man songs? Absolutely! But I don’t think this captures the heart of most Mega Man music. Compare the above to, say, this:

Rockman 4 – 08 – TOAD MAN STAGE (Famicom)

Toad Man’s theme is one of my favorites. It’s got a jazzy feel, augmented by a rocking bass which changes and move around according to the main musical line. You even get some prototype horns thrown into the mix and a great breakdown. Seriously, for those looking for these things, most Mega Man songs contain, within their less than one minute time frames, a host of musical ideas that they display so forthrightly that you just get into it. It augments the game because you don’t need hours upon hours of contemplation to understand what the artist intends; he/she catches your attention right away and doesn’t let go.

Unfortunately, Dang’s songs don’t grab your musical sensibilities in the same way.

From my perspective, most Mega Man music could not work within the modern “chiptune” genre. Rather, they’re composed with a full band in mind (guitars, drums, etc.) and then pushed into the restrictive format of NSF. What they achieve, because of these restrictions, comes off as a form of genius rather than simple music. Many of them have a central idea, but take too long to get there. In fact, most of them take double the time; whereas most Rockman tracks come and go in under a minute, these take at least two to fully display their ideas – not catchy enough for a game that viscercally places the player right in the action.

However, the album works fine as a chiptune piece. It’s obvious that it takes the cues of the modern chiptune scene to heart, and if you like that style, this will work for you. I love chiptune music both for its complexities, its rhythmic qualities, and its attempts to cash-in on nostalgia. Some of us grew up with video games, and that music sounds right to us. But, when you attach your music to a brand name, criticism will occur, and it may not always please everyone.  As a Mega Man soundtrack, it fails to reach those simple, epic, and extraordinary heights that only the artists at Capcom recreate with their extensive attention to detail.

What can I say? I like this album for some reason, and I don’t like it for other reasons, although I’m still recommending it overall. You may like it, and you may disagree with me on a number of points. All I can say, from that point, is that music isn’t as objectively as I’d like to think. I don’t think it’s Mega Man music; you might think it is. Yet, even in disagreement, we can all agree that this is good music! Brand names shouldn’t prevent us from listening to new things, nor being critical of the old. Division in fleeting this is fine, but not in the most important issues. What holds me back is simply the name; it’s a tribute, not an exact replica, and I can find that difficult to get beyond sometimes.

But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

To a degree, there’s a need for unity in these things. Criticism isn’t division so much as it is a loving care for something for which you care deeply. I care deeply about the legacy of Mega Man, as do his many fans. We feel blighted by Capcom and create these fan projects out of hope that our passion and devotion will stir Capcom out of their slumber and into gear. Give the series to Comcept, Inafune’s company! Here, music from the next game! We suffer and we rejoice equally on this news; it’s a pretty stirring comparison, I’d say. As a product of this impulse, Dang’s remix album means more than the music which it displays; it’s a gift from a devoted fanbase, and I feel bad not being more positive about it. Listen to it yourself, and you’ll see whether this passion project is worth your time.

Get the album here.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.