Game Music Saturdays: Mega Man X6 Original Soundtrack

Or, alternately, Rockman X6, but I’m writing to English speakers so I get a pass.

Out of all the games in the Mega Man X series, both X6 and X7 are equally reviled as horrible cash-ins on a great franchise. Even Keiji Inafune wanted Mega Man to end after X5 (a pretty challenging and excellent game, if I do say so myself), but the cash cow must be milked once more…preferably several more times (X8!). To take our farm metaphor further than it ever had to go, taking the series to the woodshed and putting a bullet in its brain probably wasn’t a bad idea after X7, a horrible travesty of a Mega Man game that shoehorned 3D platforming without the necessary control scheme to make it work.

Wow, that sounded angry.

Unlike the majority of opinion on X6, I think it’s just a mediocre entry in an excellent series. Sure, there are odd problems like sloppy collision detection, the ability to enter stages without the equipment necessary to complete them (try the first “fortress stage” with anything other than Falcon armor and you’ll see what I mean) and some really, really damaging attacks. Mega Man X6 manages to succeed beyond those flaws if you’re interesting in a challenge, something akin to the original Max Payne.

But we’re talking about a soundtrack, here! What does any of this have to do with that?

I’m glad you asked, fine gentleman/lady. Rockman X6’s soundtrack, for whatever mind-boggling reason, has one of the most diverse, quirky, and just plain different soundtracks that Capcom has made for a Mega Man X game. Gone are the constant ’80s hair band guitar solos and driving rhythyms; fitting the setting, they’re downbeat electronic mixes set in a post-satellite collision.

The Opening Stage theme barely gets your blood pumping; instead, it’s a synthesized orchestra with a little bass guitar added for good measure. Honestly, it surprised me the first time I played it. What was Capcom trying to do here? Considering X5’s intent to rock your socks off (what with its various references to Guns’nRoses band members as Mavericks – yes, I know it was only in the translations), it’s a wonder why the musical tone of the series took such a left turn. The composer, Naoto Tanaka (under the alias Akemi Kimura), was the main composers for X5, giving us little indication for this big change. Whether it was variety for variety’s sake or just a reflection of the game’s setting, it remains a notable soundtrack.

Commander Yanmark’s theme, for example, uses a traditional western flute with what appear to be some world music mixture of percussion and other synthesized instruments. As I believe the stage takes place in Africa, the music fits the setting for once! When Rainy Turtloid’s Asian pagoda themed stage brings a rock theme into the mix without an increasing BPM, it doesn’t make much sense but it works. This jazz fusion/world music cribbed style actually works surprising well in the Mega Man universe. Not only does it give you a sense of various genres, but it also tends to reflect the metallic, robotic nature of Mega Man’s world more effectively than a guitar solo ever could. And I like those!

Shieldner Sheldon demonstrates this perfectly in its combination of something akin to Miles Davis’ 70s work with what sounds like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” If that description sounds bizarre, I’m trying my best here to give you a sense of it. Blizzard Wolfang, like most of the Mega Man X ice stages before it, gives you that sense of cold desolation even in the midst of high-pitched artificial guitars. Ground Scaravich presents a world of mystery, befitting its museum theme, with piano appregios and layered piano-esque instruments. Metal Shark Player (what weird names, huh?) returns to the Opening Stage’s musical line, with violins and orchestral notes aplenty in a scrap factory.  Infinity Mijinion’s theme (MMX bosses are named after animals; this one is some obscure sea shrimp) feels like it appeared in previous games, with a low key rock and roll band to emphasize the main musical line. Only Blaze Heatnix emulates the tone of previous Mega Man games, although it cranks the rock and roll up to eleven and never lets up.

Even the boss themes remind me of Nine Inch Nails more than Judas Priest. The boss battle with Gate, the lead (read: fake) antagonist, tries its best to punch those industrial, crunchy drum beats into your head. While there’s those lead guitars all over the place, they don’t drive the music composition like they do in past Mega Man games. This is a blessing and a curse; at one end, we have variety, and on the other a lack of “catchy tunes” that could drive you through a stage. I suppose I could offer a negative criticism in that some parts of the game’s music carries directly over from X5, but these are incidental transition themes, so I can live with it. It’s all wonderfully weird and strange, but synacticly lends itself to the mood.

MMX6, to me, shows why most game reviews simply do not rise to task of reviewing the game for all its aspects. Even if a game is “bad” or medicore, that doesn’t mean it has zero redeeming qualities whatsoever. Philippians 4 says as such:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Although not related to video games, even Christian criticism has to adhere to some standard of positive examination. Criticism remains a part of the Christian experience, as in the spiritual gift of exhortation; you can’t just be negative for no reason. That negativity seeks to turn things into a positive, far from what a product review does. Even Colossians gives us this sense:

28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

There’s an imperative to teach and exhort in order to improve – I can say all I want that something “is bad”, but providing no information on how to improve it (whether by comparison or in some other fashion) isn’t helpful; it’s damaging.

So there: Mega Man X6 has an excellent soundtrack, even if it’s a mediocre game overall. Unforunately, unless you’re the downloading type, there’s no real way to get the official soundtrack without some long searches for the Capcom Music Generation – Rockman X1~6 album released a few years ago. I got lucky. Honestly, just buy the game (in PS1 form or in the Mega Man X Collection) and extract the audio files – that’s legal enough. It’s well worth a listen.

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.