Fighting games tell stories that are the soap operas of video games.
Back in 1997 and the years following, I relished a few of those experiences. Tekken had its Mishima clan feuds between fathers and sons. Along with being his Resident Evil Navigator, I was also his Mokujin—I loved being a player two punching bag for my brother. I began most of my attacks with a sweeping kick or attempts to execute a throw that rarely connected. He would ask me to stay still while he paused to learn combos after which Paul Phoenix would send my Kazuya (and later Jin) flying across the screen.
When it came to Soul Blade though, I'd like to have the pretend recollection that we were evenly matched.
Soul Blade (Soul Edge, outside of North America, Australia and Europe) was the one that had the best interwoven narratives when games were still new, surprising and still had the ability to shock me.
A sought after blade with the ability to grant power is not that much of a complex premise now by today's standards, I suppose. But as with many of these tales, the stories of each of its seekers made things interesting. I was invested in each character's motivations for wanting to wield the Soul Edge. I was upset when my favourite character presumably lost his life for it. Some stories were grander than others while others were built for laughs and my brother and I played through them all—hanging on to all the drama that unfolded, and marveling at the stage designs while side stepping and slashing our way to the ultimate, dangerous prize.
Along the way, the many fights for the Soul Edge brought a collection of some of the finest music I've heard.
Perhaps even more brilliant was the diversity between the arcade, arranged and Khan Super Sessions versions. These really left an impression on me, and I spent just as many hours on the game fighting as well as listening to its in-game soundtrack. Listening to them over the years, I've grown to appreciate all these aspects of their sound even more. Many of the songs were not just tools for adrenaline motivators that poised you for a battle but instead, defined stories and locations, with each track suitably crafted for the stages they represented and the personalities, or tragedies of its supporting cast. The songs felt personal as character themes often do.
These 9 songs (and I've thrown in their arranged versions as well as the arcade versions in some cases) were the ones I remembered long after I forgot how annoying some of the characters were, or how overly dramatic and inadvertently comical some scenes were.
The Edge of Soul (Opening Theme)
This cheek reddening, embarrassing song is indicative of its time. It was as exciting as my first time watching Final Fantasy VII's opening movie. We didn't have many games but consumed what little we owned. My future friends and enemies in the characters were introduced in flashy clips wielding different weapons and stances. It still gives me a little bit of a rush now hearing it after so many years, probably more than I care to admit.
Kkaduri (Seung Mina's Theme) (Arcade)
Not my favourite character in the roster but Seung Mina's theme is wonderfully fast paced. It's flighty with flutes adding to that soaring sensation.
Future Dancin' (Taki's Theme) (Arranged)
Taki was the amazing female ninja who was my brother's secondary fighter. She was quick and close-ranged. Her movements were pink blurs on the screen while I took in the moments before being cut down to admire the green, wisps of spirits that crowded her stage. The song that played matched her frantic attacks and the aura of the bamboo forest Temple setting perfectly—frenzied with the sounds of deer scares in the background. The stage was one of the most beautiful in my memory, second only to the floating raft stage on which my brother and I had many fights.
Horangi Arirang (Hwang's Theme) (Arcade)
Horangi Arirang (Hwang's Theme) (Arranged)
Hwang was my best fighter but not my favourite fighter. I wanted to be great with Li Long but as it turns out, I excelled more with the white pants clad fighter with the tall, spiky hair. His was a tale that was honourable, and his theme music boasts that emotion too. The sweeping, epic hero type.
Asian Dawn (Arranged)
The slow start leads up to another fast tempo song that changes soon after and slows again briefly, only to build to unexpected wonder once more. It flows, oddly enough and the dynamic is intriguing.
Moonlight Shadows (Khan Super Session)
As previously mentioned, Li Long was my favourite fighter. His story was unexpectedly bleak. I felt this one when his story ended and shed an internal tear for my virtual friend. This song captures that forlorn, tragic feeling.
Darkness of Fate (Siegfried's Theme) (Khan Super Session)
I was truly taken aback at Siegfried's fate when I played through his story. The holy knight, noble sounding theme which I've subsequently found in many JRPGs, has that same sort of feel here and I associate that attribute with him. Of course, knowing what I know now of the JRPG genre, I am less shocked at how his character was easily turned. It's always the ones you least expect, right?
A Continental Gale (Rock's Theme) (Khan Super Session)
There's really only word and scene I've ever associated with Rock. "Bangoo". I think I laughed quite the bit at his entire story line. It was not necessarily funny, not intentionally anyway and yet I must have been amused by the portrayal of the "American fighter". This song escaped my interest when I played it, but not so listening again some weeks ago. On the one hand, it's very intense, even sort of graceful but on the other, it's also very commando and terrible 80's/90's action flick with its ripping guitar solo in parts. I can't help but laugh again.
A Desperate Struggle (Arranged)
Fighting music should always be this incredible. Desperate, difficult and encourages a smack down. The slow breaks give a terrifying sense of needing to recover and that's what I remember: Trying hard to plot my next move and watching my life bar hang on by a thread.
In this year, the 20th Anniversary of the Sony Playstation brand, there are so many memories I've had with each of my Playstations 1 through 4. The majority of those were JRPGs that took me on journeys 60 hours plus at a time, catching monkeys, collecting pre-cursor orbs, or hanging precariously from many cliff ledges and wondering how I manage to have such great upper body strength… but for the 7 or so fighting games in my library, they'll hold a special place too. Story wise. Character wise. Music wise.
I've not played any games since in the SoulCalibur series, and I may never again transcend history and the world... but who can say for sure?
I may owe it to Bangoo to tie all the pieces of these stories together, and do so while discovering some amazing music along the way.
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