Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. So, you want a kick-ass Double Dragon II arrange album? Got you one right here. Plus, uh, some other things. Buckle up.
1990’s NES version of Double Dragon II: The Revenge (playlist / longplay) was a high point for Technos’ seminal but notoriously uneven brawling series. As was often the case, the NES port enjoyed a wide array of changes that made for an overall comfier, more engaging experience than 1988’s rougher-hewn arcade original (playlist / longplay / VGMdb).
This was arguably the case for the music, too. In the arcade, composer Kazunaka Yamane did a better job of taming that Yamaha YM2151 harshness than in the original Double Dragon (previously on Morning Music), creating a number of appealing melodies. The sound’s still rather discordant and jangly, though, not really to my liking. The NES port, with sound programming by Michiya Hirasawa, adapted those melodies into less abrasive arrangements, resulting in a pretty great 8-bit OST to brawl to.
Technos / explod2a03 (YouTube)
Many of these songs are brief little melody bombs, sticking around just long enough to deposit their payloads in impressionable young players’ memories. A few highlights include the title screen’s solid rendition of the Double Dragon theme, the upbeat Mission 1: Into the Turf, the slower, funkier Mission 2: At the Heliport (Phil Collins, is that you?), the incredibly short, strangely upbeat earworm Mission 4: Into the Base, the climactic Mission 8: The Double Illusion, the heroic, anthemic final boss theme, and the one-two combo of the emotional ending theme (Marian resurrects!) and cathartic credit roll.
But as good as NES Double Dragon II is, its soundtrack isn’t the reason I wanted to write it up today.
Technos / Meldac / TurkishBullet19 (YouTube)
You’re listening to the closest thing Double Dragon II, arcade or NES, got to a commercial soundtrack release: the March 1990 arrange album Double Dragon II The Revenge (playlist / VGMdb). (Yes, of course there is a cassette version.) And it rules, covering each NES track with exuberant but tasteful synth, rock, and sometimes even pop-style arrangements that seldom fail to traipse into interesting new sonic territory. Or at least rampant saxophonery. (Be careful if that’s illegal in your area.)
The standout is the striking rock vocal arrangement of the classic Double Dragon theme, here titled “Dead or Alive.” The singer is one Manami Morozumi, about whom further English-language information seems scarce. You can find references to her being in a band called “Sugar Tit’s” (!), which Discogs.com describes thus:
Japanese all-female band made their debut in 1989 from Teichiku Records but they broke up the following year in the midst of making their first full-length LP.
I can’t find any of their tracks so it’s hard to say how much of a historical bummer that is, but god, their promo photo is fucking incredible. I would like to be gay and do crimes as a member of this lady-pack, please. One of these killers is our Morozumi, and, to get back to the topic, I think she acquits herself very well in “Dead or Alive.” It’s a really fun, high-energy track, about the best I can imagine the classic pastime of singing over a video game song turning out.
Really appreciate this album. What a time capsule.
That’s the good shit, but...there is one more thing. In 1993 Naxat produced a PC-Engine Super CD port of Double Dragon II (playlist / longplay), it wasn’t terribly good, and of course it had its own weird OST. The music’s almost entirely original, usually strange, and sometimes quite bad. But it’s interesting!
You’ll want to skip this first track pretty quickly:
Technos / Naxat / shadowAOD (YouTube)
Level 1 is hellish, a bad composition vandalized with random samples. Level 2 is a big step up (I really like the synthetic voice), Level 3 is more of a tense action tune, Level 4 is strangely conceived but kinda comes together in the end, Level 5 is ‘80s af, Level 6 samples Leonard Nimoy saying “h-h-hot, wild” (as one does), Level 7 is kind of a Rolling Thunder-y spy tune, Level 8 sounds a bit Arabian...This is a weird soundtrack. The only two familiar songs are the iffy arrangement of the final boss fight (those orchestra hits don’t help) and a piano take on the main theme that sounds right out of a Casio demo at Radio Shack. Hmm, I do not think I will purchase this keyboard.
In any case, I hope this sated your appetite for Double Dragon II tunes, because I’m plum out. You’re voracious!
That’s a wrap for today’s Morning Music. Got any good plans this weekend? I failed to achieve an ideal state of Super Relax last time, but every weekend’s a fresh opportunity, and I’ve got a cool new DAC / amp / headphone combo to try out. As good a plan as any. How about you? See you next time!