Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today we’re checking out a little off-brand Street Fighter series that was far better than it had any right to be.
1996’s Street Fighter EX marked the first attempt to translate Capcom’s 2D fighting moneymaker into the third dimension. EX was the founding work of new Capcom spin-off developer Arika, and the combination of relatively primitive PlayStation-level polygons, 2D gameplay with generous combos, and Arika’s relative freedom to throw in whatever it damn well pleased resulted in a very strange cul-de-sac in the Street Fighter lineage.
It’s surprisingly good fun. Get past slightly bland designs in some of the Arika side of the cast and you have a 2D-playing, 3D-looking, oddball Street Fighter that’s unexpectedly worth screwing around with two decades later. It even looks good on a proper low-res CRT. The chunky-ass polygonal characters are a curious reminder of a bygone era, and the mood-setting 2D backgrounds can be beautiful.
But as I always say in this column, the music! Y’all, it’s transcendent. The ex-Namco trio of Shinji “Mega” Hosoe, Ayako “Aya” Saso, and Takayuki “J99” Aihara—whom I just enthused about last Friday, which may or may not be why I decided to finally write up this one—composed a killer soundtrack fusing jazz, prog rock, and harder-edged, more industrial sounds that gave the game (the EX series overall, in fact) an identity all its own.
Arika / Capcom / suphriez (YouTube)
I’ve been tricksy, though. We’re not actually here to talk up the original arcade Street Fighter EX (playlist / longplay / VGMdb), because though its music has nice moments, the appallingly named PlayStation port Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha (playlist / longplay / VGMdb) sort of obsoletes its forebear with an incredibly glowed-up soundtrack featuring extensive live arrangements that manifest the full potential of the arcade’s more modest precursors.
For some representative highlights check out Ryu’s “Rising Dragoon,” Chun’s “Spinning Bird,” Sakura’s “Precious Heart,” Hokuto’s “Yozakura Mankai,” Ken’s “Guardian of Light,” D.Dark’s “Under Tube,” and…well, I could just keep going. Wonderful stuff almost across the board.
Tragically (yes, tragically) Plus Alpha’s tremendous soundtrack didn’t see an official release until Arika’s 2018 seven-disc album Fighting EX Layer Soundtracks, which did a good job of finally rounding up most (not all) of the music from both the Street Fighter EX series and Arika’s sort of adjacent, even more obscure Fighting Layer games. You’ll note that Fighting EX Layer Soundtracks has not one iota of Street Fighter branding—Arika’s rights seem long expired—but Street Fighter EX’s music lives on in it nonetheless.
Anyway, Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha: superb. Street Fighter EX2 Plus: More great shit, with wonderful songs like “The Infinite Earth,” “Digital Ignition,” “Irene,” “Green Shower,” “Lost Sea,” “Frozen Mist,” and “Flash Train.” PS2 launch wonder Street Fighter EX3? It’s okay! Not as dense in gems, but “Matador” is pretty hot, and “Cute Mafia” is an excellent name for a song (the song itself, eh).
Just one more thing.
Arika / Capcom / ss4shenlong (YouTube)
This is Saso’s “Strange Sunset,” it is Guile’s theme (plus Allen’s, but who cares) in Plus Alpha, and it goes with the background you see at the top of this article. What words can convey how good this song is? If you (violent, eccentric) put a gun to my head and forced me (wise, erudite) to name my favorite game track ever, “Strange Sunset” (intoxicating, legendary) might well be my pick. It’s a thermonuclear bomb of intriguing atmosphere which blasts over the top with the arrival of the off-kilter, jazzy piano at 1:41. Too good.
I do not wish to besmirch the good name of Yoko Shimomura’s timeless, extremely influential Street Fighter II soundtrack (playlist / VGMdb) and its unfailingly popular “Guile Theme.” That stands on its own. But real talk, “Strange Sunset” is better. It just is. If that bothers anyone they can go home and be a family man.
(Little Guile humor there.)
That’s all she wrote for today’s Morning Music. Glad I got that one crossed off my list, I’ve had it in mind since the start. Are you feeling a little more relaxed today? That’s my vibe so far, but the week’s just starting, so let’s see what fresh hell awaits. Say hi in the comments! We’ll see ya here tomorrow.