Hirofumi Murasaki, Morihiko Akiyama, Masayuki Nagao – Shinobi III: Return Of The Ninja Master (Data Discs Remaster)

3 out of 5

Produced by: Shaun Crook (vinyl master)

Label: Data Discs

I’m wondering if this is a nostalgia thing again.  The compositions are impressive, but not particularly memorable; madcap rushes of synths that don’t seem to settle upon a theme which gives me any real sense of the game.  To me, a lot of video game music from the 8-bit / 16-bit era falls into this bucket.  It’s of varying quality – so again, I underline that the work on Shinobi is, at times, insanely complex – but still, there’s a lack of audible range that ends up making the music bleed into something of a general mish-mash.  However, I wasn’t a big Shinobi fan (Shadow Dancer was my jam for a while, though), so factor that in.

Side A’s opening ‘Shinobi’ is a fine example of what I’m talking about: a nice, speedy pace, but not a lot of low-end tones to juxtapose the jumpy higher-pitched keys.  After the brief ‘Storm Wind,’ ‘Japonesque’ slows things down just a tad and adds a bit more flavor, but we’re still far away from developing anything that feels like a theme.  Deeper into the side, ‘Mandara’ and ‘Idaten’ open the range up, crafting some toe-tapping grooves, but both have secondary sections that are almost like jazz freakouts.  On the one hand – this is awesome.  It’s the kind of oddball composition that I can understand why it might’ve stuck out to fans, and it is by no means the “norm” for this era of work.  On the other hand, it goes so far away from the initial groove as to hit a hard stop on the track’s momentum.  If this were conceived as an actual album, some kind of chip tune thing, it would be genius.  But the abrupt fade outs on most of these tracks – an unavoidable fate for looped game music, generally – make it too clear that that’s not what you’re getting.  Before the side ends with the ‘Round Clear’ effect, the super short ‘Getufu’ introduces some somber notes that are a good intro to Side B.

…Which kicks off pretty perfectly: ‘Inner Darkside’ and ‘Trap Boogie’ bring the layering and the groove without going astray.  The side mostly hangs on up through the devastatingly awesome ‘Izayoi’ but then sort of trails off into the mid-range stylings of Side A, dropping you onto the locked groove ‘Game Over’ effect before you know it.

When you’re sitting there, paying attention to the tunes, the complexity is, at points, jaw-dropping.  And every now and then the soundtrack produces a standout track that you can imagine as accompanying either your favorite level or that level you hate.  …But I would still say none of these tracks make me instantly think of a Shinobi game.  That lack of a definitive mood, combined with the way the range of tones and compositions blend into what too easily becomes background music makes it a good and cool game soundtrack, but a 3-star album.