Originally published on Pixelitis.net on March 12, 2013.
We all love videogame music for a lot of different reasons. Nostalgia plays a big part obviously, but the infectious melodies often reign supreme.
The Mystical Ninja series is no exception. In fact, its melodies are so damn memorable that the moment I decided I would write about its first Nintendo 64 outing, I couldn’t get the music out of my head for at least 24 hours. I haven’t been a stranger to writing about my fondness for Mystical Ninja in the past.
One of the brilliant things about 1998’s Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon’s soundtrack is just how much of it there really is. The game easily spans more than eighty tracks, and that’s not even including all of the voice samples. This was made possible thanks to the game’s 128-megabit cartridge, which was a hefty size for N64 games back in the day.
The Konami stamp of authenticity lay in the composition of the music, which was handled by an enormous group of people. Composers like Shigeru Araki, Yusuke Kato, Saiko Miki, Yasumasa Kitagawa, and the “Goemon Production Committee” were on hand to create some of the game’s delightfully humorous anime-inspired vocal tracks.
So what are we waiting for? Let’s “BREAKDOWN!” some of the more standout tracks in this 3D platforming bundle of cooky Japanese joy.
Fans of The Legend of the Mystical Ninja will no doubt notice a few nods to that game’s music, particularly with a track like “Theme of Princess Yuki” being a redone version of the SNES title’s prologue and even a brief introductory intro track that ushers in a ghost-like boss in both games.
Given the game’s plethora of music, I’m going to separate this piece into five categories in which the soundtrack really shines: its event-based music, tracks played when frolicking in town and on the roads, the clever dungeon music and finally its diverse collection of boss themes.
“Ganbare, so Ganbare, Akiramenaide / Kuchibue fuki Saa Aruki-dasou yo / GOING NOW!” (Translation: “Fight on, fight on, never giving up / Let’s start our journey as we whistle along / GOING NOW!“
The game kicked off in a way that took many people aback with an intro fit for a kid’s weekend anime episode. Sung by prominent anime theme song vocalist Hironobu “Mr. DBZ” Kageyama, the main theme of Mystical Ninja has all the tenets of a quirky and happy-go-lucky anime intro, complete with random English words like “Take a chance!” thrown in for humorous effect.
The campiness of the intro caught my kid self off-guard. The cheesiness and the pineapple-headed hero… I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to entice the player. After watching that glorious intro, my hands were itching to start the game.
“DASH! DASH! DASH!”
Prior to every first-person mech battle in the game, the player witnesses a sequence in which mainman Goemon enters Impact, an oversized robot version of himself. The entire sequence is wonderfully kooky with another track befitting a Saturday morning Japanese cartoon.
Sung by Ichirou Mizuki, the lyrics are a sort of narration done by the Impact robot himself in which he describes his own internal mechanical workings. More English interjections are employed here, most notably a shout of “BREAKDOWN!” where the track picks up and an accompaniment of a children’s choir joins Mizuki’s passionate singing.
“Gorgeous My Stage” plays during a brief moment prior to the final battle in which the villainous Dancin’ and Lily of the Peace Mountain Shoguns engage in a full-blown musical number where they sing about how wonderful it will be to conquer Japan and make it the troupe’s “stage.” A surreal moment for sure.
What makes this even better is the jeering laughter from the fourth wall-breaking audience that follows this ridiculous performance.
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon’s world is surprisingly large, so with it comes tons of varying themes for the different roads and fields you traverse to get from town to town and/or dungeon. “Kai ~ Highway” starts the whole traversal off with a remarkably catchy tune that’s bound to get stuck in your head for hours. The track reminds me personally of one summer day where my friends and I traded off playing the game, all of us humming this catchy and adventurous melody out loud as we scaled Mt. Fuji.
Something you’ll quickly notice with Mystical Ninja is its heavy use of the shamisen, a plucked string instrument native to Japan, which gives the game’s music that distinct Japanese cultural feel. “Yamato” is an upbeat track with pretty flute parts that play off the keyboards.
This track plays in a brief segment in a forest. It’s a very calm track in which the shamisen plays much slower amidst a genuinely pretty-sounding pan flute. I remember being taken aback by the beauty of it. It felt strange that it’s only played in one small spot in the game.
This track fit perfectly in the game’s dark, snowy regions. The backing shamisen combined with light synths and a shakuhachi made for a very mesmerizing piece.
A shakuhachi intro complemented by a disco beat, grooving bass guitar and a pan flute? Yes, please! “Tosa,” like many other Mystical Ninja tracks, makes you feel like you’ve been transported to Japan.
There are a number of towns to roam around in with Mystical Ninja, and a lot of them contain very smooth and peaceful tracks that help tone the mood down after having Goemon, Ebisumaru and crew repeatedly bash weird, colorful and springy robots apart with a crack pipes, hammers, swords and kunai.
Like many other town themes in the game, “Zazen Town” references the melody of the first town, Oedo, albeit with differing mood and instrumentation.
One of my most favorite aspects of Mystical Ninja’s music lies in its clever dungeon music. Most of the game’s big dungeons start out with subdued minimalism — a simple tune that expands with the addition of several layers of instruments the farther you go in. Not only does this sound cool, but it gives the player an indication of their progress.
In the case of Oedo Castle, reaching the second part of the dungeon causes the music to add a backing drum beat and an even further-layered dramatic introduction, almost as if to complement the added difficulty and peril of the latter obstacles in the dungeon.
The next big dungeon, “Ghost Toys Castle,” takes the concept further by having three parts of expanded layers. The track begins with a simple, yet infectious bassline, light percussion and backing synths. In the second part of the dungeon, added bongos, a backing shamisen and a lead synth line join the fray, giving the whole song an added injection of catchiness.
And even so, it doesn’t end there. The third portion increases the volume on every instrument, adds more dance-friendly percussion, gives the shamisen more prominence, and ultimately gives the keyboards an extended high-pitched solo.
While the “Festival Temple Castle” and “Gourmet Submarine Castle” tracks follow “Ghost Toys Castle” in what I would like to call “progressive layering,” the two final dungeon themes do something a tad different.
Part 1 of “Gorgeous Musical Castle” serves as a glorified remix of the “Hidden Treasure” music from the SNES Mystical Ninja, which is made more epic with good old-fashioned Konami-styled orchestral hits. The track overall gets you pumped up to take on the final hurdle of the game.
Proceed with the headbanging! Being one of the few rock-oriented tracks in the game, the final dungeon theme is fantastic and serves as the perfect music before the final boss fight. If you ever wondered what shamisen playing would sound like with distorted guitar, search no further.
Like the dungeon music, Ghost Toys Castle’s boss gets stuck in my head every time I listen to it. It has a playfulness to it that the other, more intense boss themes don’t have. This can be attributed to the flightiness of the lead flute and the zany keyboard sounds that precede it. I always found it humorous when the robot boss here would wave his long arms almost perfectly in time to the flute.
- “The King Robot Congo”
- “Control Machine”
- “Wartime Kabuki Robot Kashiwagi”
- “The Great Peach Mountain Battleship Balberra”
Goemon’s perseverance (or lack thereof)
Even with the outdated N64-styled synthesizers, Goemon’s music still holds up remarkably well, and many who reminisce about the game like me almost always mention how great the music is.
With that said, good luck finding the soundtrack. Even then, the official CD release was vastly incomplete, which is a disservice considering it had so many damn good tracks.
Perhaps the biggest crime however stems from the Mystical Ninja series’ lack of localized releases since 1999’s Goemon’s Great Adventure for N64. I hate to think of what kind of interesting musical experiences we’ve been missing out on, especially from a particular batch of Super Famicom and DS releases featuring that lovable, blue pineapple-haired hero, his portly perverted partner, and their female ninja and robotic ninja counterparts.
Top Five Tracks: