Just when I said I wasn’t going to be making as many regular blog posts, here comes the return of Video Vinyl! Bet you didn’t see that coming!
Okay, so to follow that shocker, here’s a hot take:
There’s too damn much video game vinyl.
The extensive history of video game soundtracks in Japan notwithstanding, the modern era of video game music being pressed on vinyl for worldwide distribution kind of started with Data Discs and their initial releases of Streets of Rage and Shenmue — there had been the occasional oddity like Metal Gear Rising, which was available directly from Konami, but DD seems to have kicked off the current trend of quality game soundtrack records. Then we have Ship to Shore, and Brave Wave, then collectible makers like iam8bit, Fangamer, and Mondo joined the fray…and that’s not even all of the labels that are currently active.
There are records available now for many classic games and series, including Castlevania, Metal Gear, Mother, Gradius, Rocket Knight Adventure, Street Fighter, Ninja Gaiden, and many more. It also seems that every indie game is getting a soundtrack release now, like Hollow Knight, Undertale, Cuphead, Doki Doki Literature Club, 198X…the list is becoming endless.
What’s a video game music fan to do? We have reached the point where it’s becoming too much to keep up with, even if you just narrow your buying down to the titles you like, let alone trying to collect all of it.
So, as a vinyl consumer already (yeah, I have always bought records), it’s tempting to want to buy tons of these records, but it became obvious to me years ago that that just wasn’t feasible. It really comes down to which records I’m actually going to listen to more than once, as I don’t believe in buying them just to own them and keep them on a shelf. In fact, I had kind of written off the idea of buying any more of them at all, and not even peeking down that rabbit hole anymore.
Then, out of nowhere, I got clobbered with a one-two punch: a label out of France called Wayo Records announced the long-awaited and much-deserved vinyl release of Actraiser, and iam8bit repressed their Shadow of the Colossus soundtrack, which I missed out on the first time.
Dammit. They both got me, and they got me good.
If you know me or have paid any attention to this blog, you know that Actraiser and SotC are two games that I unashamedly place on pedestals. And their music is certainly no small part of the reasons why.
So, let’s start with the Shadow of the Colossus soundtrack, since it technically came out first. iam8bit has pressed the game’s epic score by Kow Otani onto a double-LP set on colored vinyl (one clear, one blue) in a triple-gatefold jacket. I will let the photos do the talking regarding the quality of the artwork and packaging.
The jacket is a matte finish, with light embossing and hits of gloss print. The front cover shows Wander about to take his first stab at the sigil in Valus’ forehead; on the back, Wander cautiously navigates Argo through a treacherous mountain pass.
I’m a little confused as to why they laid it out with the front cover artwork opening to the left; I would think it would make more sense to have transposed the front and back cover art, layout-wise. It feels backward to me. But no big deal.
Upon opening the cover to the first gatefold, we are greeted by Quadratus as he notices Wander for the first time.
Finally, the triple-panel inner gatefold artwork is a stunning depiction of an iconic moment in the game: the sixth Colossus, Barba, as he crouches to the ground, searching for Wander hiding in the alcove behind the pillars of the temple.
Although there is definitely a sequence to the four sides, they interestingly didn’t label them sides 1-2-3-4 or A-B-C-D; instead, each side is labeled with the sacred sigil in a different color.
Otani’s soundtrack immediately puts you back in the Forbidden Lands, exploring the ostensibly empty countryside or being swept up in a harrowing battle. When heard without playing the game, however, the score somehow takes on even more emotional impact, especially the ending themes. I already knew the music was amazing; being able to focus on it without worrying about being smashed by a giant gives a whole new perspective on its brilliance and beauty.
Then we have a soundtrack that has been possibly more deserving of a deluxe vinyl release than any video game soundtrack in history: Actraiser, composed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro. I said way back in my gushing love letter to this game that its music needed a vinyl release, and I’m a little shocked that a) it’s taken this long to happen, and b) one of the other game-centric record labels hadn’t already jumped on it. But Wayo Records clinched the deal, and they’ve done a beautiful job.
Another double-LP release, the first disc contains the original Super Famicom/SNES BGM, while the second record presents something new: a newly-recorded version of the Actraiser Symphonic Suite, an arranged version of the score that was originally released on CD back in 1991 (and is now very expensive), captured live at the Ancient Festival event in 2018.
This masterpiece is packaged in a non-gatefold jacket, which contains the two LPs in printed inner sleeves and an 8-page booklet with notes from composer Koshiro and the conductor and arranger from the New Japan BGM Philharmonic Orchestra.
At first, I was a little confused as to why the packaging didn’t feature the original Super Famicom box art or the original Actraiser logo. I then realized that this release is licensed by Ancient (Koshiro’s company), who must retain the rights to the music, but the artwork is probably owned by Enix (or Square Enix now) — or possibly is not owned by anybody and is lost to the sands of time. At any rate, it doesn’t matter — the brand new artwork was done by Yuzo’s sister, Ayano Koshiro, who was a graphic designer and artist for Actraiser and many other classic titles like Streets of Rage, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Ys.
The records themselves are pressed in a gorgeous blue vinyl, marbled with black and white.
But possibly the most delicous carrot that Wayo Records dangled in front of enthused pre-orderers of this release — not that I needed any other motivation to immediately hurl my money at them for this — was the offer of a shitajiki (a board commonly used for autographs or doodles by celebrities for souvenirs), printed with this exclusive new artwork, and hand-signed by Yuzo Koshiro himself. Limited to the first 250 vinyl orders, I believe I heard they were gone within the first day that pre-orders went live. Fortunately, I was among those initial 250, and I now have Yuzo Koshiro’s autograph, and I’m still super frickin’ excited about that.
I’m especially happy about this because when I ordered Data Disc’s release of Revenge of Shinobi years ago, I was crossing my fingers to get one of the random copies that was signed by Koshiro then, but alas, I did not. So I was very happy to get his signature this time, and it’s an artifact I will definitely treasure.
As for the music itself, well, we all know what to expect from the Super Famicom BGM by now; Actraiser’s soundtrack is nothhing short of iconic, legendary, and a landmark in home video game music. 30 years later, it’s still good enough to listen to on its own; the theme of the land of Filmore still gets me excited for adventure, and the boss music is still blood-pumping and urgent.
The second disc, however, is where this release really shines, however. The original 1991 arranged version of Actraiser’s music was brilliant, but this new recording sounds fresh, lively, and even more grandiose. The fact that it was performed relatively recently is a heartwarming reminder of how beloved and important this music was, and still remains to this day.
So there you have it. Even though I swore off video game vinyl quite a while ago, I guess it just goes to show that if it’s good enough — or at least, important enough to me — it’s still worth investing in, because I know I’m going to actually spin it and enjoy it. And I have already listened to both of these releases multiple times.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have better things to spend my money on than more video game records.
…*quietly checks online to see if the Metal Gear Solid soundtrack is still available*
…oh, shut up.