Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks: The Scheme (PC-88)

In this series of posts, I highlight soundtracks that we may have overlooked.  Let’s take a look at Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack for The Scheme, an action adventure game for the PC-8801.

In 1988, The Scheme was released in Japan for the the NEC PC-8801 (a Z80 based Japanese PC) by Bothtec (which eventually becomes Quest, which eventually produces Ogre Battle, which eventually produces Final Fantasy Tactics for Square- small world, right?).

The earlier models of the *NEC PC-8801 featured the Yamaha YM2203 sound chip, the standard sound chip for many older arcade boards.  The chip itself contains 3 FM synthesis channels and 3 programmable sound generators (PSGs) in a standard mono output.

Starting in 1987, the PC-88 series began to offer a “sound upgrade” package.  These boards contained the YM2608 sound chip (the successor to the YM2203) which offered a staggering 6 channels of FM synthesis, 3 channels of PSG, an on-board drum sample channel, and an awesome 16 hz ADPCM for sampling, all in stereo output.  After 1988, this became the standard sound chip for the PC88 series, replacing the YM2203.

Being that The Scheme was released in the middle of this sound chip transition, Bothtec decided that the game would be released with audio programmed for both the YM2203 and the YM2608.  I imagine this was done to make sure that people who still had older PC88 computers could still enjoy the game’s audio and also to utilize the sound capabilities of the new YM2608.  Yuzo Koshiro would be forced to write two soundtracks for the same game.

Given the situation, I imagine there would be some level of temptation for Koshiro to be lazy.  He could have easily just written all the music for YM2203 and then added parts for the YM2608 or just cut down YM2608 parts.  Instead, Koshiro wrote two different soundtracks to the game, each utilizing the strengths and weaknesses of the chips.  This is a rare opportunity for a gamer to play one game with two almost completely different soundtracks without it being a remake.

Let’s take a look at the music.  The first thing I noticed is there are a couple tracks included in both versions of the game.  Let’s take a listen:

The Forced Rotted Away (YM2203)

The Force Rotted Away (YM2608)

The YM2203 isn’t just an unsatisfying port of the original YM2608 sound- it is it’s own animal and has its own feel.  Koshiro definitely spent time getting the right sounds across both.

Death World (YM2203)

Death World (YM2608)

The same song with a COMPLETELY different feel.  And again, both are fantastic tracks.

Let’s take a look at the difference between the YM2203 and the YM2608 title screen themes:

Two different songs for the same game play.  The game takes on a completely different feel with the YM2608 title screen but then eventually finds that same serious tone of the YM2203 track.

Enough talk about the soundtrack, let’s actually listen to the whole thing!  To listen to a playlist I put together of the music, please click here.  Tracks 1-19 are from the YM2608 board, tracks 20-31 are from the YM2203 board, and 32-34 are arranged tracks done by Koshiro.  Please enjoy!

About Classical Gaming

Steve Lakawicz holds an MM in Music Performance from Temple University as well as a BM in Tuba Performance from Rutgers University . His teachers include Paul Scott, Scott Mendoker, and Jay Krush. His love of video game music has lead him to form a blog, Classical Gaming, to promote discussion both casual and academic about the music of video games. He is the co-founder of the video game/nerd music chamber ensemble, Beta Test Music and regularly composes/performs chiptune music as Ap0c. He currently resides in Philadelphia where he teaches college statistics at Temple University. View all posts by Classical Gaming

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