In this installment of Lesser-known Game Soundtracks, I will highlight Jun Ishikawa’s soundtrack to 16-bit adventure RPG, Alcahest.
Never heard of Alcahest? That’s because it was released only in Japan. Never heard of Jun Ishikawa? Well, you probably have HEARD him, just not his name. Let’s take a look!
Alcahest was released in 1993 by the legendary HAL Laboratory (makers of Earthbound, Kirby, the Smash Bros series, and many others) and published by Square. The game was produced by a young Satoru Iwata. Why does that name sound familiar? Well… he’s the current president of Nintendo. HAL Laboratory and Nintendo have been tied together since Nintendo reached out to HAL Laboratory in 1992 to save the company from financial ruin. For an awesome history of the two companies, you should check out this article on n-sider.com. Seriously- if you’re a Nintendo fanboy or just love this history of games, that article is amazing.
Quick notes about the game itself:
- Many reviews describe the gameplay of Alcahest as similar to the Legend of Zelda series. While the gameplay is similar to Legend of Zelda in that it has a top-view action-adventure element, Alcahest is much more linear- there’s 8 levels, you gain experience, each level has a boss, there’s recruitable characters for each level, etc. I’d say it reminds me more of a Secret of Mana/Goof Troop mix than Zelda. Click here to judge for yourself.
- One of the most annoying things about the game is the lack of battery backup. It’s a password based RPG. So you mean to tell me in 1993, nearly 3 years after the release of the console that featured a launch title with battery backup (Super Mario World), a company is making a game without battery backup? I don’t get it.
- As for Alcahest‘s legacy, it isn’t really considered a classic by the standards of the action-adventure genre and most reviews on GameFAQs have it listed as being “just okay”. A copy of the game on eBay is about $15, for those of you who just HAVE to play it in original fidelity.
So why mention the music to this lackluster, password-based Japanese Zelda “clone”? Well, the composer is kind of famous:
Jun Ishikawa’s career centers around his work for the Kirby series. I did quick check of OCRemix and it says that he wrote music exclusively for the Kirby series. I couldn’t really believe that he ONLY worked on Kirby so I decided to spend some time researching. I quickly discovered that he wrote for a couple other games: Alcahest, Hypezone, and The New Ghostbusters II, which I actually highlighted a couple months ago. So, I believe the real value of highlighting this particular soundtrack is to show us some of Ishikawa’s music outside his work for Kirby. Let’s listen:
Above is the complete soundtrack. Also, it may make sense to watch this on YouTube so you can jump around. DarkgreenOrange has “jumping” points in his description. A couple things to note:
- The music to Alcahest shows us Ishikawa’s ability to develop a single theme (“Title Screen”) throughout an entire game soundtrack. If you listen to the whole 31:57, you will hear this theme in every form, including a military march, a battle theme, a continue theme, an overworld theme, etc. While we play games, we rarely pay attention to the theory/technique behind the music, especially while we’re trying not to die because then we’ll need a password… Removing Alcahest‘s music from the gameplay, we can clearly see an example of very careful and thoughtful treatment of game music. I had no idea that highlighting this lesser-known soundtrack would prove to be educational from both a music theory/technique perspective and a general game music perspective.
- As for the style, the whole thing is very Ishikawa- percussive, fast, and rhythmic. This soundtrack was written after he had already written for Kirby’s Dreamland and I believe you can really hear the similarities between the soundtracks.
- I’m a huge fan of boss themes and this particular track uses all my favorite SFC/SNES instruments. The boss theme is at 17:42.
- Sadly, there was NEVER an official release of this soundtrack and thus, there are no official tracks names or track listings. I’ve downloaded the soundtrack as both a game rip and in the exact form displayed here. The game rip version has tracks that are NOT present here. I’d definitely post the individual tracks but they are displayed in alphabetical order without track numbers so it would be a confusing mess.
Hope you enjoyed this post! Let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks for reading!