Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks: X (エックス Ekkusu) (GB)

Welcome to another installment of Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks.  Today, we’re going to talk about X, a game that only uses a single English letter for a title but is 4 Japanese characters long in katakana and whose origins are inspired by the wire-frame graphics of old computers, the programming minds of a some Argonauts, and the challenge of executing 3D on a little gray box.  Oh, and yes, the music to the game is pretty swell, too.  Let’s go!

The origin of X (エックス Ekkusu) is interesting and while the game was JP only, it influenced a lot of the games we’ve probably all played.  A bit of history, if you will.  Take notes.  There will be a quiz later:

As the story goes (according to FamitsuVGCollect.com, and /ugh/ Wikipedia), the game that eventually became started as a 3D wire-frame prototype by Argonaut Software, a British software company known for its 3D games on Amiga and Atari ST.  Mindscape, who had previously published title for Argonaut (most notably the StarGlider series), was slated to publish the prototype under the title of Eclipse or Lunar Chase.

However, Argonaut Software was still actively shopping the title.  Lead developer Dylan Cuthbert presented a tech demo of the game to Nintendo.  Nintendo, fascinated by the idea developing a 3D game, agreed to fund the project.  The project and code was transferred to the legendary Nintendo R&D1 division, the team responsible for Metroid, Kid Icarus, and many other Nintendo first party titles.  The game was adjusted so that it would work with Game Boy, the title was changed to X, and it was released on May 29th, 1992.

Why is this all important?  Nintendo’s relationship with Argonaut Software continued after the release of X.  Argonaut developed and presented another 3D prototype game to Nintendo in 1993.  This time the game, code-named NESGlider, used the NES’s graphics capabilities to present 3D models.  Continuing to mold the the prototype, they also developed a version that would work on Nintendo’s current generation console, the SNES.  Jez San, president of Argonaut Software, said they could make the game look and run even better if they were allowed to produce and develop a custom chip, cartridge-side, that would help the SNES run 3D modeling.  Nintendo surprisingly said yes and San went ahead and developed the chip.  And thus, the Super FX chip was born.  NESGlider was renamed Star Fox and transferred the Nintendo EAD division, the team responsible for the Mario series, Zelda series, and Donkey Kong.  The rest is history.

TL; DR:  This game inspired the Super FX chip and Star Fox.

Music.  Oh yes, this is a music blog.  Well, I want to highlight the music because it’s done the legendary duo of Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka and Kazumi Totaka.

I’ve highlighted these two legends before in my previous articles about Dr. Mario and covering tunes for a Beta Test Music concert.  So let’s see what gets served up here.

The most famous piece of music from this game is the “Tunnel Theme”.  If you played Smash Bros, you may have heard this piece of music and probably didn’t know what it was:

(credit:  GilvaSunner)

This is actually a cover of the “Tunnel Scene” track from X:

(credit:  1983parrothead)

I’m sorry but the original is so awesome.  I stumbled upon this track by complete accident too.  I was looking for an interview with Totaka (there’s a couple out there) and X was listed as a game for which he composed.  I looked it up on YouTube and was instantly blown away.  There’s great use of the noise channel here- that solid staccato “thud” for the snare is perfect.  The melodic lines are light and airy and the bass is thumping.  Those pulse washes that start at :25 are awesome.

Unfortunately, and this sucks, there’s no “cut up” version of the OST.  There’s only this complete OST version I found kicking around that was posted for the 20th anniversary of the game.  Check out how it starts though:

(credit:  1983parrothead)

This gem right here is the title screen.  Listen to that depth!  Those low and brutal pulses are strident and booming.  It’s “Tim Follin-esque” and has that feeling that at any moment, it’s going to break out in a progressive rock song.  I’ve managed to create some “track markers” of some of my favorites from the complete OST.  A lot of the complete OST contains incidental music that plays while characters are talking or during mission briefings.  You can skip to hear some of the “meat” of the OST:

1:45 – Tunnel Scene II – There’s two tunnel tracks in the game, as far as I know.  This one is just as badass and thumping as the original.  It uses the same basic thematic material.

4:43 – Enemy Battle – Well, that’s roughly what I’ve named it.  From watching gameplay videos, it seems to play when you’re in danger or have to finish some challenge.  I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t actually played the game, of course.

6:26 – Another interesting track.  I haven’t seen it during gameplay – if you know what it is, let me know and I’ll write it in.  It really gets awesome around 6:50.  I love the short and staccato nature of the track and then the contrast of the high pulse.

10:32 – The dense textures here are great.  I love the heavy rhythmic pulse.  Even though the track is dense at moments, it still has movement programmed into the nuance of the actual pulse sounds.  It accomplishes a great deal.  It also brings back the “theme” material.

There’s a lot more.  Skipping to about the half way mark will get you past a lot of the sound effects and digital “talking” so I recommend trying that.

Take a listen and enjoy this hidden gem!  Thanks again, folks!

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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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