Whelp, looks like we’re going to talk about Lagrange Point finally, a Japanese-release only RPG with the most advanced FC/NES soundtrack of all time. How so? Read on…
I’ve talked about how the Japanese version of Castlevania III has a much better soundtrack than its US counterpart due to the Konami VRC6, a specialized audio chip that produced 3 extra channels (2 pulse waves + a saw) on the cartridge. Well, Lagrange Point uses the VRC7. Oooo!
The VRC7 is almost too powerful. It adds 6 channels of FM synthesis. 6. Channels. This cartridge basically takes your NES and welds a more powerful version of the Yamaha YM2413 onto the board (the audio chip from the Sega Master System!). The original FC/NES chip (2a03/7) only has 3 channels of sound (2 pulse + 1 triangle), a noise channel, and a simple DPCM. So you get 2 pulse, 1 triangle, a noise channel, a simple DPCM, and 6 channels of FM synthesis for total of 9 simultaneous audio channels + noise + DPCM… on the FC/NES. Crazy!
FM synthesis (frequency modulation synthesis) allows you to change the pattern of the waves or numbered code to make essentially produce many different electronic sounds. This would allow anyone composing for the FC/NES to essentially create new instruments for playback on the fly. This chip was capable of many different frequency modes and completely enabled on all 6 channels. A programmer could pick from 15 different patches for FM, each one with a distinct tone and quality. They could also program a single FM patch to their liking using direct FM synthesis. The sound possibilities were staggering!
So, this all sounds so cool. Why didn’t we see more of this chip? The chip debuted in 1991, long after the release of the NES/FC’s successor, the SFC/SNES. The late development of such a powerful audio chip and the limited amount of money actually being spent on developing new FC/NES titles led to this chip only being used in only two games- Lagrange Point and Tiny Toon Adventures 2. Lagrange Point was the only game of the two that actually used the extra FM synthesis channels… and therefore, Lagrange Point is the only game EVER to use the VRC7 for sound.
Shall we take a listen? (All credits to explod2a03 for cutting and posting these tracks from NSF. Thanks again, Bucky!)
It sounds like something straight out of the Sega Genesis. It’s not. This is sampled from NSF by explod2a03.
I loaded up the NSF myself and took a good look at the sound construction. Oddly, the composer duo for this game (Akio Dobashi and Noriyuki Takahashi) only uses the FM synthesis channels for melodic purposes. The 2a03’s sounds are relegated to creating drums only. There’s a couple pulse waves programmed in just to aid the DPCM. Some tracks, the triangle is used to boost the DPCM output and create longer, sustained drums. It’s sad that in our only true measure of the VRC7, we are not treated to 9 voice polyphony…
Still, I digress. Let’s check out this track.
Really haunting. Again, the 2a03 is providing all the drum output (DPCM + noise channel and some intermittent pulse layering for the drums). I love how the VRC7 lets you create that classic FM synthesis “pluck” to the sounds.
Really digging the busy effects. The “flute-like” instrument in the FM synthesis is awesome. The part that starts around :33 or so is interesting- lots of glissando.
The bassline. AWESOME. This is a great track. This would make Motoi Sakuraba proud!
Here’s some more good tracks:
Great stuff. If you start here you can listen to the whole thing. Hope you enjoyed it!