Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks: Lagrange Point (ラグランジュポイント) (FC)

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!

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

4 responses to “Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks: Lagrange Point (ラグランジュポイント) (FC)

  • Pedro P.

    Incredible, I’d never had recognized it as the NES…

  • Simon

    Hi, great post! I know I’m writing YEARS after the original post, but I’m trying to figure out how Konami’s VRC7 chip didn’t violate Yamaha’s patent on FM synthesis. Any ideas?

    • Classical Gaming

      Hey – never too late! I still monitor from the darkness haha

      From my understanding, Konami wrote music that used the OPLL (YM2413) for their games for the MSX, which also supported the YM2413 as an add on (MSX-MUSIC and other add-ons carts)… so I always assumed that they managed to work it out from that angle. The VRC7 is a custom chip too with specific patches which were likely requested by Konami to match and I assume the tones they requested lined up with their arcade soundtracks and other sounds they were comfortable asking for this information… I also think that the composer begged and begged Konami to let them do it – there is something written about that but I’d have to look it up.

      Me and Patrick (aka bucky aka explod2a03) have been working on podcasts that are the spiritual successor to this website lately – https://soundcloud.com/retrogameaudio – and we’re going to be doing an episode on the VRC7 pretty soon… it might be worth pinging Patrick on twitter (@illusorywall) as I know he’s currently working on information on this soundchip so he might know more. I hope that helps a little bit!

      And gosh, thanks for reading this old website!🙂

      • Simon

        Thanks for getting back to me. Yeah, I’ve read a few comparisons between the YM2413 and VRC7, saying the VRC7 was a derivative, but you’re supposing it was a derivative with the blessing of Yamaha?

        I’ll look forward to the podcast! I’m teaching a class on Game Audio next semester, and I’ll recommend it to my students.

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