Yep, another Lesser-known Video Game Soundtrack. Today, we’ll talk about a Japanese-only release programmed by a popular strategy RPG company, published by a company famous for Pacman, and soundtracked by one of the most cerebral composers of the FC/NES era.
Okay, I’ll be honest. The game itself is quite boring. The title roughly translates to “Erika and Satoru Dream Adventure”. It is an adventure game developed by Atlus and released by Namco in 1988. In Japan, there were many menu-based adventure games. This style of game that was very popular in Japan but not really in the US.
So what exactly is this genre? I would say, in terms of gameplay, it reminds me most of Where in the World Carmen Sandiego?– you scroll through menus, check out places, look for clues, talk to people, etc etc. Take a look for yourself, if you really want. Don’t get me wrong, the game itself is very cute. Just not my cup of tea.
One thing of special note: this game has probably the WEIRDEST Easter Egg of all time. Check out The Cutting Room Floor for details.
The composer for this game is really really interesting. Hirohiko Takayama has unfortunately been the victim of writing music for awful games. Much like Tim Follin, Takayama never “phoned-in” on the music, even for crappy movie-game releases. Here’s an example of his music from Fester’s Quest (NES), one of the most difficult and frustrating games ever designed:
I don’t usually analyze examples in my posts but notice the bass line here by Takayama. This is a 2A03/7 only game. How does he get that “slap bass” sound? Well, it’s actually loaded into the DPCM. It 1-bit sample of bass, processed and manipulated to sound like a real bass. The point is: Takayama is yet another one of those awesome, creative, and innovative early game composers.
If that was 2A03/7 only, what could Takayama do with an audio mapper? Perhaps maybe even the biggest and best audio mapper that 1988 could provide? Erika to Satoru no Yumebouken uses the NAMCO 163 (that is, the NAMCO 106 WITH audio enabled). The NAMCO 163 is capable of 8 addition channels of sound. Each channel is similar to the Nintendo FDS, for the most part, but there are some limitations (which are highly technical and I won’t cover today). Many games used 4, 5, or 6 channels. Only 2 games used all 8 channels and both of those games were composed by Takayama- Erika to Satoru no Yumebouken and King of Kings.
So today, we’ll see an example of the NAMCO 163 at full power, with a masterful composer at the helm. Let’s listen!
The result… well, it’s kind of underwhelming to be honest. A couple things:
- He uses a lot of the extra channels to create big chords and piano-like “comp” parts to the soft jazz soundtrack. This is fitting for the lighthearted nature of the game. It’s not terribly exciting, unfortunately.
- Okay, a problem as you listen. Hear how the sounds “chop” in? Like, there’s a little weird little “crinkle” on a lot of the notes? There’s a reason why Namco did not let many people write for all 8 channels on the NAMCO 163. Without getting too technical, the 163 shares the same digital-to-analog converter (DAC) across all channels, sequentially. The DAC is programmed at frequency of 120 khz when using 1 channel, WELL beyond normal human hearing range which tops out around 17-20 khz. When you add channels to the 163, you divide up the DAC’s 120 khz frequency between each added channel. Say you add 4 channels- the DAC frequency would be 120 khz /4 = 30 khz. Let’s say we add all 8 channels… so that would be 120 khz/8 = 15 khz. Uh oh, you can now hear the DAC. Namco did not pack a low-pass filter onto the chip and thus, the sound is very audible. This is very, very apparent during the track that starts at 4:47. There’s no noise channel here- that’s the DAC frequency you hear as the notes change.
- That being said, the music here is excellently crafted. I believe Takayama manages to manipulate the unfortunate DAC problems so that they are not as noticeable. In many instances, he layers the noise channel over the top of channel changes. Since the DAC SOUNDS like a noise channel, it blends a bit. Pretty ingenious.
- Overall, this is not Takayama’s best work. What disappoints me the most, perhaps, is that the Fester’s Quest track I posted is ultimately much more interesting. Perhaps less is more in some cases? I love the layers he creates here… but I feel like I’m going to fall asleep. Then maybe I can go on a magical dream adventure! Yey!
Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed listening and please leave comments. I sure do love comments!