Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks: Ninja Ryukenden (忍者龍剣伝) (PCE)

Welcome to another Lesser-known Video Game Soundtrack.  Today, we’ll feature a game released for Famicom/NES and ported to the PC Engine with a cheat code that unlocks English language, and scored by someone I can’t find any information about!  That’s always the best kind of article.

Okay.  First of all, Ninja Ryukenden = Ninja Gaiden.  Now that we have that out of the way…..

Ninja Ryukenden is the PC Engine port of Famicom/NES’s Ninja Gaiden.  It was released in 1992 in Japan only.  A 1992 release puts this game nearly 4 years after the original Famicom/NES release and a year after Ninja Gaiden III.

I’m not sure if everyone knows this or not but Ninja Gaiden (FC/NES) was actually an original game.  It is not based off the coin-op arcade version of the game, which was a 2-player beat-um up.  The arcade game was NOT ported to FC/NES – in fact, the arcade game and the home version were produced simultaneously.  An excerpt from an interview with the creator of Masato Kato by Hardcore Gaming 101:

[HCG101]Besides the Famicom game, there is also an Arcade version of Ninja Ryuukenden, but the two games are very different. They seem completely unrelated, but has there been any cooperation between the two teams? Which game came first? Were there any requirements for similarities between them?

[Kato]  Both were developed side by side on the same floor, at the same time. However, we only shared the same title, while each team developed their game as they pleased.

So there’s really no relationship between them besides a name.  Interesting.

Some notable differences between the PCE version and the FC/NES version (thanks to Video Game Den for these!):

  • Ninja Ryukenden (PCE) improved upon the original graphics of the FC/NES game.
  • It changed enemy placement.
  • Some of the physics of the game were slightly different as well as the controls (PC Engine controllers vs. NES controllers – VERY different feel)
  • It added parallax scrolling, which the PCE is actually incapable of doing using built-in hardware.  The result is a kind of experimental choppy background.  It looks cool but it hurts my eyes.
  • For some reason, some of the names are changed… like, Ken Hayabusa is known as Joe Hayabusa.  I’m not really sure why.
  • The game also featured a cheat mode that let you change the language from Japanese to English or Chinese.  Interestingly, the English translation is DIFFERENT from the NES version.
  • But the main reason I’m highlighting this game:  It featured a completely different soundtrack.

The soundtrack to the FC/NES version is done by the legendary Keiji Yamagishi (Ninja Gaiden series, Tecmo Bowl series, Captain Tsubasa series, et al.).  For whatever reason, Tecmo or Hudsonsoft or whoever made this decision really, decided to hire Makiko Tanifuji to redo the entire soundtrack.

Who?

Exactly.  Makiko Tanifuji is an enigma.  After writing this article, this may be the only English website that mentions her without being a dedicated soundtrack website that just lists game credits.  Tanifuji’s game music career seems to be this game and a game for PCE/TG-16 called Soldier Blade, though she is only listed as the secondary composer to Kenji Hoshi.

“If it’s one game and there’s a lot of misinformation all over the internet, what’s to say that the game was ACTUALLY composed by her?  A lot of websites don’t even list the composer to this game!”  Well, I can go by what the ending to Ninja Ryukenden actually says.  Here:

There we go. Easy confirmation.

When it doubt, check the primary source, as they say.  If it’s not by her, then, well TECMO IS A LIAR!

So, we all agree we like the original Ninja Gaiden soundtrack very much.  How does the soundtrack to Ninja Ryukenden stack up?  Let’s listen:

A couple things about PC Engine you should know while listening:

  • The HuC6280 is capable of 6 channels of wave table synthesis.
  • Channels 5 and 6 can be triggered as noise channels (2 noise channels?  Weird, right?).
  • Any channel can be triggered to act as a sample channel.
  • Channel 2 can be muted to augment Channel 1 into a pseudo-FM synthesis channel.

The result is a strange NES/Genesis hybrid sound that I like.  A lot.

Honestly, though, this soundtrack does not capture the intensity of the original.   It has the benefit of 4 years of sound innovation over the FC/NES version.  The soundtrack is NOT 1992 quality.  There are very few (if any) samples used.  Tanifuji uses antiquated pulse kick drums and both noise channels to construct her drum set, which is interesting but very 1989.  She does create some really nice melodies that leads to what I would call a “better” atmosphere.  It’s just so very different.

I mean, here’s the complete original:

Less channels on the 2a03 and more sound.  There’s echo, samples, and really nice noise channel drums.  The triangle is driving and intense.

So… why point out the PC Engine version when it is clearly inferior?

These are two very different interpretations of the same game and music.  I’m willing to bet most people did not know that the PC Engine version existed AND that it had a different soundtrack.  That’s kind of the point.  It’s also interesting to discover a composer that seemingly disappeared into thin air.  There’s something academic about remembering and highlighting music that is unknown, even if it’s bad.  We need to hear everything, sometimes.

That being said, I don’t believe the PCE soundtrack is BAD;  I just believe it is different.  The FC/NES soundtrack is legendary so it’s very hard to accept any other soundtrack for the game.  In fact, when the SFC/SNES re-release of the game came out (Ninja Gaiden Trilogy) the game featured remixes of the FC/NES music and completely ignored the PCE music.  It even re-rendered backgrounds COMPLETELY based off the 8-bit FC/NES version, without drawing any color palettes from the PCE version, which featured many more colors than the original.

I guess the PCE version was considered inferior even by the developers.  Oh well, it’s still fun to play.  The different enemy placement makes it like a B-side version of the original.  You have to relearn everything but it’s still the same game layout.  I found that kind of amusing.  The game is definitely easier on PCE, I think.  Or I’ve gotten a lot better at games like these as I’ve gotten older.

Either way, I hope you enjoyed this soundtrack and discussion.  Thanks for reading and comments are welcome.  Makiko Tanifuji, if you’re out there, let us know!  I’d love to hear the back story to the development of this game.

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

One response to “Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks: Ninja Ryukenden (忍者龍剣伝) (PCE)

  • Another Gamer

    Seems like Tanifuji used the two noise tracks to pan the drumset sounds… just saves a little bit of trouble, as you could do the same thing with just one noise track, but it’s easier to have two.

    I agree about the retro-ness of the PCE soundtrack. She definitely didn’t take advantage of the capabilities presented to her… With FM and sampling you could do some pretty legit stuff, but it just seems to be hyped-up 3-track stuff.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: