Mega Man music is excellent. Like excellent on a level that a lot of other games in the 8 bit and 16 bit eras can’t even touch. Each stage has it’s own theme, and in almost every case, the music fits the setting. The instruments chosen for tracks in icy themed stages usually tinkle or gleam, like icicles or snow flakes. Stages set in factories or industrial settings sound heavier and grittier sounds, reflecting the dangerous atmosphere, or alternatively, sound catchy and upbeat, noting the energetic setting. Natural areas sound more earthy, with heavy rhythm sections, sounding almost primitive.
Mega Man X
When the Mega Man X series came along, Capcom was able to retain this familiar connection between the soundtrack and the setting, but ramped up the guitars and rocking electronic sounds. Mega Man X is an incredible landmark in excellent game music. You’d be hard pressed to find a retro game fan that doesn’t appreciate the game’s soundtrack. The synthesized electric guitar sounds great for the era in which it was released and on the hardware it was released on. While a lot of people will agree that the Super Nintendo has superior sound capabilities when compared to it’s rival the Sega Genesis, a lot of people frequently make claims that Sega was better at distorted guitar sounds. That makes Mega Man X’s driving metal even more impressive.
Again, tracks that accompany the stages fit their settings. Flame Mammoth’s stage uses an excellent driving rhythm guitar, an equally impressive bass guitar lick, an interesting and complex drum track, synthesized brass, and a sweet guitar solo. All the while, the track has a methodical and robotic feel to it, fitting of the massive incinerator and disposal facility it plays in. This piece is also not one of the more memorable ones from the game, but it still rocks, which says a lot about the rest of the musical lineup. Boomer Kuwanger’s stage is a particular favorite of mine, and I absolutely love the first Sigma stage theme. There are only a few tracks that loop quickly, with even the password theme getting a lengthy refrain.
Mega Man X2
Not everyone agrees with me on this, but I really feel like Mega Man X2 ups the ante in the musical department. The tracks are all composed by Yuki Iwai, who was part of the sound team that composed the music in Mega Man X. The big draw for me is the incredibly intricate drum track and the excellent bass work. The rhythm section in the music in this game is amazing, and you can tell that Yuki really threw a lot of love into it. That’s not to say that the melodies aren’t just as awesome. The instrumentation is really interesting, with lots of brass, synthesized keys, harmonizing guitar solos, and tons of energy. Tracks like the one that plays in Crystal Snail’s stage fit their themes incredibly well, with some crystalline bell accents and flowy strings to accompany a wailing guitar solo. Overdrive Ostrich’s stage takes place on a highway in the desert, and the theme reflects desert travel by using a galloping rhythm section and a hint of Arabic like melodies when the guitars slow down after a high intensity start. It’s almost like you’re riding a horse…or an ostrich…or a high tech hover-bike…through an arid wasteland.
Mega Man X3
Then we get to Mega Man X3. The opening theme played over the intro is not very impressive. Sure it makes sense for what the story is trying to portray, but it’s repetitive and boring compared to the opening track that plays over the X2 intro. The intro stage theme, however, is probably the best track in the entire game. It’s a high intensity track with wailing guitar solos, a driving rhythm guitar, and a great overall melody that gets caught in your head. Zero’s theme sounds great until you realize how short it is. It starts out with a lot of intensely awesome guitars, then kind of just keeps a slow, methodic pace with a refrain that repeats just too quickly. I really wish that the composer, Kinuyo Yamashita, had fleshed this track out a lot more. It has a lot of promise.
You’ll also hear a lot of stinker tracks, like Tunnel Rhino’s immensely dull guitar slog. It does have an interesting higher octave keyboard sound that hides in the background, but other than that, there isn’t much that stands out. I guess it’s supposed to reflect an earthy and industrial feel reminiscent of a mine, but the track could be so much better. Neon Tiger’s stage is very similar with the slow chugging guitar. It at least does some fun things with the bass licks, but otherwise it just doesn’t give you that amped up energy that past Mega Man X tracks have provided. Crush Crayfish’s theme starts out incredibly promising, much like Zero’s but after a big build up, it sounds like a boring Power Ranger theme knock off. Interesting that I feel that way, as Kinuyo Yamashita also worked on Power Rangers for the SNES, which I find to be a better soundtrack, personally.
That’s not to say that outside of the excellent intro stage theme that there aren’t good tunes in Mega Man X3. Gravity Beetle’s stage is a powerful and high energy piece that uses melody excellently. It’s very catchy and hits all the right notes. I also really like Toxic Seahorse’s theme. It’s got a really cool guitar solo melody that stands out really well against some of the duller tracks. My problem with these tracks compared to Mega Man X or Mega Man X2 is that beyond the catchy guitar melody, there isn’t a lot else to find interesting about the tracks. The drum keeps a very basic beat with very few interesting drum fills, off beats, or bass drum variation. X2 does this phenomenally well, and as a drummer myself, I find X3’s music a little less interesting as a result. The bass guitar used in the game is better, but still sounds pretty basic as opposed to some of the eclectic rhythms we heard in previous games. There is also very little variation in instruments used across the entire soundtrack. The majority of it just sounds like a standard four piece band, but without the vocals to tie it together. The entire result is underwhelming, especially after the high standards set from the first two games.
Mega Man X3 is still a good game, and I think overall it stacks up pretty well against the first two X games on the SNES. Unfortunately, the music is a pretty big detractor. Plenty of people say that the soundtrack is excellent, and I’ll always respectfully disagree. It doesn’t even come close. There ratio between good and not so good music in this game has a pretty bad ratio where X1 and X2 have mostly excellent lineups. I recommend giving the game a shot regardless, and keep your ears open and maybe you’ll hear what I’m trying to say.