The Very Best of Sega
Though my perspective has matured greatly over the years, in the 90s, I was no fan of Sega. Even to this day, I feel somewhat justified in my beliefs at the time. After all, I was far more attached to Mario than Sonic (though I did like the Sonic games), and the RPGs on the SNES during its rivalry with the Genesis weren't just the best of the generation -- they were among the best ever made.
I began to gain respect for the House of Sonic when Sega started positioning itself as a company that wasn't afraid to release "mature" titles -- such the Genesis incarnation of Mortal Kombat. The game wasn't terribly good to begin with, and technically, the Genesis port was not as solid as the SNES version when considering graphics or gameplay, but it had red blood, and that was kinda cool.
When the Sega CD was announced, I really thought the future had arrived. In retrospect, I was right. However, Sega proved time and time again that they were too innovative for their own good. They consistently created standards in hardware and software quality that were shunned by consumers...until those standards appeared on rival consoles a generation later.
By the time the Saturn was in its death throes, I realized that I had developed a newfound respect for Sega. Games like Panzer Dragoon, Guardian Heroes, NiGHTS, and of course anything AM2 produced were forward thinking works of art.
Today, only a fool would claim that there aren't some fantastic games on every console. Hardware differs, of course. The Xbox is clearly the most powerful of the three primary systems, followed by the GameCube and the PS2. I'd actually argue that many games on the Dreamcast surpassed the visual quality of the PS2, but sadly, the Dreamcast can't be counted as a primary console nowadays.
My slow-developing respect for Sega, however, cost me quite a bit in terms of enjoyment. I eventually bought a Saturn and caught up with that particular generation, and obviously, I have a Dreamcast, but I missed out on most of the greatest Genesis games.
Thus, when I saw the modestly priced CD compilation, The Very Best of Sega, at the OneUp Studios homepage, I had to get it. I knew I'd recognize some of the songs -- such as the tracks from Panzer Dragoon, Sonic R, Sonic CD, and Skies of Arcadia, but at least half were unknown to me. Sure, I'd heard of Streets of Rage and Toejam and Earl, but I didn't know the music.
I've mentioned Yuzo Koshiro before, and I still maintain my assertion that he is up there with Nobuo Uematsu as one of the greatest game music composers of all time. I was used to hearing his compositions in the Actraiser series, but the music he provided for Streets of Rage is something altogether different. Instead of classical music, it's techno -- but really good techno. The first track on the disc, "Go Straight" (from Streets of Rage 2) is a great way to start the disc off. The music moves fast, and while it certainly boasts some old-school gaming charm, it sounds pretty good.
"Take Off" from After Burner is rendered in the style of rock, which of course works for the peppy tune. It's nice to hear music from a classic arcade game - I never could hear what was going on when I played it in the actual arcade. I can see why the guys at OneUp Studios chose the track.
Following that is the disc's first foray into the Sonic series, the jazzy "Lava Reef" theme from Sonic and Knuckles. The song features very solid guitar work, and it's catchy enough that you can safely play it among friends and they won't even know that you're listening to video game music, if you try to hide the fact that you enjoy it.
"DREAMS DREAMS" from Sonic Team's imaginative game NiGHTS is appropriate, but to be honest, not my favorite tune from the game. I especially liked the music in the first and last stages of NiGHTS ("Paternal Horn" and "Growing Wings" were the names of the songs, if memory serves right), but there was only room for one song from the game on the collection. The vocalists are undeniably talented, though I think the song moves a little slow for my tastes. It is a soft, soothing song, but I liked the more upbeat version of the tune in the game's end credits.
Another song that slows down the disc's tempo somewhat is Super Hang-On's "Outride a Crisis." It's an instrumental piece that makes great background music.
Following the trend of soft arrangements, the Panzer Dragoon theme is rendered with great skill, but lacks the inspiring power that the original recording possessed. It's one of the most beautiful themes ever recorded for a video game, so any version of it is desirable, but I would have preferred a more forceful rendition myself.
"Slow Moon" returns listeners to Streets of Rage 2 once again, though this time, the song is more of a jazz piece than a techno composition. A driving piano accompaniment keeps the song moving well, and in the end, it reminds me of a good Castlevania theme. Admittedly, it's dark, moody, and serious, but irresistibly catchy.
Now "Sonic Boom" is one of the songs on the disc that I actually prefer to the original. I enjoyed the song on Sonic CD, but this version is far more stylish. It also has a tendency to stick in your head for weeks and weeks, but such is the risk associated with most music.
The next song, presenting a move into the RPG section of Sega's video game library, is Phantasy Star III, which is represented on this compilation with the song, "New Journey." As would be expected from a sci-fi role-playing game, it has the obligatory epic feel, though it also contains a few rock elements (such as a guitar) to make it a little more groovy than the serene music featured in other space operas.
"The End of the Millennium," taken from Phantasy Star IV, returns the disc to techno, though the influence of the source material is still crystal clear.
Surprisingly, one of my favorite songs on the disc is the funky "Toejam Jammin'," featured in the Toejam and Earl series. Perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising. I've found funk appealing ever since I started listening to the music of Hazard to ya Booty, so perhaps I'm not exactly a representative of the average music fan.
Representing R&B, "Super Sonic Racing" is another song that begs to bury its vocals in your brain, and while I'm no fan of the genre, I did enjoy the song. All in all, the vocalists selected by OneUp Studios were really impressive -- though in truth, all of the music was performed with a professional level of quality.
The final three tracks represent Sega's fantastic RPG, Skies of Arcadia. They're all worthy additions to the disc, but personally, I was a little disappointed that a wider selection of games couldn't be represented in place of three songs from the same game. Combined, they total less than seven minutes in running time, but with plenty of other games to choose from in Sega's massive library of games, it would have been nice to see other titles represented.
Ultimately, it's impossible for anyone to collect a true "best of" collection. Individual taste is very subjective, and I understand that there was a physical limitation to recreating these songs for my enjoyment.
The ideal way to resolve the issue of not representing a wide enough variety of music is to produce more CDs just like this one -- a feat that is much easier to request than it is to accomplish. I'm ecstatic that OneUp Studios was able to give me this much. The Very Best of Sega is a fantastic collection that is good enough that not only will it inspire nostalgia -- it might even convince you to go back and pick up some of the games you missed over the years.
I'm glad that I just got the Sega classics collection on the PS2. That'll hold me over for a little bit, at least.