Karen Cook (University of Hartford)
Jun Chikuma’s Soundtrack for Faxanadu (1987)
Faxanadu is an action-adventure role-playing game released by Hudson Soft in 1987. It was well received, ranking #6 in Nintendo Power’s top 30 games, but was soon forgotten (except by its die-hard fans) until its port to the Wii virtual console in 2010. Its soundtrack was composed by Jun Chikuma, whose work for the Bomberman series often appears in “hidden video game music gems” lists but, like Faxanadu itself, has also been overlooked.
In this presentation, I discuss how Chikuma’s soundtrack both aligns with and pivots away from then-burgeoning sonic expectations for action RPGs, and video games writ large. (Gibbons & Reale 2019) Like other contemporary composers, she utilizes familiar fantasy and medievalist musical tropes. (Cook 2019) But she makes heavier use of mode mixture and chromatic melodies, and she avoids stasis in looped themes by layering new melodic or contrapuntal material. More usual are her treatments of triangle channel, which occasionally has the melody, and the noise channel, which contains a surprising variety of rhythmic patterns and fills. Whereas an RPG town theme is often simple, calm, pastoral, and melodic, Chikuma’s is syncopated, angular, and energetic. (Gibbons 2017) Lastly, her final boss theme inverts musical material heard earlier in the game, shaping the soundtrack into a giant arch form. Her soundtrack is thus not only a fascinating case study in its own right, but also an alternative approach to scoring video games at a time when recognizable game music tropes were beginning to coalesce. (Plank 2019)
Source: Bardic Knowledge