When I heard that Kinuyo Yamashita would be appearing at some US-based game music events (VGO Boston in October 2012, MAGFest in January 2013), I decided to get some background on her. Originally a composer under Konami’s “Kukeiha Club” sound label, much of her work went uncredited for years, and only recently has she been able to tell fans what music is hers and what music isn’t. For example, there is a track-by-track breakdown differentiating her work from other composers for the very first Castlevania (Akumajo Dracula) title. She also worked for Capcom, specifically on Megaman X3, and has worked on the Gradius series.
Two games that Yamashita wrote the music for entirely on her own are the “Esper Dream” Action RPGs. These Japan-only Famicom titles had a five-year gap (the first released in 1987, the second in 1992). The franchise has been largely forgotten by Konami, and strangely enough, this little album has gone from obscure (with no demand) to super-obscure (with high demand). Asking around, I’ve received two reports on its “street value” in Japan: anywhere from 7000 yen (currently … almost $100) all the way to 11000 yen (nearly $150!!). That’s a lot of money for a tiny little album. So, let’s talk about it. Is it any good? Is it worth anything outside being an interesting historical artifact?
Sadly, not so much. I love me some good, solid NES chiptune glory. But this isn’t Konami’s best, and it isn’t Yamashita’s best either.
The star of the album is the OST for Esper Dream 2, which takes up two thirds of the entire disc. Among the tracks here, many of them are little 5 second jingles or 30 second event themes. The more substantive tracks, in terms of time, are tracks that I can really appreciate for their melodic and harmonic structure as well. A track like “Time Travel Train Journey” is super-catchy, and it has that classic Konami sound. Another good one, “Magnet Factory” (track 17), sounds like something straight out of Castlevania. The other track I really enjoy from Esper Dream 2 is the final battle music (track 25). It’s fast-paced and intense; it reminds me of some of Falcom’s less-celebrated battle themes, especially those in the Sorcerian series.
Among the first Esper Dream’s soundtrack, there isn’t much that catches my attention. The main theme is pretty solid, and having been written in 1987m it sits as a solid precursor to many other Konami franchise “main theme” tracks. Or, heck, any NES game for that matter. It has a good feel to it, even if it is a simple, vanilla sort of theme.
Finally, I must mention the little bonus tacked on at the end. Nazonazo Suzuki and TAPPY Iwase put together a little musical jingle for TV commercials that aired for Esper Dream 2. The first of the three tracks is the vocal version, where Suzuki-san sings a little ditty about Esper Dream. It’s cute, and as far as I know, it’s the only music on the disc that isn’t Yamashita-san’s domain.
This is quite the rarity, and I wouldn’t quickly recommend it to anyone. But, hey, if you live on the east coast (for the events, not to stalk her at her home in New Jersey) and want to shock Kinuyo Yamashita by pulling out this CD and saying “yes, I know you did more than Castlevania!,” you might just get a smile in return. Is a smile worth $100? That’s your call, my friend.