Already an obscure find after only two years on the market (thanks to DigiCube’s fallout), the Hanjuku Hero VS 3D OST is not the sort of album you purchase for pure musical enjoyment. Its value comes through its quirkiness, its humorous references to Final Fantasy tunes, and, on the third disc, its powerful and nostalgic Famicom synth. If you’re looking for the grandeur and excitement of other Uematsu compositions, you probably won’t find it here: at best, you’ll find parodies of the sort of songs you love.
From the opening track forward, listeners get the clear impression that this album (and no doubt the game itself) was meant to be humorous, particularly through the form of self-effacing humor. The game’s plot was that the peaceful kingdom of the Half-Boiled Hero was being threatened by 3D monsters: old-school vs. new-school met in battle and fought. The game itself is a joke attack on the gaming industry and the emphasis on graphical prowess.
Look through the track names to get a further sense of what this soundtrack is all about. “Honkey Tonkey Fantasy” opens with the FF battle theme then goes into a honkey-tonk piano solo. “This Boss Music is Ritardando” makes use of a pun in English/Italian through use of a musical term (the sort of joke I made with my piano-student peers when I was eight years old). “PICK DA RAP 4 BOYZ/GIRLZ” just screams early 90s (white) hip-hop. The cheese never stops with this soundtrack.
Yet, I was able to find some impressive compositions. Uematsu certainly had a few tricks up his sleeve when he composed this soundtrack. Most of the songs I chose to sample showcase the finer tunes on this album. The songs will have sections that are composed in such a way as to irritate the senses, but then after fifteen seconds of annoyance, a beautiful melody comes through like a light shining in the darkness (see 1-15, 1-22 or 2-06). Other songs are just good battle themes, such as “Katori’s Raging Blood” or “Jet Black Hatred.” Then there are silly vocal songs, such as the opening song or the ending “Hanjuku Marching Song.” The use of group vocals is particularly humorous, especially to a westerner who rarely hears such silly performances.
The amount of musical allusion to Final Fantasy on the first two discs is extraordinary. Be it a direct reference (such as the victory theme or the opening battle riff) or something indirect (like use of particular synths or chord progressions from later FF titles), Uematsu has no shame when it comes to using his previous compositions to make something more lighthearted for this soundtrack.
There are even a few (a very select few) songs that are simply beautiful in the elegant sense of the word. The instrumental version of “Without Yolk” is one such example: it is certainly more beautiful than the vocal version, which is performed by the same crazy man who does the opening vocal track.
And then, there is the third disc. The original soundtrack to the very first Hanjuku Hero title (for Nintendo’s Famicom). This soundtrack is one of Uematsu’s earliest compositions, and it shows…in a good way. These songs reminded me immediately of music from Final Fantasy II and III. I was definitely pleased. Among the songs on this album, the four different seasonal “Field” songs were all spectacular, if only for their clever use of the limited synthesizers. The melodies are memorable, and the songs are brief but enjoyable. Honestly, the third disc might be my favorite of the lot.
Unless you’re a serious Square/Uematsu VGM collector or you have a very broad sense of humor, this album definitely isn’t worth your time. I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s nothing I couldn’t live without. In fact, if I never hear the songs from this soundtrack again, I won’t be any better or worse off. Stamp “mediocre / eccentric” on this one and let it pass.