A Case Study in Appreciating Video Game Music: ‘Battle Arena Toshinden’

Battle Arena Toshinden PlayStation coverIn this blog, you will find out some surprising things about me, and one thing  that may come as a surprise is that I’ve been an on-and-off occasional casual button masher gamer since I was about seven or eight. I blame it on the male presence on both sides of my family. When our Super Nintendo was fading into gamer obscurity, my dad bought me and my siblings one of our most sought-after items at the time: the Sony PlayStation. He got a package deal from Toys R Us and one of the games in that package was Battle Arena Toshinden, a pretty fair deal since my choice of games were always the fighting ones.

Even as a kid, I knew I had appreciation for more than gameplay and characters, but also for music in video games. For example, I loved being in Sakura’s stage in Street Fighter Alpha 2 because the melody of the background music was so cheerful and pretty. In Toshinden‘s case, the diverse synthesized score stuck out at me immediately and I knew that no matter which stage my character would fight at, the BGM would be pretty darn sweet to my ears.

Just a few days ago, I woke up one morning and took a trip down memory lane in researching some of my favorite movies based on video games, then my favorite anime based on video games, which led to looking up some of the video games themselves. One of them was Toshinden, which led to me searching for a rip of the soundtrack. Then my inner eight-year-old was reawakened when I found it, each full-length track of throwback yet timeless techno to prepare me for virtual battle.

What I love the most about the Toshinden soundtrack—composed ingeniously by Yasuhiro Nakano, Makoto Mukai, and Fumio Tanabe—is how each piece of music fit each character and their stage so perfectly. You truly got a sense of each individual fighter, their style, and the arena you were were having bouts in. I feel the same way about music in the Street Fighter and Tekken series (Perhaps there may be posts on music from those games too!), but everything about the original Toshinden was a special nugget. Particularly, how the composers made use of common instruments yet still catered to each character’s unique traits and origins are things that really make me adore and appreciate this soundtrack so much more than I did then, and damn, I loved it back in the day! It may sound lame to some people, but music is just as important of an element in a video game as it is in films and TV shows. It’s an extension of person, a reflection of place, and a companion to adrenaline. Toshinden did it the right way, and that deserves to be recognized.

So let’s take a trip around the world, shall we? Here are the tracks accompanying the stages for the eight selectable characters in the game (Bad guys Gaia and Sho’s stage tracks were included in the version I found, but I did not particularly care for them), in order from my personal favorite to my least personal favorite. However, they are all truly divine and all of them are worth listening to.

Sofia

THE CHARACTER: Sofia was my favorite character to play because I was and still am a fan of femme fatale-type characters in fighting games. Her occupation as listed in her bio is “private detective” but I bet that was just a polite way of saying “dominatrix.” Revealing leather costume and a whip? Girl, WERK.
THE STAGE: I never knew exactly where I was when I was fighting with Sofia, but it looked like some kind of secret hideout. Maybe even a place of sanctuary because of the neutral colors, and I felt like I heard echoes at times.
THE MUSIC: The heavy use of keyboards is a nice testament to Sofia’s babe factor. In all seriousness, it’s probably the most modern-sounding track of the eight and has a pop/rave appeal. I could definitely hear it in a club heavy on Euro music.

Duke

THE CHARACTER: Duke’s full name is Duke B. Rambert. He’s a French noblesman who fights in armor and with a sword so you know he’s somewhere between dashing and douchenozzle.
THE STAGE: A French castle with a nice view of a grassy field.
THE MUSIC:

Yes
enjaykix on YouTube knows what’s up. Doesn’t listening to this make you want to go back to medieval times, ride a galloping horse, and fight some f’in dragons with some sick-ass swords? Well…we can’t. But I will say that the sexy guitar solos from 1:42-2:10 and 2:36 to the end make me glad that I lived in 1997.

Kayin

THE CHARACTER: A knock-off Ken Masters who was said to be Scottish, then British. Supposedly, this was so the company that produced and distributed Toshinden wouldn’t be accused of ripping off Ken from Capcom’s book. Holy crap though, Kayin totally sounds exactly like a foreign version of the name Ken now that I think of it!
THE STAGE: A city rooftop at night, and it looks like New York just because I perceive the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.
THE MUSIC: Though the look in the game is more like the Big Apple, I hear a little bit more of Sin City. It’s exactly what you would hear walking into a Vegas casino in the olden days. It’s jazzy, slick, and will make you want to throw dollar bills all over the place. Perfect accompaniment to making it rain.

Ellis

THE CHARACTER: Ellis was a teenage theater troupe dancer who wore chiffon outfits and had abilities like a gymnast. She is exactly what comes to mind when you think the term “manic pixie girl.” Oh, and her pops is Gaia, but he’s irrelevant to this post.
THE STAGE: It looked like some remote location in Latin America to me.
THE MUSIC: Ellis’ stage music is as multifaceted as she is. There’s a little bit of an ethnic vibe because she’s a world traveler, and the first part of it is kind of cutesy like she appears. Then there’s the wicked badass guitar to shake it up, because Ellis truly ain’t no innocent flower. A good mix of sweet and sizzling.

Rungo

THE CHARACTER: This hulking dude worked in the mines and fought with a club. One of his attacks was called Batter Up! so paired with his look and occupation, he fit that typical proud American guy archetype (Because baseball is ‘Merica’s favorite pastime, duh!). I’m guessing that he was modeled after Schwarzenegger though.
THE STAGE: A desert, probably somewhere in the Southwest, and with mine cars passing through.
THE MUSIC: Sounds like a soundtrack to driving in a pick-up truck through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. It’s not a redneck-sounding theme but at its core, it’s understandable to associate with the all-American guy. However, that light semi-Latin fusion is there to make me believe I fought in a Southwestern desert whenever I was at Rungo’s stage.

Eiji

THE CHARACTER: If Kayin was the Ken of Battle Arena Toshinden, Eiji was obviously the Ryu. He’s considered the head hero and he and Kayin are the best and worst of frenemies. And like Ryu, Eiji was my favorite guy to play as. Basic? Typical? Yes. But he was a cool cat. And trusty.
THE STAGE: Some platform near a waterfall.
THE MUSIC: As previously mentioned, although I loved all the [main] themes in this game, Eiji’s felt most mismatched to me. I guess it wasn’t exactly what I heard in my head while fighting near a waterfall; plus, the music sounded more like game show music than fight music. I still love the spirit in it.

Fo

THE CHARACTER: You always made fun of Fo because he was old (His official bio lists him as 100-something), but he was ferocious. He had claws like Wolverine and a massive fireball that would immerse you, take away your strength, and piss you off. Playing as him or against him was fun times.
THE STAGE: A platform emblazoned with a Chinese character that I can’t translate, surrounded by a mystical body of water.
THE MUSIC: Fo is a magician, so “mystical”—that word again—would be proper to describe his stage music, mixed with a very heavy Asian influence.  The breakdown from 1:10-1:47 is brilliant, but I could’ve done without the weird, creepy high-pitched voices shortly before that section.

Mondo

THE CHARACTER: Mondo was a ninja warrior who did cool things with his spear. Other than that, I do not remember him all that well.
THE STAGE: A Japanese temple.
THE MUSIC: Essentially, this is Asian opera music, taking place in the Edo period. Just picture cherry blossoms blowing in the wind, feel yourself moving along with them, and be swept away to that moment in time. Soothing, isn’t it?

Does anyone else remember this game? What were your opinions on the music?

(PHOTO CREDITS: Game-Art HQ [featured]. The ISO Zone [game cover] | VIDEO UPLOAD CREDITS: Okuplok90 on YouTube)

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13 thoughts on “A Case Study in Appreciating Video Game Music: ‘Battle Arena Toshinden’

  1. Heya, Ray here from Game Art HQ, thanks for mentioning your source for the screenshots, i am actually the guy who made them a good while ago since. Toshinden was a nice game at its time and its Music a big highlight, in fact it was so good that i used the Playstation CD to listen the music of the game via a normal CD Player.

    If you care for the game you might really like the Art Tribute we did at Game Art HQ for the first Toshinden too http://fanart.game-art-hq.com/4396/the-battle-arena-toshinden-art-tribute/

    Greets ^^

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    1. Hi Ray,
      Thank you for commenting, and thanks for the wonderful work you did with those screencaps! Funny, I never knew that you could put a PlayStation disc inside a CD player. All this time, I thought it was an urban myth! Haha. I’m sure you had some awesome jam sessions with that music – I definitely will later. I hope PS3 makes this available somehow. All of our PSX games were sold/given away so I no longer have it.

      I took a glimpse at the Art Tribute and I think the work is beautiful. I’ll definitely check it out again when I have more time at home. Thanks again for stopping by and best wishes!

      Like

  2. Hello there Karen. Mike here from the Philippines. It’s a lazy summer afternoon here and coming across your blog about video game music enlightened my afternoon. I’m quite happy to have met a fellow oldschool VG enthusiast who appreciates their music more than the usual.

    Regarding Toshinden, Have you listened to the soundtrack of its sequel , Toshinden 2? If you haven’t then I highly recommend it. The soundtrack is arranged so that it does sound very synthetic which for me more accurately depicts the scenario of the battle and the personalities of the character. Take Eiji’s theme for example. The character is an quite an agile adventurer hence his music is something which is high-pitched electric guitar solo-driven in dialogue with smooth saxophone solos. Sofia’s theme is somewhat of a dark, sexy slow-paced rock while Duke’s a heavy, prgressive (again electric guitar driven) track which lets you visualize knights and rampaging cavalries.

    I cannot put into words a more elaborate description of how wonderful I find the the rest of the tracks in that game are so I leave the further commenting to you (^_^). And oh! Street Fighter Zero also have rich sounding tracks as well.

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      1. Hi Michael,
        Thanks for commenting! So glad to meet someone who appreciates VGM as much as I do, and I so appreciate your suggestion. I only played Toshinden 2 about twice in my life (Rented it and also played at my cousin’s house) and I don’t really remember the soundtrack to that one, but I took your suggestion and found it on YouTube to listen to at work and YES, it’s a lot better than the original! Even though I still prefer a couple of tracks off the original (i.e. I enjoy Duke’s theme better in the first Toshinden), I can definitely hear that less synthetic sound that you spoke of. Again, I’m in love with Sofia’s theme. It reminds me of a hot 80s rock song. So. much. love. ❤

        Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold (I guess it would be Zero 2 Dash in the Philippines?) soundtrack is my favorite, though Super Street Fighter II Turbo arcade is amazing. Also, I've noticed that the Super Street Fighter IV soundtrack is met with mixed reception but I personally adore it. I love that I can recognize all the themes underneath the new mixes. I'm not ashamed to say I wake up to Guile's SSFIV theme either, haha.

        Thank you so much again for your wonderful comment!

        Like

      2. =D So glad you liked it. I actually use some of the tracks from the second as my workout / jogging music. Haha! Hmmm,.. Gunbird also has some nice music although I can’t seem to remember if playing the CD on an audio player, as what Ray above suggested, works with it (‘coz Toshinden’s CD does). Virtual On Cyber Troopers also has some nice tracks in it. BTW, I’m currently making some fanarts on 3 Toshinden characters. I’ll post them on my DeviantART gallery and update you when they’re done. =)

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  3. Pingback: Revisiting Battle Arena Toshinden | The Hudsucker

    1. Hi Giovanni,

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂 I’m not really a fan of the third soundtrack, personally. I don’t think it delivers the same adrenaline and energy as the music from the first two games, although I do like that it uses melodies from the first game!

      Like

  4. eddie

    Yes someone who finally blogged about toshinden! i was thinking the same thing about the eiji theme, but the more i thought about it he is the coolcat of the video game series/japanime. I also really likes how you explained the kayin controversy! i never knew that they changed his nationality cause of ken from street fighter.

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    1. Hi Eddie,
      Thank you for commenting! Yeah, I read about the whole Kayin thing on Wikipedia, but there was a reputable source for it, I believe. The whole cast of characters, while wonderful and diverse, seems to be reminiscent of other characters in other fighting game franchises (i.e. Sofia—hot blonde spy/assassin type with amnesia—is very similar to Cammy from Street Fighter and Nina Williams from Tekken).

      Like

  5. Parron

    Hey there!

    I just found your post. It is really great to see that other people are inspired by video game music too. One thing I enjoy is working out to tracks from Tekken, Jet Set Radio Future, Street Fighter, & etc.
    I would love to add the tunes from Battle Arena to my play list. Please let me know where you found it! It would be amazing!

    Thanks for your time!
    Parron

    Like

    1. Hey Parron,

      Thanks for your comment! Video game music is on my workout playlist as well. It’s been a while since I downloaded the music so I honestly don’t remember where I was able to do so. But I’ll let you know when I figure it out!

      Like

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