Telenet Music Box (X68000) review
"A young boy flees from a burning village. Behind him, grim armored invaders methodically purge hut after hut, torching the walls and turning every once-happy home into a sickening slaughterhouse."
A young boy flees from a burning village. Behind him, grim armored invaders methodically purge hut after hut, torching the walls and turning every once-happy home into a sickening slaughterhouse.
Within an hour, the screams of the dying give way to the silence of desolation. A fat merchant, casually humming to himself, peels tender flesh from childrens' bodies. He will feed the meaty parts to wolves. The skins, he will clean and sell to kinsmen. This dealer of death knows the value of human life: seven coins per corpse.
The young boy, tears blurring his normally acute vision, stumbles across something large and bulky. Unable to recognize his uncle's fleshless face, the boy pries a sturdy mace from the corpse's rigid grip. He firmly clutches the weapon in his own small hands, and presses onward across this dry desert world, destination unknown. The sky is a brilliant shade of blue... but today, there is no sun. There is no hope.
Mace-boy will soon meet Sadler, the baddest assassin on the planet. Sadler, the chain-smoking white Arabian with the indiscriminate sword. Sadler, the man who will bring down any dictator or religious figurehead for the right price. Yes... Sadler will right everything that is wrong with the world!
Welcome to 1989. This is a time when the very idea of video games was exciting! No one expected exquisite storytelling, immersive atmosphere, or even flawless gameplay. People wanted personality. Fresh concepts. Stylish characters. Frightening enemies.
People wanted thrilling music.
In those most ancient days, before the PlayStation, before the Super Nintendo, and even before the holy Genesis itself, truly epic games relied on their soundtracks to tell stories their meager visuals couldn't. Telenet understood this, and their talented composers have since moved on to musically-acclaimed adventures ranging from Wild Arms to Rhapsody to Valkyrie Profile.
That brings me to the Telenet Music Box. It's kind of like a CD, except that it's not a CD and you can only play it on an X68000 computer.
Since it lacks any kind of interactivity other than the ability to play songs from 15 different titles, don't think of Telenet Music Box as a game or musical construction set; think of it as a museum. These soundtracks don't try to be catchy or repetitive (like early Nintendo works), and they don't beg to be performed by an orchestra (like the Final Fantasy themes). These melodies bask in the limits of their technology and seek out the most pleasing sounds that the surprisingly powerful X68000 computer can produce.
If you doubt me, then sneak a quick glance to the right side of your monitor! The title screen depicts a shirtless and perhaps entirely naked boy, parting his lips ever-so-slightly in frozen orgasmic bliss. Poorly-drawn audio equipment and a sexy rainbow of 5 1/4" floppy disks surround the enraptured youth. If you're not as excited as that guy about Telenet's music, then something is clearly wrong with you!
A snappy little tune called Y Pop Kiss Y plays along, showing off the X68000's musical range... but that's not what we're here for. We're here for American Truck!
It's a well-known fact that truckers were all the rage back in 1985 Japan. Telenet immortalized this phenomenon in their MSX classic, which is also the first game featured on the Music Box. It's got a classic Telenet sound, most similar in style to the original Final Zone. The best track is "Route 333", not because of the music itself, but because I get to yell "HALFWAY TO HELL!!! HALFWAY TO HELL!!!" while waving devil's horns in the air.
Otherwise, I unfortunately don't give a whit about American Truck.
The Music Box contains soundtracks to a bunch of other games I've never heard of, such as Pro Baseball Fan: Telenet Stadium. Imagine baseball with Valis music -- ohhhhhhh yeah! I could listen to "Sweet Sweat Sports" all night long. Other pop-a-licious tracks include "Street Fightin' Boogie" and "Burnin' Heatin' Beat" (from Luxsor).
Then I got to Final Zone Wolf.
The year is 1986. With Commando performing well at arcades, Telenet decided to cash in on the craze. True to Telenet style, they threw in some cinematics and heavy backstory to produce the world's first Dramatic Action Military Shooting game! For their Music Box, Telenet has catalogued not just three or four songs, but the ENTIRE soundtrack.
I already owned this music on CD, and it's exactly as I remember. Sometimes strident, sometimes harmonic, but ALWAYS dramatic. "ZONE Attack" is especially awesome, highly reminiscent of "Crash & Burn" from Venus Wars. It can't hope to match Sakuraba's legendary FZ Axis, but it's far better than Final Zone II's silly shooting-star pop.
Although this game stars hardcore Turbo legend Haward Bowie, it was his spiky-haired partner "Wolf" who stole the show. Wolf is a half Indian bow-gun expert with a penchant for destruction. He's a master of guerilla warfare, but his brutal methods tread dangerously close to violating international law. With his super bow-gun, Wolf can destroy helicopters, obliterate mechanized soldiers, torture foreign children, or part the Red Sea. Wolf is a scary, scary man.
The game's designers hated the corporate-mandated title Final Zone so much, they insisted on adding "Wolf" to the end to make it sound cooler. The team that created Final Zone Wolf later formed their own company in 1987... a company called Wolf Team.
The MSX-owning manager of my local Gamestop says that Final Zone Wolf sucks.
The most notable entry on this collection is, of course, Valis. The adventure of schoolgirl Yuko, trapped in an alternate dimension where she's forced to do battle against monsters and even her best friend. Although sometimes energetic, the music is often dark and even oppressive -- Yuko's journey to an alternate dimension is not a happy one. This innocent girl will be forced to kill again and again... she will even be forced to fight her friends.
Admire the dangerously quick keyboard work of "Wilderness"! Dance to the dangerous beat of "Death ZONE"! Words are often capitalized FOR no reason, adding to the Music Box's Engrish charm. My favorite Valis track is the title song "The Fantasm Soldier", which seems to go on forever because it never stops to rest on a unifying melody, instead jumping from one catchy phrase to another. It's like a crazy medley of cool!
The Music Box also includes a few songs from Valis 2: "Sacred Sacrifice", "Rock 'n Roll Cinderella", and "Against Black Shadow". It's another exciting girl-power adventure against an evil blue-skinned overlord, and it sounds incredible.
The absolute best music comes from a game I can barely even pronounce. "The UNIVERS" is Shinrabanshou's epic opening theme, performed in the fast synth style of Doctor Who (as opposed to the symphonic style of Star Wars). It uses the ethereal cosmic sounds and channel alternation I'd expect from a space age game. After doing a bit of internet research, I discovered that's exactly what it is -- a tasty blend of Space Harrier, Samurai fighting, and Buck Rogers.
"Super Sonic Sailing" is another fine Shinrabanshou piece. It's a hopeful but powerful melody with a disturbing bridge. In my mind's eye, I can imagine this as potential first level music... a lone warrior runs across a daytime landscape, slaughtering demons before they're able to bring the world to ruin. The bodies of flying gargoyles occasionally block the sun, but hope remains. At this point, our warrior still believes that he can save the world.
As Shinrabanshou's evocative music turns darker, I imagine the plot taking a darker turn as well. I imagine an ultimate battle for humanity against the creator of the Universe himself. Shinrabanshou's entire soundtrack is excellent, and I'd love to play the game.
Unfortunately, I have some bad news: I can't play Shinrabanshou, because only two of these fifteen games were ever ported to the Sharp X68000.
If you listen to the music on your X68000 computer and decide you'd like to try the actual games, you're screwed. That's why I view the Telenet Music Box as a museum piece. Because of it, I was able to enjoy music from games like the original Megami Tensei and XZR... early works from modern composers that I would otherwise never be able to hear. Even without playing the games or seeing the visuals, I can feel the emotions and understand the stories told by Telenet's music.
Staff review by Zigfried (March 06, 2006)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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