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A look at the progression of Sonic music

#1 User is offline ParleyMint 

  Posted 28 December 2015 - 12:07 AM

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The music of the franchise has always been a very interesting subject for me. This is due in part to it's VERY varied spectrum. You could probably name a genre off the top of your head and it wouldn't be far fetched to say that the Sonic games have done it at least once. The most interesting aspect, however, is the actual evolution of the music and how each game took a different route with it, sometimes even drastically, and still have certain Sonic flair.

Classic Era (1991-1997)

Everyone knows Green Hill Zone. When you think of Sonic, it's probably the first thing you think of. It also helps that it has a very pleasant and catchy as hell melody to accompany you through the first moments of controlling Sonic, especially since it (and the rest of the game, plus Sonic 2) was composed by Masato Nakamura of Dreams Come True fame. In the first game, the tracks are, for the lack of a better word, "by the book". Every track is well-composed, but it's clear Nakamura is trying to (ironically) keep his J-pop influence at a minimum while finding a footing on how the music based around an anthropomorphic blue hedgehog should sound like. Spring Yard Zone and Star Light Zone are good examples, as they both wouldn't sound too inappropriate in another SEGA platformer (Ristar, maybe?).

However, this wouldn't be the case for Sonic 2. With the first stage, you are immediately greeted with a fast paced, very different sounding song from the rest of the Sonic 1 soundtrack. It really energizes you, giving you that mental adrenaline shot to get you speeding through the stage. Most importantly, however, is that it feels perfect for Sonic. The rest of the tracks have this rush in some degree (aside from Wing Fortress and maybe Hill Top Zone, but still great tracks nonetheless), but lean more on emphasizing the upbeat & uncaring vibe that the franchise has become known for. However, when Naofumi Hataya and Masafumi Ogata would helm the soundtrack for Sonic CD, the J-pop vibe would return, but in a very different way.

Hataya and Ogata absolutely nailed it (in my opinion) when they decided that instead of trying to create a soundtrack like Sonic 2, they would go back to Nakamura's roots and make Sonic CD a very J-pop driven game. With four different variations of tracks for each act, this was the biggest undertaking in terms of Sonic music of the classic era. The J-pop feel is immediate as soon as you load the game when you are greeted by the catchy as hell "Toot Toot Sonic Warrior". The rest of the soundtrack mixes 7th chord progressions, serene acoustics, children cheering, menacing voices, and George Clinton samples (work that sucker to death) to deliver probably the most unique soundtrack of the time. However, Sonic 3 would take on a more epic feel with newcomer Jun Senoue, Tomonori Sawada, a variety of other composers, and even (quite possibly) Michael Jackson himself composing a couple of tracks.

Sonic 3 (when I speak of Sonic 3, I mean of Sonic 3 & Knuckles as a whole, as I believe it should be) was going to be a massive game from the start in terms of Genesis platformers. To complement its scale, the tracks needed to feel as if they were part of the adventure itself. Angel Island Zone's music feels tropical, laidback, and eventually urgent when the progression of "oh hey some jerk stole my emeralds" to "oh shit Eggman's burning this forest down and is after the emeralds again" happens. It's a transition you can feel thanks to the great composition of both acts. This transitional element can also be found in Hydrocity Zone, Marble Garden Zone, and Sandopolis Zone. Tracks like Carnival Night and Ice Cap (oh god Ice Cap has an amazing melody) have the strength of having their respective songs fit EXTREMELY well with the atmosphere it tries to evoke, as well as the rest of the soundtrack. Sonic 3's influence on the music of the franchise is probably the strongest, given that future modern games would take the elements established in Sonic 3 and forge them into epics all their own.

Knuckles Chaotix, composed by Junko Shiratsu, is a bit of an oddball in the franchise. While the music is very good in its own regards, it feels very SEGA (if that makes any sense) and not overly Sonic. While this is in part to being composed by a completely different composer, it may also be due to the unique cross of a organic/mechanical aesthetic seen in Sonic CD that gives the soundtrack a sort of faux "J-pop" feeling that may come across as generic. While not bad by any sense of the word (Door Into Summer and Electoria can attest to that), it's often overlooked when discussing great Sonic soundtracks as it, despite being part of the franchise, sounds different from anything in the franchise.

Sonic 3D Blast (specifically the Genesis version), however, may just be the most "Sonic" sounding soundtrack in the Classic era. Every. Single. Track. Is. Amazing. Jun Senoue is at his musical best in the Classic era with the tracks he composed in the game (Green Grove, Spring Stadium) while the rest of the composers compose very memorable tracks that just evoke what defined Sonic music during the time. Now if only the same could be said about the game itself...

Wrapping things up, two games of the Classic era have particularly great soundtracks, but in vastly different ways. Sonic The Fighters is an arcade fighter, so it should be appropriate that fast paced fighting music should be made for it. What's amazing is how GREAT the Sonic music aesthetic and the fighting motif blend together. Literally, every single track in the game could get away with being in a Classic Sonic game. Especially well-composed are the tracks "Black Bed" (if you haven't already, check out the Gems Collection remix of this track, "Fairy of A.I.F/Fairy of Ice", it's good), "Back to Soul", and "Try Again". The other game is Sonic R, which has (by far) the most divisive soundtrack of any Sonic game to date. The whole of the OST is a mix of 90s Whitney Houston-esque pop and J-pop, accompanied by the incredibly cheesy lyrics of TJ Miller. "Can You Feel The Sunshine" and "Super Sonic Racing" are undoubtedly the most well-known of this soundtrack. In terms of quality, I'm in the camp that this soundtrack is quite fantastic, with Richard Jacques providing very catchy beats reminiscent of Sonic CD that aren't bogged down at all by Miller's lyrics (due in part to her great singing).

I'll make an Adventure era analysis sometime later as this post is long enough as it is :v:/>

What do ya'll think of the evolution the franchise's music has taken through the years? Do you agree or disagree with any of my thoughts?

#2 User is offline Shoemanbundy 

Posted 28 December 2015 - 03:10 AM

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Only thing I would disagree with is referring to Sonic CD's music as J-pop driven, since it was more going for the sounds of Euro-pop from what I understand. Plus its use of sampling, which was becoming a thing in that era, wasn't anything I would attribute to J-pop.

Also, you forgot the Sonic CD US soundtrack :v:

#3 User is offline baba944 

Posted 28 December 2015 - 08:28 AM

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Eh, I like the "Saturn" /PC music over the "Genesis" version of "Sonic 3D Blast". It has more soul and it really fits each zone. The "Genesis" version's music was held back by it's small memory size, but whereas with the PC port, it used a CD-format which was larger than a cartridge so it can hold (in this case) orchestra-like music. So, in my opinion, the PC and "Saturn" port has the better music. Nice post, though.

#4 User is offline ParleyMint 

Posted 28 December 2015 - 09:34 AM

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Regarding the exclusion of the Saturn 3D Blast tracks and the US Sonic CD tracks, I decided to leave them for a misc. section as I think the first post would have been too long with them included. I'm also gonna cover the GG, MS, and whatever other obscure Classic era game in that miscellaneous section as well.

#5 User is offline VectorCNC 

Posted 29 December 2015 - 11:30 AM

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I have to agree that Sonic 3D Blast for Genesis is the superior soundtrack, how anyone could prefer the bland Saturn version is completely bonkers IMO. Genesis version is definitively Sonic, the Saturn version on the other hand is... nothing memorable. You can really see how the composers were able to make full use of the sound chip in 3D Blast with the Genesis, as compared to earlier titles. As Sega polluted the Sonic brand, so too did the music aesthetic. I'm not saying all post-Genesis music is bad by any means. There are some good modern tracks, and certainly they have come to define particular moments of the franchise chronologically. However, I believe a return to Sonic's music roots is in order. Enough of this lame Beachy-Christian rock crap. A return to the classic synth-based music was attempted in Sonic 4, but felt soulless. It's as though they tried to replicate the sound of the Genesis but used a bland Snes-like sound font, and the melodies were equally sub-par.

Sonic means Sound, and for this reason I think the music of the franchise needs to be more memorable and utilitarian. Almost any classic Sonic soundtrack is memorable by multiple orders when compared to the majority of the music composed post Genesis. I'm sure there are some around these forms who would disagree, but to the majority of the population concerned it is difficult to disagree with my sentiment. Perhaps new Sonic titles could find a way to create dynamic music which can incorporate elements or the progression of the levels. Sort of like how in New Super Mario Bros the enemies dance with the beat of the music. This would be an interesting way to create the momentum and flow the games evoked in the golden Genesis years. For example, maybe a Banik's defense drops momentarily in step with the beat. This would make the homing attack more interesting (though myself I've never been a fan of it). There could even be combo points for progressive hits, so the player is timing their button taps with the music. The tracks could have various portions fade in and out depending on whether Sonic is racing through the bowels of a factory floor, or blasting up and out of the factory into the sunlight, then bouncing across a line of baniks when their shields drop-in sync with the music. There are endless possibilities here...

#6 User is offline Ritz 

Posted 30 December 2015 - 05:58 AM

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The sound of 90s Sonic doesn't strike me as being unique to the franchise, it was very much Sega's house style in that era. Sega was all about modernization: Their hardware was always the cutting edge, their marketing reached the furthest, it follows that they were trailblazers in bringing contemporary music to games. They really wanted to make a statement with Sonic, so they went and got the dude from the best-selling band in Japan's history at the time to do the music for it. Later, they got the biggest name in music alive to do it. Two threads here: Motown, which defined the sound of Western pop, and Yellow Magic Orchestra, which codified that melodically rich synthy style that dominates Japanese pop. Virtually every Japanese game musician cites the latter as an inspiration. Kenichi Tokoi has explicitly done this, and I could've sworn I read Naofumi Hataya and Masato Nakamura said the same, but I can't source it. Nakamura cites Motown as an influence, and MJ was signed to Motown.

Sonic CD's Eurotrance and hip-hop beats are the emblematic Sonic Sound to me, but Sega were exploring that style and sampling RNB as early as D.D. Crew. Ristar's the model unit for that fusion of RNB and J-pop. NiGHTS is a direct continuation of the sound of either game since it's the junction where Hataya and Tomoko Sasaki meet, and presumably fall in love since they do everything together. They got roped into Wavemaster, and that style persisted even beyond Sega through that label, at least as far as Blinx: The Time Sweeper (which tangentially shares a track with Sonic Team's Burning Rangers).

Just rapid-fire spitballing connections off the top of my head. There's plenty of Japanese music from the 80s and 90s that suits various flavors of Sonic. Akina Nakamori sometimes sounds like early DCT, Denki Groove sometimes sounds like Sonic CD.
This post has been edited by Ritz: 30 December 2015 - 06:12 AM

#7 User is offline baba944 

Posted 30 December 2015 - 08:36 AM

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View PostVectorCNC, on 29 December 2015 - 11:30 AM, said:

I have to agree that Sonic 3D Blast for Genesis is the superior soundtrack, how anyone could prefer the bland Saturn version is completely bonkers IMO. Genesis version is definitively Sonic, the Saturn version on the other hand is... nothing memorable. You can really see how the composers were able to make full use of the sound chip in 3D Blast with the Genesis, as compared to earlier titles. As Sega polluted the Sonic brand, so too did the music aesthetic. I'm not saying all post-Genesis music is bad by any means. There are some good modern tracks, and certainly they have come to define particular moments of the franchise chronologically. However, I believe a return to Sonic's music roots is in order. Enough of this lame Beachy-Christian rock crap. A return to the classic synth-based music was attempted in Sonic 4, but felt soulless. It's as though they tried to replicate the sound of the Genesis but used a bland Snes-like sound font, and the melodies were equally sub-par.

Sonic means Sound, and for this reason I think the music of the franchise needs to be more memorable and utilitarian. Almost any classic Sonic soundtrack is memorable by multiple orders when compared to the majority of the music composed post Genesis. I'm sure there are some around these forms who would disagree, but to the majority of the population concerned it is difficult to disagree with my sentiment. Perhaps new Sonic titles could find a way to create dynamic music which can incorporate elements or the progression of the levels. Sort of like how in New Super Mario Bros the enemies dance with the beat of the music. This would be an interesting way to create the momentum and flow the games evoked in the golden Genesis years. For example, maybe a Banik's defense drops momentarily in step with the beat. This would make the homing attack more interesting (though myself I've never been a fan of it). There could even be combo points for progressive hits, so the player is timing their button taps with the music. The tracks could have various portions fade in and out depending on whether Sonic is racing through the bowels of a factory floor, or blasting up and out of the factory into the sunlight, then bouncing across a line of baniks when their shields drop-in sync with the music. There are endless possibilities here...


I prefer it because it feels like you're actually IN the zone. "Green Grove Zone" (Saturn) music feels like you're in a tropical paradise, "Diamond Dust Zone" feels like you're in a Christmas wonderland, "Volcanic Valley Zone" feel like you're rushing through this zone before it blows and "Rusty Ruin Zone", oh my gosh RRZ, feels like you're in a very serene yet archaic world. I love it. I don't get the same feeling with the "Genesis" port at all. I also disagree with you on the "Sonic 4" music, but we're all entitled to our opinions I suppose.

#8 User is offline amphobius 

Posted 30 December 2015 - 12:02 PM

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View PostVectorCNC, on 29 December 2015 - 11:30 AM, said:

I have to agree that Sonic 3D Blast for Genesis is the superior soundtrack, how anyone could prefer the bland Saturn version is completely bonkers IMO. Genesis version is definitively Sonic, the Saturn version on the other hand is... nothing memorable. You can really see how the composers were able to make full use of the sound chip in 3D Blast with the Genesis, as compared to earlier titles. As Sega polluted the Sonic brand, so too did the music aesthetic. I'm not saying all post-Genesis music is bad by any means. There are some good modern tracks, and certainly they have come to define particular moments of the franchise chronologically. However, I believe a return to Sonic's music roots is in order. Enough of this lame Beachy-Christian rock crap. A return to the classic synth-based music was attempted in Sonic 4, but felt soulless. It's as though they tried to replicate the sound of the Genesis but used a bland Snes-like sound font, and the melodies were equally sub-par.


It's always the people who have no clue how music actually works who make the hilarious comments, it seems.

One could always debate about which is 'better'. Heck--we've had Soundtrack Wars™ for years when it comes to Sonic CD and 3D. Everyone has a different idea of what is 'Sonic music', but for all I could care, you could slap anything into a stage, as long as it felt themetically correct (both Sonic CD and 3D soundtracks nail this) it would be a good soundtrack. It's not like this boxed-in idea of what a Mega Man soundtrack should be. It's more open to the artist's interpretation of the stage, or how they feel 'Sonic' should sound. Some prefer a more classic approach, some something more inspired by Naofumi Hataya. Myself, I prefer the modern rock-fusion approach the series has gone in lately.

And that's the thing. It's preference. There is no 'best' soundtrack. The comment "how anyone could prefer the bland Saturn version" is completely stupid drivel. In many regards I feel the soundtrack jives better for me and suits the game more as a whole. Some people prefer the Mega Drive soundtrack! And that's okay! But there's absolutely no call for the "how can anyone else like this I don't like this wah" card.

As for the progression of where Sonic's musical style went, I think Ritz is absolutely correct, even when it came to the end of the 90s and to where it is right now. It's always followed what was popular, something rather clear when Crush 40 came into the picture. Sonic Adventure was more diverse - rock, jazz fusion, pop inspired, whereas when Jun was given the lead in Sonic Adventure 2 it was all the generic skater-buttrock fluff. Generic skater-buttrock fluff which I enjoy, but generic skater-buttrock fluff all the same.
This post has been edited by DalekSam: 30 December 2015 - 12:08 PM

#9 User is offline Aerosol 

Posted 30 December 2015 - 12:15 PM

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I thought Jun was in charge of SA1 too? Though, when I think about it, it makes sense that he wasn't. The whole soundtrack was a whole lot jazzier than SA2's was, which I know for sure Jun was in charge of.

But yea, the only common thread I've noticed with Sonic music is that it's always been styled after the most popular music of the time, which has the unfortunate side-effect of dating some of the compositions really badly. That's why the Classic Sonic remixes we got in Generations sounded the way they did.

#10 User is offline speedyink 

Posted 30 December 2015 - 06:14 PM

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View PostDalekSam, on 30 December 2015 - 12:02 PM, said:

And that's the thing. It's preference. There is no 'best' soundtrack


Exactly. For example I fucking adore the Saturn 3D Blast soundtrack, and MUCH prefer it over the Genesis version. While the Genesis soundtrack did have classic Sonic riffs and all that it just lacked in emotion compared to the Saturn version.
This post has been edited by speedyink: 30 December 2015 - 06:20 PM

#11 User is offline XCubed 

Posted 01 January 2016 - 05:15 PM

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View PostAerosol, on 30 December 2015 - 12:15 PM, said:

I thought Jun was in charge of SA1 too? Though, when I think about it, it makes sense that he wasn't. The whole soundtrack was a whole lot jazzier than SA2's was, which I know for sure Jun was in charge of.

But yea, the only common thread I've noticed with Sonic music is that it's always been styled after the most popular music of the time, which has the unfortunate side-effect of dating some of the compositions really badly. That's why the Classic Sonic remixes we got in Generations sounded the way they did.

Sounded like what?

#12 User is offline Aerosol 

Posted 01 January 2016 - 05:32 PM

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Well, they sounded similar to the pop songs coming out at the time to me; sort of a "Sonic by way of Katy Perry" sound.

#13 User is offline ParleyMint 

Posted 02 January 2016 - 02:19 AM

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View PostRitz, on 30 December 2015 - 05:58 AM, said:

Two threads here: Motown, which defined the sound of Western pop, and Yellow Magic Orchestra, which codified that melodically rich synthy style that dominates Japanese pop.


I just listened to a bit of Yellow Magic Orchestra based on your reply and I have to say, I'm surprised I haven't listened to these guys before. The influence their music has on SEGA is very clear. Plus, these guys' music is absolutely fantastic.

#14 User is offline VectorCNC 

Posted 02 January 2016 - 02:55 AM

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View PostDalekSam, on 30 December 2015 - 12:02 PM, said:

View PostVectorCNC, on 29 December 2015 - 11:30 AM, said:

I have to agree that Sonic 3D Blast for Genesis is the superior soundtrack, how anyone could prefer the bland Saturn version is completely bonkers IMO. Genesis version is definitively Sonic, the Saturn version on the other hand is... nothing memorable. You can really see how the composers were able to make full use of the sound chip in 3D Blast with the Genesis, as compared to earlier titles. As Sega polluted the Sonic brand, so too did the music aesthetic. I'm not saying all post-Genesis music is bad by any means. There are some good modern tracks, and certainly they have come to define particular moments of the franchise chronologically. However, I believe a return to Sonic's music roots is in order. Enough of this lame Beachy-Christian rock crap. A return to the classic synth-based music was attempted in Sonic 4, but felt soulless. It's as though they tried to replicate the sound of the Genesis but used a bland Snes-like sound font, and the melodies were equally sub-par.
It's always the people who have no clue how music actually works who make the hilarious comments, it seems.One could always debate about which is 'better'. Heck--we've had Soundtrack Wars™ for years when it comes to Sonic CD and 3D. Everyone has a different idea of what is 'Sonic music', but for all I could care, you could slap anything into a stage, as long as it felt themetically correct (both Sonic CD and 3D soundtracks nail this) it would be a good soundtrack. It's not like this boxed-in idea of what a Mega Man soundtrack should be. It's more open to the artist's interpretation of the stage, or how they feel 'Sonic' should sound. Some prefer a more classic approach, some something more inspired by Naofumi Hataya. Myself, I prefer the modern rock-fusion approach the series has gone in lately.And that's the thing. It's preference. There is no 'best' soundtrack. The comment "how anyone could prefer the bland Saturn version" is completely stupid drivel. In many regards I feel the soundtrack jives better for me and suits the game more as a whole. Some people prefer the Mega Drive soundtrack! And that's okay! But there's absolutely no call for the "how can anyone else like this I don't like this wah" card.As for the progression of where Sonic's musical style went, I think Ritz is absolutely correct, even when it came to the end of the 90s and to where it is right now. It's always followed what was popular, something rather clear when Crush 40 came into the picture. Sonic Adventure was more diverse - rock, jazz fusion, pop inspired, whereas when Jun was given the lead in Sonic Adventure 2 it was all the generic skater-buttrock fluff. Generic skater-buttrock fluff which I enjoy, but generic skater-buttrock fluff all the same.


Wow, me saying one soundtrack was "bonkers", as compared to another, with one sentence, led to that ragefull response? Seems a slight overreaction, but I guess this is the internet after all...

I think that it is Bonkers that Sonic's soundtracks have, "always followed what was popular". I think it's bonkers that "but for all [you] could care, you could slap anything into a stage, as long as it felt themetically correct (both Sonic CD and 3D soundtracks nail this) it would be a good soundtrack." I think it's bonkers because Sega needs to focus on developing a consistent Sonic brand and develop customer expectations. The brand has been too many different things for too long and I think we can agree this has been to the detriment of the franchise. BTW, I said a lot more than what you choose to focus so heavily on, and my comments are relevant to the thread topic. Thank you for explaining what qualities you prefer about the Saturn version, I hadn't considered the atmosphere aspect as much but will have to reconsider what Sega attempted to convey once they had that technology.

Here's to hoping we hear something from Sega in the near-term about a new console game, hopefully with retro influences!

#15 User is offline Aerosol 

Posted 02 January 2016 - 03:11 AM

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I don't really know how to process that, but I will say this. "Mario music" is almost always Caribbean-flavored. But I don't think I want Sonic games to have such a singular musical identity. It works for Mario games, but I don't see how it could for Sonic games. The buttrock of the Dreamcast era isn't as timeless as one might hope.

I also don't think "music" is as important to Sonic's brand as you seem to.
This post has been edited by Aerosol: 02 January 2016 - 03:13 AM

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