Might & Magic
Might and Magic was the first game album released featuring Masaharu Iwata's work. It was released because it was a port of 1986's Apple II computer game Might and Magic, the first instalment of a very popular series. Something of an anomaly, the score wasn't a particular landmark, but it received a soundtrack release nonetheless. There are so many masterpiece scores featuring Iwata that were more deserving — Magical Chase, Shippu Mahou Daisakusen, Revolter, or Conquest of the Crystal Palace. However, I'm nevertheless thankful that this album gives one official glimpse into Iwata's pre-Ogre Battle works — there's no equivalent album available for Sakimoto. It's old-school and rather short, but still a decent listen and rather diverse.
Might and Magic gets off to an upbeat start with "Town - Town - Town". There's some enjoyable melodic development from the leading flute and a very quirky, occasionally offbeat, bass line. Unfortunately, it grows a little tedious during its 3:03 playtime since both the primary and secondary sections are quite short, tempting one to skip to the next track by the 2:00 mark. The subsequent "Main Theme" for the game is very cringe-worthy. Instead of creating a wonderful original melody himself, Iwata simply remixed Pachelbel's world famous and rather overplayed "Canon in D". It's still pleasant thanks to surprisingly good sound programming and a few radical but hardly tasteless changes. In particular, there is some interesting exotic percussion in the background of the theme and the replacement of the 'cello and viola with a rock organ was undoubtedly a fresh new change. Still, this isn't professional enough to be crowned as a main theme and makes Iwata look pathetic.
"Surface of the Ground" sees the birth of the experimental Iwata and, thankfully, he is almost a completely different composer here. Expanding from the tribal tones of the previous tracks, Iwata bases the piece around an almost indigenous drum set and racket. Soon enough, a melody played on a flute comes in and, after that, a bass guitar is introduced. The experimentation with instrumentation here breeds noteworthy results since the two instruments contrast to create a unique atmosphere. "Map System" and "Dungeon" are also percussive tracks based around xylophone riffs and wind chime use. The effortless transitions in the former are particularly good. "Market" starts off with a sturdy string ostinato and a few seconds of dynamic layering, signifying an approach into a more stately area. Soon enough, a strong melody comes in that resounds perfectly amongst the brass interjections that also feature; filled with pride and a sense of direction, this amounts to a colourful stately market theme.
The most intriguing themes on the album quicken the pace and have quite a bit of dynamism. "Battle" had the potential to be one of the more impressive themes here thanks to its strong bass rhythm, tense atmosphere, and hard percussive feel; unfortunate, the melodic line underperforms and feels totally overpowered by its accompaniment, reflecting that Iwata sometimes lacks melodic flair. "In the Castle" begins with a steady drum line before dichotomizing into a synth 'fire wire' line. The melody featured again reflects an alternative image through its instrumentation and has a sense of being there because it's compulsory to have something in the foreground. Fortunately, the more rock-based "Astral World and Soul Maze" and "Sheltem's Theme" compensate melodically; the former ends up relying upon its percussion section to add a bit of rhythmic variety, whereas the latter tends to focus on the use of a variety of shock chords after its somewhat tiresome monophonic introduction. Overall, these two themes are certainly amongst the top five themes on the album.
So, for just ten themes, is this rare album worth your money? Well, it's no classic. It's quite hollow melodically, has no pieces that most listeners would endlessly revisit, and can probably be regarded as very average NES fare. In does have some strengths, though. I enjoy the rhythms created through some consistently solid percussion use and feel the soundscapes of most tracks is multifaceted and appreciable, even though some experimentation is misguided. The synth is also remarkably good for 1990 thanks to some remastering. Still, I would only recommend this to a rich collector as there are many more substantial old-school scores available and quite a few of them are still in-print.
All Songs Arranged by Keiichi Maruyama
Synthesizer & Computer Programming: Keiichi Maruyama
Drum Machine & Synthesizer Programming: Atsusi Umehara
Mixed By: Mr. COLO-COLO
Mixed at Tight Rope Studio
Director: Yoshihiko Sato (Platz)
Executive Producer: Yukio Ota (Platz)
Executive Producer: Kimio Yamaguchi (Gakken)
Art Direction: Hirakawa Design Office
Town - Town - Town
Surface of the Ground
In the Castle
Theme of Astral World and Soul Maze
Theme of Sheltem