Just listen to the first level track of “Streets of Rage 2.” Video games in the 1990s focused mostly on melody (like Mario’s jazz jingles) and metal (Mega Man’s speed riffs). Koshiro (and later Motohiro Kawashima) wrote menacing, minor key beats to drive the pixelized urban violence. The 2020 update in “Streets of Rage 4” is cleaner, and just as primed for dancing (and fighting) all night.
“My role for Bare Knuckle 4 [the Japanese title for ‘Streets of Rage 4’] is to convey the ‘bare knuckleness’ feeling to the players,” Koshiro wrote to The Post in an email interview. “SOR1 is particularly influenced by the dance music of the late ’80s, so I thought it was important to recreate that. And since I used music equipment from that era, it took a lot of time.”
“Streets of Rage 4” is developed by three indie studios, Dotemu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush Games. The Streets series was Sega’s answer to the popular arcade brawler, “Final Fight,” made by Capcom. In the ’90s, the popular series was exclusive to the Super Nintendo. “Streets of Rage” would be its dirty competition: grittier in style and crunchier in feeling. It would eventually become the game that could turn any Nintendo fan from grateful to envious. The Super Nintendo had it all — but not “Streets of Rage,” and certainly not its chiptune dance soundtrack.
Koshiro’s music was everywhere in the 16-bit era. His greatest achievement was harnessing the limited power of the Sega Genesis Yamaha FM-synthesis sound chip. He fused melodic chiptune ambiance with a mixture of disco and house. Many of these tracks would sound reminiscent of beats echoing from Detroit, France, Manchester or Melbourne acid house.
It’s this legacy that was a “constant pressure” for Olivier Deriviere, now the main composer for the latest game. Koshiro contributed five tracks, while Kawashima and six others filled out the rest. The hardest part, Deriviere said, was choosing which direction to go, especially since Koshiro paved the way for new sounds in the 16-bit era.
“We knew what the nostalgia fans would want, but we had to move forward as well and offer a broader choice of genres than just the 90s club music,” Deriviere tells The Post. “So I went through all the following years and picked up the one that felt right for every stage of the game. I ended up borrowing from Dr. Dre, the Wu-Tang clan and Skrillex among many others, and since I happen to love electronic music, I added quite a few underground references too, like Aphex Twin.”
Koshiro says he doesn’t think he was doing anything that new, especially since dance music was already popular in the West. But even today, techno and house music still lives primarily in underground scenes in Japan, despite its more mainstream success in the U.S., Europe and Australia. Koshiro said the challenge today is that listeners are more knowledgeable about music today than ever before thanks to streaming services, and that comes with even greater expectations.
“Nowadays, you can listen to everything you want on YouTube and Spotify,” Koshiro said. “Everyone can listen to what they like. That’s why it’s important to feel self confident and keep doing your best to make timeless music.”
Deriviere said he structured the soundtrack for the 12 stages like a DJ set. The music would start familiar — it begins with a cover of the iconic “Streets of Rage 2” beat — then break into more modern sounds, including the dubstep track that highlights a late-stage boss fight.
“I sort of followed the regular pacing with some low beats at the start, hip-hop, R&B, and gradually turning it into something more edgy with a faster tempo,” he said. “Now that the game is out, I couldn’t be happier to see how players are enjoying this form of progression.”
It was tough to balance the modernity of dance music and the nostalgia “Streets of Rage” fans would crave, Deriviere said.
“The journey through all the different music genres could have felt like a patchwork, so I had to find a cohesive sound to unite them all,” he said. “I thought the best way for doing it was to twist it all into one final blend that would eventually become the sound of ‘Streets of Rage 4.’ It seems like it worked out.”
Deriviere, who has worked on several other games in different genres, said that he’s a big believer in pushing interactivity in video game scores, with music shifting to respond the player’s actions. Outside of boss themes, however, that ambition had to be scaled back to maintain that old school brawler feel.
“Every arena gets its proper musical moment, and even some secret levels in 16-bit turn the music into a chiptune seamlessly,” he said. “Of course, SOR4 is about dance and grooves, and reading Twitter and witnessing people like CoreyxKenshin dance on my tracks was a real satisfaction … and relief.”