By Joseph Walter
A mix between Super Mario 64 and the Ocarina of Time, Mystical Ninja feels like a true evolution of the platformer genre from the 16-bit days, with its colorful graphics, tight gameplay, lovely, unfolding score and, most importantly, an incredibly bizarre plot with equally absurd writing, complete with a laugh track that often comes in at extremely weird times with boos, cheers and chuckles.
It's hard to say if the writing and story are intentionally this weird, or if they resulted from a loose translation with little localization attempts, but players are in for a memorable and hysterical ride as Goemon, along with his pals, attempt to defend Edo-era Japan from an intergalactic theatre troupe hell-bent on making the countryside into an enormous stage with copious amounts of Fourth-Wall-shattering and self-referential tomfoolery to boot.
However, our focus today is going to be on the three fully-voiced musical numbers that are featured in the game.
The trio are all well-written and feature high-quality vocals, writing and visuals, leading to exceptionally unique sequences worth discussion and praise.
I distinctly remember being blown away as a kid renting this from Blockbuster and enjoying these often hilarious tunes in their native Japanese language with the subtitles giving a barely-adequate understanding of what the passionate singers were trying to convey.
Oh! And be wary of minor spoilers if you'd rather not hear these gorgeous tunes without playing for yourself!
Let's start our journey as we whistle along...
Theme Of Ganbare Goemon
First thing's first, the imagery is gorgeous and crisp for the system, and it does an honestly epic job of setting up the main characters and their abilities (and teasing the giant mecha battles.)
I remember being so entranced at the time, because I didn't have a controller pak (required for saving) and was unable to get to the point where I could unlock the female ninja, Yae, and the mechanical ninja, Sasuke (my favorite!)
I can't stress enough how the instrumentation and sound quality of both the vocals and instruments are remarkable for this time period, and how wonderfully (and, honestly, quite epically) this piece sets the stage (teehee) for the rest of the game, successfully pumping the player up as if they just watched the opening to an exciting anime.
Also, the singer of this piece is famous for his work on Dragon Ball Z, with the future "Weekly Soundcheck" candidate of "CHA-LA HEAD CHA-LA" being one particular example.
I aM Impact
Suddenly, one of the "weirdos" that threaten Edo Japan appears and, after being fed up by the name-calling, threatens Goemon with the Wartime Kabuki Robot, Kashiwagi! Thankfully, with the Triton Shell now in his possession, Goemon calls forth IMPACT to set things straight!
Once he arrives, not only are we treated to a slick music video, but IMPACT himself sings his own theme song (a song that, unsurprisingly, talks about how great the vain robot is.)
This music video calls to mind classic Japanese mecha sequences, with the same kind of jaunty, high-energy tune you'd find in something like GoLion.
Of particular note is the awesome imagery on display, where we witness the mechanical inner-workings of the fighting robot (even his two-dimensional ball-sprite arms and thumping heart) along with amazing lines such as "I am machinery! I am a metal being! (Hey!)"
When the kids come in to sing the chorus which culminates in the robot declaring "I am the best, yes, Impact," you've got the ultimate self-sung, self-important theme song.
But despite the fun of the video, lyrics and instrumentation, in manages to really create an epic atmosphere, just like the intro. This is sort of a running atmospheric theme throughout the game, which maintains its comedic nature throughout but somehow produces an emotionally satisfying and very cool vibe, regardless of the antics.
Gorgeous My Stage
When laying siege upon the "Gorgeous Musical Castle," home of the Peach Mountain Shogun theatre troupe, we're treated to this exquisite number by main villains Kitty Lily and Spring Breeze Dancin' (unconfirmed if these are their real names or just their stage names, but I'm leaning towards real.)
Here, they sing about the "gorgeous" stage they value with incredibly poetic lyrics and surreal imagery.
First of all, the orchestration for this sequence is complex and, mind the pun, gorgeous, continuing the high quality that flows throughout each and every piece of the game.
And then there's the vocals. These god-like vocals. Both of the actors give this song an incredibly serious performance, and their obviously highly-trained voices give a massive amount of gravitas to the absurdity of what's actually happening.
However, I want to specifically call out Spring Breeze Dancin's voice, which can sometimes be drowned out by Kitty Lily's exquisitely perfected delivery.
I don't know what it is about this guy. Maybe it's the borderline-sacred harmonies, maybe it was the vocal direction, but what he does at :48 is just so... endearing to me, that it's hard to put into words.
He puts such an emotional twist on his part that it nearly boggles the mind. In fact, it may be so subtle that you may need to focus entirely on his part to get the full effect.
When they get to this particular sequence, his voice becomes so... sultry? He takes his part with such a heaping helping of lustful flirtatiousness that it's even hard for me, a straight man, to not be enamored by his chocolatey voice.
But it's not even just the voice, it's the whole "who told him to sing it like that?" thing. I hope this was his character choice alone, because it's the perfect icing to this oddity of a cake that finishes off our delve into the awesome musical numbers of Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon on the N64!
Well, that and the weird combination of cheers and laughter that follows that performance by the canned, in-game audience.