I have always been a Capcom faithful, especially with regards to fighting games (such as Marvel vs. Street Fighter OST). As such, I had pretty much shunned everything SNK had to offer. Up until now, I had been pleased with Capcom's soundtracks. However, Street Fighter Alpha 3's abomination of a soundtrack and Street Fighter 3: Third Strike's horrible piece-of-crap soundtrack made me turn over a new leaf. I decided to make an exception, so I broke down and purchased KOF '98 OST. I've now had this soundtrack for four months and it's still #1 in my collection. (I would have written this review sooner, but since it was my first exposure to SNK, I wanted to familiarize myself with them, before jumping in.)
Before I begin, I would like to make one thing very clear - only about nine of the songs on this album are originals. The rest are remixes of previous SNK themes. (Anyone who's familiar with Fatal Fury will instantly recognize track 7.) However, this is not a bad thing at all. In fact, the main flaw of the two Capcom games I mentioned is that their soundtracks were nothing but techno, which made every single track sound the same (especially if you weren't familiar with the game) and just... dull. I hate to be so blunt, but Capcom should have just worked on remixing the older themes. That is exactly what this soundtrack does and to a great extent. While it is very bass-heavy, it doesn't rely on one particular style to support it. The end result is a well-crafted masterpiece, that more resembles an epic soundtrack than a fighting game one.
If your collection consists of a lot of SNK soundtracks, you will no doubt recognize the majority of these themes. Don't let this scare you... pretty much all of the tracks sound better than their previous incarnations. People new to SNK soundtracks are in for a double treat, as this is some of the finest music to ever grace your ears, in second generation format. Don't believe me? Sit own, close your eyes and listen to track 5, "Esaka?". I'm going to go out on a limb and call this the finest piece of game music ever created. The bells at the beginning set the tone, just as the bass starts up. After a few repetitions, it breaks into a hard rock tune that remains beautiful. After the first repetition, the bells come back, backed up by the bass, and it is at this point I realized this was my new favorite piece of music. I stake my name and reputation on this one.
I do tend to favor the heavier tracks on this CD. Shingo Yabuki's "Still Green" sounds 100 times better than his '97 version, after supplanting the wailing guitar for more bass, while keeping the rest of the piece intact. "Fairy" is just plain wicked; the drums at the beginning pick you up and just don't let up until the track is over. "Art of Fight" has its roots from the original Art of Fighting game and has never sounded better. A combination of cymbals, drums, and a damn good guitar make up "Rumbling on the City". Another personal favorite of mine is Billy Kane's "London March", which is the same piece found in Real Bout 2. Like Shingo's theme, it sounds *sooo* much better than his KOF '97 theme and the voice actually sounds cool this time around ("PUSH IT! SHOUT IT! MAKE HIM TELL ABOUT IT!"... I love it!). Also, a wailing guitar makes this sound like it's straight out of Guilty Gear or Dracula Battle. Anyone who likes drums should check out "Esaka Forever", even though I kind of prefer the '97 version. For those of you who like good old fashioned heavy metal, I have the solution for you - track 30 of disc 1 is *nasty*! Finally, Omega Rugal's theme, along a few cool sounding voices, will leave you in the dirt. It is downright wicked! After hearing this, I wonder why I put up with M. Bison's crappy themes all these years.
Of course, the other reason I love this soundtrack is for the fine music outside of the hard rock. "Fanatic Waltz" is achingly beautiful and is responsible for teaching me to dance. "Blue Mary's Blues" is very catchy... to this day, I can't get the tune out of my head, nor can I listen to the CD without snapping my fingers along to the beat. Terry Bogard's old "Kurikinton" has been juiced up and is better than ever. "Mad Fantasy" sounds like it scores a haunted house scene and "Slum No. 5" sounds like a bunch of guys hanging around, grunting and groaning to a piece of music (that's exactly what it is... I had to listen to it a few times before it grew on me). Last, but not least, Iori Yagami fans will no doubt be pleased, as SNK has seen fit to include all three of his previous tunes ("Arashi no Saxaphone" 1 and 2 plus "Cool Jam"). I love all three, as they are laid back but convey a very evil feel nicely.
Complaints? Well, I wish they would have moved Esaka, Arashi no Saxaphone and Omega Rugal's theme to disc 1, so I wouldn't have to swap in disc 2 to listen to them, but that's a minor complaint.
The bottom line is, this is the finest soundtrack for a fighting game available and it earned itself a good review. Keep in mind that when I first listened to this, I didn't care at all for SNK. Now, I can't go two full days without at least hearing "Esaka?". Do yourself a favor and get this soundtrack, you'll thank me for it.