Metroid's music hasn't received much attention other than a single album release, Super Metroid: Sound In Action, and occasional concerts. With the release of Metroid Prime & Fusion Original Soundtracks, however, fans of the franchise now have another album to add to their collection.
As fans can guess, this album features the soundtracks to not one, but two Metroid games. Both were released the same year (2002) - the oft-delayed but ultimately spectacular Metroid Prime for GameCube, and its cousin, Metroid Fusion for Game Boy Advance. The composing duo who scored a hit with Super Metroid, Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamano, contribute to the music on this two-CD set; yet interestingly, Yamamoto was chosen to do Metroid Prime while Hamano teamed up with Akira Fujiwara to squeeze a decent score into the Game Boy Advance's limited memory capacity for Metroid Fusion. It is intriguing to listen to these scores to pinpoint the composers' styles.
With no memory restrictions of a cartridge based-system, Yamamoto churns out high-quality, crisp orchestrations for Metroid Prime's score, which is probably best described as hybrid. It's eerie, atmospheric, driving, occasionally rollicking, sometimes bizarre. Most of the tracks are somewhat ambient-based, yet Yamamoto mixes in percussive instruments to prevent the music from ever becoming dull. The highlights of the score are not just some of the new pieces, such as "Chozo Ruins" and "Phendrana Drifts", but remixes of classic themes from the original Metroid (the title theme, Brinstar, item and appearance fanfares) as well as Super Metroid (a jamming, groovy rendition of Ridley's theme, and occasional statements of the moody main theme composed for the Super NES smash hit). The resulting score is so phenomenal and so visceral an experience that it would be glaring to find any fault with it, but alas, Metroid Prime isn't perfect. For all the surrealness and the other great ingredients about this score, it does have its flaws. First, the battle themes. While a lot of them are extremely good and all of them fit the intended sequence, some come off as obnoxious cacophonies. The problem is made all the more glaring by some occasional synth voices which come off as lame, despite maintaining a crisp, nearly authentic quality. In scores like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which use a somewhat small (limited if you will) orchestration, any dated samples are less noticeable, but in the case of Metroid Prime it tries so hard to churn forth first-class sounds that it becomes disappointing to hear bad ones. In spite of its faults, however, Metroid Prime is still a fine score, and it's not hard to see why it's become a favorite with GCN owners.
Fortunately, the problems of many Game Boy Advance soundtracks do not apply to Metroid Fusion, the second game OST in this set. The instruments (or synthesis, whatever it is) almost sound as high-quality as the SNES. Almost, because the overall score's sound reproduction is somewhat muffled and not as clean as the GCN or the SNES (it sounds a bit like it is coming from radio speakers picking up static). On the flip side, any occasional dated samples do not feel out-of-place or glaring, unlike Metroid Prime. Sound quality aside, the music for Metroid Fusion is surprisingly darker and more ambient, save for a few action tracks. At times, the score is every bit as suspenseful, dissonant and shrieking as Bernard Herrman's Psycho, or any B-horror movie score. I'm guessing that Minako Hamano's style is more of the low-key, atmospheric type and less of the percussive and visceral while Yamamoto is a little bit of both. I could be incorrect about this, but it is interesting to make comparisons and contrasts between the two works while listening. There are not very many musical references to previous Metroid games, save for the haunting title theme, Ridley's theme (in two versions; one slower and another faster), appear and item fanfares. It's also less memorable than Metroid Prime, but even with that said, it's a very good score, functioning impeccably in the videogame.
Topping off the album is a five-minute arranged track of Metroid Fusion. It's definitely of higher quality, sound-wise, than the game's actual music, but for the most part, it's about as dissonant and scary as the score itself. I wouldn't rank this track as one of the best arranged versions I've ever heard, but it's certainly one of the scariest.
Those who have heard the game's music countless times will no doubt be shocked by some of the minor differences in this album release. For example, disc 1 track 11 "Chozo Ruins" is missing a synthesizer sample noise which comes in at around 2:41, and the battle with Flaaghra is extended. The orchestration also feels less loud and more reserved; almost like a mix down to an album listening level. I'm not sure if there were minor music alterations in the Japanese release of Metroid Prime or not, but this will no doubt cause controversy from purists. The track span is also uneven; a large majority of the songs loop only once. In addition, some songs, particularly on the Metroid Prime disc, fade before they're even finished playing or just stop all of a sudden (a flaw which hindered Sound in Action drastically). With Metroid Fusion, it's easier because the music is just short enough to fit it onto one disc, but the curiosity as to why Metroid Prime didn't receive a more even treatment is an oddity.
Faults aside, fans will find Metroid Prime & Fusion Original Soundtracks to be a rewarding purchase, with two great videogame scores. I tip my hat to Scitron Discs for following up their excellent set for The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker with this solid, if somewhat odd, two-disc packaging of two fine scores from two great Metroid games.