After massive hype following a long absence, the next major title in the Street Fighter series has arrived. For the many who have already heard the music in game, the beefy track list for the album release probably says all they really need to know. To the few who haven't (of whom I am included), feel no hesitation in going straight for Street Fighter IV Original Soundtrack, as it offers the high-energy compositions and arrangements you would expect of a fighting game with the technical prowess you would hope for.
In place of the '80s synth-rock commonly heard in Street Fighter II is an electronica sound in the beats and background synth of SFIV, covering everything from trance to industrial to drum 'n bass. That's not to say it feels like an electronica album - there's too much else going on in most of the tracks melodically and instrumentally to peg them down to a particular genre, and they all have an energetic, gamey feel to them. The lead melodies themselves are conveyed by robust sampled instrumentation that generally makes an excellent fit for a fighting game soundtrack.
Several tracks have ethnic accents specifically geared toward their stage locations. In fact with several of the first disc's stage themes, I was able to guess the stage's location (or pretty close to it) on first listen without checking the track title. Some might say such stage themes cling to stereotypes, some might say they demonstrate diversity, I'd say it's probably a bit of both. Even if the former is true I consider it a guilty pleasure, as the ethnic touches make the already quality compositions for stages like China, Japan, and Africa all the more interesting. Included in the mix are a couple of full-on clubbing tracks as well as a few mostly orchestral pieces, most notably the epic "Historic Distillery Stage" and "Secret Laboratory Stage (Round 2)" themes.
Disc 1 is surprisingly devoid of themes from Street Fighter II, aside from a melodic reference to the main theme in "Volcanic Rim Stage" and a low-key arrangement of Gouki/Akuma's theme in "AC Ending -Type E-". That all changes in disc 2, which is chock full of arrangements of SFII's original character themes. Some hardcore synth and scratching work wonders for Guile's theme, and a jazz-funk interpretation of Zangief's theme is the last thing I would have expected. Sagat's theme itself doesn't do much for me, but composer Hideyuki Fukasawa adds all sorts of cool string and vocal samples to beef it up, and Gouki's theme gets a serious power-up with massive, tribal percussion and chanting. The new character themes have their share of surprises as well, namely the grinding but catchy synth-rock in C.Viper and Rufus's themes. Both also feature prominent vocal sampling, the former ethereal yet wicked and narcissistic, the latter as offbeat as you would expect for the character.
Rounding out both discs are an assortment of minor tracks and bonuses. In disc 1 it's the same array of menu tracks, ending themes, and other short musical bits that we usually find in fighting game OSTs. They're decent enough to listen through without growing irritated, which is more than can be usually said for such material, but still it was a wise move on Capcom's part to stick them at the end of the disc. As for disc 2, I consider it to end in principle at the arrangement of Rose's theme. The half-dozen tracks from that point on consist mostly of reprises of Ryu's theme or the SFIV theme (which itself is loosely based on SFII's theme), and rarely offer anything as interesting as the stage and character themes that make up the meat of the soundtrack. Japanese and English edits of J-pop group Exile's vocal theme "The Next Door" lead off each disc, and though I find the vocals too boyish for a fighting game, the tech-hip-hop instrumental versions in "AC Mode Select Screen" and "Character Select Screen" offer a nice jolt from the get-go.
Following the impressive fan-led remix effort for Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, Capcom and Hideyuki Fukasawa have met the challenge of creating a new sound for Street Fighter IV while remaining true to its roots. People who hate all things electronica will probably find the beats and synth here too much, and people expecting subtlety shouldn't be looking at a fighting game soundtrack in the first place. But for both long-time Street Fighter fans and newcomers hoping for an energetic, ambitious fighting game soundtrack, Street Fighter IV OST will not disappoint.