Rocket Boom: Third Time’s An Arm

January 2, 2013

Welcome back to Rocket Boom, where we’ll be ringing in the new year with the exciting third edition. Moving on from the RPG focus of the first two editions, it’s time for a change of pace. I’ll give you a few hints. This edition will be focusing on a particular beat-’em-up game, released in 2006, which also happens to be the final title released by Capcom’s now defunct Clover Studio. That’s right, it’s God Hand, a game has that managed to amass a strong cult following among gamers. It’s a game that’s full of personality, featuring a wide range of crazy characters, and over the top attacks.

God Hand tells the story of Gene, a martial artist in his mid-twenties who happens to get his hands on the perfect replacement for the arm he lost after being attacked by bandits. The titular God Hand serves as his new right arm, and since it was originally created to kill demons, it packs an insane amount of strength. We’re talking Dragon Ball Z levels of strength, enough to punch a man into the stratosphere (something that Gene does frequently). As you can imagine, it’s one of the game’s most unique elements, since players can make us of this power during battle. The godly arm isn’t activated at all times though, as the required energy quickly tires Gene out. There’s a little more to the story, but we don’t really need to go into that.

God Hand certainly wasn’t the prettiest game on the market (even back in 2006), but most critics saw past this, awarding the game a positive score for its originality, mechanics, and great soundtrack (courtesy of Masafumi Takada). Takada had also worked on the bizarre Killer7, and went on to compose forĀ Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, the No More Heroes games, and many more. His energetic style really suited these games well, but he wasn’t afraid to mix things up a little, as shown in Umbrella Chronicles. As is the case with this game, he often works with his good friend, musician Jun Fukuda. Takada’s God Hand soundtrack is, of course, what I’ll be focusing on today. Now that we’re warmed up, let’s jump in with the first track now.

Smoking Roll:

The God Hand’s power is highly sought after, and it doesn’t take long for Gene to find himself taking on the big fish. Shortly after the game begins, he finds himself facing Elvis, one of the four demon bosses. He’s a fat, cigar smoking, Mexican dude who packs way more punch than his appearance would lead you to expect. He also has some rather interesting music to accompany his boss battle. Smoking Roll plays in the background as the battle rages, and playing off the demon’s name…it features vocals from an Elvis impersonator. That’s just the kind of game that God Hand is. With electronic female vocals to add some extra flavour, Smoking Roll manages to be a memorably catchy tune.

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Uh-oh, when this tune plays, it can only mean one thing. Gene’s activated the God Hand, and someone’s about to feel a lot of pain. Broncobuster’s energetic guitar tune is minimalistic, but rather effective. While players were only able to hear short clips of the music during gameplay, firing up the OST offers a full 3 minute length treat. It’s the kind of tune that can get stuck in your head without you even realising it, and it serves as a great accompaniment to all the physical violence happening on-screen.

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Top of the Humans:

Yes, God Hand features a boss fight where Gene takes on a gorilla who wears a lucha libre wrestling mask, with a matching outfit. The zipper on his back is a bit of a mystery… The track that accompanies the fight is packed with energy, with a rather upbeat tune strongly pushing through the entire track. It shifts both its pitch and backing guitar as it goes, before building to a bold finish, which is repeated even more strongly at the end to give the track a big finale.

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Sunset Heroes:

Although the first few seconds of the track would lead you to believe that it’ll have a similar feel to Top of the Humans, Sunset Heroes is a very different track indeed. It quickly changes pace, pushing a distinctive beat of its own. Making great use of alternating guitar and synth segments, this super catchy tune makes a great backing for one of the game’s more hectic levels, with punches flying as fast as the beats that accompany them.

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Yet… Oh See Mind:

It may have one of the strangest song titles ever seen, but this song is definitely worth listening to. Although it’s one of the longest tracks on the soundtrack, it’s also one of the best. Despite a slightly slow start with some subtle vocals, the tune quickly builds, before overflowing and presenting us with the track’s distinctive theme. It seems we’re back to the start again, but the theme quickly returns, with some added backing to emphasise the notes. We’re treated to a bit of freestyle guitar, and then…the 3:13 mark is where the track explodes. It’s a short burst, but very sweet. Yet… Oh See Mind proved to be one of the more popular tracks, and was often used in promotional trailers and media.

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Devil May Sly:

When Gene meets his rival, Azel, things are bound to get rough. Azel posseses what he refers to as the Devil Hand, which is actually the left-handed counterpart to Gene’s God Hand. As such, he has similar powers to Gene, and proves to be one of the biggest nuisances that stop him from taking down the demons once and for all. His battle theme, with its cheeky reference to one of Capcom’s more famous franchises, is a rocking tune which makes use of a mixture of sounds to provide a suitably tense backdrop for the fight. While guitar riffs tend to dominate, there’s also a blend of electronic sounds which pulse through large sections of the track, while a simple drum beat backs both of them up. It’s a good mix, for one of the game’s most memorable fights.

Smoke Out:

Looks like Elvis was just playing with Gene before. He’s just shown his ugly side, transforming into his true, demonic state. His battle theme changes along with him, with the upbeat tempo of Smoking Roll giving way to this new, corrupted version of the song. The vocals have taken on a slow, demonic tone, and the backing music has become quite dark. An organ plays ominously, as a guitar lightly backs it up with some low, yet piercing riffs. It all suits this tough battle quite well as Gene fights, his hands full with taking on this dangerous demon, who looks as though he could easily swallow him (and would like to do so).

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God Hand (Credits):

You’ve beaten the game, and the credits roll. But what’s this? Looks like you haven’t heard everything yet. The credits music is a special little track, and the only fully vocalised song on the soundtrack. The song was specially re-recorded for the English version of the game, replacing the original Japanese vocals. The English vocals were provided by a member of the band Panda, No Panda, in case you’re wondering. It’s a very catchy tune to begin with, with some excellent guitar riffs (used both as a backing and as a focus), and the sharp vocals only make it all the more memorable. The song gets off on the right note from the very first second, and the lyrics make all sorts of fun, tongue-in-cheek references to the game itself. It’s clear that whoever wrote them was a fan, and although the vocal performance itself is nothing especially amazing, the energy that has been put into delivering the words proves to be rather infectious. The shouted renditions of some of the game’s attack names (the Ball Buster was a particular favourite) that are spread throughout give the song a bit of a retro feel, and the track ends on a great note, with a powerful shout to wrap the game up for good.

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The finish:

That’s it for this edition, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little look at one of the most underrated beat ’em up’s produced for the PlayStation 2. The above songs are only a small selection of what’s on offer in the full soundtrack, and I encourage you to look it up. You wouldn’t expect a beat ’em up to be popular for anything more than its gameplay, but God Hand managed to wow players with its quality tunes. Masafumi Takada’s efforts really paid off here, adding a huge amount of personality to a game that wanted to be different, and ensuring that Clover Studio went out with a bang.

Bonus video: Much like the game itself, God Hand‘s pre-release marketing in Japan was rather over the top, and more than a little politically incorrect. This trailer was particularly memorable:

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