Going down the list of its unfortunately small library of games, Sega’s Dreamcast has no shortage of standout soundtracks to brag about. The obvious rhythm games Space Channel 5 and Samba De Amigo are the first that come to mind, but lest we forget Shenmue’s tense traditional Japanese ambiance, Skies of Arcadia boasting some of the most epic and uplifting battle songs in JRPG history, Phantasy Star Online’s stylized and smooth electronic scores, and the unironically badass cheesiness of titles such as Daytona USA 2001 and the Sonic Adventure series. Though rarely considered a juggernaut, the Dreamcast remains up there with the most tragically interesting consoles ever released, but no games created for it testify to its unique character quite as profoundly as Jet Grind Radio does.
Somewhere in Asia, there is a city that cannot be found on any map called “Tokyo-to”, and the tunes are out like freaks on a full moon. Even with Jet Grind Radio (more widely known as Jet Set Radio) being arguably the most stylish and artistically appealing game the Dreamcast has ever seen its visual presentation is only half the experience. Varied, frenetic and brimming with life, the console’s most famous extreme sports title (not including Tony Hawk ports) also boasts what’s perhaps its most famous soundtrack, and you can see why almost instantly – just after pressing start to begin the game, the main theme collapses into radio static and begins to tune into smooth bass and mellow drum beats, topped off with schoolgirl hums and “Come on/Get down” samples – quite a departure from the archetypal loading screen jingle. When the action begins, you find yourself greeted by the slow J-rock stylings of Guitar Vader as you learn the rules of the game, and when that’s over the game’s eponymous radio station’s host Professor K speaks his good word over the sunset soul of “Funky Radio” (the best track in my opinion).
Jet Grind Radio’s mainstay practice of getting down on the streets and spraypainting the city with your signature logo while eluding the cops on your rollerblades is a chaotic affair, and it takes a competent soundtrack to simultaneously fill the player with energy and deck the game’s vivacious style with an appropriate feel. The genres Jet Grind Radio plays with are vast, and the songs are generally some combination of hip-hop, J-pop, funk, dance, punk, shibuya-kei, and hard rock, acutely used without feeling varied for the sake of being varied. The game has a vision that it remains consistently focused on, even at its most bizarre (relatively speaking) and remains locked on to the punk soul that courses through Jet Grind Radio’s veins – though the hard rock pieces tossed into the North American release feel mostly odd and out-of-place.
Primary composer Hideki Naganuma bears most of the game’s “core” tracks – the original scores for the soundtrack – and he is followed by equally funky Deavid Soul as most prolific on the soundtrack. The two of them bring an eclectic mix of dance funk and sample-fueled shenanigans, and on the large Jet Grind Radio’s audio is a beat-driven affair. Naganuma infuses electronics into his tunes quite well, as seen on slower hip-hop number “That’s Enough” and the somewhat indescribable “Rock it On”, though Soul’s contributions are more largely electronic in essence. Aside from them, you’ll find obscure and known artists alike making appearance on the soundtrack. Long-time Sega affiliate Richard Jacques manifests in the form of “Everybody Jump Around”, quite effectively getting the listener to do what the title suggests. Other well-known artists aren’t very common (especially if you aren’t playing the US version, where most of the guests appear), but they include Jurassic 5 and Rob Zombie, for those who care. The rest of the “guests” are a cast of obscurities whose bodies of work seems to only consist of their respective songs for the game, however their contributions are certainly noteworthy and you do wonder who these rather skilled artists actually are. Whatever the case, almost every track on this soundtrack fleshes out this excellent gaming experience and works quite well as a standalone from the associated game as well – though by no means do I discourage you from playing the game if you haven’t already. Because, well, it still rules.
“Sweet Soul Brother”