Image obtained from Retro-Treasures

When most people think about the NES version of Ninja Gaiden, they usually think about the brutal difficulty, or the wall-clinging abilities of Ryu Hayabusa, or the extremely well done cutscenes. But what about the soundtrack?

The sheer size of Ninja Gaiden’s soundtrack is an eye opener, especially when you consider that nearly every track is instantly recognizable. With a pace and simplicity that matches the straightforwardness of the gameplay, this soundtrack gets your mind revved up and your adrenaline pumping.

Most of the tracks follow the same basic structure: a consistent bass drum kick with a snare hit every other beat, along with two to three main synth lines that appear throughout the track. Background synth stabs are present in almost every song as well, although they’re occasionally so subtle, you could easily miss them. Like so many other NES soundtracks, this one is specifically designed to loop cleanly, allowing the song to repeat for however long it takes you to get through a stage (which usually isn’t long, considering you’re on a fairly short timer.)

Act 2 part 1

This is one of my favorites, its fast pace and mismatched note lengths providing a hectic sense of purpose to the action. I especially like the subtle repeating-note synth stabs that are at the top of the mix…they add an extra flair to the song that really helps drive it home. The first level’s music is iconic, but for me, when I think of Ninja Gaiden’s music, this is the track I think of.

Act 3 part 1

For me, this track marks the true beginning of the player’s emotional connection to Ryu Hayabusa. This isn’t just because of when it appears in the game, but also because of its overall feel. It conveys a real sense of urgency, and perfectly represents the emotions Ryu must be going through at this point in the story. As the player, you’ll find yourself getting completely absorbed with Ryu’s task, and this song is one of the reasons why.

Act 5 part 3

An extended, slightly modified version of the music in one of the game’s cutscenes, this one is another emotional track. In the timeline of the story, this stage takes place as Ryu reaches his boiling point, and it perfectly conveys the mysterious calm he wraps himself in to maintain control, lest rage take over him. It has a determined feel to it, as if Ryu’s purpose is so clear, even the music knows what he must do.

Boss Battle

My favorite boss music from any game on the NES (and possibly of any game on any system), this simple track exudes sinister intentions, and makes the evil just pour right off the screen. It switches things up a little when compared to the rest of the music in Ninja Gaiden: it makes use of a repeating closed hi-hat and oddly gated notes backed up by lower notes put through a subtle filter shift. It almost sounds like something caught in a demon’s throat. Unique, dark, and all around badass, this track always gets me going.

There isn’t much else to say about Ninja Gaiden’s soundtrack. It’s every bit as amazing as the game itself, and makes cranking up your TV well worth it. The entire NES trilogy is available on Wii’s Virtual Console…I highly recommend you check out all three games if you’ve never played them.