Dungeon Explorer, released in 1989 for the TurboGrafx-16, is a multiplayer-capable action RPG (one of the first, in fact) with an excellent soundtrack. It garnered generally positive reviews, which cited its clever puzzles and fun gameplay mechanics (borrowing heavily from the always-excellent classic Gauntlet) as its strong points. Up to five simultaneous players can choose from one of several character classes in order to find a sacred stone for the king of Oddesia. Its varied music, featuring a separate track for each dungeon as well as other locales, was composed by Tsukasa Masuko. Let’s get into the highlights.
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The main theme of Dungeon Explorer has a nice, driving tempo to draw a player in. It’s suitably epic for a medieval fantasy game, and is complex enough to keep things interesting before the game starts. It’s a little ominous — which is fitting; a dungeon crawler usually isn’t overly cheery, after all.
It’s relaxing! This tune is a little more fast-paced than the title theme, but it does a better job of evoking the image of a specific place, rather than just a general sense of dread or curiosity. It seems homey and inviting, and is a nice tune in between more intense areas of gameplay.
This one’s more bustling and busy than we’ve heard so far, and for good reason. There’s a lot more happening in the town sections, and the track matches the motif. The bassline is nice here; simple yet effective, and the light background percussion matches.
Ooh, spooky! This calls to mind the horror-movie castles of old, like those of Dracula and Frankenstein. Similar to the fugues that accompanied castle scenes in those films, “Castle” doesn’t disappoint in terms of building atmosphere. It’s one of those tracks that, when played (even without visual accompaniment), puts a player (or listener) in a very specific place.
“Field 1” and “Field 2”
General overworld background music. Nothing wrong with them; they’re upbeat and interesting enough to not get terribly repetitive. “Field 2” is more melodic and sweeping than the former, and tells more of a story, but “Field 1” has a faster tempo and a driving beat that stays focused on its more basic musical phrasing.
We won’t get into detail about each “Dungeon” track for the sake of brevity, but they’re all definitely worth a listen. There are eight separate dungeon themes, and each one has its own style, tempo, and killer melody. For the cream of the “Dungeon” crop, though, check out “Dungeon 2”, “Dungeon 3”, “Dungeon 4”, and “Dungeon 8”. They’re somewhat faster and more complex, but they all rock.
Oh yeah. Here’s the good stuff. Dungeon Explorer drops us right in with a funky bassline and an in-your-face (approximation of a) horn section. It’s immediately urgent and lets you know that you’re in danger RIGHT NOW! The flourishes beginning at 1:17 in this track are fantastic too. It slows down the tempo slightly while ramping up the complexity, but only for long enough to stay interesting. A great track for some cool, diverse bosses.
Definitely getting another horror movie vibe from this one, but this time it’s more ominous (and less obvious) than “Castle”. It does put a player in an apprehensive, heightened mindset — almost like that of a character in a slasher flick. Frankly, this is what the entire soundtrack from the Friday the 13th NES game should have been like. It’s a lot better than what they ended up with. It’s okay, though; at least this game is good, and thankfully this track wasn’t wasted on an inferior product. The higher notes set the tone right away, but when the low-end synth kicks in a few seconds later, it elevates the music immensely.
Appropriately epic for a final showdown, “Last Boss” features a bassline that’s all over the place and fast-paced percussion. It’s heavier (in a rock sense) than what you might find in most early dungeon crawlers, but would be at home in, say, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (which also heavily featured 90s-style guitar riffs and more aggressive drum tracks). In short, it grooves well with where it should by this point in the game.
There’s not much to say here. It’s simply a slowed-down version of “Castle”, which we’ve already covered. If anything, it’s a little more boring.
This tune does a good job of accompanying the staff roll, and is more enjoyable than the rehash that was “Ending”. It’s traditional end credits fare, sentimental-sounding and wistful, as it should be. A good credits song helps the player reminisce about the adventures they’ve played, appreciate the staff who created the game, and look forward to playing again — and this one checks all the boxes. It’s a good way to wrap up a playthrough.
The diversity of this game’s soundtrack is astounding. Each track is different (aside from “Ending”, but even that has a tempo change) and intriguing in its own way. It’s worth playing the game just for the music, let alone the Gauntlet-style mechanics. Dungeon Explorer‘s music is, from start to finish, fantastic. Overall, I’m giving its soundtrack a final rating of 8 out of 10. It’s not flawless, but it is great. Definitely worth a listen.