With its diverse “orchestral” palette and complex forms, the Nintendo NES repertoire stands as a monument to innovation—a creative outpouring driven by a compositional challenge inherent to the NES medium: how to create music that repeats extensively without drawing attention to the fact that it is repeating. In response to this challenge, composers developed ways to create the illusion of variety. On the one hand, they pushed the limits of the 2A03 sound chip by crafting timbral and textural effects to deepen its well of possibilities. On the other hand, they employed modular and layered compositional techniques to simultaneously maximize and disguise repetition.
Innovative as they are, these methods capture only a portion of the NES repertoire’s sophisticated makeup. This article moves beyond the details of technique and form to examine NES music from a new angle, one that centers on the impressive network of cultural meanings with which it engages. By treating deviations from normative musical traits as hermeneutic windows, my work draws on Japanese cultural studies, postwar Japanese history, and anime to interpret Capcom’s Mega Man series, and in particular Mega Man 2 (1989), as an allegory of cultural imperialism.