They say that you create some of your best work when you’re put in a difficult situation, and for the many composers who had to make the Game Boy’s crude audio hardware sing, that does seem to have been the case. Despite its humble nature, the console is home to some truly memorable soundtracks – and one person who arguably mastered it better than most was Konami’s Hidehiro Funauchi (also credited as ‘FK‑King’).
There’s very little information online about Funauchi, and much of what you’re about to read here is informed by an excellent piece on the composer by Micro-Chop’s Gino Sorcinelli. It seems that he joined Konami in the late ’80s, earning his first composter credit came in 1989 on the Family Computer title TwinBee 3: Poko Poko Daimaō alongside Atsushi Fujio (‘Sukenomiya’) and Katsuhiko Suzuki (‘Flamingo’). This would turn out to be his only non-Game Boy composer credit, and for the next few years, he plied his trade fastidiously on Nintendo’s monochrome handheld, turning out some of the best soundtracks to ever grace the console.
In the same year he worked on TwinBee 3, he was part of the three-person team (with Shigeru Fukutake and Norio Hanzawa) that created the score for Castlevania: The Adventure. While the game itself isn’t a classic, the music is excellent, especially for such an early Game Boy release. Sticking with the Game Boy, Funauchi gained his first solo composer credit for Skate or Die: Bad ‘N Rad, followed by Operation C (Contra in Japan, Probotector in Europe. He was once again listed as the sole composer for this game and contributed some amazing tracks, while his rendition of the classic level one ‘Jungle Theme’ is arguably the best.
Just listen for yourself if you don’t believe us:
Funauchi then collaborated with Shigeru Fukutake and Akiko Itoh on the Game Boy version of Parodius before delivering what is regarded by many to be his magnum opus: the score for Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge.
This was the first Castlevania game that your humble scribe ever played, and is one of the main reasons that the series is my personal favourite to this very day. Belmont’s Revenge solved almost all of the gameplay problems that Castlevania: The Adventure had, but the accompanying soundtrack really elevated the experience to the next level – so much so that I bought one of those bolt-on Nuby sound amplifiers and used the game’s hidden sound test option (‘Heart, Heart, Heart, Heart’ on the password screen) to annoy my family on a daily basis. This was the first time I’d listened to video game music when I wasn’t actually playing the game itself – and it was on hardware which was only a few steps up from a doorbell on the evolutionary ladder. That says a lot about Funauchi’s ability to make the Game Boy audio hardware truly shine in a manner that was seemingly beyond most of his contemporaries.
Funauchi’s next project was Blades of Steel, a collaboration with Akiko Ito. He then worked on the excellent score for Tiny Toon Adventures: Babs’ Big Break in 1992 before moving on to the equally brilliant music for Zen: Intergalactic Ninja, an action platformer based on the cult ’80s comic book by Steve Stern and Dan Cote. While these licenced titles could easily have been populated by basic, uninspired soundtracks, Funauchi’s talent shone through; he was able to create swirling, atmospheric soundscapes that stuck in your memory long after you’d powered down the console.
What’s puzzling is that after Zen: Intergalactic Ninja, Funauchi turned his back on game music and instead moved into video work; MobyGames credits him as working on ‘film digitisation’ on Hideo Kojima’s Policenauts in 1996, and he contributed to the opening sequences for Gradius: Deluxe Pack (1996) and Nagano Winter Olympics ’98 (1997) before apparently vanishing from the games industry altogether.
It’s not usual for video game professionals to drift away from the industry, especially as technology evolves and the required skillsets change – Hajime Hirasawa, who created the amazing music for the original Star Fox, would leave Nintendo (and video games) shortly afterwards, for example – but it’s nonetheless disappointing that Funauchi didn’t stick around to give us more masterpieces.
Wherever he is now, we hope that he’s aware of the incredible legacy he’s left behind in the games industry.