The Sound of Videogames PartII
Some more examples of music excellence in games
The Soulful Tunes of Videogames Part Deux
The first article spawned some positive reactions so I figured it was time to give the second article a go. The first article mentioned some videogames that were pretty well-known and well received by the general public, and although some of the choices in this article will follow that trend I wanted to take a look at some more obscure titles of the past with great arrangements. So time for another musical trip down memory lane! First up is an obvious choice:
-The Legend of Zelda series, in particular Majora's Mask.
"Swamp, Mountain, Bay, Canyon, the four who are there, bring them here"
The Legend Of Zelda series has always been a highly acclaimed series throughout many gaming generations and its main tune should be highly recognizable for anyone considering him or herself a gamer. The music in any Zelda has always been of great quality, and by the time the Nintendo 64 came the music actually became a solid part of the storyline (and to think that prior to Ocarina of Time I didn't even know what an ocarina was). But it was the sequel that truly captured me. There is something about Majora's Mask. Many regard this game as what The Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars. Dark, gritty and a vague sense of loss even if you successfully finish the game. The premise of this game was different and more intricate than Ocarina of Time: You had three days to save the world from total destruction by releasing the four giants of the compass directions. The time travelling aspect was a love it or hate it thing and I loved every second of it mainly because of this overwhelming feeling of gloom the game possessed. The musical score was no different. From the numerous ocarina songs to the overworld theme the music just simply felt eerie and ominous. The Legend of Zelda has always been a staple for great music, but when it comes to picking a favourite, Majora's Mask is definitely the one for me.
My personal favourites:
-Termina Field, the quintessential Zelda track only slightly remixed, however it is this little remix that makes this track stands out so much. The main recognizable tune is still there but playing in the background is this subtle trumpet sound which makes the tune feel really sad and ominous, always reminds me of a pyrrhic victory (much like the game itself).
-The Song of Healing, the second song learned in the game. The full version with the piano is seriously heartbreaking. One must wonder how a creepy guy like the Mask Salesman ever came to learn such a song.
-The Oath To Order, the song used for summoning the four giants. The first time the giants sang this song (or at least, I think it's them) an overwhelming feeling of sorrow came over me. It almost sounds like the giants are truly suffering. A brilliant example of the feeling Majora's Mask conveys.
The Oath to Order
in Ocarina jibberish
Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage.
"Paint the town red!"
Well this one is a bit of a doozy. Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage is an old-fashioned beat-em-up released in 1994 for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Unlike most super-hero licensed videogames Maximum Carnage actually faithfully portrays a then active storyline in the Spider-Man series; namely the Maximum Carnage storyline. The cut-scenes were taken straight from artwork from the actual comic books giving the game a pretty fresh visual style. The game also has a soundtrack fully written by an actual band instead of videogame composers (which back then, and even now, was quite rare). The American comedy rock-group Green Jelly (with an umlaut) wrote all the songs featured on the game and because of that the arrangements are pretty rock orientated. Heavy guitar licks set the scene as Spidey and Venom had to pummel their way through what seemed like millions of punkers and other hoodlum to finally take Carnage down. This game was also infamous for being notoriously difficult and I couldn't agree more. I never even made it past the Fantastic Four level. However all the cameos by famous Marvel characters like Captain America and Morbius made this game a fun experience and the music definitely contributed to that.
My personal favourites:
-Carnage Rules, The title track of the videogame. One hell of a guitar riff and a good opening tune to introduce all the characters. As with all of the songs in this game Green Jelly first wrote and recorded it and then a computer rendered the songs so that the 16-bit consoles were actually able to play them. This song is actually featured on the album 333 by Green Jelly titled Carnage Rules only then in its real life gory glory.
-Rooftop Rumble, The super-villain theme. This is the song played when fighting most of the major bad guys which makes for quite a thrilling battle. The song has an uncanny resemblance to Black Sabbath's The Mob Rules. Whether this was done intentionally is not known but it does make for one hell of a song.
-The Golden Sun series.
"Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, the four who are... no wait that doesn't work"
There's a saying in Dutch culture: "Beter goed gejat dan slecht verzonnen" which roughly translates as "it's better to steal something good than to create something bad." Or maybe something along the lines of "why change a winning formulae."
Golden Sun fits these sayings quite perfectly. It is a standard RPG in every aspect. The elemental system is there, an omnipotent power which the baddies want and the good guys try to stop, turn-based fighting, an overworld and a heap-load of sidequests. However this does not mean that Golden Sun was by any means bad. On the contrary, Golden Sun was one of the most successful games on the GBA and in my opinion stands as one of the classics in the RPG genre. The graphics were crisp, the storyline was immersing and the music, like most RPG's, was epic and quite beautiful. Golden Sun stands as a modern age classic and a shining example that sometimes you don't have to be original to be one of the greats.
Unfortunately I couldn't find a good quote in the game to start this part of the article though...
My personal favourites:
-Golden Sun The Lost Age intro tune, the first Golden Sun had a great starting tune, but in my opinion this one is just a bit better. Truly epic and what a way to kick-start the second part of the adventure.
-Forest's Requiem, walking around in an enchanted forest with those pan flutes playing in the background. It stirred up quite an atmosphere.
-The Elemental Stars. This song in particular has a certain effect on me. It was played relatively early on in the adventure and its mix of mysticism and mystery really enticed me to play the game further. On a side note, this tune has been remixed numerous times and some of them turned out even better than the original.
Spiky-haired protagonist? Check!
-Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow
"Giant metal spiders? Creepy ghost butlers? This thing could be deeper than anyone guessed. Might be time for a change of costume..."
In my first article I mentioned the glorious Disney music of Kingdom Hearts. But video-games and Disney have a bigger history together, and this video-game featuring everyone's favourite duck can be considered its darkest page. Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow was released in 1995 and 1996 for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo respectively. I call this game Disney Interactive's darkest page in the book not because the game was bad but because the game was so successful in creating a creepy atmosphere. You control Maui (Donald) through several levels as you try to find the mystical Shabum Shabum artefact. The whole gimmick of the game was that Maui eventually learned to transform into a ninja equipped with new and flashy moves. Using these skills, you travel through abandoned mansions, training grounds and even the realm of the dead to find the lost artefact. In 1998 a new version was released for the PC and with it an upgrade to the original arrangements now featuring fully orchestrated music instead computerised MIDI-sounds and this is where the soundtrack goes from pretty good to brilliant. Every track featured on the game screams ambiance. It's a mix of ragtime filled with Disney influences and it blends in with the game perfectly. The game turns rather dark and spooky pretty quickly and the music accompanies this change perfectly. As of this day, I am still spooked whenever I hear the tune to the Realm of the Dead.
True story! The man who composed the arrangements for this game is called Steve Duckworth. Can it get any better?
My personal favourites:
-Mojo Mansion, It starts off relatively innocent and this track represents that. For some reason I always think of that Hakuna Matata song whenever I hear this. It is a really cheerful track and that baritone voice really seals the deal for me.
-The Ninja Training Grounds, the second level where you first receive your ninja powers and this track perfectly represents that. I loved this track when I was young and as of this day I still get chills listening to it.
-Cold Shadow intro, the ragtime intro tune to the game, and quite a staggering track.
-The Realm of the Dead, this tune and the accompanying level is what started my whole uneasiness of zombies. This track is wonderfully epic and quite harrowing. Imagine playing this game as a 7 year old kid, zombie ducks, that enormous festering eye. No wonder I never dared finishing that level.
Even looking at it now it still freaks me out
-Time for some honourable mentions:
These two game-series mentioned next do not technically have a soundtrack of their own. Either it is the soundtrack of an era or a soundtrack completely composed of remixes of other games. Nonetheless these two deserve a special mentioning because of the way they used music to enhance the gaming experience. The games I am talking about are Grand Theft Auto Vice City and Super Smash Brothers Brawl.
People either love or hate the GTA series. Some say it has ruined video-gaming forever because of all the sandbox clones that tried to follow the hype. I ,for one, do not care about any of that. I think that the GTA series are by all means pretty good and they way they handle a soundtrack is excellent. Take Vice City as an example. Everything is set in the 80's including all the radio stations. All the songs you hear blasting out the car-speakers are quintessential 80's tracks. From rock to techno, it is all there. That's what makes Vice City so magical, they've really done their homework when it came to choosing the right tracks. That's why GTA Vice City deserves an honourable mention in the video-game soundtrack history, and who could forget VCPR? That station had some of the wittiest and most hilarious dialogues I've heard in ages!
And then there was Super Smash Brothers Brawl. The hype leading up to this game was nothing short of crazy, as it had to live up to the best-selling Gamecube game of all time. Whether it lived up to its hype is up for debate, but that's not what this is about. When I first saw that enormous list of composers on the Smash Bros Dojo I was jumping for joy. Just to name a few: Akihiro Honda from Metal Gear Solid, Yoko Shimomura from Kingdom Hearts, Jun Senoue from the Sonic The Hedgehog series, Kenji Yamamoto from the Metroid series. They called such a list of composers risky but it sure paid off in my opinion. Super Smash Brothers Brawl's soundtrack is nothing more than a big sloppy kiss to all the great tunes of the past. Featuring straight-up originals or brilliant remixes, SSBB, in my opinion, has the best collection when it comes to soundtracks from the past and for that it deserves an honourable mention.
And with that I've finished taking a look at some more classic video-game soundtracks without ever mentioning Mario or Sonic (well, I mentioned Sonic once) so coming up in the next article is an in-depth look of both series and their respective soundtracks to find out which one is actually superior (if that's possible).