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Monday, March 24, 2014

My 200 Favorite Video Game Themes - Part 12: Meanwhile, In This Millennium:

Leave the Past Behind
from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Composers: Anamanaguchi
Ubisoft Montreal; 2010

This is yet another tune from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  Anamanaguchi keeps to the game’s tone and sound with this song and it features all of the characteristic elements of the game and the band’s obvious 8-bit-era-influence.  If you listen closely, you can hear some Mega Man and Double Dragon in there.  The song is incredibly catchy, using a fun and energetic melody that is both exciting and joyous.  I do love this game’s soundtrack in its entirety and this is not the last time it will show up on my list.

Burst Man
from Mega Man 7
Composers: Toshifumi Ōnishi, Kazunori Tazaki, Tatsuya Yoshikawa
Capcom; 1995

This song starts off with the quintessential “Mega Man sound” and then changes into something else entirely.  Mega Man 7 was released pretty late into the SNES cycle yet this song does not reflect the quality or the evolution of its late 16-bit counterparts.  Instead, it has an early-90’s feel to it, which I like.  It keeps things simple, focusing on a good melody rather than showing off the capabilities of the console.  It is a great song, and features a bright and cheerful tone that just makes me smile whenever I hear it, no matter how I am feeling at the time.

Nighttime Excursion
from Flower
Composer: Vincent Diamante
ThatGameCompany; 2009

Flower is back with another breathtakingly-beautiful theme.  I stand by my assertion that this title, along with Halo 3, Bastion and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, comprise the shortlist of standout soundtracks of the last gaming “era”.  Things are really starting to change as the medium matures.  We have titles with thought-provoking, intelligent themes like Gone Home and the Stanley Parable making industry and consumer-wide waves and as the mood and ideas of gaming evolves, so is the music.  Flower is a breathtaking artistic achievement and it hosts a beautifully-woven and smart form of storytelling.  Feeling like a wonderful picture book in motion the scenery flows past as the flower petals ride the wind carefully held sway by the player.  You have power over one of the mightiest forces of nature in its most gentle form.  The soundtrack is a relaxing peaceful series of evolving but connected melodies, adding to the atmosphere and the player’s own emotions play into the controls, as the softness of the game’s mood steadies the hands holding the controller.  It is just a perfect experiment in gaming psychology and a stunning example of video games as art.  If anyone ever states that games are just about killing aliens, this title will certainly, and deservedly, put them in their place.

NOTE: The video formatting is off because I could not locate the song in Blogger's native YouTube embedding tool.

from Starfox
Composer: Hajime Hirasawa
Nintendo; 1993

This classic tune is a favorite among 16-bit era fanboys and is certainly a beloved classic.  It shocked everyone, too, as Nintendo fans were used to bright, whimsical melodies in their first-party titles, but this…  This was shockingly different!  At the time, there were tons of soundtracks that were dark, or simply in a minor key, but Starfox was a milestone in composition quality.  It featured a long loop, and matched the pace and mood of the game.  Also, this game was released following a turning point in musical ideas as well.  Where the fluff and beeps of mainstream 80’s music had since faded and a darker, minor key tone was setting in.  The Corneria theme reflects both the ideas of music in its time, and also the evolution of game music as a whole.

Hallow Bastion
from Kingdom Hearts
Composesr: Yoko Shimomura, Kaoru Wada
Squaresoft; 2002

It is undeniable that this game could have been crap.  Seriously.  It would not have taken much to screw this up.  Disney and Final Fantasy joining forces?  It worked out well as a game, though.  Despite a few clunky moments and some behind-the-times level design (for the most part, anyway), Kingdom Hearts was a great game.  The soundtrack was also quite good, mixing Square’s distinct, orchestral stylings with classic Disney cheer.  Hollow Bastion is probably the most highly-regarded original entry on the soundtrack, with a haunting gothic vibe and a stirring woodwind bridge, it is a memorable and essential video game theme.

Guile’s Theme
from Super Street Fighter IV
Composer: Hideyuki Fukasawa
Capcom; 2010

Guile’s Theme is one of the more overplayed video game themes out there.  An entry in countless spoof videos on YouTube, representing a fight or showdown of any degree.  It works, too, having the sound of an 80’s training montague, it is a fun and badass tune.  It is the “Eye of the Tiger” of video game music, if you will.  Obviously drawing inspiration from early 80’s rock, this theme has captures the hearts of gamers across the world, and for a good reason: it’s awesome!

Mt. Gagazet
from Final Fantasy X-2
Composers: Noriko Matsueda, Takahito Eguchi
SquareEnix; 2003

Back in entry 175, Zanarkand, I stated that Final Fantasy X-2 featured an underrated soundtrack.  I meant it because there is good music to be found on this soundtrack.  The looming mountain of Gagazet was one of the final destinations in Final Fantasy X and featured a great tune.  In X-2, the mood is a lot less mournful, therefore the song is more energetic and gritty.  Featuring a mix of worldly flutes and chanting with a touch of electric drums, this tune exemplifies a modern idea of game music for me.  It is not the best of its time, but it is an example of how game music can bridge the gap between this niche music community and more mainstream music fanatics.

I Want You Gone
from Portal 2
Composer: Jonathan Coulton
Valve; 2011

In 2007, Valve introduced the now fan-favorite Portal series in their Orange Box collection.  The antagonist of the game, a sardonic and megalomaniacal cybernetic intelligence named GLaDOS, became a video game icon due to the game’s clever writing and funny one-liners.
Portal ended with a song that gamers universally loved, so, naturally, its sequel would have one too.  I Want You Gone is along the same lines, theme-wise.  It does do some things differently, however.  It has a more electronic sound and stronger vocals, and thanks to the legacy of the first song, manages to be recognized as a classic in its own right.  It is a well-written and catchy song and is worth watching over the credits for the lyrics and a pretty funny sight gag.

The Faith of Jevel
from Bastion
Composer; Darren Korb
Supergiant Games; 2011

Yet another Bastion song makes my list.  The Faith of Jevel features haunting guitar and piano melodies and a smooth, electronic beat.  The song never overdoes it, staying simple and focusing on mood rather than power or energy.  It is a great song for atmosphere, featuring the game’s distinct Western sound with a well-structured and layered accompaniment.

Cerobi Steppe
from Final Fantasy XII
Composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Hitoshi Sakimoto
SquareEnix; 2006

Uematsu and Sakimoto’s work on Final Fantasy XII is beautiful and bright.  It plays over a distinctly-dangerous part of the game, too, which makes the mood somewhat off-kilter, in a good way.  The song is incredibly soft, never breaking into mighty drums or heavy accompaniment, instead it to its breezy melodies are the showcase.  It is a soothing entry in a strong soundtrack entry in the storied franchise.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

My 200 Favorite Video Game Themes - Part 11: Over the Hill

Sim Broadway
from Sim City 3000
Composer: Jerry Martin
Maxis; 1999

Sim City 3000 makes its first appearance on my list with the theme Sim Broadway.  Playing occasionally during gameplay, this tune chimes in to add a little energy to the proceedings.  It is a classic, early 20th-Century-style jazz ensemble piece highlighted by superb composition.  The steady build of the song, the whimsical trade off between instruments and the way it all comes full circle in the end make this an excellent tune.  I love Jerry Martin’s work on this game and this is one of his best.

from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)
Composers: Mutsuhiko Izumi, Miki Higashino
Konami; 1989

A few entries back I featured the stage 1 theme from this arcade classic.  I have always loved scrolling beat-em-ups and TMNT is one the all-time best.  It is a fun, fast-paced game with a ton of great tunes to back it up.  The Freeway theme is one of those songs that I have heard for a large portion of my life and I smile every time it plays.  I just brings back so many memories.  It is  high-energy theme with a great hook, fitting the pace and theme of the level perfectly.

Act 4-2
from Ninja Gaiden
Composers: Keiji Yamagishi, Ryuichi Nitta
Tecmo; 1988

Like the rest of the Ninja Gaiden soundtrack, this is a layered, energetic theme that features some of the most complex riffs on the NES.  It still has the old-school feel but it is so well-constructed as a theme that it feels ahead of its time.  It is bouncy and high-impact, which adds a sense of urgency to the level.  It is a fittingly-powerful theme for such an unforgiving game.

Crystal Snail
from Mega Man X2
Composer: Yuki Iwai
Capcom; 1994

Crystal Snail is one of the more sophisticated tracks of any of the Mega Man titles predating Mega Man 8.  The mood and pace of the song has a nice feel to it, matching the imagery of the level, and the time signature is definitely captivating.  MMX2 was released in a time when games were starting to become less about quick-fix entertainment and more about unique and interesting artistic ideas.  With the PC gaming market growing more rapidly than ever before, the mid-90’s saw a sea change in gaming tropes and ideas and console franchises like Mega Man and Final Fantasy were forced to evolve with them.  I think this is a theme that reflects the ideas of its time as the series soundtrack went from being about heavy guitar rock to being about smooth, captivating themes.

Mad Forest
from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
Composers: Hidenori Maezawa, Jun Funahashi, Yukie Morimoto, Yoshinori Sasaki
Konami; 1989

Castlevania III has already appeared on my list a few times and Mad Forest is just another example of how great this 8-bit classic really is.  It has that well-known Castlevania feel, conveying a classic Konami sound, full of strong melodies, upbeat rhythms and a rock-inspired minor key.

from Mega Man VI
Composer: Yuko Takehara
Capcom; 1993
I like the main portion of this theme because of just how much energy it brings.  It is a lively piece and paves the way for a solid entry in this storied franchise.  Mega Man VI’s intro brings back a lot of memories for me, too.  This was the last game I ever got NEW for my NES.  Then ten or eleven years of age, I had already jumped onto the Super Nintendo bandwagon at this point and, being a dedicated Mega Man fanboy at the time, I saw this game sitting carelessly in a bargain bin at a local Mall toy store.  The box was slightly beat up and the sticker had the price scribbled out.  I begged for this game and I got it.  I took it home and was completely happy.  It was so good to experience a new installment in what was, at that time, my favorite game franchise.  Period.  

NOTE: I chose to share this16-bit Mega Man 7 version of the theme as I was unable to locate a suitable version of the original in its entirety at the time of this post.

Sky Garden
from Illusion of Gaia
Composer: Yasuhiro Kawasaki
Enix; 1993

Illusion of Gaia appeared once on my list already and, at the time, I did not mention one important detail about this game:  Illusion of Gaia is my favorite RPG of all time.  It is an odd choice, for sure, but I love the game’s fun design, fast pace, interactive story, and use of real-world locations like the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Giza.  it is a game that does a lot right in my opinion, and features a great deal of clever ideas done so well, they are unforgettable.  The soundtrack is a mixed bag, however.  Unlike other RPG soundtracks, Illusion of Gaia is not packed full of original themes that play at very specific points.  It has about twenty or so tracks that often repeat as the game progresses.  The Sky Garden, like the other “dungeons” in the game, does feature its own theme, however.  It is a good one too.  It is adventurous and eerie, a perfect dichotomy for a level with a very literal dark underbelly.

Tifa’s Theme
from Final Fantasy VII
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
Sqauresoft; 1997

I am sorry.  I really am.  As I sorted this list I KNEW there would be some people shocked by how low this beloved Final Fantasy classic is.  In some gamers’ eyes, this is one of the best songs ever, and while I agree it is good, I defer to one of my previous entries' statements where I described some songs as “sleepy”.  I do like the melody and mood of the song, hence its placement in my top 100, but I do think it is a little too soft for me to feature it so high on my list as some would say it belongs.

Intro Stage
from Mega Man 8
Composer: Shusaku Uchiyama
Capcom; 1997

Now this is an energetic song.  This is the first song you hear shortly after launching Mega Man 8.  The intro stage is a short introduction to the core mechanics of the game.  It does not take any time at all to get through but the song is so much fun.  It is a great precursor to the rest of the game’s epic soundtrack as well.

Battle Theme
from Final Fantasy VI
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
Squaresoft; 1994

The battle theme from FFVI is one of the best battle themes in the franchise and I do not think many fans would disagree with that sentiment.  It has a tone that really gets you psyched to get into the spirit of combat, and Final Fantasy VI’s impressive loadout of characters with countless combat possibilities makes for a fun romp to go along with this high-energy theme.  It is also a classic in the sense that it is probably the most heard song in one of the most beloved games of all time.  Final Fantasy VI was a game that helped propel video games into a new era of storytelling and visuals and, to this day, ranks among the undisputed best games of all time (Unless you ask G4... Idiots.).

Friday, March 21, 2014

My 200 Favorite Video Game Themes - Part 10: Clearing the Hump

Jade’s Theme - Shauni
from Beyond Good and Evil
Composer: Christophe Héral
Ubisoft; 2003

Like Flower, Beyond Good and Evil is an amazing sleeper that is greatly underappreciated in my opinion.  This action/adventure title is full of mood, deep characters, outstanding writing, flawless gameplay and one of the best game soundtracks of the new millenium.  Yet another very Celtic theme to show up on my list, Jade’s Theme (“Shauni” as it is also known; So titled after Jade’s “true” name) is played in variation throughout the game, and has about three or four iterations that play depending on the mood and tone of the scene.  I went with including the main version of the theme due to it’s spirit and lovely melody.

from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
Composers: Hidenori Maezawa, Jun Funahashi, Yukie Morimoto, Yoshinori Sasaki
Konami; 1991

I will say it again: Castlevania III is one of the best-looking and most well-designed games on the NES and Stage 2: The Clock Tower is one of the greatest levels in 2D platforming history.  The theme does not hurt either.  This harpsichord melody is very simple with only the minimal accompaniment to back it up.  Yet, this song is one of the themes I would put the game in and play just to hear.  This was from a time before YouTube and and even before games had options menus where you can go back and listen to the songs in test mode, so I had to write down a password so I can go to stage 2 and sit on the starting blocks and listen to this tune from time to time.  Oh, the good ol’ days of gaming, where you had to work your butt off just to get the simplest level of satisfaction.

To Zanarkand
from Final Fantasy X
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
Squaresoft; 2001

This now famous piano piece has become, over the last decade, one of the most beloved themes in the Final Fantasy anthology.  It is an incredibly simple, but timeless, composition that sets the mood and feel of the entire game.  I featured Someday the Dream Will End a few parts back on my list, but the theme from which it is derived is far superior in my book, if only for how well it works in the game.  These songs play one after the other in the game, as the player makes way across the penultimate chapter of the story, leading up to the final few confrontations.  Before the final struggle with Sin could commence however, our pilgrims must face a sorrowful trek through a fallen city, bleak and lifeless, as mournful music emphasizes the dread each character is feeling.  The piano score is so perfect for the mood of these few scenes and that is why, at least I believe, it has resonated so well with gamers.  It conjures memories of the emotional struggle within each of the protagonists at this point in the story.

Demystify Feast
from Touhou: Immaterial and Missing Power
Composer: ZUN
Team Shanghai Alice; 2004

Yet another piano-heavy Touhou theme (is there any other kind) makes my list.  This time it is the theme Demystify Feast from Immaterial and Missing Power.  This is a tremendously complex song.  The notes are all fast and multiple instruments are hitting from different angles.  It is pretty perfect, really, considering the player is dodging hundreds of bullets on screen at any given time.  Therefore, it only makes sense that any accompanying song would be heavy and intensely energetic.  

Grenade Man
from Mega Man 8 (PSX)
from Shusaku Uchiyama
Capcom; 1997

MM8 has already shown up a couple of times on my list already.  I cannot express enough how much I love this soundtrack.  It is so much more sophisticated than that of its predecessors (With the obvious exception of Mega Man X).  You can tell that they were trying to make themes that were catchy and memorable and that did not fall into the trap of sounding like “video game music”.  Grenade Man is a theme that definitely has a video game sound to it, but manages to blend the complexity of much of the game’s remaining themes with a more traditional Capcom sound.  The heavy synth lead is a powerful addition to the song, especially at the bridge, where the song just trumpets powerfully, expanding the sound and making everything sound just so full.  The jazz bass (a trademark of this soundtrack) also gives the song a pace and a groove that feels very different from other game themes to me.

Slinger’s Song
from Bastion
Composer: Darren Korb
Supergiant Games/Warner Bros.; 2011

Bastion is back with another dusty, gritty theme that mixes Western, blues and modern electronic ideas well and creates a song that could be used for everything from a lame rap battle, to the introduction of a James Woods character, to a blue jeans ad.  Yet, it works here because it holds to the atmosphere of the game and fits in with the styles portrayed therein.  It is a short loop, but it is endlessly memorable and catchy.

from Final Fantasy XII
Composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Hitoshi Sakimoto
SquareEnix; 2006

The Royal City of Rabanastre is the main hub of Final Fantasy XII, which means players who intend to complete this game in its entirety will be returning here a lot.  It only makes sense, then, to have a theme that feels right, sounds good and is not on a 45 second loop.  Otherwise players may find themselves going slowly insane over the course of the game.  Rabanastre’s theme is an anthemic and bright piece and ranks among my favorite “town themes” of all time.

Bright Man
from Mega Man IV
Composer: Minae Fujii
Capcom; 1991

Upbeat and fun is generally how I like my Mega Man music and it does not get much more upbeat than this.  Starting in a standard Rockman minor key, this song then expands into a bright and lively composition.  The last half of the song uses some fairly sophisticated chiptune effects like tremolo, fading and phasing to its benefit, making this a standout tune on the Mega Man IV soundtrack.

from Duck Tales
Composer: Hiroshige Tonomura
Capcom; 1989

I love this tune.  I can just imagine someone telling Tonomura-san, “Hey!  We want something that sounds like it belongs in a Dracula movie!  Not one of your GOOD video game song… Thingies!”  So what do we get, a song that does BOTH!  So there you have it.  One incredibly good game composer took an overused minor-key vampire theme and made it fit in with the rest of this awesome soundtrack.  Good job, sir!

Spark Man
from Mega Man III
Composer: Yasuaki Fujita, Harumi Fujita
Capcom; 1990

We round out the first half of my list with one of my favorite themes from Mega Man III.  Mega Man III was an important milestone for me as a gamer.  It was the point when I started playing games as a hobby, not just an occasional distraction.  I was about seven when this game came out and I had already been playing games for a few years with regularity.  As a young kid who was well beyond my years when it came to taste in music (I was listening to Heart, Talking Heads, Tears for Fears and Def Leppard at five), I was captivated by the music in this game.  At that point, I had not really paid too much attention to game music.  I mean, I heard some that I had liked, but I was never really a fan of game themes, only a fan of the games they came from.  Yet, something changed in my with Mega Man III.  I suppose this was the title that really, firmly cemented me as a hardcore Blue Bomber fanboy and that had a lot to do with it, but I like a lot of things about this soundtrack, and this tune in particular.  Spark Man’s theme starts with this warm, bright string intro and leads into a bouncy rock piece.  It flows well and it is one of those Mega Man themes that just seems to fit the stage well, with electrodes and circuits pulsing to the beat of the music.

Well, that is one hundred down!  From here on out, there is not going to be anything but huge titles and classic themes.  Things are going to get big here folks, so let’s keep this train moving!  We have one hundred more themes to go, all leading up to my ten favorites.  Stay with me and follow my blog for updates, you do NOT want to miss this...