It’s been an extremely rocky past year and change. Even with life gradually inching its way back to normality, I still have lots of downtime for worries and fears to surface. So, I was looking to find something distracting and productive, and this is what I’ve landed on. Recording covers of videogame music fills this need – it’s an excuse to break out my guitar after many moons of it hibernating in its case, and a nice gentle way to ease back into playing, since during the recording process I get to correct my many mistakes. It’s also been a real learning experience on the editing side of things. Most of my audio experience comes from recording and editing the podcasts on this here Very Very Website, but music is not something I’ve spent any great time with.
Most of all, I love the music. Even when using crummy samples, old FM synths and generally dated tech, great videogame music still sounds great to my ears and I listen to it all the time. I don’t claim to be able to fully replicate, let alone improve on the beauty of the original tunes, but I hope my interpretations are at least interesting to listen to.
Without further ado, I’m excited to share the songs here. I’ve done
six eight so far.
I’ve put them in a playlist from the most recently recorded to the earliest recorded. I’ll keep adding to this playlist over time, but as of today (updated 9th June ’21) the playlist contains:
- So Much for Today from the Ys series
- Domina (hometown) from Legend of Mana
- Frontier Village ~ Dali from Final Fantasy IX
- Overworld from Super Mario Land (plus the game over music from Super Mario Bros at the end)
- Call at a Port from Terranigma
- Castle Damcyan from Final Fantasy IV
- Boundless Ocean from Final Fantasy III
- Places of Soul from Legend of Mana
I haven’t uploaded it, but to get started I did a test run, a recording of one of my fave VGM pieces, Crysta from Terranigma. It’s a lovely song but I accidentally recorded a lot of background noise and I wasn’t happy with how it turned out in the end. Even so, it proved really addictive to work on, so here we are now.
For anyone wondering how I do each of these, it turns out there is a fantastic community and repository of guitar music over at gametabs.net, highly recommend it. They’ve done the heavy lifting for me in terms of transcribing these songs and thousands more. It’s thanks to this site that recording each of these tunes only takes a few hours rather than several days!
I hope you’ll enjoy listening! The songs I’ve covered so far all have a relaxed feel, and I plan to keep that going forward. This is the kind of music I put on in the background while working or studying. You can find my YouTube channel here – if you like what I’ve done so far, you may like to subscribe to keep up with any new recordings.
I’ve been playing the original Final Fantasy VII for the first time and it reminded me of this post about Final Fantasy VIII’s sound design that I wrote but never published back in 2018. (Why, I don’t know. I suppose because it lacked a profound conclusion I felt it “not worthy”? Silly of me in hindsight.)
All of the Playstation era (and earlier) Final Fantasies have a silent/pre-talkie era film quality to them. There are surprisingly few sound effects outside of battle, and no voice acting whatsoever throughout. One of the most unusual features of the series’ sound design is the total absence of sound during on-screen dialogue. It was and still is a common device in videogames without voice acting to have a sound effect during dialogue… why? I don’t know, to be honest. Sometimes noises indicate who is talking, with an indistinct voice gurgle to represent each character. In games of yesteryear where the sound effect don’t change between different speakers, the purpose was less clear.
In any case, the effect of doing away with any text scroll/dialogue sound effects is a lot like watching a silent film, where title cards showed text and dialogue against music. It means these games relied a lot on Uematsu’s score, and thank goodness then these soundtracks are so strong and so varied. Continue reading
Who remembers Skies of Arcadia? I certainly do since I played it over this summer. It was quite the game, one of the most memorable I (re)played this year, and it has quite the soundtrack too. Like most RPGs it’s an epic affair – 67 tracks with a run time of nearly two and a half hours. Overall it’s an enjoyable score with some real standouts, but if I had to name one track that has burrowed its way into my consciousness these past few months it’d be the final boss theme.
This may very well be the happiest final boss theme ever laid down for a game. The second half especially is a spectacular uber-triumphant-angels-singing moment that I never want to end. Thank you Sega and Overworks for bringing us this gem!
I’m not big into videogame music covers. However I have to recommend an amazing piano arranger and performer of game music, a bizarrely attired gentleman known by the handle Prof. Sakamoto who published a bunch of videos in the late 2000s. Yes, he wears a cape and has consoles taped to his head while he plays. And yet his arrangements are amazing and the performances are incredibly polished. The most impressive thing to me is his timing. This guy can do restrained and subtle, to balls out rocking, but his timing is always dead-on. His medleys take him through a number of pieces from a game’s score, with a steady build to an emotional climax, with a case in point being this Mother (aka Earthbound) medley.
My favourite is for the least famous game he’s scored: For the Frog the Bell Tolls, originally composed by the awesome Kazumi Totaka. This was a Japan-only GameBoy game from the team who later made the Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. It’s got a great lighthearted score, but is held back by the the harsh limitations of of the Gameboy’s sound chip. In bringing this music to the piano Prof. Sakamoto adds a startling dose of emotional weight. The nine minute medley walks us through moody and ambient sections of score, making us wait for his arrangement of the game’s joyous field music.
This is the high point of the soundtrack but Prof Sakamoto keeps up the momentum for the remainder of the medley by transitioning seamlessly into the final boss music and eventually the danceworthy end credits music. Indulgent I know but this is just such a wonderful video and such an underappreciated soundtrack I had to spotlight it!
I recently checked out an arranged album of Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross music by the one and only Yasunori Mitsuda. Imagine my surprise to find that six of the ten tracks included on the album feature vocals, given that the original soundtracks – with one notable exception in Chrono Cross’s credits music – are entirely instrumental. I wouldn’t necessarily mind this, if these vocal tracks didn’t have English lyrics. Sadly, most of them do. And I’ve found it creates this strange effect of making some tracks feel like Disney songs. (Not hating on Disney by the way – they do great stuff.) At the very least the cheese factor goes up significantly. Continue reading