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
For the past several weeks I’ve been in thrall to the Gradius series. The strategic power-up selection, the challenging levels, and the reward of downing a powerful boss – it’s a joy to play these games. Alongside Gradius there are also spin-offs that share the same DNA, most notably Salamander/Life Force and Parodius.
This post is dedicated to these games’ amazing tunes, all courtesy of Konami’s esteemed composers. Konami are perhaps best known music-wise for the Castlevania series. but Gradius is a neglected well of wonderful melodies and beautiful tunes. It’s unfortunate that Konami neglected the series after the mid-2000s, and that Gradius never had a talent like Michiru Yamane attached to the series to expand and extend its unique musical identity into the present era.
What makes the music of Konami’s shooters so special? TV Tropes has a great phrase that explains:
The bulk of Gradius’s most crowning songs accurately convey some sort of cosmic wonder.
This is a great way to kick us off, so I suggest we see how this bears out in practice! Continue? Continue reading
It’s been a while, readers. But I’m back. That’s right, the PhD is over. Submitted and awaiting viva! Throughout these past few months, I haven’t stopped playing games entirely. Still, my enjoyment of life in general has increased dramatically now, and that extends to games too. After listening to a recent Retronauts episode about the Gradius series, I decided to dust off my copy of the expansively named Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus for the trusty Sega Saturn. I’d always been curious, so why not try these spin-offs of a beloved series?
Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus is a collection of three arcade games, namely Salamander, Life Force, and Salamander 2. The former two, which I’ll cover first, are variations on the same basic game released within a year of one another in 1986-7. Salamander 2, by comparison, released almost ten years later in 1996, and is a more modern iteration on the series formula. These games all riff on similar level themes, bosses and structure, many of these themselves nabbed from the Gradius series. For instance, every game alternates between horizontal and vertical scrolling stages, and contains a mix of biological and sci-fi themed stages. Continue reading
What is Deep Fear, in a nutshell? It’s a Resident Evil knock-off released in Japan and Europe in 1998, and actually the final Sega Saturn game to be released here in Europe before Sega shut up shop. Set in an underwater military base, the core gameplay is extremely Resi-like – using tank controls you navigate complex environments, fend off monsters, manage your ammo and solve arcane puzzles. Deep Fear’s one unique twist is an oxygen meter which requires you to find computer terminals to re-oxygenate areas where the oxygen is low. It’s a simple but effective mechanic which adds extra tension to exploring.
I have a soft spot for horror games of the tank-control-survival variety, and Deep Fear is very good at what it does. It’s not the most riveting game; I picked up the game about a year ago and put in a few hours with it before getting distracted and moving on. But despite having played for a short time, and the game being rather generic, there are two specific aspects of Deep Fear that make it extremely memorable and almost endlessly fascinating (to me anyway). First is the beautifully produced and composed music, while the second is the utterly abominable voice acting. Continue reading
Context is important to video game music, but what happens when you switch off the system and the music continues playing? I have been listening to a lot of game music recently, independently of gaming. It’s the first time I’ve seriously dabbled in music from games, much of it from games I’ve known for many years. Other game soundtracks are recent discoveries, while some soundtracks are from games I’ve never even heard of, let alone played. This has made me reflect on the role of music in games and the impact of listening to videogame music independently of games. Continue reading