Category Archives: Video Game Music w/ the James

Video Game Music w/ the James Episode 9 : Simple NES Music

This article came out a little over a week ago (probably two by the time of publication), and I both loved and hated it so much, I knew I wanted to use it as the inspiration for some of my musical discussion.

The author tells a familiar tale of how video game music just isn’t what it used to be and takes a stab at explaining one reason why : limitation.  The underlying principle, one that I somewhat agree with is that some of the greatest game music came out of composers doing the best that they could do with the sound resources they had available; in the early days of gaming, this amount was very little.

While I agree with the principle, it’s no excuse for the direction game music is taking.  Gregory admits that there are exceptions to the rule especially in the realm of Japanese gaming, but why is that?  The soundtrack for Super Mario Galaxy 2 uses an orchestra as big as many other modern games for instance, and yet its music falls far from the “disposable” category.

I started thinking a lot about the state of game music, what happened to change the nature of such music, and what we can do as composers and/or listeners to keep video game music relevant even today.

And thus I decided to go on a journey exploring different generations of game music.  Who knows, maybe there’s something to learn from all of this.

Part 1 : Simple NES/Gameboy Music

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Video Game Music w/ the James Episode 8 : Super Mario Land

Yeah, I haven’t done one of these in a while… spending a good portion of my day trying to write even a couple of bars of decent music and studying techniques/history via textbooks and audiobooks doesn’t exactly have me wanting to tackle even more music at the end of the day.  I’ll be honest, I haven’t had much motivation.

I’ve also had my hands full with Darksiders which should be finished for review in a couple of days, actually, the only reason I’m not playing right now is because the game froze on me in the middle of a dungeon that I’m not particularly fond of.  Being too lazy to hook up my SNES, Super Gameboy and digging through a bunch of shit for the cartridge, I just settled for my modified wii, classic controller and a digital copy of the game.

Note : The Wired Fish does not support piracy.  Own your games before emulating them.

I am going to have to come out clean and say I fucking suck at Super Mario Land.  Mario’s momentum seems to break too easily and the controls always feel just a little stiff.  I remember never being able to make it past world 3 as a kid and when I tried it out last week, I met the same fate.  Tonight I am proud to say that not only have I finished world 3, but I also managed to beat Super Mario Land, and on one credit!  Admittedly it was a little too close for comfort when I dropped from 18 to 2 lives at one point, but a few lucky bonus games was all I needed.  But we’re not here to celebrate my victory, we’re here to enjoy some music.

While a lot of the later tracks invoke a more exotic feel, this leaves me with no such sentiment.  It’s clear that it wasn’t even the intention which would explain why it plays in the very first level : while it lacks that feel of a faraway land, it’s damn catchy, and the song is one that you’ll be hard pressed to forget once you sing along with a couple of loops. Continue reading

Video Game Music w/ the James Episode 7 : Ys Seven Soundtrack (Part 2)

You can check part 1 out over here, where some of the game’s first great tracks were covered.

Settling down from one of the most badass desert themes in existence, we reach the second dungeon of the game.  It feels like a nice, slow rock ballad, particularly toward the end of the loop after the piano section where the guitar sound comes in.  Appealing to my more sensitive side as a gamer, it’s refreshing to hear softer tracks from a series better known for more hardcore sounding tracks.  Also, there’s a lot of instrumental variety going on, a big plus in my book.

Probably the most festive song in the game.  The first thing I think of doing every time I hear this track is getting up and dancing.  Beginning fast and furious, the mood gradually settles to a quiet section which doesn’t last very long.  There’s a little section that serves buildup purposes, and from there the party begins.  A blissful smooth jazz sounding melody takes over and carries the track to a stopping point that just feels too soon.  That’s what the repeat button’s for I guess.

The rhythm section has some cool stuff going on, there’s a touch of harp and some other stuff, it’s a blast from beginning to end!

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Video Game Music w/ the James Episode 6 : Ys Seven (Part 1)

Well well, looks like I have a couple of minutes to start writing some stuff.  My Review in Progress for Final Fantasy 4 is almost wrapped up (the first publish will be up to the end of -interlude-) and as an added surprise, I’ll also be discussing Mortal Kombat, which was actually not on my to-do list, but, it was addicting enough for me to play through the entire story mode.

For now though, it’s music time.  It’s funny how Ys Seven came to mind for this post.  Far from my favorite Ys game, the story was great and the music is arguably some of the best in the series.  I tend to have vivid dreams this time of year, and a couple of nights ago, actually started dreaming some of my favorite music from this game and putting it on TWF, so I said why not go through with fulfilling my dream.  Brace yourselves, cause this is going to be a large list of tracks, even if I eliminate some.  As a matter of fact, I’ll break this one into two episodes, one for each disc of the soundtrack.

Why not just put up the whole intro for the opening track, right? Right.  It’s actually pretty standard rpg opening music, nice pulse, the melody in the strings is pretty cool.  Not my favorite opening in the series, but that doesn’t make it bad, just alright.  I still get pumped listening to it every now and then.

My first though encountering this track in the game : “This dick does not deserve such a badass theme song”.  It’s one of those slow paced electric guitar themes more suited to a character more mysterious and …silent — he doesn’t know when to stfu!  The guy earns his cool points late in the game, but until then, it doesn’t fit the personality at all.  It’s a perfect listen if you want something slow to jam to though. Continue reading

Video Game Music w/ the James Episode 5 : Jazz Jackrabbit

When I think oldschool Epic Games, the first thing that comes to mind naturally is Unreal Tournament.  Originally I was going to tie the the composer, Alexander Brandon to Jazz Jackrabbit’s music, but I would have been mistaken.  From what I researched, Jazz Jackrabbit 2 is credited to Brandon, but the first is to a guy named Robert A. Allan.  Regardless, the soundtracks to both games kick ass, but I’m here to talk about Jazz Jackrabbit.

I miss the days when they were still called Epic Megagames…

For those of you who don’t know, Jazz Jackrabbit is a PC platformer developed in 1994.  Many elements are borrowed from Sonic the Hedgehog, with the inclusion of a gun and various types of ammo to the mix (long before Shadow would infamously bring guns to the Sonic universe might I add).

The first sign of really good music occurs quite early actually, when you get to the second area, Tubelectric.

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Video Game Music w/ the James Episode 4 : Blood Omen : Legacy of Kain

When I travel outside of New York City (games typically sell at terrible rates over here), I often have a big event where me and whoever I’m out of state with raid video game stores that sell old games for cheap prices (NES carts for like 2 bucks for example).  No joke, I usually come out with like 15 – 20 games and a bill of 100 bucks or less — not bad at all.

It was during one of these raids that I picked up Blood Omen : Legacy of Kain, first in a series that I’ve heard much about, but never had time to play.  I decided to play through the entire game one day, a feat for those accustomed to the relatively short loading screens of today.  You had to load for everything : screen changes, access to menus, loading the memory card window so you can save, fuck I hated it at first, but then I settled into the atmosphere and great music provided by the game.

Essentially a Zelda type adventure in a darker universe, Kain can learn attack spells, transformation abilities and even use a decent arsenal of weapons.  There is a lot of blood flying around the screen because drinking blood functions as healing for Kain.  Some of the themes and environments encountered are just plain creepy, and I always feel bad drinking the blood of those poor guys and girls chained up on the walls just so I might make survive a couple more rooms.  But enough reminiscing about the game, I’m here to talk music.

I gotta admit, Kain can be an asshole, but not without reason.  I would probably be a dick to everyone too if I got jumped and brutally murdered within minutes of starting my adventure too.  This track playing in the wilderness outside Kain’s crypt uses a more exotic instrumentation for a medieval style forest.  A staple in the fantasy game genre, here the forest seems a lot more distant and unwelcoming.  It’s also pretty relaxing too, so this track works out on multiple levels. Continue reading

Video Game Music w/ the James Episode 3 : Highly Responsive to Prayers

It was about three years ago… maybe four?

Hanging around with some friends on campus, my boy DJ Sebbyseb calls me over to our club’s computer with a game (actually a series) he wanted me to check out.  Being an old game for a Japanese computer system, he loaded up an emulator with the rom for Highly Responsive to Prayers, the first of a series of games that many of you should be familiar with.

Not very flashy title screen, but I love the red swirl!

The gameplay is simple : You’re a shrine maiden running on the floor, usually some eerily still outdoor area, and there’s a ball that you can interact with (shoot or slide into) so that it destroys cards similar to Arkanoid or damages bosses.  If anything touches your character – bullets, boss sprites or even the ball, you die.  Lose all your lives and you continue from the level you were on, which is great since there’s unlimited continues, but you get the bad ending for doing so, making an incentive to do your best.

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Video Game Music w/ the James : Assorted

Howdy everybody!

This time on Game Music w/ the James, I bring an assortment of tracks that I can’t stop listening to.  Most of these games deserve individual attention that might come over time, but for now they’re in an assortment of tracks that I can’t get out of my head for one reason or another.

What better place to start than… Mega Man 10?

I’ve run a game music presentation arguing with moderate success that Mega Man 10 has a superior soundtrack to 9 and deserves a little more attention than it seems to get.  Not only is there a lot of good music, but it seems to have more variety as well.  Take this track for instance, it has that little bit of heart put into it that gives it luster.

Our old friend, the high square wave with its flute-like timbre naturally gets the soprano treatment and almost feels like a vocal-soloist, especially in the last passage of the loop where it’s just gushing in its high notes and stealing the show.  The accompaniment in lower register is brilliant, and while it never overpowers the soprano or tries to steal the spotlight, it provides a great counter-melody of its own.  The same passage where the soprano is going all out has the accompaniment taking a more rapid, guitar like presence.  The precussion/bass are cool, but what really shines is the interaction between the two top voices.

Typically I dislike remixed video game music.  It loses a lot of the original flavor in the conversion and sometimes the new music sounds dull and lifeless.  Then again, I’ve never really been an orchestral music kinda guy either until understanding it better.  Regardless, this track, formerly in the SNES version of the game is given an amazing orchestration and is also part of one of my unforgettable gaming experiences.

The first time you hear this track on the battlefield is in the middle of a thunderstorm.  When played connected to my TV, the thunderstorm with its loud booming and flashing made the battle more dramatic than it needed to be, but I loved every second of it.

The brass is what really sticks out, setting the flavor of the overall piece as well as dishing out the main melody, with phenomenal support from the strings.  The woodwinds play a bigger role in the parts that bridge the main theme such as in the mysterious flute section, but what really gets me pumped is whenever the brass comes in, main melody and between.

My game of the year last year, Nier was great in story, presentation and especially the music.  I remember the first time I heard this song, I was still measuring whether I loved or hated Nier.  I had no expectations for it and only bought it because Kmart had a really good sale going on for the game.  It was the middle of March and I just caught the flu.  Somewhere in my fluctuating consciousness, I came across the area where this song played and I drifted off in sickness, thinking I was dying or something.  I came back to Earth shortly after, but whenever I hear this it feels like my soul is slowly drifting away and… blah, this ain’t the place to get poetic.

The layered presentation of this piece is amazing.  Beginning with light then heavy percussion, then adding in either a cello or a double bass and an electronic instrument before bringing in the Ooooo’s in the vocals and finally the main vocal melody where the entire ensemble stays in until the end.  The soundtrack version kinda cheats by taking out the percussion for the final iteration of the main verse and giving it a proper ending, but it doesn’t happen like that in game.

Enjoy, and See you next Video Game Music w/ The James!

Video Game Music w/ the James : VVVVVV

Last year was the first I really spent experimenting with indie games.  Not that I frown at games without a big budget, but there just haven’t been many that captivated me until a great friend of mine sent me a demo for VVVVVV, making the bet that I would buy it afterward.  I thought he was full of shit too until I finished the demo and promptly headed to steam to play what I consider one of the best games of last year, indie or not.

I didn’t have time to fit it in, but the title music is so damn relaxing.

Part of the magic is in the music.  It’s easy to please the retro crowd by composing chiptune tracks on the merit of nostalgia alone, but Souleye managed to put together a collection that sounds refreshing and proves that there is still a lot of directions that chiptune music can expand.

The official soundtrack is also of excellent quality, designed in such a way that you can set a track to loop infinitely, and the transition is seamless unlike others that fade out and offers only a distraction when you want to just lay back and listen to the same thing for hours on end.  I highly recommend getting it if you enjoy the youtube examples to come.

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