Soundtrack reviews: Flame ~Homura~ Ar tonelico II Hymmnos Concert Side Crimson and Waterway ~Mio~ Ar tonelico II Hymmnos Concert Side Blue

Some time ago I was digging around an old external drive when I discovered two albums that I’d gotten (yeah, let’s leave it at that) years ago titled Flame ~Homura~ Ar tonelico II Hymmnos Concert Side Crimson and Waterway ~Mio~ Ar tonelico II Hymmnos Concert Side Blue.  These two albums, released in 2007 along with the PS2 JRPG Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica, were originally sold together in a boxset which probably costs well over $100 today if you can even find one.  ATII is a good game with one of the worst official localizations in history – read more about it here, along with a link to a completely redone fan translation of the game.  The game’s soundtracks, though, are exceptional.

Notice I said “soundtracks”.  Each AT game has a primary soundtrack and several extra soundtracks.  The primary soundtrack to ATII is very good, but if that’s all you have, you’re missing out on some of the best tracks in the game.  Each of these Hymmnos Concert albums are linked to a particular character in the game – in this case, Flame to Luca and Waterway to Cloche, both featured on their respective covers.  To explain what the hell all this is about and why some of these songs have bizarre titles like “EXEC_with.METHOD_METAFALICA/.”, we have to take a look into the universe of Ar tonelico.  Luca and Cloche are Reyvateils, female humanoid beings who can control the elements by singing.  These songs are sort of like programs, with lyrics specifically created to cause certain effects, hence some of the songs’ weird titles.  Most of the residents of the world of AT are humans living on three massive towers alongside these Reyvateils, who often experience discrimination and worse because of their abilities.  Not without reason, because while their song magic can be used to heal, it can also be used to destroy, and a few of the most powerful Reyvateils can sing songs that are massively destructive under the right circumstances.

Pictured: potential weapons of mass destruction

The backstory and lore of this series is insanely deep, so deep that some of these songs are sung in Hymmnos, a constructed language* made specifically for the AT series.  Most of the songs on these albums are sung in-game by Cloche, Luca, or another Reyvateil, and some of them, far from being mere background music for battles, are important to the plot.  (See above: the costumes they wear also affect their song’s powers, which is where a lot of the AT series’ fanservicey reputation comes from.  Also, you get to pair up with one of these ladies on their own routes through Croix, the game’s protagonist, so you can see at least part of the appeal of Ar tonelico II aside from its music.)

The games are worth diving into, but if you don’t have the time or inclination to play a series of JRPGs with weird rhythm-based battle mechanics, you can still appreciate the music.  Almost every song on Flame and Waterway are centered around the vocals of one of four singers: Akiko Shikata, Haruka Shimotsuki, Yuuko Ishibashi, and Noriko Mitose.  Each one of these singers apparently had a serious career before the AT games were a thing, and according to the AT wiki, a lot of the songs in these games were created specifically with these four in mind.  Each one has her own distinct style, but they’re all amazingly talented singers, to the extent that I can’t say I prefer one over the others.

A lot of these songs are standouts as well.  Almost every one is a spot-on hit.  METHOD_IMPLANTA/. is beautiful and a great introduction to Akiko Shikata’s style.  I’m a great fan of Yuuko Ishibashi’s songs Reisha’s Lullaby and Eternally Connected as well.  Eternally Connected features some of the most stunning singing on these albums – it sounds like it belongs in an opera rather than a PS2 game.

My favorite, though, is Noriko Mitose’s EXEC_SPHILIA/. Once, I wrote about how much I hate the lazy key change as a method of trying to artificially create emotion in a bad or mediocre song.  EXEC_SPHILIA/., despite being mostly sung in a constructed language that pretty much no one is going to understand, packs more emotion without using this cheap trick than a thousand sappy modern R&B and singer-songwriter ballads that do.  It’s fantastic.  I like all of Mitose’s other work on Flame as well; her stuff has a harder edge that appeals to me.

While I can’t say the same for the AT games themselves, their music is diverse enough in tone that there’s enough here to appeal to pretty much everyone, ranging from cute (Hartes ciel, melenas walasye) to operatic (Eternally Connected, The Heart Speaks) to apocalyptic (EXEC_DESPEDIA/.).  If you’re a fan of vocal/choral music at all, you need to check these two albums out.  And it goes without saying that these are must-haves for Ar tonelico fans.  Since I have no complaints about either Flame or Waterway, they both get perfect ratings of 7.

* I don’t really know if Hymmnos is complete enough to count as a constructed language, but I’ve read threads with people arguing about the grammar of the language, so I figure it must be close enough.  It even has its own script!  That’s dedication.

Advertisements

Music review: Touhou Explosive Jazz 6 by Tokyo Active NEETs

No, it’s not a soundtrack review this time, but don’t worry; I’m not changing my format. This and a few other reviews I’ve got slated to post are of cover albums based on game soundtracks. Specifically the soundtracks to various Touhou Project games. I’ve never actually reviewed a Touhou game on the site, but I used to follow this one-man-developer shmup series pretty closely. And I still love the music in these games. ZUN, the man behind game developer Team Shanghai Alice, is good at making shooting games, but he’s a better composer. The pieces he writes for his games are memorable and powerful, and they’ve spawned thousands (yes, literally thousands) of cover albums by hundreds of artists that are sold at Comiket and other Japanese conventions. A few of these Touhou cover albums even show up at American conventions, usually at grossly inflated prices, because they know the only alternative is to pay high shipping costs online and wait three weeks. (And don’t even get me started on the prices of the doujins.)

(Wait. No. Please forget I said that.)

Touhou Eiyashou ~ Imperishable Night (2004)

Anyway, I was very happy to find a physical copy of Touhou Explosive Jazz 6 (translated from 東方爆音ジャズ6 in case I convince you to seek it out.) As its title suggests, this is just one in a series of cover albums by Japanese jazz ensemble Tokyo Active NEETs, who play in a traditional jazz style (at least on this album – they mix it up in some of their other works.)  The several albums I’ve heard by Active NEETs are pretty much consistently great, but Touhou Explosive Jazz 6 is one of the best, featuring the band’s take on almost all of the music from 2004’s Imperishable Night. Imperishable Night isn’t my favorite Touhou game – that title would probably have to go to Perfect Cherry Blossom – but IN’s soundtrack just edges out PCB’s for me, and the Active NEETs do a great job with it. This album really is “explosive” – the NEETs play with a lot of energy, and there’s a lot of tenor sax and trumpet in the mix.  But they’re not just constantly blaring the shit out of your ears.  The brass has a great balance going with the keyboards, and the rhythm section is excellent.

As far as the individual songs go, they’re all great.  I can’t even say I really have a favorite among them, though their take on Marisa’s theme “Love-Colored Master Spark” that opens the album always grabs me, as does their version of Reimu’s theme “Maiden’s Capriccio ~ Dream Battle”. As outstanding as the album is, though, it’s also nice to watch them play live in the studio – the NEETs put out videos like that sometimes on their Youtube channel.

 

Here’s their rendition of “Dream Battle”. Pretty damn good. The guy in the center with the sack over his head is also a member of the band, I guess. He’s supposed to be what’s usually translated as a “sinsack” – a character from some Touhou fanworks who’s usually depicted as otherwise naked. Yeah, Touhou Project is kind of weird. But the music is excellent. I give this album a perfect 7, because I like it just that much. I should also note that all the other albums I’ve heard in the Explosive Jazz series are really good, and the Active NEETs are up to #13 in the series, so there’s plenty to hear at this point.

Unfortunately, you might have a hard time finding a physical copy of this album if I’ve piqued your interest in it at all. I had to attend the same con a few times before anyone had it in stock, and it seems to be out of stock on Amazon along with most of their other albums. Their newest albums are available on iTunes, though. And it goes without saying that there are ways to hear the older ones without paying out the ass for an import (though that’s what I basically did.) Still, if you’re a fan of this kind of music, it’s worth scouring Amazon and other online retailers for these albums. Or hit up your local anime con. You were probably planning on going anyway if you’re reading this site. Don’t lie to me.

Soundtrack review: Sonic the Hedgehog: Passion & Pride: Anthems With Attitude from the Sonic Adventure Era

So here’s a strange one. Released in 2015, I guess in an attempt to try to profit off of my generation’s nostalgia for all things 90s, Sonic the Hedgehog: Passion & Pride: Anthems With Attitude from the Sonic Adventure Era is a collection of character themes from the two Sonic Adventure games on the Dreamcast and Gamecube. I came across this thing while I was messing around with my 99 cent for three months trial subscription to Amazon’s new music streaming service. (This is not a paid plug for Amazon, by the way. I wish it were. I need money and I’m absolutely willing to sell out. DM me on Twitter.)

I played Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 on the Dreamcast back in those old days of 1999 and 2001, when I was suffering through the shitty ordeal known as middle and high school. I remember them being pretty fun, though not without their problems. Turns out the same is more or less true of their soundtracks. When I think of great, truly classic Sonic music, I think of Sonic 1, 2, 3&K and CD. The later Adventure music is more of a mixed bag. I guess SEGA felt like they had to “update” Sonic’s music in the transition from 2D to 3D, but the Adventure soundtracks aren’t even close to being as good as the old 16-bit works.

Hell, some of these songs are downright embarrassing to listen to, even when I’m sitting at home alone with my headphones on. Like Tails’ SA1 theme Believe in Myself, an annoyingly peppy pop song with lyrics even dumber and more straightforward than the title suggests. Or Sonic’s SA1 theme It Doesn’t Matter, which hearkens back to really shitty late 80s hair metal. Or Knuckles’ awful rap Unknown from M.E., a song so bad it twisted in on itself to become popular and feature in hundreds of Youtube music edits like this one. And for some fucking reason there are also remixes of each of these three worst songs on the album. Thanks, SEGA.

Knuckles is a meme now, thanks internet.

Most of the songs on this album can be listened to without cringing yourself to death, though. And a few of them are really good. I’m a big fan of Theme of E-102γ, a nice piano-based instrumental with a sci-fi sound. E.G.G.M.A.N. from SA2 is catchy and fun and really suits the goofy mad scientist bad guy character that is Eggman (though I’ll always know him as Robotnik.) The biggest surprise, though, was the last song on the album, Fly in the Freedom. It’s the theme of Rouge the Bat, a character I never cared for, but it’s my favorite song out of all of them – an extremely relaxing jazzy piece with nice vocals. Makes you feel like you’re at a beachside bar sipping a cocktail.

There are three more character themes on this album that fall far more into the “weird” category than into the good or bad ones. Here are my notes about them:

Lazy Days (Livin’ in Paradise) (Big’s theme) – Title makes it sound like a Jimmy Buffett song, but actually a Creedence Clearwater Revival ripoff which is at least x1000 better. Dumbass lyrics, good guitar, okay singing but this guy is definitely no John Fogerty. Stupid as hell but not really that bad.

Throw It All Away (Shadow’s theme) – I can feel the angst in my blood. All humans are trash, and happiness is an illusion. Lyrics couldn’t be more laughably edgy. Brings back memories of middle school.

My Sweet Passion (Amy Rose’s theme) – Embarrassed to say I really like this song. Cute jazz-poppy thing, I love the vocals and the electric piano. Lyrics are insane and stalkerish and suit Amy’s character perfectly.

So is this worth buying? At $30 for a physical copy? Hell no. But it does have some good songs, enough that it squeaks by with a passing grade of 4. And who knows, maybe you’ll really like the songs I hate on it. If you’re the kind of person who “ironically” enjoys 80s butt-rock and bad rap, feel free to bump that grade up to a 5 or 6. I’m not one of those people.  I can appreciate making fun of bad media (I grew up on MST3K after all) but I don’t get anything out of a second listen to Unknown from M.E.

I would definitely buy a physical copy for a few bucks, though, just for that amazing title and cover.  Sonic just needs a ripped pair of jeans and a sleeveless shirt and he’s hedgehog Bruce Springsteen.

Soundtrack review: NieR:Automata Original Soundtrack

Happy American Thanksgiving weekend, dear readers. Thanksgiving is a day of eating turkey, a bird whose meat is so god damn bone-dry when cooked that you are required to load it up with cranberry sauce and stuffing just to swallow it. It is also a day of announcing to a room full of relatives, most of whom you only see at Thanksgiving dinner, what you’re thankful for (most likely something generic you made up on the spot like family or your health.)

This year I’m thankful for owning a hard copy of NieR:Automata Original Soundtrack. It’s a triple album – a 3 disc set – and it’s still too short. The actual amount of music in NieR:Automata is something like seven hours if you include all the different versions of each track (versions that play during combat, 8-bit hacking versions, versions with and without vocals) which this album does not. That’s really my only complaint about this album: it should have been a boxset.

Are boxsets even a thing anymore? Am I showing my age? They were popular in the 90s, but now, I have no idea. You god damn kids and your social media.  Your TikTok.  What the fuck is TikTok even.  I’m terrified for the future if this is the kind of weird shit the new generation is going to be into.  America is finished.

Fine.  Let me put down the cane and whiskey and keep gushing about this music and about how much of a genius composer Keiichi Okabe is. He also wrote the soundtrack to the original NieR, and that was amazing, and so is this. It’s mostly a mix of powerful orchestral pieces and ambient-ish background tracks, all of which both suit and enhance the feel of the game. It’s hard to write about this music without writing about the game itself, in fact, the music being meshed so completely into the game’s fabric. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy this album without playing NieR:Automata, but pieces like Copied City, Birth of a Wish, or The Tower won’t carry the same emotional weight if you haven’t. I still feel like I’m missing some of the impact of the original NieR OST for just that reason.

2B can see through that blindfold thing she usually wears, but how can she see through the hair covering her left eye? This isn’t relevant to the soundtrack, just thought I would throw the question out there.

Did I say “emotional weight”? Yeah. I’m a very unromantic person in most ways, but the story and characters of NieR:Automata hit me in the feels, as they say (or used to say, anyway, a few years ago.) It’s a tragedy in the classical sense, and a good one, because it doesn’t use cheap tricks or ploys or plot devices to achieve its emotional effect – it makes it the hard way by making you care about its characters and its world. And just as Yoko Taro and his team had to work to write an emotionally resonant story, Okabe and his team had to work to write an emotionally resonant soundtrack. Music, like writing, shouldn’t resort to tired, cheap tricks (like the “moving” key change – the musical equivalent of killing the cute puppy in your story for the purpose of squeezing out tears.  I could write a whole essay about how fucking lazy and bad the key change is as most songs use it.) Okabe and his co-composers clearly know that and have the skill to pull off truly powerful music.

The credit isn’t all with Okabe and co., though. Emi Evans returns to sing on several tracks. She’s not as prominently featured as she was on NieR Gestalt & Replicant, but her work on tracks like Voice of No Return and A Beautiful Song is… well, it’s beautiful. Joining her on vocals is one J’Nique Nicole, whose voice has a different quality that contrasts nicely with Evans’. And of course there’s a choir on the payroll as well along with the orchestra. Shit, this soundtrack had to be expensive to record.

That’s all I have to say about this album.  It’s not that expensive for a triple album, and all the music is great, so it’s worth buying.  As with Nocturne, though, I’d suggest you play Nier:Automata first if you haven’t already so you can get the emotional context of the music, and also because it didn’t win all those Game of the Year awards for no reason.  You can consider this post to also be my review of the game, since I never got around to reviewing it last year.  Nier:Automata is worth every minute spent on it.

Rating: 6 if you haven’t played Nier:Automata, 7 if you have.

Soundtrack review: Burn My Dread: -Reincarnation: Persona 3-

As usual, legal work has taken away almost all of my time, and I spend most of the remainder drinking and being angry or depressed.  Not the healthiest lifestyle, to be sure.  But I’ve at least had time to listen to a few more albums I bought last month cover to cover.  And now I’m reviewing them over the course of the next week, because now this is apparently a video game music/figure review site.  Hell, I haven’t written a review for an actual game in probably over a year now.  What’s wrong with me?

Anyway, this CD is titled Burn My Dread: -Reincarnation: Persona 3-. I have to guess those stupid dashes are part of the title of this album of Persona 3 soundtrack remixes.  Otherwise why would they print them on the cover?

I don’t have much else to say about this album, actually.  It’s a Persona 3 remix album.  It only has twelve tracks, though, and I could easily leave more than half of them.  Not that any of the tracks on Reincarnation are bad, but most of them don’t get my blood flowing.  P3 already has a great soundtrack, and most of the remixes here are inferior to the originals.  I especially miss the whispery female French vocals in “Changing Seasons”.  I know it’s a remix, but for fuck’s sake guys.  It was the best part of the song.

Now for the good: The piano and vocal-only “Poem for Everyone’s Souls” is nice; so is the harder-edged “Battle for Everyone’s Souls”.  And I really like the smoother version of “Deep Breath Deep Breath”.  Even if I’m not the biggest fan of Lotus Juice’s rapping, it sounds all right here.  If you’re a huge fan of the music of P3, this album is worth getting, but… I don’t know.  Don’t pay too much for it, even though it’s an import and you will pay too much. At the price I bought it for, it gets a rating of 4.

Finally, I’ve got to make special mention of “When the Moon’s Reaching Out Stars”.  Not because the remix is that great, but because it keeps the lyric You gotta tell me your love came all over me.  It sounds dirty, doesn’t it?  The rest of the song doesn’t, but this one line does.  Maybe I’m just a pervert.

Soundtrack review: Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne Original Soundtrack and Maniacs Extra Soundtrack

As I wrote two posts ago, I was at a con last month where I ended up dropping a lot of money I don’t really have on several imported albums (as well as a few books that, uh, I can’t post here. Yes, they are basically what you think they are.)

Among my haul was the complete soundtrack of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, one of my favorite games, which comes in a double-CD set and a separate single CD. Why this division?  Because the original release of Nocturne, commonly known as the vanilla version, was fairly thin and didn’t include the Labyrinth of Amala or the fiend fights, which add about an extra third of game and plot content, an extra third of music, and a new ending to the game. This expanded version, known as SMT III Nocturne Maniacs in its home country, is the version we got here in North America simply as SMT: Nocturne and that our friends in Europe got as Lucifer’s Call. (Yes, this is the version featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series.)

What can you expect from these soundtracks? A mix of hard rock with some jazz influence, piano/organ/synth-dominated pieces, and synthesized orchestral music. In the first category are most of the battle themes (including “Normal Battle ~ Town”, my favorite of the whole soundtrack) and some of the boss themes.* Nocturne features almost a dozen battle themes in total, counting boss themes, meaning you won’t get absolutely sick of one theme that keeps repeating throughout (see “Mass Destruction” from Persona 3 for a good example of overused battle theme fatigue.) The second category contains nice contemplative pieces like “Apocalypse”, “Reunion With Master”, “Heretic Mansion”, “Mystery”, and the first part of “Tokyo Conception” before the organ and guitar come in. The orchestral stuff is smattered all over the game, featuring in overworld map themes and boss themes – “Fiend” from the extra soundtrack is one of the best of these tracks. I’m not always a big fan of synthesized music, but chief Nocturne composer Shoji Meguro and his associates use synths in a way that both fits and enhances the heavy atmosphere of the game.

There are extensive liner notes mostly written by Meguro in the main soundtrack on every piece, but I can’t read most of it and I can’t find a translation. It might just be time for me to learn how to read this damn language for real.

One of my favorite things about Nocturne is that although it deals with an apocalypse (you might have guessed from the fact that there’s a piece on the soundtrack named “Apocalypse”) said apocalypse takes place near the beginning of the game. The focus of Nocturne is not the destruction of the old world, as it would be in a typical JRPG, but rather the creation of a new world based upon the ideals of the few surviving humans. The main setting of Nocturne is the Vortex World, a mostly ruined Tokyo enclosed inside a sphere – imagine that the surface of the Earth is on its inside instead of its outside and that the Earth is only something like 20 or 30 miles in diameter. The Vortex World is filled with demons and the scattered spirits of humans left behind after the end of the world. Kagutsuchi, a god of fire, shines in the middle in the form of a burning sphere, sort of like a very small sun. The entire setting is both otherworldly and bizarre, but it all works, thanks to the game’s visual design and to its soundtrack. Shoji Meguro’s music is a big part of why Nocturne is one of my favorite games.

That said, you might not get the same kind of enjoyment I got out of listening to these pieces on their own if you haven’t played the game. They are mostly excellent, but a lot of the value of the soundtrack comes out of its association with the game. Since Nocturne is a great game anyway (and not as reliant on cheap shots as some people seem to think it is – that’s a subject for another post) you’re better off playing it before binging straight on the music. You’ll have a better time with it that way. For that reason, these soundtracks collectively get a rating of 6 if you haven’t played Nocturne and a 7 if you have.

Make friends with a fairy, punch God in the face, create a new world.  The life of a Megaten protagonist is more fun than mine.

One more note about the Nocturne soundtracks.  There is a CD floating around simply titled Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne Original Soundtrack that looks like it was printed for the western market.  I’ve never seen a physical copy, but the Megaten wikia page suggests it was provided as a bonus with the NA release of Nocturne.  In any case, it has tracks from both the vanilla core and the extra Maniacs parts of the game, but if the tracklist posted on the wikia page is accurate, the CD doesn’t contain anywhere near the game’s full soundtrack – it only lists 33 tracks, while the JP vanilla soundtrack alone has 49 tracks.  An abridged soundtrack is pretty good as free bonuses go, but it seems like quite the ripoff if you’re paying for it separately.  Just a warning in case you ever come across it. I don’t own this NA-only soundtrack, but based on the tracklist I’d give it a rating of 5. It’s good, but why buy this when you can get the whole enchilada?

Oh yeah, and happy Halloween.  I guess.  I’m spending my Halloween drinking whiskey and playing Disgaea 1 Complete.  I don’t need any friends, you hear me? 𒀭

 

* Most of these battle and boss themes are actually vocal tracks.  I didn’t realize this on my first playthrough, probably because the vocals are garbled and distorted so badly, but that barking in the background is in English, and you can make out some lines if you listen closely.

(My) top five most nostalgic video game tracks

For those of you who were wondering, I’m still alive (I know one of my recent posts might have put that into question.) Since I quit my last job, I’ve been working as a contractor, which a lot of people don’t realize is something a lawyer can do. I’ve been told this work will be a black mark on my resume, but I don’t care. I’m not that suicidally depressed anymore, and I’m making just as much money as I was making before. What the hell is wrong with that?

Since I’ve been driving around a lot, that time mostly spent sitting in big city rush hour traffic, I’ve also had time to listen to a lot of new music. And since I attended a con last month and bought a stack of imported albums, this arrangement has worked out nicely for me. I’ll be writing some posts about the albums I picked up and why you might or might not want to check them out yourself, but first I’d like to share a list of video game BGM tracks that hold a lot of nostalgic power for me. These aren’t my favorite game tracks ever, but rather those that take me back to a simpler time when I was still pretty miserable, but in a different way than I am now.

1) Phantasy Star Online – Image of Hero

Anyone who played the Dreamcast MMORPG Phantasy Star Online has this song permanently stored in his head like I do. It’s one of my favorite character creation menu themes ever (or at least one of the few I remember, which says a lot in itself.) The soundtrack to PSO is an all-around great one, especially for the level of pure atmosphere it adds to the game’s environments.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: The first character I made while hearing this song for the first time was a FOnewearl (basically PSO-speak for a female elf mage) because I thought she was cute. Turns out she was perhaps one of the hardest characters to figure out how to use, so I switched over to the boring default HUmar. The FOnewearl is still cute, though. Especially in PSO2, which I can’t fucking play because it’s all in Japanese and you have to run it through a Japanese proxy and I can’t figure that shit out.

hella cute

2) OutRun – Magical Sound Shower

I’ve written about the OutRun BGM before, but this particular piece packs the biggest nostalgic punch for me, maybe because it’s the default track that plays when you start a race. The other two racing tracks on the BGM are just as good, though. There’s something about the Genesis sound chip that gives the best music made with it this classic 90s feel. There’s also plenty of really godawful shitty Genesis songs that are trying to be funk and failing miserably for some reason.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: A vocal version of “Magical Sound Shower” was included in the PS4 rhythm game Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone sung by Miku herself. SEGA owns both properties, so they presumably didn’t have to pay for the rights. Here’s to saving money on licensing fees.

3) Final Fantasy VII – Still More Fighting

Final Fantasy VII is not my favorite game ever. It’s not even in my top ten or top twenty. It’s a good game, but it’s not the best FF title, and it’s definitely overrated. But I still listen to FF7’s soundtrack. Uematsu is a damn genius, and watching my older cousin play this game on Christmas 1997 was the first I heard his work. I have a special love for this track, basically the game’s midboss theme. Sounds extremely early 70s proggy, somewhat like Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I’d say that Final Fantasy music even played a part in getting me into 70s prog and fusion in high school. Yeah, I was a pretty popular kid.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: Cloud’s Buster Sword is stupid and impractical but it’s still cool.

4) Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Chemical Plant Zone

I’ve written about this song in particular before, but I’m doing it again. The classic Genesis Sonic games (1, 2, 3&K – Sonic Spinball is a mediocre mess with a bad-to-middling soundtrack) will always hold a special place in my heart.* These are some of the first video games I ever really played in a meaningful way, exploring levels and finding ways to exploit the mechanics. Each game also has fantastic background music. The BGM for Sonic 1 and 2 was written by Masato Nakamura, songwriter for Dreams Come True, a Japanese pop/rock band, and he clearly put a lot of work into projects that might have been otherwise dismissed as music for some dumb kid’s games. “Chemical Plant Zone” is maybe the piece of his that’s most ingrained in my mind.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: Michael Jackson did not write this song, in case you didn’t read the above paragraph. Mike is rumored to have written some of the Sonic 3 soundtrack, though.

EXTRA BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: The background to Chemical Plant Zone is used in the intro of Red Letter Media’s parodic “Nerd Crew” Youtube videos. It also makes for a good wallpaper, courtesy of this guy on Reddit:

Is this vaporwave? I can’t tell anymore

5) Grandia II – A Deus

This last entry is a little different from the rest in that it’s a vocal piece. The limited technology of the late 80s/early 90s consoles wouldn’t have allowed for this kind of track in a game, but the Dreamcast did. This piece is very closely tied to the plot and characters of Grandia II, a god damn classic that I reviewed here – it’s a hymn sung by Elena, one of the game’s central cast. In fact, it’s player character Ryudo’s first introduction to Elena, which turns out to be a real “jaded sarcastic bounty hunter meets bright-eyed innocent girl” kind of situation. The lyrics of “A Deus” are in Portuguese, which from what I understand is mangled pretty badly by the Japanese singer. But she still has a beautiful voice, and it’s still a beautiful song.

Later on in the game, this happens. I don’t remember the context.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: I miss my Dreamcast.

* Specifically the left ventricle.