Seven great video game tracks (part 4)

Happy Memorial Day to my fellow Americans, and a good Monday to the rest of the world if you can bear it. Not that it feels that different from any other day. I don’t guess there are going to be as many barbecues as there usually are on this holiday. To commemorate it, I’m making a post that has nothing to do with Memorial Day: the fourth part of my favorite game music series, to demonstrate again that game music is not just “real” music but is also varied and diverse in style and all that. Not that I probably have to convince you of that if you’re already reading this. Anyway, on to the good stuff. As always, the order the entries are presented in doesn’t matter.

1) Kohei Tanaka — Old Town (Gravity Rush, 2012)

I’ve already written a bit about Gravity Rush — not so much about the substance of it but rather how I’d still probably want to date Kat if she were real, even at the risk of accidentally being flung into a wall thanks to her out-of-control gravity-shifting powers. So let me address some more substantive, less stupid material: the game’s music. You may not be familiar with the name Kohei Tanaka, but it’s likely you’ve seen or played something he’s written a score for if you’re into anime at all. He also wrote the soundtrack to Gravity Rush. It feels like a movie score, and I mean that in a good way. Almost feels like something out of a Ghibli movie. If you like Joe Hisaishi’s work, you should check this out.

The old European feel of the initially accessible part of town is enhanced by this Manneken Pis reference

I picked “Old Town” because it was the first track in the game that I heard a lot and got a strong impression of; it’s the music that plays in the first section of the city as you’re flinging Kat around in the air getting used to the controls. I’ll always associate it with Kat falling hundreds of yards out of the sky flat onto her face or tumbling into the void around the floating city. No, I’m not very good at this game.

2) Tatsuyuki YoshimatsuIn a Lonely Cave (Hakoniwa Explorer Plus, 2018)

Some of my favorite game tracks are the unexpected ones. Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is a retro-style action RPG that includes a lot of dirty jokes and lewd monster girls and stuff like that. It’s not an adults-only game, but there’s a lot of suggestive stuff in here along with all the hack and slash fighting slimes and bee-girls and lamias and similar beings. Since that really sells itself, the makers didn’t have to include a nice soundtrack, but they did anyway.

“In a Lonely Cave” plays when you enter a cave-themed dungeon area as the title suggests, and it made me want to stand in a corner and listen while enemies quickly beat down my HP. It’s very relaxing, especially the piano/acoustic guitar combo later in the track. Maybe this is too relaxing for a combat theme, actually, but I don’t care; I still like it.

3) The Humble Brothers — Terrain (SimCity 4, 2003)

Although I didn’t play it nearly as much as SimCity 2000, I was still somewhat into the series back in high school and bought SimCity 4 on release, and it was absolutely worth getting. In the spirit of the older SimCity games, it also had a good soundtrack. “Terrain” is an interesting one: it’s one of the tracks that plays during the map creation part of the game, but it sounds more like the backing music to a film scene of people walking through the mountains or jungle or some other wilderness, and not because they want to. Very ominous.

The song does suddenly cheer up halfway through, shifting into a major key. I don’t like that part quite as much, but I guess a SimCity game should provide some optimism to make the player feel like his future city will be a success, so I get that. I’d never heard of the Humble Brothers before writing this post, even though I’ve known this song of theirs for 17 years now, but they did a nice job. Maybe they’re too humble to make their identities known.

4) Jerry Martin — Buying Lumber (The Sims, 2000)

Another Sim game. I’m not the biggest fan of The Sims, and I didn’t touch its sequels aside from a very short time with The Sims 3 on someone else’s computer, but I can’t deny how amazingly popular and successful the series was. To their credit, Maxis poured a lot of work into it before they and EA together ended up crapping absolutely everything up, and said work included getting composer Jerry Martin to write music for the first game. This is a solo piano piece that is way, way more contemplative than you’d expect from the title “Buying Lumber.” This track plays when you’re in build mode while the game is paused, so the title makes sense in that way. Still, the few times I’ve been to Home Depot, I haven’t felt this melancholic while walking through the lumber aisles.

This is a depressing-looking house, but I wouldn’t call it melancholic exactly. This guy just needs to clean it up and buy better furniture.

5) ??? — Data Select (Sonic the Hedgehog 3, 1994)

Okay, enough of the profound contemplative music — next is the jaunty Data Select song from Sonic 3. This track doesn’t seem to have an official title; it’s just the song that plays when you’re on the screen to start a new game or load a saved one. I’m also not sure who exactly wrote it, because Sonic 3 famously had a large team of composers working on the music. These included guitarist Jun Senoue, whose work would be a lot more prominent in later 3D Sonic stuff, and keyboardist/frequent Michael Jackson collaborator Brad Buxer. Buxer’s involvement has led many fans to speculate that Jackson himself worked on some of the Sonic 3 tracks and had his name removed later because he wasn’t satisfied with the sound quality on the Genesis.

Too bad if that’s true, because the quality is pretty damn good. It’s impressive to hear how much these guys do with the limited resources of the 16-bit console. This is one of those tracks that a lot of people don’t hear all the way through — it is a data select screen theme after all; you’re not usually lingering on it too long — but it does go on longer than you’d expect. I like the light atmosphere it creates going into the game. If you like it too, be sure to also check out the Tee Lopes cover of the song. This guy was featured in the last entry in this post series; his fan works were good enough that he got hired by SEGA to write music for Sonic Mania, and that game had a great soundtrack too.

6) Shoji Meguro — The Days When My Mother Was There (and another version) (Persona 5, 2016)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m playing through Persona 5 Royal. I’m liking it a lot so far. Admittedly I’m not as in love with the new Royal-exclusive music as I’d hoped, but it’s still good. It’s hard for that to compete with the amazing soundtrack that already existed in the base game anyway, with songs like “The Days When My Mother Was There”. A lot of people highlight the dramatic vocal tracks like “Life Will Change” and “Rivers in the Desert” and those are indeed great, but I prefer these more relaxed pieces. “The Days When My Mother Was There” sounds like it should be more melancholic from the title than it actually sounds, but there’s some plot stuff going on that provides context if you’re hearing it while playing the game.

Each of the Palace themes in Persona 5 also has an alternate version, and I like this one almost as much as the main theme. I’m a big fan of the electric piano sound it has — I think that contributes to the 60s/70s fusion/funk/soul/etc. sound Persona 5 has in general.

7) Nobuo Uematsu — One-Winged Angel (Final Fantasy VII Remake, 2020)

So I guess I have to eat my words about how I thought the FF7 remake wouldn’t be that good. At least I should prepare to do so, because I’ve been surprised by what I’ve seen so far. Not by the music, though, because I didn’t expect Square-Enix to mess up the excellent soundtrack of the original, and it seems like they haven’t. If you haven’t heard it yet, check out the new version of the classic “One-Winged Angel” with the full orchestra/choir treatment it deserves. Though for nostalgic reasons, I still like the original more. I don’t know, maybe that’s stupid.

Not everything about the original was better.

So that’s it for the latest entry in my favorite game music series. Four entries over six years — I really am lazy. Please look forward to the next entry in 2023. In the meantime, I’m still playing through Royal and a few other games, so I hope to get a couple of reviews/analyses up next month. There’s also a reason I featured a couple of tracks from the Sim series. That’s a not-so-subtle hint at the subject of the next deep reads post. Let’s see if I have anything new or interesting to say about that franchise. You can be the judge when it comes out.

For now, I’ll be taking the rest of the month off to work. I wish I could take off from work to write and play games instead, but as long as I stay on the projects I’m working on (which I absolutely need, so I hope I do) that’s not an option. That’s the life of a contractor: free, but also not all that stable. Well, what can you do. Until next time.

Seven super-extended video game tracks to work/study/meditate to

Relax with some popular and also some semi-obscure music that’s mostly from JRPGs I like

I’ve been pulling hard at the oars these last weeks, working through Saturday and Sunday.  A lawyer’s work is never done.  Thank God, I now have a job that lets me sit down and work in peace without being harassed by moody partners, anxious clients, and support staff who are just trying to deal with said partners and clients.  In other words, I get to put on some actual god damn music while I work, a fact that makes it worth not having medical benefits anymore.

And what better music is there to put on than some of my favorite video game tracks?  Whether you’re an expendable white-collar grunt like me or a college student studying for finals so you can also become a white-collar grunt, the following music might help you get into the right kind of mindset to take on hours of tedious work.  Just an aside before I get started – yes, six of the seven tracks here are from JRPGs, but that’s naturally how it turned out.  Did you expect anything else from me?  Finally, I’ve posted links to super-extended edits of these songs on Youtube for your convenience in case you think any of my recommendations are worth taking.

7) Digital Devil SagaMuladhara

Is it any surprise that I’m starting this list with a Shoji Meguro piece?  Probably not if you’ve read any of my other posts.  Digital Devil Saga sits under the Megami Tensei umbrella of games and has an excellent score written by Meguro, who has done soundtrack duty on most of the Megaten games.  A lot of the music in DDS and DDS2 is straightforward hard rock stuff, but the games also feature some mellow mood-setting tracks like “Muladhara”.  This one reminds me of an overcast rainy day, which might be because that’s the weather in the area of town your main characters are camping out in where this music plays.  But it also has that kind of “rainy” feel, where you just sit inside and don’t feel like going anywhere.  That’s my favorite kind of weather if I don’t have to go out, and even if I do, I prefer overcast days to sunny ones, so maybe that’s why I like this song so much.

6) Final Fantasy VIIIBreezy

I know FF8 is a little controversial as far as Final Fantasy games go, what with its janky magic system and its nonsensical plot (though the latter is a standard for FF games.)  And I’m really not a fan of sappy stuff like “Eyes On Me”.  But aside from that wet fish of a love song, FF8 sure as hell has a great soundtrack.  “Force Your Way” is my favorite FF battle song, and I love a lot of the other themes in the game.  As far as relaxing, meditative pieces go, though, “Breezy” is probably the best.  Nobuo Uematsu knows how to set a mood, whether that mood is lighthearted or tense or apocalyptic, and “Breezy” is one of his best mood-setting pieces.  Very simple – just a guitar playing a nice melody.  It’s good to relax to.  Same goes for Balamb Garden from the same soundtrack.

Also good music to ellipsis to

5) Phantasy Star OnlineMother Earth of Dishonesty

This song might have more of a relaxing effect on you if you haven’t played Phantasy Star Online.  If you have, it will conjure up images of a creepy forest full of monsters and alien chickens that play dead when you beat them up.  If you haven’t, it might just sound slightly ominous.  That might be just the kind of music you need if you’re running up against finals right now (and you are if you’re reading this at the time I’m posting it, around mid-April.  Take heed if you’re a procrastination-loving college student like I used to be: open those books now, before it’s too late.  Don’t let your anxiety get the better of you, but don’t put your studies off, either.  That microeconomics textbook isn’t going to read itself.)

Sorry for the tangent.  This is a good song, and PSO has a good soundtrack.  If you end up failing some of your finals because you put off studying too long, I recommend giving it a play on an emulator – it might put things into perspective.  At least you’re not a freelance hunter getting your face clawed off by an alien monster.  Though I can’t blame you if you think that would be a better fate than suffering through finals.  I felt that way too when I was a student.

4) Skies of ArcadiaUninhabited Island

Imagine yourself on the deck of an old-fashioned sailing ship at night, and now imagine that it’s flying in the air, and that you’re the valiant captain of a crew of good-guy pirates.  And then imagine that you wreck on an island, also drifting in the sky, and you’re stranded there alone for a while.  That’s the feeling I get from this track from Skies of Arcadia.  I guess that description won’t make any sense if you haven’t played the game, but even if you haven’t, “Uninhabited Island” is something nice to play in the background while you strain over your textbook or your screen.  Theme of Reflection is another good choice from the Skies of Arcadia OST to help you reflect.  Hell, “reflection” is right there in the title, and the title is apt.

3) NieR Song of the Ancients/Devola

I can’t write a list of songs to relax to without including something from NieR.  The soundtrack has a lot of mood-setting songs, but “Song of the Ancients” is one of the best.  I really like the “Devola” version, which is the one I’ve linked to above, but there are a few other takes on this theme that are all good, including one in the semi-sequel NieR:Automata.  This particular version is pretty simple, featuring the beautiful singing of Emi Evans and what I think might be a mandolin, but I could be wrong about the instrument.

2) NieR:AutomataPeaceful Sleep

Speaking of NieR:Automata, yeah, here’s a nice track from that game.  “Peaceful Sleep” is the song that plays when you first discover the android resistance base in the ruined city near the beginning of the game.  It’s a haven safe from the killer machines wandering the rest of the city, and this track really sets that tranquil mood well (I keep using the terms “sets the mood” and “mood-setting” in this post, but I can’t think of a better way to express the idea.)  I don’t know if it’s lazy to include a song from each NieR title in this list, but Keiichi Okabe is a great composer too, so what the hell.

One nice bit of trivia about the android resistance base is that it contains a little makeshift alcove sort of thing with benches to lounge on and an old-fashioned jukebox that contains every song in the game, though you have to actually play through the game to unlock the entire soundtrack.  It’s a nice place to visit on a new game plus.

Even in the middle of a desperate battle, there’s still time to listen to sit around and listen to music

1) Hyper Light DrifterCascades

Now here’s a game with a fantastic soundtrack from start to finish.  Hyper Light Drifter is an indie top-down action game that was released a few years ago.  Much to my shame, I haven’t beaten it (it’s still more or less in that backlog I keep going on about) but I’ve listened to the entire soundtrack a few times over.  Very electronic and ambient, and I’d bet my life that Brian Eno was a big influence on the composer.  Some of the less ominous pieces make for good background music as well, like “Cascades” linked above.  I really like the ominous pieces as well, but I don’t know if I’d put on “The Midnight Wood” or “Cult of the Zealous” to relax to – you can tell from the titles alone that they’re not made for meditation, unless you feel like meditating yourself into the middle of a bloodthirsty mob of enemies.  Well, maybe you do feel like doing that.  Who am I to judge?

I’m no one to judge.  Especially when I title a post “Seven super-extended video game tracks to work/study/meditate to” and I proceed to put nine songs in the post.  I’m not very good at these list-style articles.  Cracked isn’t exactly knocking down my door to put me on their team.  Then again, Cracked effectively (and deservingly) went under several years ago.  So much for those list articles of theirs.

What’s your favorite music to put on when you need to sit down to your work or studies, or when you want to shake off the stress of the day?  Feel free to comment.  I’m always looking for new music to hear.

Seven great video game tracks (part 2)

I love music and I love video games (well, some of it/them, anyway.) So how can I limit myself to writing only one post about video game music? Here’s another one.

1) Final Fantasy VII – Reunion

This is one of the most haunting tracks that ever came out of a mid-90s RPG.  If you’ve played Final Fantasy VII, you’ll know what event this track pairs with.  If you haven’t, it’s where the main character realizes that his whole life has been a lie.  Oh yeah, spoilers.

Honestly, the spoiler won't make any sense until you've played the game most of the way to the big revelation. Also, FF7 was released in 1997, so the spoilers statute of limitations has passed.

Honestly, the spoiler won’t make any sense until you’ve played the game most of the way to the big revelation. Also, FF7 was released in 1997, so the spoilers statute of limitations has passed.

Anyway, Nobuo Uematsu is a genius when it comes to video game music.  This is one of the most understated, quiet pieces in an FF game, but it’s effective as hell.

2) Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Chemical Plant Zone

Sometimes you just want to play a game where you’re a blue hedgehog rolling around fucking everything up.  And not one of the god-awful fuck 3D Sonic games like Sonic 06.  I mean the real thing.  The old Genesis games had proper background music, and Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic 2 has one of the best tracks in the history of the franchise.  It’s a techno early 90s Sega Genesis track and that’s all you need to know.

3) Yume Nikki – Dense Woods A

Modern horror movies are garbage.  At least, the ones that are made and air in my country are garbage.  People go to the theater to say “oh no a thing moved in the corner of the screen” for 120 minutes.  But what can you expect from the same people who think Mamma Mia is worth giving money to a person to see.

At some point, anyway, you have to admit that our horror movies are garbage and to turn to video games, which keep the horror genre alive.  And among these games, old-school looking RPG Maker games such as Ib and The Witch’s House are surprisingly effective.   The great-granddaddy of these games is Yume Nikki, a freeware piece made by a mysterious man known only as KIKIYAMA.  Yume Nikki translates as “Dream Diary” and is about Madotsuki, a young girl who refuses to leave her 150th story apartment bedroom/balcony and lives her life through her dreams.  Her dreams happen to be mostly disturbing as fuck, and it’s your job as the player to guide Madotsuki through her dreams and to collect all the “effects” that let her use various powers.

Your dream always starts on the balcony. The sky is dark and the landscape is desolate. Play this game with the lights off at midnight.

Your dream always starts on the balcony. The sky is dark and the landscape is desolate. Play this game with the lights off at midnight.

Yume Nikki excels in creating a mood, and its background music adds to this effect.  The tracks are simple but incredibly haunting, and they’re extremely effective in the game itself.  Do yourself a favor and go play Yume Nikki if you haven’t already.  With the lights off at midnight.

(Ib and The Witch’s House both have really good BGMs too, and they’re far more horror in aim and theme than Yume Nikki, which is more of a surreal dream game.  So if you’re looking to actually piss yourself, go for those instead.)

4) Outrun – the whole BGM

outrun

All of it.  This is a pure nostalgia pick, because like many other people in their late 20s Outrun is one of the first racing video games I ever remember playing, in my case as a small child who could barely manipulate the Genesis controller in an effective fashion.  But that 16-bit music certainly got stuck in my brain, even if I couldn’t get past the damn checkpoints most of the time.  There are certainly better soundtracks out there – this one is really more “background music” than a soundtrack – but it’s a very dynamic set of songs that doesn’t wear on me with successive listens.

5) Digital Devil Saga 2 – Hunting – Betrayal

The two Digital Devil Saga games are worthy additions to the Shin Megami Tensei family of games.  They’re much more traditional JRPGs than the mainline SMT games and other spinoffs – DDS doesn’t feature demon recruitment at all – but they’re well-crafted and tell an interesting story.  They also feature the always fantastic work of Shoji Meguro, who fully deserves a place in the video game soundtrack pantheon along with Uematsu.  And “Hunting – Betrayal” is one of his best battle themes, maybe his best ever.  The pure tension in this piece is astounding.  Listen to it with the dial turned to 10.

6) Umineko no Naku Koro ni – Dead Angle

Umineko-no-Naku-Koro-ni-7

I’ve already taken a look at Umineko, but it’s worth bringing up again that this visual novel series has an amazing soundtrack, and “Dead Angle” is one of the best tracks in the game.  For the unfamiliar, Umineko is a very long visual novel mystery series about a family that is almost entirely murdered on a private island.  The game mixes up mystery with supernatural elements, and one of the central themes of Umineko is deals with the existence of magic and the line between reality and fantasy.  The game is honestly kind of a mess, but it’s a fascinating mess and, in the end, a satisfying story.  And the music is fantastic.

7) Final Fantasy VIII – Force Your Way

Speaking of Uematsu – again – this is my favorite Final Fantasy battle theme.  I didn’t love Final Fantasy VIII.  It was a good game, but it also had lots of problems, and the soap opera-level love story was fairly balls in my opinion.  However, the gameplay is still classic FF at this point, and the soundtrack is excellent.

I don’t normally read Youtube comments, because they tend to be so stupid that you can’t understand how the commenter managed to remember to breathe for long enough to write the comment and send it, but some user on the site aptly observed that “Force Your Way” sounds like the composer wrote eight different intros to a battle theme and shoved them all together.  And it works.  Even if the story of FF8 kinda doesn’t.

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Why I’m not excited about the Final Fantasy VII remake

I’m sure all this has been posted before by other, more recognized/successful/better people, but I’ll also say it: I don’t think the Final Fantasy VII remake is a great idea. It’s being hyped like crazy, but let’s examine just two reasons why the next FF7 might not be very good (except for Square-Enix’s bottom line, maybe, because they could sell a box of dog shit with the Final Fantasy name on it and it would still fly off of the shelves and get a 9/10 from IGN.)

Cloud_disguise6

1) Final Fantasy VII is kind of a goofy game

Final Fantasy VII is goofy as fuck. Yeah, it has a serious theme – the end of the world. And yes, Cloud gets both his brood and his ellipses on the whole time, and he’s a super-serious protagonist.

But consider all the bizarre parts of FF7 that don’t fit the story. There are plenty of weird little bits of dialogue that read like jokes, and even during tense situations, like when the whole party is on the ship heading out from Junon and everyone has to disguise themselves like sailors, even Red XIII, who’s awkwardly trying to stand on his hind legs. There’s even a joke character in the form of Barrett, a/k/a Mr. T. Finally, there’s the whole Wall Market sequence, where Cloud famously crossdresses and also gets gangbanged by several burly men in a bathhouse, all of course to save Tifa from creepy fuck Don Corneo. (Well, it’s possible that such a scene could be some kind of take on gender fluidity and sexual identity, but the original FF7 played the whole thing off as a weird joke.)

I guess my question is whether Square plans on including all that stuff in the remake. If they do, the new FF7 is going to have serious tone problems. All the goofiness kind of worked when I was playing this game at 10 years old because the graphics were blocky and Cloud and co. were running around with their pipe cleaner arms and big heads and it all seemed to work in a strange way. With the realistic style of newer FF games, I feel like it wouldn’t work so well.

Of course, Square might go the other direction and change a lot of FF7 for the remake. Which brings me to problem #2:

ff13x

2) The latest Final Fantasy games haven’t been very good

FF7 was released in 1997. That was 18 years ago. The FF series (and JRPGs as a whole) have changed a lot in that time. Looking at the series’ recent history, the last main numbered non-sequel game in the line was Final Fantasy XIII, released in 2010. I mostly hated that game because of its linearity. It was a pretty game and the music was great, but the actual experience of playing it was lousy. And yeah, the game world does open up after a while, but having to grind through hours and hours of the same characters saying the same things and fighting the same fights over and over again really wears you down. Who looks forward to a bowl of ice cream after being forced to eat a gallon of creamed corn?

I know a lot of people will disagree on this point, but if the new FF7 ends up anything like FF13, it’s going to 1) suck and 2) not be much of anything like the original FF7. Tetsuya Nomura is directing it apparently, and he hasn’t directed an FF game before as far as I know, so that could be interesting, but I’m still bothered by it. Then again, maybe it will be more like the soon-to-come Final Fantasy XV? Who knows if that would be a good thing.

sick

So that’s all I have to say about that. The new FF7 could be great, and it’s definitely a good move for Square-Enix as far as accumulating money goes, but it could easily be a big fuck disappointment as well.