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 great video game tracks (part 3)

It’s been a while since my last dedicated music post and nearly four years since I posted an entry in this particular series (see parts 1 and 2 back in 2014 and 2015*) but I thought why let it stay dead?  I’ve been working on that second deep reads post, which is proving to be more of a pain in the ass than I thought, but all this music is helping power my brain after work hours along with the caffeine.  I’m also in the middle of a 10+ hour round trip drive today across some boring state highways, and I’ve been refreshing my playlist and adding to it to get ready for that.

However, the main reason I decided to revive this series is that I’ve heard a few people online suggest that game music isn’t “real music”, which is utter horseshit.  So here are seven tracks to prove them wrong.  I’m sure they’d consider most or all of these “not real music” either, but judge for yourselves.  As before, these are listed in no particular order — they’re just seven more tracks from games that I like.

1) Yousuke Yasai – Point of No Return (Eschatos, 2011)

Somehow I haven’t brought Yousuke Yasai up once on this site, but the guy is a long-time game music composer who does some great work.  I especially like the soundtrack to Eschatos, a scrolling shooter released on the 360 and PC.  This game was put out in 2011 but the music sounds like something out of one of the Mega Man X games (in fact, I think Yasai did some music for the Mega Man Battle Network series, so maybe there’s a connection there.)  Point of No Return is my favorite piece on the soundtrack; it’s driving and powerful in the way you’d expect from a shoot-em-up, but also memorable and catchy.

2) Garoad – Every Day is Night (VA-11 HALL-A, 2016)

I know I’ve raved about VA-11 HALL-A enough here and mentioned how much I’m looking forward to Sukeban’s followup N1RV Ann-A.  The bartending mini-game with a visual novel wrapped around it worked just about perfectly for me.  But the soundtrack was a big part of the game’s success.  Composer Garoad did an excellent job with the background music.  Every piece adds a particular mood to the conversation Jill has with her mostly depressed/insane clientele, her weird boss, and her one more or less normal coworker.  The game even lets the player set up the actual in-game soundtrack for the bar every night on the jukebox, so you can create any kind of mood you like with this music.

Every Day is Night is one of my favorites — I usually started each night in the game with this song.  The title is apt; this and the rest of the soundtrack have a great nighttime feel, very fitting for this game that takes place entirely at night.  Though I also really like Safe Haven, the piece that plays when Jill is home from her shift at the bar.

It’s the soundtrack to my life, sitting in the dark in my shitty apartment

3) Kenichi Tsuchiya – Heretic Mansion – Shining Heaven (Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, 2003)

It’s a piece from Nocturne.  I know, what a surprise.  This one wasn’t written by Shoji Meguro, though.  Composer Kenichi Tsuchiya was also responsible for a fair number of the tracks in the game, including the organ piece Heretic Mansion – Shining Heaven, the theme that plays when you visit the Cathedral of Shadows during a full Kagutsuchi phase (if you haven’t played Nocturne I know this probably sounds like nonsense, but it really does mean something.)  Tsuchiya has written quite a bit of music for the SMT games and spinoffs like Persona and Devil Summoner, and I’m sorry that I’m only now getting around to mentioning the guy, because he is worthy of notice.  There are a few different Heretic Mansion themes, and they’re all pretty ominous, but this is the only one that’s performed entirely on what sounds like a giant church organ.  It sounds like it came straight out of the Baroque period.  Great stuff if you’re into that.

4) Shoji Meguro – A Way of Life (Persona 3 Portable, 2009)

Even so, I can’t go without listing at least one Shoji Meguro song.  This time I’m going with the opening theme to Persona 3 Portable, the PSP port of Persona 3 that included the female protagonist who’s now part of a weird multi-universe canon along with the male protagonist since they can’t exist at the same time in the same game.  It’s no wonder they haven’t tried this out since.

Fans argue over whether P3P or Persona 3 FES, the expanded PS2 version of the original, is a better game.  I prefer FES, but I still like the P3P exclusive music tracks, which include A Way of Life.  It’s just a catchy pop song.  That’s really all it is.  But Meguro is really damn good at writing catchy pop songs, so this one is worth a mention.  There’s no Lotus Juice either, so if you’re not a fan of his this is a good track to check out.  I like him, but his rapping can get old sometimes.  There’s a reason I didn’t put “Mass Destruction” on this list instead — it’s a good song, but it’s been burned into my brain so deeply that I can never listen to it again.

I remember when this game coming out was big news. Ten years, shit. I feel old again now.

5) Tee Lopes – Lights, Camera, Action! (Sonic Mania, 2017)

One of the best things about Sonic Mania was how it finally killed all the “Sonic was never good” bullshit going around the reviewer and critic circles.  The game’s music also lived up to the quality of the Genesis soundtracks thanks to Tee Lopes, a composer who had previously worked on remixes of music from Sonic and other series.  Lights, Camera, Action! is the first stage thrme in Sonic Mania and sets the game’s mood perfectly.  It sounds like a technologically updated version of one of the Sonic Genesis pieces, which is exactly what I was looking for (well, the same can be said for Sonic Mania as a whole.)

6) Toby Fox – Spider Dance (Undertale, 2015)

I never thought “spider girl” plus “maid” were tags I’d be into, but the weirdos who draw Undertale fanart taught me something new about myself. (source: zingexGG, pixiv)

Shit. Somehow I’ve gone all this time without even bringing up Undertale. I don’t even need to tell you about it, right? It was a massive hit back in 2015 when it came out. I guess a surprise hit as well, because I didn’t know it was a thing until it was out and everyone was raving about this weird indie pacifist RPG. I wasn’t quite as in love with it as some people were, but I did enjoy Undertale a lot; it obviously had plenty of time, effort, and care put into it. However, I did love the soundtrack without any qualifications. Game creator and composer Toby Fox wrote one of the best game soundtracks ever, in fact — nearly every piece in the game was so memorable that they stuck in my mind for weeks and months afterward.

It’s hard to pick this time, but I think my absolute favorite Undertale piece is Spider Dance. The frantic feel fits the mood of the scene perfectly; it’s just the kind of music that should play when you’re fighting against a deadly spider woman or trying to dodge all her attacks if you’re doing the pacifist thing. I guess I might be in a small minority here in saying this is my favorite; everyone really seems to love Megalovania, and people will even get teary over Toriel’s theme and all that. Those are great pieces too, but I just like Spider Dance the best.

7) Masafumi Takada & Jun Fukuda – Sleeping Intermission (Grow Up Nyan Nyan) (Contact, 2005)

Here’s a bizarre song to end with.  Contact was itself a weird game, a Suda51-written DS RPG that didn’t get a lot of attention when it was released and that since seems to have slipped into near-obscurity.  I reviewed it years ago here, and I haven’t played it since, but I still listen to the game’s music from time to time.  The Contact OST was composed by Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda, both big pros in the field who also worked on other Suda51 stuff as well as titles like God Hand.

Contact.  There’s a fourth-wall-breaking setup here that I won’t get into now, but it was interesting.

Sleeping Intermission might be a weird choice to pull from the Contact soundtrack.  It’s the song that plays when you send the protagonist to bed to heal his injuries and pass time in the game world.  However, during this intermission you get to play with the Professor’s pet Mochi by tapping him with the stylus while the hero sleeps it off.  It’s a bit strange like everything else in this game, and the same is true of the music, especially those digitized synth voice parts that play throughout.  But shit, I just like it.  I liked Contact too.  It’s worth playing if you have a DS, a 3DS, or an emulator.  Check it out.  I still think it deserved to be remembered more than it is.

And that’s it for now.  I’ll go back to being on semi-vacation here.

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* Yeah, I know part 1 says “seven” in the title here but only contains six if you read the actual post.  I think I was too drunk to know what I was doing at the time.  That’s a safe bet to make back when I posted it.