Today's Overlooked Video Game Music - Boundless Ocean from FF3

The original Japanese Final Fantasy III didn't come to the US for many years, and in the form of a 3D remake.  I've been playing through the OUYA port lately, and this song really struck me.  I find it quite haunting.  It plays when you visit your homeworld and find virtually the entire surface flooded - the music combined with the isolating feeling of flying around nothing in your airship was quite effective.  (And this in a game that doesn't generally hit emotional notes of any kind!)

Today's Overlooked Video Game Music - Lagoon

Lagoon was not the best Super Nintendo Zelda-like RPG, but it had a certain simplicity and charm about it that made it worth spending some time with it.  A lot of that charm was the soundtrack.  One of my favorites is the theme from Voloh - a plaintive, medieval waltz with a sad, quiet quality:

Today's Overlooked Video Game Music - Elliot Quest Soundtrack

Ok, so this may not be "overlooked" as much as "new," but I've been enjoying playing the Zelda-II-inspired adventure game Elliot Quest on my OUYA, and the soundtrack by Michael Chait is generally nice and tuneful.  Whaddya know... an indie game with actual melodies!  A few of the songs skirt awfully close to famous retro themes in a few places,* but I'm not complaining.  I'm a particular fan of the second half of "Hero in the Land of Fire."  The main Elliot Quest theme (used as a random battle theme) is also enjoyable.  Take a listen to the whole soundtrack here.

* I count musical references to "Gerudo Valley" from Ocarina of Time, "Lost Woods" from Link to the Past, and "Level Select" from the original Star Fox.  Any others?

Top 10 Nobuo Uematsu Epic War Anthems

I've always had a weak spot for grand anthems - especially when tied to a story about going into battle and probably dying.  One of the most consistently awesome writers of this kind of song is, of course, famed video game composer Nobuo Uematsu.  I've compiled a list of my top ten favorite epic war anthems written for the various Final Fantasy games.  Hope you enjoy it!

Today's Overlooked Video Game Music - Secret of Evermore, Horace's Theme

Secret of Evermore on the SNES wasn't exactly my cup of tea, mostly due to the fact that it was terrible.  Even though it was made by Square, creator of most of my favorite games from the era, it was excruciatingly long and boring.  Even the soundtrack was mostly "cinematic" (also known as boring).  There was, however, one song that really stuck in my head - a melodic gem of a song with a nice beat.  It only occurs in one place in the game, but here it is, for your listening pleasure:

Today's Overlooked Video Game Music - 8 Eyes (NES)

8 Eyes on the Nintendo Entertainment System was a difficult and frustrating game, frequently called a Castlevania ripoff.  I guess that's fair - it's a lot like Castlevania, except instead of a whip you get a teensy-weensy knife.  That being said, the two-player cooperative mode was pretty interesting, and I really enjoyed the music.  Check it out here:

An Analysis of the Theme from Kraid's Lair

The original Metroid soundtrack is much loved, as it should be, even though the creator was evidently trying to go for something "atmospheric" rather than "melodic," which usually turns me off.  In fact, Hip Tanaka, the Metroid composer, has stated in interviews that he was deliberately trying to avoid melodies, which, to me, is sort of like saying, "Hey guys!  You know what we haven't tried yet?  BAD music!"   Nonetheless, given the constraints of the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, being not melodic is REALLY hard, and Metroid failed.  It's melodic whether Mr. Tanaka likes it or not!

The best track, in my estimation, is the theme from Kraid's lair.  Check out the original loop here:

Or this awesome piano rendition here:

It's not that long, but it's very effective.  It's also one of those tracks, like Forest of Monsters from Super Castlevania IV, that causes a huge wave of difficult-to-describe feelings in me - like getting punched in the face with childhood nostalgia, generously mixed with a weird sadness, plus the usual excitement of rocking minor-key music.  Listening to it recently, I tried to figure out how it accomplished this.  Usually when a song does something to me that I don't understand, I assume that there's some harmonic trick going on that I'm not familiar with.  Generally, however, it turns out there's no new trick for my toolbox - it's something I'm already familiar with.  It's just done well.  "Kraid's Lair" is no different.

The song is in a driving 6/8, which gives it a little bit of an off-kilter feel right off the bat (can't you just see Kraid waltzing around rapidly to this tune?  Yeah, me neither).  Even though the NES offers 3 non-noise instruments, this track is essentially just two voices - a rapidly moving melody line over a simple bass line.  It accomplishes quite a lot with just those two, however.

The first section starts off low-key (you have to build from something) with a steady E-minor drone in the bass line.  The B flat accidental at the end of each phrase adds a little energy, although I could stand a few fewer repeats.

The second section uses conventional energy-building chords (some of my favorites, in fact), changing the bass line chord once a measure from C to D and back again.  The melody line stays pretty squarely in the notes of the chord.

It builds even more in the third section, where the melody starts moving rapidly in sixteenth notes while the chords change every half measure now - but this time the chords are the "Grim Grinning Ghosts" chords (the theme song from Disney's Haunted Mansion) - useful for all-purpose weird, bad-guy music, but not necessarily super emotive (at least for me).

The part that really hits me is the fourth section, with the rapid scale-like melody.  You're expecting the energy to build even more, but the base line suddenly drops into a simple pattern almost like the drone from the first part, appearing to stay pretty squarely in E minor.  This is accompanied by extremely rapid-fire scale-like movement in the upper melody whose principal notes sound like they're in D - particularly the top note of each ascent.  This overlaying of D on E minor is a trick I use all the time in my own writing, so I admit to being a little disappointed that it was so strange and effective here.  But maybe I should be encouraged - there's still a lot of weird awesomeness to be mined out of fairly simple rhythms and chord progressions.  Music is a strange and fascinating thing...

The song ends with a repetitive, quiet E minor drone in the bass line while the melody line seems to shift lightly from D to E minor and back again before launching back into the opening, as generally all video game music must...  (It's also funny to me how hard it is for me to keep track of where the beat is in this section!)

Another interesting thing about this song is how it doesn't seem to be designed for any particular musical purpose.  It's just an awesome song that comes out of nowhere.  Why should Kraid, a lumbering monster that shoots spikes out of its belly, get this song for his lair?  The other music in the game serves more conventional purposes - Brinstar's melody is vaguely heroic, like trying to be close to an anthem or march without crossing the line.  Norfair's melody is weird and disjointed and isolating (and another one of my all-time favorites!).  Kraid's Lair?  It's sad and strange and driving and just all-around excellent.  Kraid doesn't deserve it, but I'm not complaining!

Today's Overlooked Video Game Music - Jurassic Park (SNES)

Jurassic Park for the SNES was not the easiest, or even the best designed, game in the world.  It was frustratingly difficult, with no password or save feature, and it was a very long game, to boot.  That being said, it had a FANTASTIC soundtrack.  Take a listen to my two favorite tracks from the game, "Triceratops Trot" and "River."