Hello I am Oscarno and welcome to a rad Video Game Music blog on Destructoid!
I'm way into Video Game Music, and with these blog posts, I hope to provide an investigation into and discussion about Video Game Music and how music affects video games as a creative medium.
I write weekly, usually posting on Thursdays. Most weeks will be OST Case Studies, looking a the music of a particular game and pulling it apart to find why it works so well. Sometimes, however, I'll just post a shorter opinion post or perhaps an article looking into other areas of Video Game Music.
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In November of 2011, Ubisoft released it's newest entry in the Rayman franchise, "Rayman Origins" on just about any console you could think of. Acclaimed for it's hand drawn art style and action packed platforming Rayman Origins was critically acclaimed and unfortunately not played as many as Ubisoft had hoped. But we're not here to talk about art styles and sales figures, no, we are here to talk about soundtracks! The music for Rayman origins was composed by both Christophe Heral and Billy Martin. Heral is an in-house composer for ubisoft, previously working on Beyond Good & Evil, which was praised for it's music. Billy Martin, on the other hand had worked on various games for Disney Interactive as well as working on a number of film and TV projects before working on Rayman Origins.
Being a stereotypical platformer, Origins' levels are broken up into worlds and connected via an overworld map. There are 6 main areas within the Origins world: Jibberish Jungle, The Desert of Dijiridoos, Gourmand Land, The Sea of Serendipity, Mystical Pique, and The Land of the Livid Dead. We'll be looking at the soundtrack as a whole to begin with, and then going area by area and picking them apart individually.
Unlike most platformers where every level is a single long path to the goal, each of the levels in Rayman Origins are made up of several rooms. The doors between these rooms act as checkpoints and quick breaks for the player. Similarly, the music constantly changes between rooms (and sometimes multiple times within a single room). This gives the player a new mood going into each room and allows for some pretty dynamic levels. It also means the areas often feel more cohesive as they closely share musical themes and moods. This technique I believe has benefitted the soundtrack as a whole and allowed to do some things that other games hadn't done before.
Each area is given a specific theme. These themes will often appear in various tracks used throughout the level and give a good sense of cohesion to the areas as a whole. Notable areas being Desert of Dijiridoos and Sea of Serendipity which use their themes in very creative and interesting ways.
There are also several actions the player can perform which trigger a music change; for example, releasing electoons from cages, or obtaining a king lum. However, these triggered jingles are somewhat repetitive and quickly become bothersome. This leads me to the biggest problem I have with Origins' soundtrack: it's constant interruptions. I can't even begin to count the times I've tried to avoid a king lum just so I don't have to hear the extremely joyous tune that will play for the subsequent 30 seconds. All in all though, this is a minor misstep that doesn't really affect one's enjoyment of the game.
(A dev diary for Rayman Origins. Skip to about 4:00 for the section on music)
The first world in the game takes place deep in a jungle. The soundscape for this section of the game is often mischievous with lots of plucked strings present, but also drum kits, which give it a modern and energetic twist, saxophones and clarinets also make brief appearances along with funky electric and acoustic guitar. Tablas also make an appearance, giving the music a more tribal sounding percussion section. The jaw harp also plays a large part in the music for this world and appears in most tracks.
Heral himself describes the music as "primitive" as it uses various acoustic instruments as flutes, drums, didgeridoos and of course the jaw harp. The mood for jibberish jungle is extremely eclectic; being sparse and mysterious one moment and then immediately leaping to a fast paced track and following it up with a joyful groove. I can't quite figure out if this helps or hinders the areas overall feel ... It does have different settings within it, but I can't really tell if a more focussed approach to the music would have made it better or worse. Regardless of it's instability, the opening area does fell enjoyable and playful and a good introduction of what is to come.
The Desert of Dijiridoos
This area is one of the strongest musically, in fact it's so strong the whole area is based on music! With kalimbas and marimbas creating a rhythmic harmony, many other instruments including wooden flute like instruments, and returning tablas make a thick texture with many moving parts which well represents many of the levels. The mood within Desert of Dijiridoos is much more consistent, with instruments playing similar roles in many of the tracks. The use of the theme within this level is also more consistent with it popping up in small unexpected spots and reminding you of it's relevance. The music within this level is focussed on creating pleasant soundscapes as many of the timbres of instruments combine to make a very soothing yet groovy feel.
The levels themselves within this world, being based around music, contain all sorts of platforms and walls which create sound when interacted with. Floors covered in piano keys play along with the music when traversed, and bouncy drum platforms give satisfying rings when used. Even the sky snake, made from a wooden wind instrument gives off tones when the player runs across it. Overall the interactivity of the level and it's happy go-lucky feel makes the Desert of Dijiridoos one of the highlights of Origins' musical endeavours.
Gourmand land is a testament to video game music. Probably one of the most creative musical interpretations i've seen in video games for a long time. This is thanks to it's percussion, which is made up entirely of the sounds of ice dropping into glasses, drinks being poured, the chink of glasses and various other sounds of the like. These sounds, combined with the loungey, latin jazz vibe of the tracks really makes it a special addition to this soundtrack.
But Gourmand Land isn't all chilled drinks and fresh fruit, the area takes a turn into a fiery oven full of chillies, popcorn and soufflé. The music also takes a turn, suddenly transforming into a Mexican mariachi themed celebration. The kitchen percussion still remains, with the sharpening of knives and the hiss of steam introduced. Trumpets and guitars are also brought in to truly make the mariachi connection come to life.
The Sea of Serendipity
The Sea of Serendipity take a more conventional route musically, but is still very interesting and brings some good ideas to the table. This is one of the few inhabited places within the game. Houses and docks appear above the water, but deep int he ocean is where most of the levels take place. The music similarly reflects these two locations, with ukulele, signing and hawaiian guitar being used for the shallow segments, whereas haunting pianos dominate in the deeper sections.
The use of strange, foreign sounds in the deep sections makes the mysterious creatures and obstacles feel truly alien and gives a good feeling of discomfort and curiosity when exploring these levels.
Mystical Pique combines some of the musical techniques described earlier to create a new soundscape. The percussion section is filled with loud steam hisses and clanging metal, describing it's pseudo-steampunk aesthetic, similarly to Gourmand Land. It also uses chanting vocals like Sea of Serendipity to represent it's monk like inhabitants. Over all of this is lots of strings, in fact, Mystical pique is the most string dependant area of any in the game. Possibly because of it's grand setting, or maybe because the dynamic variation needed from the strings is needed as the story comes to a climax.
Land of the Livid Dead
The land of the livid dead has probably the most iconic music in the whole game. Deep vocals and ukulele accompany a whistled melody and electric guitar in one of the tracks. The music of this area is extremely reminiscent of an old western theme, as bells toll, and the electric guitar takes a melodic role. This gives the area a feeling of adversity. It's the player agains the world and the steaks are extremely high. It gives the player a very strong sense of determination to get through these final harrowing levels and reach the very end of the game.
There are two types of levels which make appearances in various different worlds: The mosquito levels, and the chest chase levels, and both have specific music which plays for each. The mosquito levels have a grand orchestral feel about them and has one of the best kazoo performances in existence, and the chest chase levels are a hectic band of banjo and fiddle and gives a strong country vibe which slowly builds to a full orchestral score. Both of these are well crafted and fit the mood of their respective levels well.
Overall, Rayman Origins had a very novel soundtrack and has paved the way for many more soundtracks in the future. The strong sense of whimsy and playfulness resonate strongly throughout this soundtrack and give the game a very unique feel. It's use of multiple tracks in a single level and themed areas has given the game a very distinct feel and made it a cornerstone in the world of video game music.
What do you think? Did you enjoy Origins' music, or even Legends'? What musical ideas used in Rayman would you like to see in other video games?