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About
-About Me-

A recent graduate in Biology, neverless my first love in entertainment and media has always been video games, even though I don't get a lot of time to play recent ones now. I still enjoy following the industry and gushing about the latest Nintendo releases.

A Critical Ear: Analyzing Music in Video Games

If there's one thing that I like more than talking about video games, it's talking about music in video games. As a classically trained pianist that has been playing for more than twelve years, I take a look at some of my favorite soundtracks and how they contribute to the gaming experience as a whole.

#0: Introduction
#1: Villain Themes and Leitmotifs (April, 2010)
#2: Anti-Music (June, 2010)
#3: They Wasted a Perfectly Good Song (July, 2010)
#4: Fight On! (August, 2010)
#5: More Than Just Noise: Nostalgia and Homecoming (September, 2010 Monthly Musing)
#6: While I Play Unfitting Music (November, 2010)
#7: Thinking Outside the Soundchip (December/January 2010)

-Other Promoted Articles-

Using Post-Modernism to Reinvent the Horror Genre
Final Fantasy VI's Dancing Mad - A Critical Analysis
The Wrong Thing: The Root Of All Evil
Other Worlds Than These: Pokèmon
Music and Rhythm Games: A Classically Trained Pianist's Perspective
Feel the Hatred: Zant (Twilight Princess)
Instant Replay: Guitar Hero III
The Start of the Affair: Super Smash Bros. 64
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SWE3tMadness
6:17 PM on 06.03.2012

It's been nearly a year and a half since my last blog post here on Destructoid.

There's been several reasons for that. The first and most prominent being that I just graduated from college and my senior year was full of scheduling, application-filling, term-paper-writing insanity that you all probably don't want to hear about. But in the meantime I had precious little time to play video games, and as a result found myself in a dearth of material to comment on.

Now that I'm out and taking a break to realign my life between school and a real career, hopefully that can change. I've been thinking a lot about new topics to discuss. I'm planning on continuing my Critical Ear series although that seems moot now with the return of The Sound Card, but before work and school caught up with me I was planning on writing about the Nier soundtrack because it's just so awesome. There's a couple other soundtracks and composers I was planning on discussing, so keep watching this space for new updates in the upcoming week or so.

But other than promises of new content in the future, I don't have much to offer you other than an apology to the few people that consistently followed my posts, and to say that this community is awesome and I hope it hasn't changed much (other than for the better!) in the year or so I've been away.










(Author's note: This article was originally posted back during the switch over to the new Destructoid format. When the site was reverted to the old style of blogs, it got lost in the transfer and I only now found the time to re-post it. The previous entry into this series, episode #6, got borked in the transfer as well and I'm currently in the process of fixing the formatting for it. In the meantime, enjoy!)

Games have certainly changed a lot of the years, due to the advent of new technologies that allow for faster processing, more memory, and greater graphical capabilities than before. Game soundtracks have also changed due to these advances and now sweeping orchestral music is practically the norm in the industry, rather than the exception. But sound fidelity isn’t the only thing that has changed with these soundtracks as technology improved; if you pay attention, the way the songs themselves are constructed has also been heavily influenced.

In the early days of game systems, composers had very limited technology to work with. More conventional ways of storing music on cassette tapes or records were too expensive and fragile to use en masse, so developers instead used digital methods. A specialized computer chip would produce the electrical signals that were converted into sounds by the speakers. However, the sounds that could be reproduced by the system were limited by the power of that computer chip, as well as the person who programmed it. Still, many composers found a way to utilize the limited range of possible sounds from early system to create many memorable pieces of music.

The most famous pieces of music from this era probably are so memorable because the technology was so limited. With only five channels available for sounds on the NES (probably less for the actual music, considering that sound effects also used those same channels), composers were forced to focus more on the actual melody and harmony of the songs to make something that was pleasant to listen to. Now that full, live-recorded performances of songs can be stored directly on the game and be accurately reproduced by the game system, composers have infinitely more options available for the songs they create. Some of them still create catchy tunes, but more ambient and atmospheric tracks are becoming increasingly common. Game music can be less strictly constructed and still be enjoyable to listen to because we don’t have to wrangle with chirpy electronic sounds anymore.

The Pokémon series provides a very good example of this gradual shift in composition style. When it first started on the Game Boy, the composer for the games, Junichi Masuda only had three sound channels to work with: low, mid, and high range. However, each channel was used to create complex melodies and countermelodies that give the music a special intricacy and fullness that easily sticks in the player’s mind. This is especially apparent with the battle themes, which are stuffed to the brim with almost baroque-styled flair. Lightning fast arpeggios and runs, countermelodies, and ornamental flourishes all contribute to make songs that transcended the limited hardware of the day.

Some examples:

RBY Gym Leader Battle


GSC Trainer Battle (Johto)

In the later iterations of the series, the songs began to evolve with the new systems that they were hosted on. By the time the DS generation of titles comes around, the songs now have the benefit of better quality samples, as well as an increased number of sound channels to take advantage of. The different parts of the melody are now spread out between numerous instruments, and the individual voices aren’t nearly as complex when isolated from the rest of the song.

Examples:

DPPt Battle with Galactic boss Cyrus


DPPt Champion Battle

RSE Elite Four Battle

With more varied instrument samples, the songs even take on different genres of music to evoke different moods for the areas or events that they correspond to. In the Game Boy titles, the melody itself had to be changed drastically to differentiate more between different areas of the region. In Diamond and Pearl, we have a town with a swanky jazz theme, a town with a solo piano piece, and even a town theme that sounds like it was pulled straight out of a western!

This difference in compositional style is even more apparent if you compare the original tracks to their overhauled versions in the remakes, and it shows the reason why the shift in styles occurred over time.

Quite honestly, I don’t like most of the remixed battle themes in FRLG and HGSS at all mainly because they’re far too busy. They take songs that are already stuffed to the brim with intricacies and add even more on top of it all. HGSS is a bit better with this, mainly due to the better quality of sound samples, but also because they somewhat dialed back the extra ornamentation and unnecessary layers. The songs made specifically for the third and fourth gen titles had different voices that flowed together far more organically. These remixes feel more like the original songs have been cut up into pieces and haphazardly stapled together with random materials to make a gaudy sort of musical patchwork quilt.

To illustrate this point, take the Champion battle from the original Red/Blue/Yellow version:


And now it’s remix in FRLG:


This doesn’t mean that the original dot-matrix quality from the Game Boy days is somehow better than the sound we enjoy now though. Great soundtracks can (and have) come from both styles. This just demonstrates the difference in the way songs are composed now that musicians have more options available. One stresses the complexity of each voice within the song, the other focuses more on harmony and sharing the responsibility of carrying the song between all of them.

Soundtracks are not just tied to the narrative flow within the game, they also are integrally tied to the limits of the system on which their respective game is played. The best soundtracks know how to use the range of reproducible sounds for the hardware to its fullest extent to craft an appropriate musical backdrop for the game. However, now that data storage and speaker quality has gotten to the point where composers can do just about anything they want, this point is rendered moot, but it’s still a good way to look at soundtracks from older games. The best ones took limited technology and used to craft a unique experience, and still remain memorable even when compared to the high-fidelity sound we enjoy today.










Music is one of the primary methods by which video games evoke an emotional response in the player. In order to elicit the response that the designers want, a piece of music is usually played during an event that appropriate syncs up to it. Happy songs are played for happy roaming around a quiet peasant village, celebrating after overcoming a difficult challenge, finally getting the girl and riding off into the sunset, and so on. Sad songs are played during sad deaths and defeats that the characters must face along their journey. Music can run the gamut of emotional expressions, it can be pensieve, optimistic, mischievous, and even scary, and which emotion it conjures up in the player is dependent not only on the song itself, but in what context it's heard.

Just like how paints on a palette can be mixed together and juxtaposed to create contrast that defines objects, the juxtaposition of a song and the event which it accompanies can be adjusted to make new and unique combinations. If a game designer wants to evoke a feeling that is more complex and multifaceted, they often will have a song play in the background that doesn’t fit the action on the screen at all. If this song is associated with a specific person or place in the player’s mind, then that association will also be brought to the forefront and further highlight a specific contrast that the game is trying to make.

The most common variation on this technique of soundtrack dissonance is when a pitched battle or action scene is accompanied by a softer tune. This is used all the time in action movies, when the sound cuts out of a frenzied fight and is replaced by one woman wailing a dirge in the background, or a quiet piano or violin piece. The contrast between the beauty of the music and the gritty image of war can be very powerful if done correctly.

While this technique has become something of a cliché due to overuse recently, there are a few specific scenes in video games that illustrate how to do it correctly.

(Note: MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy VII. You have been warned.)

Chrono Cross is known for a few things among gamers: having an amazing soundtrack, beautiful visuals, and an impenetrably, unnecessarily convoluted storyline. Despite the sheer density of its pseudo-philosophical pandering though, CC does manage to have quite a few very emotional scenes. One of the most memorable is the fight against Miguel.



It already has one important contrast in the setting of the boss battle: in front of Nadia’s Bell from Chrono Trigger, now among the ruins of a destroyed timeline and a bright, glaring sunset. To see something that was a symbol of peace and prosperity in the first game among such destruction is striking to say the least. Then Miguel shows up and starts a monologue on time, death, and the nature of free will and predestination. It’s a lot to take in, but then out of nowhere, after declining to stay forever in a place where time stands still, he attacks you and you’re forced to fight for your life.

During the entire previous scene, the song “People Imprisoned By Destiny” plays. A slow, mournful tune, it’s very appropriate for the introspective navel-gazing it accompanies. However, once the battle starts up, the song never cuts out to the actual boss battle theme, and it continues to loop through one of the most frustratingly difficult fights of the entire game. This continuation also makes the player think more about why they’re fighting the battle in the first place, since a song that first accompanied sad thoughtful scenes will make the player think of those same sad, thoughtful events, as well as Miguel’s words about destiny and fate not five minutes before. The contrast between all of these elements helps to make this boss fight one of the most memorable of the entire game.



Another example (from another Squaresoft game, no less) that is also widely recognized by gamers is the fight against Jenova LIFE in Final Fantasy VII. What makes this fight notable is that it happens immediately after Aeris gets shish-kabobed by Sephiroth in City of the Ancients. Personally, when I played this game, it wasn’t the actual moment of her death that made me start crying, it was this boss fight with her theme playing in the background instead of the normal Jenova boss theme. Hearing that music just twists the knife in deeper, and drives home the feeling that she’s gone and will never fight alongside you again. What also makes it very powerful is that Cloud and the rest of your party is probably thinking the exact same thing.

Good storytellers show the audience instead of telling them in exact words, and the use of Aeris’ theme here shows us just how disconnected the characters are from the actual fight at hand. Instead of the expected boss music firing you up for an important struggle, her theme instead evokes memories of the past, defining her character by the hole she leaves behind.

The previous two examples gave particularly important fights or events extra depth by having a song accompany them that guides the player’s thoughts towards other times, and contrasts those memories with the grim reality of the current struggle. Both of these instances work because of the specificity of the memories evoked (with Chrono Cross) or the song used (Final Fantasy VII). This technique can also be broadened and adapted to play off of more innate expectations on the player’s behalf, rather than triggers that are specific to events wholly contained within the game. Bioshock and Fallout 3 both do this by making use of recognizable, old songs that are often associated in pop culture with happy nostalgia for the “good ol’ days.” These songs are then played while you explore deserted wastelands, war-torn ruins, and see the sharp contrast between the optimism of the past with the gritty, decayed reality of the present.

These golden oldies are only a shallow veneer for the rotten state of things, and quickly wears thin the farther the player digs into the dystopian setting. In a similar fashion, happy and bright songs can almost sound mocking when the world in which you find yourself isn’t happy or bright at all.
Sometimes these upbeat songs are just another way that the game takes sadistic glee in your suffering as you push forward, only to be punished time and time again. Like a child pulling the wings off of a fly, the game will make your life as painful as possible, but always do it with a smile on its face, not caring one bit about the torture it inflicts on its victim.

Because some games take pleasure in your pain, and some games are I Wanna Be The Guy.



Fuck you, Green Greens. YOU LIED TO ME.
Music is one of the primary methods by which video games evoke an emotional response in the player. In order to elicit the response that the designers want, a piece of music is usually played during an event that appropriate syncs up to it. Happy songs are played for happy events: roaming around a quiet peasant village, celebrating after overcoming a difficult challenge, finally getting the girl and riding off into the sunset, and so on. Sad songs are played during sad events: deaths and defeats that the characters must face along their journey. Music can run the gamut of emotional expressions, it can be pensieve, optimistic, mischievous, and even scary, and which emotion it conjures up in the player is dependent not only on the song itself, but in what context it’s heard.

Just like how paints on a palette can be mixed together and juxtaposed to create contrast that defines objects, the juxtaposition of a song and the event which it accompanies can be adjusted to make new and unique combinations. If a game designer wants to evoke a feeling that is more complex and multifaceted, they often will have a song play in the background that doesn’t fit the action on the screen at all. If this song is associated with a specific person or place in the player’s mind, then that association will also be brought to the forefront and further highlight a specific contrast that the game is trying to make.

The most common variation on this technique of soundtrack dissonance is when a pitched battle or action scene is accompanied by a softer tune. This is used all the time in action movies, when the sound cuts out of a frenzied fight and is replaced by one woman wailing a dirge in the background, or a quiet piano or violin piece. The contrast between the beauty of the music and the gritty image of war can be very powerful if done correctly.

While this technique has become something of a cliché due to overuse recently, there are a few specific scenes in video games that illustrate how to do it correctly.

(Note: MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy VII. You have been warned.)

Chrono Cross is known for a few things among gamers: having an amazing soundtrack, beautiful visuals, and an impenetrably, unnecessarily convoluted storyline. Despite the sheer density of its pseudo-philosophical pandering though, CC does manage to have quite a few very emotional scenes. One of the most memorable is the fight against Miguel.

It already has one important contrast in the setting of the boss battle: in front of Nadia’s Bell from Chrono Trigger, now among the ruins of a destroyed timeline and a bright, glaring sunset. To see something that was a symbol of peace and prosperity in the first game among such destruction is striking to say the least. Then Miguel shows up and starts a monologue on time, death, and the nature of free will and predestination. It’s a lot to take in, but then out of nowhere, after declining to stay forever in a place where time stands still, he attacks you and you’re forced to fight for your life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDbfOdvFBrA

During the entire previous scene, this song, “People Imprisoned By Destiny”, plays. A slow, mournful tune, it’s very appropriate for the introspective navel-gazing it accompanies. However, once the battle starts up, the song never cuts out to the actual boss battle theme, and it continues to loop through one of the most frustratingly difficult fights of the entire game. This continuation also makes the player think more about why they’re fighting the battle in the first place, since a song that first accompanied sad thoughtful scenes will make the player think of those same sad, thoughtful events, as well as Miguel’s words about destiny and fate not five minutes before. The contrast between all of these elements helps to make this boss fight one of the most memorable of the entire game.

Another example (from another Squaresoft game, no less) that is also widely recognized by gamers is the fight against Jenova LIFE in Final Fantasy VII. What makes this fight notable is that it happens immediately after Aeris gets shish-kabobed by Sephiroth in the City of the Ancients. Personally, when I played this game, it wasn’t the actual moment of her death that made me start crying, it was this boss fight with her theme playing in the background instead of the normal Jenova boss theme. Hearing that music just twists the knife in deeper, and drives home the feeling that she’s gone and will never fight alongside you again. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DCJcGeA5Hc

What also makes it very powerful is that Cloud and the rest of your party is probably thinking the exact same thing.Good storytellers show the audience instead of telling them in exact words, and the use of Aeris’ theme here shows us just how disconnected the characters are from the actual fight at hand. Instead of the expected boss music firing you up for an important struggle, her theme evokes memories of the past, defining her character by the hole she leaves behind.

The previous two examples gave particularly important fights or events extra depth by having a song accompany them that guides the player’s thoughts towards other times, and contrasts those memories with the grim reality of the current struggle. Both of these instances work because of the specificity of the memories evoked (with Chrono Cross) or the song used (Final Fantasy VII). This technique can also be broadened and adapted to play off of more innate expectations on the player’s behalf, rather than triggers that are specific to events wholly contained within the game. Bioshock and Fallout 3 both do this by making use of recognizable, old songs that are often associated in pop culture with happy nostalgia for the “good ol’ days.” These songs are then played while you explore deserted wastelands, war-torn ruins, and see the sharp contrast between the optimism of the past with the gritty, decayed reality of the present.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPt08UYmyMo

These golden oldies are only a shallow veneer for the rotten state of things, and quickly wears thin the farther the player digs into the dystopian setting. In a similar fashion, happy and bright songs can almost sound mocking when the world in which you find yourself isn’t happy or bright at all.

Sometimes these upbeat songs are just another way that the game takes sadistic glee in your suffering as you push forward, only to be punished time and time again. Like a child pulling the wings off of a fly, the game will make your life as painful as possible, but always do it with a smile on its face, not caring one bit about the torture it inflicts on its victim.

Because some games take pleasure in your pain, and some games are I Wanna Be The Guy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok9cASyLueg

Fuck you, Green Greens. YOU LIED TO ME.










”Critics who treat "adult" as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adults themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence....When I was ten, I read fairytales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. “
—C.S Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”

Looking around my squat little dorm room that I call “home” this year at the university, you might never know that I’m a gamer. My laptop isn’t really powerful to run any games without horrible framerate issues, there’s not even a TV to be seen, let alone any game systems hooked up to it, and the walls are void of any of kind of posters, art, figurines, or other gamer-related paraphernalia. I have no game-related shirts or hats or other merchandise to show off my gamer credentials as I walk to my classes.

The truth is, for the majority of my time here at the university, I’m not a gamer. Studying for a biology degree and the MCAT placement exams, as well as serving as a tutor-mentor for the university, doesn’t leave a lot of time (or money) to play as much as I used to. Here at college, my professional role is as a student, whether I like it or not. As a kid, you have all the time in the world to dive headfirst into games and explore to your heart’s content, but as you grow older it becomes harder and harder to afford the costs of living inside of a virtual world. Sooner or later you have to climb back out and face the real world and take on the adult responsibilities that come with it. It’s a hard fact of life

…Or so they say. Growing up to many people often means leaving “childish” things behind us. And while it’s true that I’ve had to forgo actually playing them seriously for awhile now in order to pursue a serious career, the absence of that physical aspect of playing games has really forced me to look at the medium as a whole in a different light. As I have grown up, my thoughts on games themselves have also grown and matured into something that I can take with me and share on an academic level, not just with other gamers.

I’ve realized that “growing up” in truth doesn’t mean forgetting video games entirely, but instead finding a way of balancing my love of the medium with real life concerns. If anything, growing up has instead reinforced my love of gaming now that I’m able to apply deeper levels of critical analysis to titles that I previously only enjoyed on a shallower level. As a kid, I would know whether a game was “good” or now, but now I’m able to sit down and write a multi-page discussion on why it’s good.

For example, I’m taking a class on Chinese and Japanese Religions at the university this semester. While discussing Shinto, the class got somewhat derailed by discussing how Japanese mythology and religious practices were incorporated into games like Okami and Persona 4, and influence many other parts of games that are made by Japanese developers. It then got derailed even more when a debate between me and my professor started about the artistic merit of video games vs. other visual mediums.

But then again, all the philosophical dissertations in the world can’t capture the sheer joy and sitting down a playing a good game yourself. So while I can take my interest in games wherever I go in life, I haven’t forgotten that the reason why I have that interest in the first place is because of that one day, years ago, when I defeated Master Hand for the first time. And to me, that’s really the mark of a true gamer, someone who understands the advantages, limitations, and development of the medium, but doesn’t forget that the point of playing a game is to HAVE FUN. That part of being a gamer to me at least hasn’t changed over the years.

As long as I have video games to add some fun back into my life, whether through playing them or merely talking about them with others, my life couldn’t be better. 10 years ago when I just started playing games, I wouldn’t have had nearly enough breadth of experience to participate in this kind of analysis. I’ve been exposed to a lot of other works and influences as I’ve grown up that now allow me to look at games that I love in a whole new way. The professors I debate with may not personally see the value of this particular medium, but now I have the knowledge and experience to effectively defend my passion. And even though I’m technically an adult now, I’m not about to give up that passion anytime soon.










There are two types of “epic” boss themes in video game soundtracks: those that say “Oh my god we’re facing down an avatar of phenomenal cosmic power that could easily grind us into dust if we piss it off”; and those that say “…and we’re going TO KICK ITS ASS!!

I’ve mentioned many boss themes in previous articles, but they all fall underneath the first category. This is mainly because I’ve discussed how well they play up the fight itself and the bad guy that the player confronts. Those boss themes are memorable because they relate to your opponent so well, but how many instead emphasize how awesome you are? Which pieces of music make the player truly feel like the dragon-slaying badass they control, and provide a fitting backdrop for your victory over incalculable odds? Today, I will illustrate several themes that give you the courage and determination to keep on fighting against the strongest of enemies.

Many plots in video games follow a linear path of defeating consecutively stronger enemies until you beat the strongest of them all and win the game. However, while linear, it’s not always a smooth road nowadays, and many games will have you stuck in a seemingly impossible situation where the heroes are defeated and all hope seems lost, after getting beaten up by the Big Bad….until some plot element decides to show up and give the heroes a second wind to rise up and defeat the boss for good. This is the form that most of the themes in question take, providing a victorious mood to match the determination that keeps the main characters in the game fighting.

(Author's note: No major spoilers here this time, feel free to read the article in its entirety!)



For example, the 3D Sonic games have used this starting with Sonic Adventure, and has been a recurrent theme (for better or worse) in every 3D iteration of the series since then. You defeat what the game initially frames as the final boss, find out the world is still doomed because a bigger boss is still alive, unlock the True ending, turn into Super Sonic, and grin as the main theme of the game kicks in for the final final boss fight. These games are interesting in that the songs have vocals, where the vast majority of music in video games is instrumental (it costs extra money to hire good singers, you know). The lyrics may be cheesy and clichéd, but the plot of the Sonic series is cheesy and clichéd already, so one hardly notices the difference.

The Sonic series doesn’t have a monopoly on this style of final boss music either, it can also be found in Elite Beat Agents, where the agents are de-stoned and deliver the final blow to the evil music-hating aliens to The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. It’s also appears in the Subspace Emissary mode of Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the fight against Tabuu. The entire roster of Nintendo fighters (save for Kirby, Ness, and Luigi), have all been wiped out by his super-powered rainbow-wing-wave attack , but they come back to the brink, defeat the evil, neon-colored….um, entity, and save the world of Smash Bros. from the encroaching subspace. The song used here is decidedly more upbeat when compared to the "normal" final boss theme, the Final Destination music that plays during the fights with Master Hand. Perhaps this difference in moods for the respective themes symbolizes Tabuu as a tangible villain that can be defeated with finality, whereas the struggle against Master Hand continues for as long as the game itself continues.

Another type of “uplifting” boss music also occurs where a boss theme initially starts out dark and oppressive, but transitions into a more victorious movement later on, sometimes triggered by a specific action in the fight itself. This is usually found during longer boss fights, where even the player can get worn out by the endless battle. When the triumphant part occurs in the song, it gives the person behind the controller a morale boost, and thus spurs the character they control to keep fighting as well.

This isn’t just relegated to final bosses either, it’s used in Twilight Princess against any dungeon boss. As soon as you stun your opponent or gain access to its contractually-required weak spot, the normal boss music transitions into a variation on the Hyrule Field theme (see here at the 3:00 minute mark). Super Mario Galaxy does it during the Bowser fights when you knock him on his shell and boot the spiky turtle around the arena for massive damage. The already-epic music gains an extra layer of vocals that signifies a specific turning point in the battle.



The best example of this occurs during the final boss of the True ending for Persona 4. It’s a stupidly difficult fight in a franchise that’s already well-known for its stupidly difficult fights, and the song used for this particular boss is roughly 7 minutes UNLOOPED. However, around the 5:30 minute-mark, another recognizable theme from the game enters. After hearing it for so many fights in so many dungeon crawls, the original version of “Reach Out To The Truth” starts to go one ear and out the other, but the chorus in the final boss theme, “Genesis” brings back its message with renewed vigor and reminds you of everything you’ve been fighting for throughout the events of the game.

I won’t lie to you, it made me cry tears of happiness the first time I heard it. The build-up to the 6:46 mark is just so goddamned perfect. It starts with everything else fading out, then the main melody is played slowly on one lone trumpet before the rest of the orchestra swells and joins in to encourage the player to keep on fighting through the fog.

These are the boss songs that really make you feel that you can take on the world and win, that when you reach your darkest hour, the dawn is only a short while away. Video games are all about escapism, and what better way to go on a power trip than with these themes declaring your undeniable awesomeness for the world to hear? When used correctly, this particular type of fight music not only portrays the in-game character as capable of taking on the world and winning, but also the player that controls the protagonist as well.










My article on Final Fantasy VI’s “Dancing Mad” got a lot more attention than what I was expecting, and it seemed like a lot of the readers in the comments wanted to see me write more on the subject of video game soundtracks. So I finally decided to start a regular, monthly series here in my blog doing just that. In this column, called A Critical Ear, I plan on analyzing specific soundtracks and songs in games that are particularly memorable or well-crafted, and explain why they stick with the player even after the game has been finished.

Like any audio-visual medium, video games rely on music to build a specific atmosphere, mood, or impression that the player can understand and respond to emotionally. By having a better understanding of the music underlying the main action of the narrative or gameplay, one can arrive at a deeper understanding of characterization, general mood, or even foreshadowing that may not be readily apparent otherwise. Through this series, I hope that I can give you all a new way to enjoy playing through games, and better illustrate how the background music fits into that experience as a whole.

The (official) first episode of the series should be up later this week. I just wanted to provide a quick introduction here to explain the purpose of this series before jumping straight in.