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OST Case Study: Yoshi's Story


Yoshi's story had it's initial Japan release in 1997 and was released internationally the following year. As a successor to the acclaimed Yoshi's Island it suffered critically as it didn't quite measure up in scope and complexity. The game, however brought some interesting mechanics to the table, such as level completion by collecting fruit, and a structure which works quite interestingly. It also utilised some sonic techniques which makes the sound for this game somewhat intriguing. The game's composer and voice actor for the Yoshis was none other than Kazumi Totaka. Totaka's works up to this point include such games as Mario Paint, Waverace 64, the Animal Crossing series and even the Wii Main Menu. Totaka's work on Yoshi's Story encapsulates the game's atmosphere and compliments the feel in an interesting way. The music of the game provides a surprising amount of variety rather counterintuitively by staying fundamentally the same through all levels. The range of musical styles touched on throughout the game is astonishing and meshes really well with the overall approach the game takes. 

The most interesting thing about the music of Yoshi's Story is that almost all of the level music is based off a single theme. Of course this isn't unheard of, Super Mario Bros. for example had only three pieces for the entire game, but what makes the music of Yoshi's Story special are the twists and turns the music takes. This singular melody which you've probably heard is recycled countless times throughout the game to very interesting results. On a beach level you might hear it played in a calypso style,  in a volcano you might hear it played with sitar and tablas, in snowy levels you'll hear a rendition on accordion with whistles to accompany. The sheer breadth of styles Totaka covers in this game is really special. From cave man like chants to acid jazz to reggae, this game has all of it and it never stops changing. Although the games locations don't have real world counterparts, and the musical styles don't always match their geographic placements, the collection of all of these musical styles speaks to both the game's universal appeal and it's eclectic presentation which has Yoshi traversing cardboard plains and paper mache castles.

However, the game isn't entirely built around this one melody as others appear throughout the game. The game's world is based around 6 different pages and each of these have their own pieces when viewed. These melodies are exclusively used for the stage select screens of each page and aren't really heard anywhere else in the game. Why these don't appear anywhere else is somewhat puzzling as they are pretty catchy and could have been integrated into the level music along with the main theme. What this means musically, however is that Totaka has based the musical elements of the game around the characters. Whenever a Yoshi is traversing a stage, the main theme is used, whenever the player is selecting a stage they get different music as there are no characters to guide which theme is used. There are two more themes used in the game which confirm this, Baby Koopa, and the Yoshi group theme. Whenever the a Yoshi enters one of Baby Koopa's castles, a theme plays which takes some pretty strong inspiration from late Romantic composers Erik Satie and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. This theme is used in all of the castles and in the boss fights with Baby Koopa himself. The final theme is that of the Yoshi group. This one is interesting as it appears in only a few incarnations. It plays however whenever the player finishes a level and in some other areas of the game. This theme invokes a feeling of reflection and relaxation which works well as it changes the game's mood to give the player some time to reflect when there's no action on screen. 

Although the soundtrack to Yoshi's Story only draws on a few themes, it does some interesting things in-game to reflect the players actions. If the player's smile meter loses all it's petals, the music drops in tempo and pitch reflecting the fatigue and pressure the Yoshi feels. Not to mention this is a subtle motivation for the player to restore their smile meter.  The other way the music in manipulated in game is if the player eats a heart fruit power up. When the player does this, the music instantly shifts to a hard rock version of the theme the player has been hearing the entire game. This rendition, with double kick drums and heavy electric guitar gives the player a sense of power and recklessness which amplifies the acquisition of the heart fruit. 

Overall, Totaka's effort on Yoshi's story is well thought out, and thus has created some of the most recognisable pieces of music related to Yoshi. I would even say that even though it was critically panned, and not remembered as fondly as Yoshi's Island, it still remains that the music from Yoshi's Story is the definitive music for Yoshi. Totaka's use of theme's and variations has ingrained the music into people's heads, and made the world of Yoshi's story come to life. It also allowed the game to feel more coherent aesthetically and explore a wide variety of musical genres. 

What do you think? Does the music of Yoshi's Island stand stronger to you? Did the eclectic mix of genres have a different affect on you? What do you think we could expect from the next Yoshi Game, "Yoshi's Wooly World"? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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About Oscarnoone of us since 5:23 AM on 02.25.2014

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.

If you wanna talk to me or follow me on Twitter ,you can.(but tbh it's pretty boring)

Also you can check out some of the music I make on my Soundcloud!