|Super Nintendo and its glorious, glorious music.|
This entry's going to be shameless, shameless nostalgia-mongering, friends. Like the dude at the party who brings up his favorite episode of Doug without any kind of conversational prompt, or the girl next to you at work who turns to you one day and out of the blue asks if you remember what pogs you had, I will now trudge back unbidden through the mist of time and dwell upon things that once were.
And I invite you to follow!
Is there a reason for this sudden urge to trot out some of my favorite Super Nintendo soundtracks? Will it enlighten us in any way or shed some kind of light on the current state of video game music?
Games today use all sorts of music to convey tone, however many games have a strong title song, a few memorable passages for important cutscenes, and then a ton of generic action music or bland exploration music to fill in the gaps.
And while I am kind of amazed that games are now so nuanced and complex that subtle ambient music is even appropriate, I do sometimes miss the days when games did not have the luxury of voice actors, so the music had both more to accomplish and more room to breathe. I miss the anthemic quality that used to be so common in game scores; in some cases you knew what character was about to come on screen or what character was about to save the day just by the hints the music was giving you.
Is there room for this kind of pseudo-operatic score in modern games? Maybe, and I'd be excited to see more motif-based music in this-gen games, though it certainly wouldn't be appropriate for every title out there. But more importantly, these scores were perfectly suited to the state of gaming at the time they were released. And I wanted to celebrate them.
10.) Soul Blazer -- Yukihide Takekawa
Soul Blazer is about a boy on a mission from The Master (Sensei / Jesus) to restore the mortal realm to life after a greedy king makes a deal with Deathtoll (Heavy Metal Satan) to exchange all life for more power. The hero makes his way through the blasted world, and with each enemy he smites, an innocent returns to the world unharmed.
The music is at times mysterious and ominous, and at times pastoral and soothing, but it's always effective.
When I listen to this, I feel: Heroic and a little bit uneasy.
Standout track: "Leo's Painting." When I have nightmares about puppets coming to life and strangling me, this song plays in my mind. I mean that as a compliment.
9.) The 7th Saga -- Norihiko Yamanuki
For some reason this game really creeped me out as a kid. Part of it was absolutely the music. It's strange and ethereal, and most of the non-battle themes are completely filled with ghostly woodwinds. It give me the fucking willies when I was eight, and any soundtrack with so much personality that it scares a child is worth a mention.
When I listen to this, I feel: Like going back in time and trying to comfort myself.
Standout track: "Lux Tizer" is a softly compelling character theme, and the boss battle music ("Epic Confrontation") is quite stirring.
8.) Mega Man X -- Makoto Tomozawa
This game follows the exploits of X, a synthetic being in possession of free will and an arm that is also a gun. The music that accompanies his journey is a collection of driving, fun, catchy stage themes that perfectly capture the kinetic energy of the game. The specific set of synths used is also unique to this game, which makes hearing a Mega Man X song an immediately identifiable experience.
When I listen to this, I feel: Like dance-walking somewhere. The future as depicted in Mega Man X is actually pretty funky.
Standout track: The "Armored Armadillo" track sounds like something that you could swing dance to. Seriously. The "Boomer Kuwanger" song is another good one.
7.) Terranigma -- Masanori Hikichi and Miyoko Kobayashi
Since it didn't really have a release where I lived as a kid, I never played Terranigma as a kid, but someone recently introduced me to the score. It's got shades of both Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy in there, and it's all quite subdued and lovely.
When I listen to this, I feel: Like a computer from 1993 is trying to romance me. It's very lush, dreamy music.
Standout track: The music that begins at 4:03 in the video above is my favorite selection. Very brooding.
6.) Earthbound -- Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka
In Earthbound, a bumblebee from the future sends you on a quest to save the world from a cosmic evil. It's just as cool as it sounds. Usually games that seem like they're trying to be "zany" make me furious. Earthbound, with a mix of goofiness and sincere innocence, is the exception, and its soundtrack covers both the quirky and sentimental sides of this great game.
When I listen to this, I feel... well, okay. There was a time when I was in London and I missed the safety and simplicity of childhood and home very much. One night I was out too late, feeling miserable, alone and a little drunk. And the subway trains weren't running, so I had to wait until some ungodly hour to catch a bus back to my hostel. And I put my earphones in and put on the first thing that played, randomly, hoping it would cheer me up. It was the "Home Sweet Home" theme from the Earthbound soundtrack. It had been a long time since I'd really listened to the song; it made me feel safer and more at home than anything else could have at the moment, in the darkness of a Hampstead night.
Standout track: "Home Sweet Home" is a really nice song, as is "Bed and Breakfast" and "Eight Melodies." And I don't mean "nice" like, "Nice fucking jam!" -- I mean "nice" like your parents reading you stories at bedtime.