Archives for category: Musical Mondays!

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess often gets passed off as something of a reimagined Ocarina of Time, and it’s not too difficult to see why; like most of the Zelda games we’ve seen since that much-loved 1998 instalment, Twilight Princess builds on the foundations laid down by Link’s first foray into 3D. Moreover, with a return to a more muted, ‘realistic’ presentation it’s not a difficult conclusion to jump to.

But for my money, Twilight Princess is the ultimate evolution of that strain of the Zelda franchise, taking everything Ocarina did and making it grander, darker, and more mysterious, while focusing more on story and scene composition than any Zelda that came before. It takes what made Ocarina great, strengthens those building blocks, and adds in new experiences (like the ability to become a wolf and sniff out objectives), ultimately managing to earn its own distinct identity.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the game’s Hyrule Field theme. For those of us that played Ocarina of Time back in 1998, it’s unlikely that anything will beat that first moment of stepping onto the expansive Hyrule Field – seeing a game world open up like that just wasn’t something we were used to back in the late nineties. As a spectacle, it’s not something Twilight Princess could hope to replicate, and to my mind, it relies on its theme to distinguish itself from its legendary precursor.

Where Ocarina‘s Hyrule Field theme is playful and sunny, reflecting the theme of a young boy setting off into the world to meet his destiny, Twilight Princess‘ theme is altogether more rousing, suggestive of the themes of a brave young man thrust out into the wider world in an effort to rescue those he holds dear. It sounds determined.

There are of course moments that call back to Ocarina of Time, and one piece that plays on that familiarity comes during a moment where we adventure through the Sacred Grove, in an effort to hunt down the legendary Master Sword, the Blade of Evil’s Bane. Link needs the sword to undo a curse placed upon him, and so we find ourselves in a lost part of the world that seems strangely familiar – it’s as if the long-forgotten ruins of Ocarina‘s Temple of Time have been overrun by the Lost Woods, and this impression is built upon by the music, a mysterious take on Saria’s Song.

It creates a strange mood, taking a well-known melody from a past game and stretching it into something different. Its backing melody feels more like something we would have heard in Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy VIII soundtrack than something you’d hear in a Zelda game – immediately mysterious, tempering the known, the familiar, with the unknown, the enigmatic. As a whole, it seems to say, “this place may feel familiar, but it’s not the same.”

My favourite couple of pieces of Twilight Princess music though, are also the most idiosyncratic. They’re pure Twilight Princess, laden with mystery, the weight of ancient wisdom long forgotten, and a healthy dose of the melancholy. The first of these is ‘Light Spirits’.

Early in the game, Link must journey to three sacred springs and bring light back to the spirits that dwell there, undoing the dark curse placed upon them by Zant, the King of the Twilight. This theme is heard whenever Link converses with one of the spirits, and it imparts a feeling of their timelessness, suggesting that they have long watched over Hyrule, while also creating a mood that speaks to the unknown nature of these beings that show themselves only to a chosen few. The orchestral arrangement, used for the Zelda symphony concerts, is even better, sounding like something Danny Elfman might have conjured up for an early-nineties Tim Burton film.

My favourite piece by far though comes during an incredibly emotional scene with Midna. After being confronted by Zant at the Lanayru Spirit Spring, Midna is forcibly exposed to the spirit’s light, leaving her near death. Link, transformed back into a wolf by Zant’s magic, desperately rushes toward Castle Town, a dying Midna sprawled on his back, to look for help.

It’s the music that makes this scene so special, a beautifully emotive piano-led piece that plays as you tear across a moonlit Hyrule Field at night, in search of aid for the friend that has been with you since the start of your journey. And it’s not over-complicated – that the music is so understated as you desperately rush to save Midna makes it all the more effective.

The quality of the compositions is such that it’s a shame Nintendo decided to use sequenced music rather than record with a full orchestra, something they did with great success in their next title in the series, Skyward Sword. Happily, with the advent of video-game focused symphonic concerts, we’re able to experience the music as its creators no doubt intended it to be heard, and it’s all the more stirring for it.

Of course, The Legend of Zelda has always had strong, memorable music, and it makes me wish for a Zelda-themed music game akin to Square-Enix’s excellent Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. Like that other much-loved franchise, Zelda has over a quarter of a century of series history to draw from, and it’d be great to celebrate that in the form of a rhythm-action game. For now, I’ll have to content myself with the upcoming fanservice extravaganza that Hyrule Warriors looks like being.

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kiorchid_editedWell, it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these, eh? In fact, my last Musical Mondays piece happened to be about the original Killer Instinct soundtrack, written both in anticipation of 2013’s new KI for Xbox One and in honour of that gloriously over the top soundtrack from 20 years past.

The fact that my first MM piece in a few months is about the new Killer Instinct is merely coincidence, but anyone who follows this blog with any regularity will know that I’m a massive fan of the game. It’s one of the most pure ‘fun’ fighters I’ve played in a long while, and while it’s easy to get into, there’s an absolute ton of depth to get to grips with if you care to. The team at Double Helix clearly had a great time making the game, and the same can be said of Mick Gordon, the composer behind its excellent soundtrack.

In my piece about the original KI, I called the soundtrack ‘pure, unadulterated 90s cheddar‘ and, much as I love it, I stand by that. The new game’s soundtrack isn’t particularly cheesy, but it certainly retains that infectious over-the-top high-energy feeling that typified the earlier music. It is both its own thing and a nod to the past. Check out Orchid’s new theme for proof of that: it’s loud, it’s hyperactive and it feels like a logical progression from her original theme. It’s even packed with samples from that piece of music, and hides a nice hit of nostalgia in the form of a short remix partway through.

Here’s something rather different, and altogether darker: Glacius’ Theme. If you listen carefully, you can hear samples (“we are controlling transmission”) from his original theme, ‘Controlling Transmission‘.

And because I need a bit of guitar in my day, here’s the new main theme. It’s broadly the same as the old theme, but a bit heavier. I’ve embedded a 26-minute extended cut. Because TWENTY-SIX MINUTES OF KI THEME.

Ahem. Enjoy.

Mick Gordon’s soundtrack is also doing interesting things when it comes to fighting dynamics; depending on what’s happening on-screen (are both fighters idle? Is there a big combo playing out? Has someone just nailed a c-c-c-combo breaker?) the music will change to fit the situation. I embedded this video in the previous piece, but it’s worth linking again as it does a great job of explaining what’s happening with the dynamic audio.

This is one of my current favourite videogame soundtracks. It just fits the game it’s in so well; the art, the action, the sound – all of it is larger than life and it all combines to get the blood and the adrenaline pumping when you dive into another bone-crunching bout. My one gripe is that there isn’t a soundtrack CD available to buy – all we have to go by at the moment are some fan-made mixes and edits on Youtube. Hopefully Mick Gordon, Double Helix and Microsoft can all get something worked out, because I’d love to have it in my soundtrack CD collection.

For now, you can keep an eye on Gordon’s SoundCloud, and give his KI suites a listen: these are extended mixes of various pieces of music from throughout the game.

Given the short dev cycle, I’m amazed at what Double Helix have achieved. I’m absolutely in love with the game, and it’s going to get better as time goes on. Spinal was recently added to the roster (and he’s mental – here’s a short clip I made after messing around for a few minutes), and in March we’ll be getting Fulgore (my personal favourite character) and the much-anticipated story mode. Here’s hoping we also get confirmation of a second season sometime soon too.

In case you’ve been living in a cave since E3, you should know that there’s a new Killer Instinct game coming out next month for the Xbox One. If you follow my blog you’ll certainly know as I’ve mentioned a number of times how much I’m looking forward to it; after getting ten minutes on it at last month’s Eurogamer Expo I’ve been desperate to get my hands on it once again ever since.

I’ve been watching every video that goes up on Miles923‘s youtube channel (the developers have given him a lot of access to the game, inviting him into the studio on a number of occasions) and also remembering hours spent on both the SNES title and arcade original back in the mid-nineties. And it’s impossible to remember KI1 without remembering the music.

The Super Nintendo release of Killer Instinct came with a bonus disc called ‘Killer Cuts’, a 15-track compilation of the game’s various character, stage and theme remixes (well, 16 if you count the hidden ‘Humiliation!’ track tucked away at track 30). This disc contained pure, unadulterated 90s cheddar:



I had a copy of ‘Killer Cuts’, and I absolutely adored the CD when I was eleven – in fact it should still be around somewhere, so I should have a look around for it. As much as I can admit it’s pure cheese now, these tracks still bring a massive idiotic grin to my face every time I hear them – it’s an immediate, undiluted nostalgia hit and it’s unashamedly fun! (On a separate note, every time I hear the whistle part at :54 in Controlling Transmission, I can’t help but imagine Tyres dancing to it…)

Of course, it’d be a little bit disingenuous to claim the whole CD was cheesy – the main theme is still fantastically bad-ass:

Thankfully, it seems that the main theme will be returning in the new game as snippets of an updated version can be heard in a number of videos on YouTube, but what else is happening with the music for Killer Instinct‘s return? Well, luckily, the aforementioned YouTube channel of Miles293 has us covered on that count too. Have a watch of the video below to hear Jago’s new theme, as well as the game’s dynamic use of audio, depending on the on-screen action.

Now, I don’t know about you, but to me that’s pretty damn cool. The music changes depending on not just character movement, but after things like large combos and even counter breakers. How much work must have gone into each track to facilitate something like that? As for the music itself, I’m really liking the stuff you can hear in this video – it’s suitably chunky and aggressive, and though it doesn’t sound like the Killer Instinct of old, it’s a great fit for the new game. I’m excited to hear more, but I’d love to see a soundtrack come with the Ultra Edition version as a call-back to the SNES’ ‘Killer Cuts’ freebie.

p4gbanThings have been a bit quiet around here recently, mainly thanks to a couple of reasons. Firstly, not much in videogameland (if only that were a real place…) has caught my attention recently. With everyone looking to next generation consoles, much of what fills up column inches these days is rumour and speculation that won’t be confirmed or denied until E3 at the earliest. Secondly, it was my birthday a few days ago, so I’ve been too busy eating cake.

It’s also been a while since I’ve written anything about videogame music. I’ve recently started playing Persona 4 Golden after a few weeks away from it, and with the music occupying brainspace when I’m not even anywhere near my Vita, it seems like a good day to showcase some of this colourful game’s colourful audio.

Persona 4 Golden is an enhanced remake of the 2008 PS2 RPG/Social Sim hybrid that released on the Vita just a couple of months ago in Europe. To commemorate the remake a new opening was created, which does a great job of encapsulating the feel and aesthetic of the game.

As you can see, it’s upbeat, colourful and cheerful-sounding. I love that the presentation of the game is so at-odds with the subject matter; Persona 4 is a game about mysterious disappearances, grisly murders and people struggling against their literal inner demons, yet it’s drenched in neon colours and upbeat pop music. At times it reminds me of Sega just before they bowed out of hardware; bold, bright colours, happy music and most importantly a sense of FUN! Here’s the battle track, ‘Time to Make History’.

Like all good battle themes, it kicks the tempo up a bit in order to keep you pushing forward, but it’s just so damned catchy! I often find myself humming along as I’m bashing shadows’ faces in, and the track often takes up residence in my head long after I’ve switched the Vita off.

Much of the Persona 4 experience is dependant on the current weather. You find yourself checking the forecast daily to plan out the coming week, as some things can only be done on a rainy night, and thick fog often brings the body of a missing person with it. The music often reflects the weather, with different themes playing under different conditions, and the track that plays in the local town shopping district on cloudy days is another one that gets stuck in my head. Here’s ‘Heartbeat, Heartbreak’.

This song definitely has a bit of a ‘rainy days’ feel to it, at least relative to much of the rest of the soundtrack, yet it’s still got a bit of an upbeat feel to it; it’s not particularly melancholy, and you can still quite happily hum along to the tune.

While some may find the contrast between presentation and subject matter somewhat jarring, and others still may find the almost entirely upbeat feel rather twee, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There are a great many games out there that take themselves seriously (perhaps too much so), so I’m glad that Persona 4 Golden is content to offer dark subject matter in a shiny package and allow itself to have fun. Persona 4 Golden is definitely a game that has a heart.

It’s been a while since my last ‘Musical Mondays’ piece, and this one was prompted by doing something that I’ve previously covered in another of my irregular series’ – my backlog-baiting ‘My Stupid Backlog’ pieces. You see, over the weekend, I finally finished The Witcher, a game which, along with its sequel, was the focus of my second ‘MSB’ piece, and when I heard the end credits theme, Believe, I just knew I had to write a post about it.

It reminded me of when I first finished the original Mass Effect and M4 pt II by Faunts kicked it; it just felt so fitting, so right. This piece of music is wildly different from that which closed the first chapter of Commander Shepard’s story, but no less fitting for the game it brings to an end.

I love the mix of violin and electric guitar in this theme. It all melts together beautifully, the violin lending the music a bittersweet, melancholic edge, while in other places joining up with the guitar, soaring in triumph. It perfectly evokes Geralt’s travels and trials throughout the game, each victory coming with a price attached. It also perfectly encapsulates how I felt when I had completed the game – elated at finally seeing the tale through to its conclusion, yet a little sad to see it go.

As a bonus, here’s a track taken from the bonus CD The Witcher: Music Inspired by the game that came bundled with the Enhanced Edition. It’s a beautiful piece of harp-led electronica, and includes some samples that are taken straight from the game’s soundtrack.

It feels good to finally be seeing some movement on my ridiculous backlog of shame, and I’m really glad I played The Witcher. Though a little clunky in places, it’s an utterly fantastic game, and with the third title on the horizon, now is a perfect time to grab the first game and its sequel Assassins of Kings, which will be next on my list… after BioShock Infinite, of course.

Well… it’s been a little spartan around here this past week (‘Spartan’, geddit??), as I’ve been dragged willingly into Halo 4‘s all-encompassing orbit. Yes, I’m still playing campaign – I like to take my time and explore those vast Forerunner structures – and it really is pretty damn special.

Anyway! That’s not the purpose of today’s piece, as the title attests. One other gaming property that’s been occupying both my time and my thoughts recently is Silent Hill, Konami’s formerly peerless psychological survival horror series. This is partly thanks to the release of Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (I really wish they’d stop using ‘revelation’ for everything, whoever ‘they’ are). I really enjoyed the first Silent Hill film; it absolutely nailed the look of Silent Hill, had a decent stab at the atmosphere, and though the story was a slightly mangled retelling of the first game, I felt like it was the only videogame adaptation to do its source material any semblance of justice.

So I was initially quite excited for the sequel. Trailers showed a film based on Silent Hill 3 (for those uninitiated, a direct sequel to the first game); there was protagonist Heather, looking exactly as she does in game, ditto Douglas Cartland, the PI that’s searching for her; there’s Lakeside Amusement Park, a location that features in both Silent Hill and SH3; even Claudia, the enigmatic, otherworldly-looking leader of The Order is present and correct.

Indeed, the film is positively rammed with fan service (the Seal of Metatron is a major plot point, and the producers even manage to shoehorn Travis Grady into the end sequence), yet it doesn’t make a good film. The pacing is horribly, horribly off, with one sequence that feels as if it might lead into something bigger, only for the film to peter out and end, seemingly prematurely. Worse still, dialogue is often incredibly poor, to the point where even blaming the work experience kid wouldn’t explain it, and some segments of the film are painfully cheesy – not what you want your audience feeling if you’re trying to create a sense of unease.

As I said earlier, I was initially quite excited for the film, yet I came out of the cinema feeling massively disappointed, and honestly a bit sad. It had a lot of potential from the first film to build from, as well as an excellent horror game to draw inspiration from. The final product was so poor that I honestly wish I could pretend it didn’t exist. It just seems such a waste, and I wish the possibility existed for it to be done all over again, only done well.

So, with that in mind, I got home on Hallowe’en night with two objectives; first, to put the terrible film out of my mind, and second, to enjoy something of quality with the Silent Hill name attached to it. The latter was easy to do, as the film at least had a uniformly great soundtrack, with the final credits rolling up to the sounds of a Mary Elizabeth McGlynn song – a voice that has been a large presence in Silent Hilldom since the third game – and another piece of music taken straight from the Silent Hill 3 soundtrack. So my first port of call had to be to listen to some of that beautiful, atmospheric music. This feature has been rattling around in my brain since then, and after grabbing a copy of Vita dungeon crawler Silent Hill: Book of Memories last week and discovering yet more excellent music, I decided to get it down on paper. So to speak.

Silent Hill

Silent Hill Theme
Akira Yamaoka

The song that prefaced a thousand nightmares. That opening jangly guitar riff sends a shiver down my spine even now, years after I first played the game. I re-played it recently on my Vita, in bed at night with earphones in, and the soundscapes created by series’ composer Akira Yamaoka have lost none of their potency – if anything, the sound design is more powerful when you’re enveloped in the game, as you are in the dark with earphones carrying the sound straight to your brain; there’s nothing to distract you from the oppressive atmosphere. This piece is the first example of a feeling that is threaded through much of Silent Hill‘s music – it’s not what you’d expect for a piece of horror media. Sure, it’s brooding, atmospheric and haunting, but it’s also subtly beautiful and possessed of a sense of fragility – perhaps befitting a series that’s as much about what’s going on within its characters as it is with what’s happening around them.

Silent Hill 2

Theme of Laura
Akira Yamaoka

This one may be more well-known than the theme of the original game. Theme of Laura, again by Akira Yamaoka, again displays similar themes to the previous track, but this one brings with it a massive helping of isolation and loneliness. What strikes me about this song is just how damn listenable it is; it feels sad, but not in a maudlin sense. It seems to me to portray a sense of both longing and tragic inevitability – fitting, considering the direction the story takes at its conclusion.

Silent Hill 3
Now, this one’s a little more difficult for me, as I’ve not played it in years (this will be remedied soon, as the HD version is near the top of my to-do list), so I’ve decided to go with the piece of music I mentioned earlier, the one that played over the end credits of Revelation.


Rain of Brass Petals
Akira Yamaoka

Another Akira Yamaoka instrumental piece, as far as I know this soundtrack entry doesn’t actually appear in the game at all. But what a fantastically evocative name for a piece of music. It’s another piece that displays those Silent Hill motifs of strange, restrained beauty and isolation, yet this one is of a more darkwave bent. It definitely has an end credits feel to it, as if it exists to solidify in your mind the thoughts and feelings of what you’ve just experienced – almost like a kind of aural bookend – so at least the music people of Revelation were doing their job. Like Theme of Laura, this is another wonderfully listenable piece of music, and I find it especially good to listen to at night with earphones for that added layer of atmosphere – it’s almost calming, in a rather dark sense.

Bonus round! Silent Hill: Book of Memories

Now We’re Free
Composed by Daniel Licht, vocals by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn

I mentioned earlier that Vita spin-off Book of Memories had an excellent title theme featuring series collaborator Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, and this is that song. The game itself may not be a shining example of a Silent Hill title – it’s certainly different –  but the song is Silent Hill through and through. I often find myself lingering on the title screen just to listen to this slice of lonely, atmospheric longing, and if a Book of Memories soundtrack is to be forthcoming, I’ll certainly be looking to buy it. It also puts my mind at ease that this piece was composed by Daniel Licht, composer of the Silent Hill: Downpour score. I’ve not yet played that game (it’s also near the top of my substantial to-do list), so my worries about the music have been suitably allayed thanks to this one song.

Where the series goes from here has many worried. Downpour didn’t exactly set reviewers hearts aflame (though some longtime fans have had better things to say), and many are dismayed at the direction WayForward have taken with Book of Memories. Hopefully, those that are sceptical for the future of Silent Hill will refrain from going to see the new film, as it may tip them over the edge. Personally, I’m enjoying the format of the Vita title, as it works very well for a handheld, and I shall refrain from ruminating on the series’ future until after I’ve played Downpour. I’ll also hope there are no further instalments in the film series – I don’t think I could take another Revelation.

Yet it’s hard to argue that the series hasn’t changed somewhat since Konami started farming it out to studios outside of Japan. Hopefully Downpour will surprise me, and bring back some of those uneasy feelings I enjoyed so much in the first three games (and to a lesser extent, Silent Hill 4: The Room). But for now, or at least once Halo 4‘s campaign is out of the way, I’ll stick to reliving my past in the relative comfort of Silent Hill 3.

I’ve been thinking about Mistwalker’s The Last Story recently. Mostly because I’ve yet to play it and it’s been gnawing at me that I really should get around to it, but also because a couple of friends have also been asking me about it recently.

With the pedigree that the game has (directed by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, scored by longtime companion Nobuo Uematsu), I was always going to be ordering the limited edition as soon as it was available. Which is exactly what I did. Unfortunately, a ridiculous backlog has so far foiled my intentions to immerse myself in its world. So consider today’s MM piece both an attempt to highlight some fantastic music, as well as give myself a kick up the rear!

My beautiful, beautiful limited edition… that I haven’t played.

Both Uematsu and Sakaguchi have described the creation of their Wii exclusive as something of a challenge to create a fresh experience; in gameplay terms for Sakaguchi (such as injecting third person elements in battle), and for Uematsu, in creating something that stands apart from his work on the Final Fantasy series.

Indeed, the composer’s original drafts for The Last Story were so typical of his work that Sakaguchi rejected them out of hand, calling them “completely useless”. The pair did not speak for a month, until Uematsu sent a file to the director, adding, “If this is not okay, I’ll quit.” It’s safe to say that Sakaguchi liked what he heard.

The music that makes up the soundtrack still bears Uematsu’s ear for a beautiful melody, of course, and one track in particular, ‘Toberu Mono’, reminds me, in broad strokes at least, of Final Fantasy IV‘s ‘Theme of Love’. But it’s so much more powerful than that, almost heartbreaking in its delicacy, before erupting into a triumphant crescendo.

The main theme lies on the other side of the musical coin. It’s epic, foreboding and its melodies conjure something closer to The Lord of the Rings in the mind’s eye. It’s noticeably different from much of the composer’s previous work, throwing in unexpected tempo changes to break up the otherwise-relentless forward momentum. That signature Uematsu melody style is in there, tying it all together, but it’s set in a darker style – it almost gives me a sense of a Western musical style with Japanese melodic sensibilities.

My favourite piece might just be ‘Chitsujo to Konton to’. I’m guessing it’s a battle theme, as it’s a very high-energy piece, mixing orchestrated elements, electronic beats and grinding guitar chugging away in the background. Halfway through, a soaring, brass and string-led tempo change drops back into a synth-heavy gallop that leads into a chanting crescendo. I can fully imagine the blood pumping in the heat of battle, keeping me on my toes as I try to outwit my foes (ooh, that rhymes).

While it’s certain that aspects of Uematsu’s trademark sound are in effect throughout the soundtrack of The Last Story, it does genuinely sound like a fresh take on what has come before from the now-legendary composer. Considering it made the cut, we can only assume Hironobu Sakaguchi would wholeheartedly agree.