Noise Pollution: Wherein I Talk About Music

I want to semi-regularly discuss music on this blog, so I’ve decided to start a feature. I’m calling it “Noise Pollution”. No, not after the AC/DC song. This was something I thought up after hearing about light pollution during a class in high school. I later found out that it’s a real term, but I like the idea of referring to music that way, as some sort of punk-ish ideal. It’s my name on this site as well as on my Youtube channel, so I’m pretty attached to it.

I want to focus on something different for every piece. Sometimes I’ll write about an album, sometimes I’ll write about a band, and sometimes I’ll write about a specific song. Other times, like today, I’ll pick a more broad subject and talk about little parts of it.

This is primarily going to be a positive feature, where I write about stuff I actually like. I can’t see myself using this as a platform to rant about a song or artist I dislike, so don’t worry about the possibility of me shitting on music you’re into. That’s not what I’m here to do.

Anyway, today I want to focus on something near and dear to me: video game music. I realize that this isn’t a cool topic in the realm of music or anything, so I’m not really showing off my “cred” or whatever, but this blog isn’t about being cool. I’ll talk about cool bands and stuff later. Right now, I want to share some fucking dope music that has come from video games.

Let’s Do This

I’ve touched on the Persona games before, and it’s because they’re fantastic. Not only from a gameplay perspective, but from a presentation perspective, too.

In fact, the slick presentation of the Persona games might be my favorite thing about them. The menus, while not the most pleasant to navigate, are so stylish that those faults are forgiven. The art style in general is pleasing to the eye… especially mine. But coupled with the excellent visual presentation is an incredible soundtrack.

Take this track, for example; it plays during every single random encounter in Persona 4. It somehow manages to never get old, though. It starts out bombastically, with it’s, uh, “oddly-worded” phonetically-sung English lyrics ringing out proudly. It then shifts gears to the heavy-ish guitar part, which is tonally different enough from the intro and chorus that it keeps the song from getting repetitive, even after the literal thousandth time hearing it.

That, and it’s also just a rad song, isn’t it?

To anyone who hasn’t played Crypt of the Necrodancer yet: do that. I want to talk about the game in more detail in a separate post, but I can’t really write a piece about video game music and leave out this soundtrack.

Start the video. Now give it, like, twenty seconds. I’ll wait.

Okay, you’re on board now. I know this for a fact. There’s no way you’re not. This song is so goddamn good that you can’t listen to that much of it without loving it. I’m not super familiar with electronic music aside from game music but… this shit works without the game behind it, easily. And trust me when I say that the game only serves to make it better.

The Pokemon games actually have a surprising number of good tracks, but none are quite as, well, infamous as this one.

The Pokemon games are ostensibly for kids, and everything prior to showing up in Lavender Town is light and carefree, patting the player on the back after every accomplishment and espousing the joys of Pokemon battling.

Then you get here. And this fucking song starts playing. It’s immediately off-putting, but couple that with the fact that the town hosts the region’s only graveyard for Pokemon and you’ve created my four-year-old self’s first experience with existential terror.

It’s not that the graveyard stuff is particularly well done or anything. In fact, most of the plot of those early games was… I mean, it was kind of left to the imagination. But this song certainly pushed that imagination in a certain direction. It’s fucking creepy, man.

Side note: I did a shitty cover of this song on my acoustic guitar over on my Youtube channel. Check it out if you want. I had come up with a cool way to play it, which is why I put it up in spite of me not having actually gotten good at playing it. I would like to stress that while I’m not, like, great at guitar or anything, I’m better than I make myself out to be in that video. But yeah. Anywayyyys.

Here’s song that needs more nostalgic recognition from the internet, I think. Super Mario Land has awesome music, it just doesn’t really sound like Mario music, exactly. Maybe that’s why I don’t hear it discussed quite as often as other old games.

Well, whatever. I’ll give it the love it deserves. This song in particular is incredible. If you write music, or do anything creative really, you’re probably familiar with this line of thinking: “Oh man, that sounds/looks like it fell right out of my head!” That feeling you get when you hear a song or see a piece of art that doesn’t just look like you could have made it, it looks like you would have made it, given enough time.

The Muda Kingdom theme is like that for me, a bit. If I were more confident in my guitar playing and songwriting abilities, I’d definitely feel like I would have written this song one day. But, like, the person who wrote it (Hip Tanaka) is way more talented than I am. So I don’t think I would have ever really gotten there. That said, I feel that odd closeness to it. That feeling that I have some sort of ownership of it, just because it resonates with me so strongly. I don’t know. It’s a really cool song.

Alright, so I played a lot of this game as a kid. I never really loved it, exactly, but I did enjoy it, and when you’re young, you can play sub-par stuff and not be bothered by it.

Bomberman Hero is kind of sub-par. And thanks to that, I forgot about it. Until recently, it only existed in my brain as a vague memory of how I spent some of my time as a kid. It was overwritten by better stuff, like Ocarina of Time, or Mario 64, both of which have great music too, but we’ll put that aside until another post.

Anyways, a friend and I were discussing video game soundtracks from this era of stuff, and he wound up showing me a song from Ape Escape, an old Playstation 1 game. It was a cool song, but it felt super familiar. It wasn’t that it was ripping off this soundtrack or anything, but it gave me very similar vibes. And I found myself looking for this soundtrack, to see if I was right about the music being similar.

I kind of was, but the main thing I discovered was that this game’s music was fucking cool, and that I didn’t appreciate it when I was playing it as a kid. It was just kind of swimming around in my head as a part of the leftover vibes I have from that time. But man, this shit rules. In lieu of actually having anything meaningful to post, I posted another track from it here the other day. Because it’s good. Rediscovering this soundtrack has been a lot of fun. If anyone has any suggestions for similar stuff to listen to, video game music or otherwise, please let me know. It’s cool shit.

We’ll End With This One Today

Alright. So here’s a thing everyone should already be aware of. Koji Kondo is a goddamn genius. He is the composer of the Legend of Zelda and Mario titles, all of which have incredible soundtracks that not only sound good on their own, but make the games they’re a part of better games. His music is integral to the games they’re featured on, particularly in the Zelda games. Ocarina of Time would be a different game without Koji Kondo’s score. It would be a worse game. and so would the Gamecube’s entry in the series, The Wind Waker.

Sometime ago, he wound up participating in a concert series that performed much of the series’ music live with an orchestra. During those concerts, he would inevitably step away from the rest of the show and perform a solo piece on the piano. Rather than choose a fan-favorite, Kondo performed something people didn’t see coming.

It was beautiful. The track seemed relatively innocuous to me before, playing only a few times in the game – during quiet moments Link spends with his grandmother. The song itself has an incredibly nostalgic feel to it, even divorced from my own nostalgia for The Wind Waker and the rest of the Zelda franchise. That feel is incredibly important in the context of the game, given that it plays when Link’s grandmother is sad about him leaving home. The song feels like a memory. It feels like growing old, while your loved ones grow up. It feels like… It feels like feeling left behind.

It’s heartbreaking and sweet at the same time. And this performance of the song really brought it all together for me. It helped me understand the song, and why Kondo wrote it. It’s beautiful. Now, after hearing his piano rendition, I tear up whenever I hear the original in-game.

Music is integral to video games, making what would normally simply be a satisfying experience into a meaningful one. Even at its least-effective, music can mask poor writing or translations, allowing for emotional storytelling even when the story being told is bad. That, or it can burn a game into your memory, causing a thought of it to resurface after decades with nothing more than a sound. At its best, music is the story, creating emotional moments of its own. Music can write backstories and emotional baggage onto characters that words and gameplay cannot. Music can make something complete.

And sometimes, it’s just fun to listen to.

[I know it’s lame and not very good, but I made that headphones image. So don’t steal it. And stuff. Thanks! I’ve also cross-posted this in an edited form onto my blog at giantbomb.com, so… it’s there, too. Yep. Yep yep.]

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