Previous posts in the series:
It’s been a while, but I’ve felt it calling me again: it’s time to talk about more video game music! Let’s get right into it.
I don’t think I’m going to be able to write one of these without including a track from a Persona game. This one… it’s apparently divisive? There seem to be a fair number of people who aren’t into it as an opening, and the original release’s opening is admittedly fantastic. But I love this one just the same.
While this intro doesn’t capture the “dark” side of the game very well, it does perfectly express the other things that make Persona 4 such a magical experience. Shadow World is both goofy and cool, somehow managing to perfectly balance both without either overpowering the other. Persona 4 is excellent at doing that. Every Persona opening is amazing in its own way, but I wanted to call attention to this one specifically because it does something different from the other tracks.
And the way it ends with that bassline played on piano; it’s perfect. I love it to death.
Speaking of franchises that will probably be featured in every one of these, here’s a song from a Legend of Zelda game.
There are a bunch of incredible songs from Majora’s Mask, but I chose this one because it evokes something very specific, and it does so very effectively. In order to reach the place where this song plays, We have to traverse through a dark, damp sewer, facing enemies in a cramped space and forced to make dangerous jumps across a few bodies of water. When we finally make it to the end, we climb a ladder up into the Astral Observatory.
We are immediately hit with a sense of awe as the atmosphere completely changes. There are vibrant cool colors all around us, and the room evokes the starry sky above. It’s otherworldly. We are given the opportunity to peer through a telescope, and through it we see the face of the moon looming above, soon to bring the end to the residents of Termina.
This song expresses all of that on its own, but as a companion to the gameplay and the visuals, it makes the moment hit hard. The song is beautiful, and oddly haunting in spots; a perfect parallel to what’s going on in the observatory itself. The song doesn’t make us feel safe, exactly, but it does bring about some sense of calm after the treacherous trek through the Clock Town sewer. The Astral Observatory is an island of calm in a sea of fear, and the view of the chaotic world around is as awe-inspiring as it is terrifying. That odd mix of dread and wonder is evoked perfectly in the music.
This is a series I adore. It masterfully takes a potentially uninteresting concept and crafts an exciting game around it. The Ace Attorney games are great at making you feel smart; they effectively point you in the right direction of the answers without walking you to them. And the stakes… They make every piece of evidence you present feel vital, even when it doesn’t lead to a ton of answers, or the prosecutor finds a way to explain your contradiction away. For most of any given case, you are grasping at straws, desperately hoping to find anything to pull yourself up with.
But eventually, you find it, and you gain ground. The witness’s lies start falling apart, and you push until you’re finally left with the truth. When you finally gain the upper hand in a case in the first Ace Attorney game, this song starts playing. It’s tonally perfect and serves to amp up the tension until it eventually reaches a breaking point.
The Ace Attorney games actually all have strong music that serve the stories well, and I’ll probably be bringing up other tracks from the series as time goes on.
Alright, I’m going for a deep cut, this time.
You know that Fate/Stay Night anime that was so popular? It was based on a visual novel. Tsukihime is another visual novel done by the people who did Fate/Stay Night. Fate is pretty dark in spots, but Tsukihime is aggressively dark, reveling in violence and disquieting sexuality meant to make you squirm uncomfortably as you play through it. It’s honestly so dark that it would be easy to see it as a game that’s trying too hard. And maybe it is. But unlike other games that revel in violence and dark themes the way Tsukihime does, Tsukihime is actively trying to make you hate yourself for experiencing it. It doesn’t want you to derive pleasure from the experience; it wants you to feel bad about deriving pleasure from it. Whether it does that well or not is another topic, but I personally found it very effective.
This song is wonderful in the context of the game because it’s… innocent. When so much of the experience makes you feel miserable and cynical, the moments of humanity sprinkled throughout need something extra to be effective. And this song does that for me. It feels like the innocence of youth. It feels like the romanticized fantasy of confessing your love to someone. It feels like the reality of that moment, where nothing is really as meaningful or important as you made it out to be in your head.
This song is naivety, in the exact moment where it finally meets reality. The loss of innocence inherent to facing reality hasn’t happened yet, but it’s coming. It’s inevitable.
Let’s take a hard right turn from the profundity of the previous song and into something more pleasant.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was my Game of the Year for 2016. It probably wasn’t the best game to be released that year, but it was my personal favorite. The battle system was unique and kept the combat engaging throughout. The story was ridden with clichés and took no unexpected turns, and the characters were relatively uninteresting, but they both managed to work in service of the overall tone of the experience.
The game is filled with fun J-pop songs, but I personally found the game’s take on the Fire Emblem theme to be endearing as hell. I really like the Fire Emblem theme; it’s one of those songs that makes my heart swell up and gets me excited to play a Fire Emblem game. This version is toned down and somewhat pop-y, but it brought a smile to my face every time I heard it in-game. It makes the theme fit in with the tone of the game as a whole, and the added feeling of rhythm under it does actually work pretty well, considering the original was written to evoke high-fantasy fighting and imperial glory.
To truly tie this very anime selection of music together, I’ll end with the Japanese intro to Tales of Zestiria. While Zestiria was kind of a miss for me as far as Tales games go, this intro is easily the best of any in the series. If we want to touch on how it plays in the context of the visuals, the cuts in the anime intro are all in time with the beats of the music. Otherwise, the game kinda doesn’t evoke much of anything that this rad song does. It’s pretty mellow, and only two, maybe three of the characters can be classified as “badass” in any way, and even then, not in the way the song would imply.
But man, devoid of that context, this thing is rad. The characters come off as cool and confident, all working together effortlessly to take down massive opponents. The flow of the fight follows the flow of the song, which in turn makes the entire fight scene look and feel more kinetic. The song itself is just dope. It gets you pumped to beat up bad guys and save the world. It feels fucking heroic.
This version isn’t the version that plays in the US version of the game, though. The vocals are all stripped out in favor of an electric guitar playing the notes normally sung in the Japanese version. I don’t know why they did this, since the vocals make the song infinitely better, but when I was playing the game and didn’t know there was a better version out there, the song was still pretty cool. But the Japanese version blows that one out of the water in every aspect. Listening to it makes me want to go back to the game, even though I kind of didn’t like it!
That’s It For Today
Man, I think all the tracks I chose besides the Majora’s Mask one were from games that are anime as fuck. Maybe my next post will be a little less anime? But maybe not; a Persona song is probably going to make the list every single time. On the flipside, so will a Zelda one, but that still leaves me at 50% anime before I add in other stuff.
I will definitely cover more songs as time goes on. I’ll mostly be doing stuff from games I’ve actually played for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean talking about a song from a game I haven’t played is off the table, either. I’ve played little to no Final Fantasy, and I definitely want to talk about the music from that series at some point. But anyways, if you have suggestions, either from Final Fantasy, or from some obscure Japanese game, or from a major franchise that you don’t think gets enough credit for their music, feel free to let me know. I may not cover any of the songs you tell me about, but they will at least broaden my horizons and give me more places to look for songs.
[Cross-posted to my blog at Giant Bomb.]