Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Soundtrack September: Final Doom

Game: Final Doom (1996)
Platform: PlayStation
Composer: Aubrey Hodges

How long has it been since you've listened to the original Doom soundtrack? Don't bother. It's terrible.

The music for the PlayStation port of this non-numbered sequel to Doom II: Hell on Earth enjoyed the benefit of digital audio, as opposed to the comparably quaint MIDI rock tracks of its PC progenitor. As a result the game, already scary and soaked with atmosphere, took on a new veneer of creepiness.

To be fair, there isn't a lot to the music. Hodges got maximum mileage out of a relatively small library of synth samples, playing them back at mostly low pitches to achieve an eerie-but-not-distracting minimalist backdrop. Much of the soundtrack could as soon be categorized as the ambient noise of the various levels.

I say "not distracting," but I'd be lying if I said I didn't remember being specifically startled by some of what's in this soundtrack the first time I played the game. "Mt. Erebus" is full of what sounds like demon-kids complaining after a six-hour drive in the family car. But most of the best stuff here happens in tracks like "Minos," which sounds more like the constant howl of wind than game music.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Soundtrack September: A Link to the Past

Game: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)
Platform: SNES / Super Famicom
Composer: Kondo Koji

Another early SNES title whose music wowed me back in the day. This sequel, which some consider a truer sequel than Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, reprises the classic theme song from the original and adds a handful of instant classics. The Dark World theme and the faerie fountain music are two of my favorites.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Soundtrack September: Street Fighter II

Game: Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991)
Platform: arcade et al
Composers: Shimomura Yoko, Abe Isao

Like Gradius III, Street Fighter II is an example of a soundtrack sounding better after being converted to the SNES (.SPC) sound format. So even though the soundtrack was written for the 1991 arcade original, I am primarily honoring the SNES version in this post.

Make way for another Capcom soundtrack composed mostly by a woman (the third such soundtrack I have written about this month, after Strider and Mega Man 2). Shimomura and Abe wrote a theme for each character, effectively cementing that model as the norm for fighting games. The matador guy's music sounded Spanish. The yoga guy's music sounded Indian. The sumo wrestler's music sounded Japanese. And the muay thai fighter's music sounded strung out on heroin.

These themes would become synonymous with the characters in the SFII roster. Subsequent games would experiment with other music, but if you ask a fan to hum Ryu's theme, that person is going to hum Ryu's theme from this game, not Ryu's theme from Street Fighter Alpha 3 (although Alpha 3's music wasn't bad for the most part).

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Soundtrack September: Silent Hill

Game: Silent Hill (1999)
Platform: PlayStation
Composers: Yamaoka Akira

When Yamaoka presented his concept for Silent Hill's music to his co-workers on Team Silent, he had to argue in its defense. His jarring, industrial sounds were misinterpreted as glitches in the audio program rather than music. In retrospect, however, most agree that his soundtrack was a large part of why Silent Hill was so scary.

To be fair, the series was also thematically unnerving; touching on themes like child disappearance and cult worship, and introducing visuals more nightmarish than gamers were used to at the time, it would have been pretty scary without music. But add Yamaoka's soundtrack (which might be described as "trip-hop act trapped in an off-kilter washing machine, heavy on the washing machine") and you've got yourself a sleepless night. Sleepless week.

The commercial release of the soundtrack, unfortunately, was questionable in its organization and left out a couple of the game's mellower tracks, but I appreciate this work because it does one thing more masterfully than virtually any movie soundtrack I've ever heard: It scares me.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Soundtrack September: Mega Man 2

Game: Mega Man 2 / Rockman 2: Dr. Wily no Nazo (1988)
Platform: NES / Famicom
Composers: Matsumae Manami, Tateishi Takashi

Once again, we have a monumental Capcom soundtrack co-written by a female composer.

With Mega Man games commonly following the "defeat about eight bosses before going after the main bad guy" pattern, and each of those bosses having a unique stage and theme song, there is no shortage of music in this series. In fact, the series tally of boss robots in Mega Man games is more than 130. Mega Man 2, however, is special for a number of reasons. It's the best-selling title in the series to date. It was one of the first two NES games I ever managed to finish (the other being Super Mario Bros. 2). And its music is the music that people think of when they hear the phrase "Mega Man music."

To put it another way: Mega Man 2's soundtrack has become so iconic of the Mega Man series that Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (2014), which features Mega Man as a playable character, has opted to use music from Mega Man 2 rather than from the original in its soundtrack.

The Dr. Wily Stage 1 theme is probably the most popular piece from this work, with the title theme placing a close second. The latter is reprised in triumphant fashion after a strikingly melancholy ending cinematic in which the title character walks a lonesome road through autumn, winter, spring, tsuyu and summer before abandoning his helmet atop a pastoral hill.