Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Favorite Video Game Music, #39: Tecmo Super Bowl Ending

#39: Ending/Credits
Tecmo Super Bowl

This was for a long time the gold standard for triumphant music, and still stands near the top of that field. Ending music is supposed to be among the best on the soundtrack, of course; it's part of your reward for completing the game, so it SHOULD be awesome. So epic ending tracks will make frequent appearances on this list (though not as many as final battle tracks do.)

There's not much NES music on this list; after I'm done, with some help, I'm going to do a best of the NES list. Tecmo was a quirky little company, but it sure delivered the goods when it came to music. (And awesome sports games.) (But definitely NOT SNES RPGs.)

My Favorite Video Game Music, #40: Battle Against A Machine

#40: Battle Against A Machine

You could make a list of the top 50 ways in which EarthBound is unlike any other RPG if you wanted to. One of them is: there are about ten or twelve different random battle tracks, rather than the standard one. They range from mundane battle music (Black Antoids) to goofy (Spiteful Crows, Sharks) to trippy (Frank) and so forth.

But this one is the most "EarthBoundy" (remember that word?) of the bunch, which is fitting since it's the battle music of EarthBound's mascot villains, the Starmen. This music accompanies your fights against all varieties of Starman except the first one, Starman Junior, which gets EarthBound's rare "Super Boss" music for some strange reason.

It's not just the Starmen; it's kind of the "alien machine" theme, shared by some Spinning Robos and Wooly Shamblers and Octobots and such. Giygas doesn't throw a bunch of his alien spawn at you; EarthBound's designers figured, quite reasonably, that an advanced alien lifeform would probably show up with an army of robots.

In EarthBound you start out fighting mostly plants, animals and people that have flipped out thanks to Giygas's evil aura or whatever; but the further you go in the game, the more you have to hack your way through minions directly in Giygas' employ, which include lots of robots. And you hear this music more.

My Favorite Video Game Music, #41: J-E-N-O-V-A

#41: J-E-N-O-V-A
Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII is confusing as hell.

That's part of its charm; you spend most of the game just trying to figure out what exactly the hell is going on, and just when you think you've teased most of it out, the game laughs at you and says, "ha ha! WRONG again, bucko!"

Anyway, for all you hear this stuff about Sephiroth is the baddest bad guy that ever walked the bit-field, Sephiroth was just certified batshit insane. Even Kefka was the textbook diagram of sound mental stability compared to him. The real sinister evil you're struggling against in Final Fantasy VII is Jenova, the mastermind alien lifeform that crashed into the FF7 world (I think it's mostly called "The Planet" or "Gaia" in-game) a long time ago and has been plotting to eat out its soul since.

(If you're thinking, "it sounds a lot like Square's plotters said, hey, Kefka and Lavos were both crazy popular, so let's PUT THEM TOGETHER!", you are exactly right. And it worked exactly as they hoped. Sephiroth/Jenova remains the most popular video game villain in history.)

There's little to say about Jenova's boss battle theme except it's awesome, the high-pitched background beat is iconic, and yes, it can be done in an 8-bit version that is equally awesome. This is Final Fantasy VII's Super Boss music; actually, almost all of FFVII's Super Bosses are Jenova. Every time you think you're finally about to throw down with Sephiroth, sure enough, you hear those opening notes of J-E-N-O-V-A and here we go again with Jenova instead. You get used to it after a while. And maybe you even pick up the somewhat-subtle hint that what you think is Sephiroth you're chasing all over the planet is actually more like Jenova manifesting itself as him, or through him.

My Favorite Video Game Music, #42: Giott, King of the Dwarves

#42: Giott, King of the Dwarves
Final Fantasy IV




My Favorite Video Game Music, #43: Fight Against Smithy

#43: Fight Against Smithy
Super Mario RPG

This is the first entry in the Top 50 from the "Final Battle" category. Final Battle music should kick ass, of course. After all, this is the specific thing you've been pouring all those hours of gameplay into; this is where you save the world, once and for all.

Super Mario RPG is one of the easiest games ever produced, and its final battle doesn't disappoint; you would have to be so woefully unprepared to get killed by Smithy that you almost would have to have done it on purpose. (You got this far, after all, so unless you've been intentionally trying to play a low level game, your level won't be a problem.) Even without the invincibility items (Lazy Shell, Super Suit), you're not getting killed unless you're not paying attention at all.

This, I should mention in case you don't know, actually isn't the FINAL final battle music; it's the tune for the first of the two back-to-back Smithy battles, and the better of the two. Very appropriate for the weapons factory background, whereas the second and final phase is more of a Rule of Cool thing where you fight him deep underground because the fiery background is awesome.

By the way, Super Mario RPG is close to unique in that you never see the Big Bad even once until the final confrontation. (In fact, the first time I played the game I assumed, right up until the Exor fight, that Smithy was the big freaking sword stuck in Bowser's Keep.) There are two other RPGs I've played that are like that: EarthBound, which makes a very big deal about how threatening Giygas is and then follows through with a final battle sequence that will make you wet your pants; and Final Fantasy IV, in which the guy you spend the whole game THINKING is the Big Bad turns out to be a good guy that was under mind control the whole time. (It works better than it sounds.) And don't yell at me about spoilers, either. The game's probably older than you are, for Leviathan's sake.

In most RPGs the Big Bad haunts your steps at every turn, and you usually confront him a few times before the end. (Even Final Fantasy IV kind of falls in this category.) Not so in Super Mario RPG and EarthBound, and they both pull off the big reveal well, albeit in completely different ways.

This music is also the second runner-up in "Best Video Game Music to Use For a Boxer's Intro Music."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Favorite Video Game Music, #44: Boss Battle

#44: Boss Battle
Final Fantasy IV

Yeah, I know. Some of these tracks are imaginatively named, eh?

If I were paying much attention to historical significance of musical pieces, this would be rated much higher, I reckon. But I'm not; I'm mostly just rating them by how much I like them, and honestly there's not much separating #44 from, say, #24.

This was THE boss battle music that set the bar for boss battle music. That bar remains where Final Fantasy IV set it today, pretty much. In fact, this is the only "standard" boss battle music to make this Top 50, though several "this is BIG" boss battle pieces are going to be seen here (including Final Fantasy IV's.)

The bottom line is, I'm not sure if, on the whole, Final Fantasy IV's slate of battle music has ever been matched. It's been 20 years now since that game blazed the path for the great RPGs of the 1990s, and I do believe that with each passing RPG that came along, battles were emphasized less and less, story more and more, until we got to Final Fantasy VII, which was the tipping point. Brought to you by the power of CDs, Final Fantasy VII introduced FMV, Full Motion Video, to the gaming world. There wasn't actually all that much FMV in the game--not much more than Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the N64, only a year newer and on inferior technology, offered--but it was very well received and that opened the floodgates. Since Final Fantasy VIII, the series has been less and less battling and more and more watching a movie with every installment, at least until it turned MMORPG.

But Final Fantasy IV, in addition to having one of the best stories of any video game even to this day, was very battle focused. By which I mean, if you wanted to get anywhere with the game (short of tweaking some very advanced stuff), you had to grind. And grind. And grind. The only way to beat the bosses was to gain more levels. And the challenge factor, by which I mean the grind more levels factor, was tuned down, a lot, from the original for the American version.

Of all the RPGs I played over and over from that era, the only one that required you to spend more time grinding levels was Lufia. And I'll be honest: Lufia had a great story, and that's why I stubbornly kept to it, but the gameplay was god-awful. That game still holds the all-time record for tedium.

Anyway, as I recall this was supposed to be about music. No piece of standard battle music was considered for this list; sorry, but I just listened to it all too damned much. But Final Fantasy IV probably also sets the enduring standard for regular battle music. (Well, EarthBound does, actually, but no one EarthBound track individually stands up to the standard music you heard in every battle in the Square games.) And this is the best normal boss battle music. And Battle With Golbeze's Four Emperors (or Fiends, or Gods, or whatever) ranks near the top of the super-boss battle music list.

Bottom line: Battling in Final Fantasy IV was a LOT more tolerable than in Lufia, and I suspect the music is a big reason why.

While we're here: In terms of battle system design, Square peaked with Final Fantasy V (the least known of the Super Nintendo series, as it wasn't released in North America until like three years ago.) IV's battle system was pretty good but tedious, and VI's was excellent except some options were pretty broken and over-centralized the game. VII's battle system was, honestly, poorly designed, and wasted ridiculous amounts of the player's time. Final Fantasy VII did not require much grinding at all, but mundane random encounter battles were aggravatingly long, causing you to spend about as much time in-battle as you did in Lufia. I keep a book handy to read while waiting for battles to end. That game REALLY needed an "animations off" button, like Ogre Battle had.

Or, Final Fantasy IV's battle music. If it had that, I might not mind so much.

My Favorite Video Game Music, #45: Boss Battle 2

Boss Battle 2
Chrono Trigger

You'll notice as this list goes on that I'm very fond of drama and climax in video games. And nothing is as dramatic or climactic as a good boss battle. This is why most of your classic RPGs have two (usually exactly two) non-Big Bad boss battle themes: one for the common bosses, and one for the handful of REAL bosses. (Chrono Trigger has three, but that's a bit of a special case; we'll get to that later.)

You'll also notice as this list goes on that I'm fond of music that has a good opening riff. This track qualifies on both those counts. It's used for five or six boss battles in Chrono Trigger: Masa&Mune (their individual forms Masa and Mune get the normal boss music,) Azala/Black Tyrano, Great Ozzie/Super Slash/Flea Plus, Rust Tyrano, Son of Sun, and Zeal (if Magus isn't in your party). The latter four are in the endgame, so really that leaves just the two bosses that the game declares, by giving them this music, to be the most important in the game (other than Magus).

This music's tone is unmistakable. The first time you hear it, when you encounter the Masa&Mune battle, you immediately realize: it is on. Cue big gulp. (Masa&Mune turns out to not be a particularly tough boss, but still. It's an important battle, is what you instantly realize.)

Then, near the end, in lieu of any textual development, the programmers just use this music to make the player understand that Son of Sun, who the player has never heard of before even once, is a serious boss and that the Sun Palace is not a plaything. And it works, because the music is just that good.

My Favorite Video Game Music, #46: Gold Saucer

#46: Gold Saucer
Final Fantasy VII

If you've ever played Final Fantasy VII all the way through at least once, I can pretty near guarantee you don't need to click the Youtube link to hear this song. Even if you haven't touched the game in ten years, this ridiculously, relentlessly upbeat music started up in your brain the instant the words "Gold Saucer" appeared on your screen. You can't help it. Not even if you've tried electroshock therapy.

For the uninitiate, this is because a Final Fantasy VII player spends a LOT of time at the Gold Saucer. And by "a lot," I mean "about how long it takes to complete a four-credit college course." There are several very nifty items to be obtained there, but usually only after you've poured many hours into shooting basketballs, killing d00dz, running in and out of the front entrance over and over (don't ask,) etc. And all the while (except when you're killing d00dz, but that doesn't take as long,) you will be listening to this music.

And yet I don't hate it. In fact, I kind of like it. And even my girl, who hates nearly all of the video game music I listen to all the time, said, "hey, I don't mind that one." So they had to have done something right there.

And if you were one of many who played Final Fantasy VII far more than any other video game ever, that probably means you spent more time listening to this particular piece than any other. It would be a close race between this and the game's generic battle music.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Favorite Video Game Music, #47: Winters White

#47: Winters White

EarthBound doesn't have many entries on this Top 50, yet I'm fonder if its music than almost any other game. How's that happen? Well... EarthBound's music, like its graphics, its story and its gameplay, have that certain quality that is very difficult to enunciate and that most EarthBound fans resort to calling "EarthBoundy." That is to say that the music almost always contributes to the engrossing atmosphere; EarthBound really sucks you in like no other game does, if it strikes the right chord with you. That's why it's had such a fanatical following for so many years; it's the Monty Python of video games, the not-quite-popular game that has stayed on the radar because its fans are inordinately dedicated.

But EarthBound's music does not, for the most part, translate well to listening to outside of the game. You download it to your mp3 player and listen to it while you're working out, and all but a few tracks kind of fall flat. Divorced from the gameplay and story, they just don't stand up too well. The Square games, on the other hand, all feature many tracks that do sound terrific even when not associated with the game itself. So it is fair to say they have better music than EarthBound does.

Anyway, let's talk about this particular piece, which is the only atmosphere piece from EarthBound that made this Top 50. There are a couple worthy candidates I might have chosen: the musical themes of Fourside, Scaraba, Magicant and the Lost Underworld come to mind. But I like the Winters theme the best. For one thing, it sounds like Christmas (sleigh bells, don't you know) and who doesn't like Christmas? That by itself guarantees that as soon as you hear this song, you're going to think about hot chocolate and bright lights and similarly cheery thoughts. And it also invokes one of my favorite images: the snowy roads and fields on a cloudy winter night, the kind where the snow glows even if there's little moonlight. The music, like a winter night, is enjoyable, peaceful, hopeful, and oddly inviting.

My Favorite Video Game Music, #48: Frog's Theme

#48: Frog's Theme
Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger partisans usually have this track rated higher than I do. Chrono Trigger may have the greatest soundtrack of any video game, bar none; it is the most represented of any game in this Top 50.

I will say this, though--Chrono Trigger excels at atmosphere music, music that sets the tone for whatever action is going on. All the boss battle tracks are superior, and many of the background music tracks are classics. (Though I do not care for the "outside of town" music in A.D. 1000, and will not be persuaded otherwise. It's the chink in the otherwise unscratchable armor.)

But Chrono Trigger is awfully weak on character themes. I don't care for any of them, actually, except Crono's (which doubles as the main theme for the game) and this one. Marle's theme is just terrible, Lucca's is fun but not fitting of her character in any discernible way, Ayla's is more fitting but not very good music. Robo's theme music is good and was among the final cuts for this list.

But Frog's Theme is a great piece of music that hits all the right notes. First and foremost, it's simply good music, and secondly, it's very appropriate music for the character: Heroic, tragic, and a little bit angsty. The consensus of Chrono Trigger fans seems to be that Glenn/Frog is one of the great RPG characters ever. He wouldn't crack my top 10. The "woe is me" angst with him is either poorly played or just spread on too thick, but for a legendary hero it sure took a lot of effort on Team Crono's part to get him to get off his ass and do anything. (I care even less for Locke of Final Fantasy VI, which is appropriate since there's a lot of overlap in those two characters' fan clubs, which is appropriate since they're both whiny angst-balls.)

But I will say this: Frog gets a way better character theme than Locke. Which is saying something, because Locke's theme isn't half bad.

I don't think I'm holding my lukewarm attitude about Frog against him in ranking his theme; it is very good, but then, everything on this list is very good. But it is a point in the composer's favor whenever one's opinion of a character's theme music seems inseparable from one's opinion of the character. That's how you know the music is appropriate.

My Favorite Video Game Music, #49: Booster Tower

#49: Booster Tower
Super Mario RPG

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the trophy winner for "Best Elevator Music in a Video Game." At least, the first Booster Tower theme is. I don't think the thrash country or whatever you'd call that second piece is anything anyone would expect to hear in an elevator, or any other public place. But that doesn't make it less awesome.

Booster Tower is probably the most off-the-wall dungeon you'll encounter in any RPG, the one most likely to make you scratch your head, say something along the lines of "WTF?" but still enjoy the hell out of it. Come to think of it, Super Mario RPG in general is that way. It was the easiest RPG ever created, and the storyline is little more than an excuse plot--but the game was fun, dammit. In other words, it's right in Mario flavor.

Booster has nothing to do with Mario at all, of course, and was made up from whole cloth for this game, where you raid his tower, grab the princess (in her last appearance as "Toadstool") and then never think about him again. But as far as zany and random mini-bosses go, Booster is just plain hilarious, and his tower still stands as one of the most fun dungeons in gaming. And this music captures its flavor nicely.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Favorite Video Game Music, #50: Ness's Bike

#50: Ness's Bike (EarthBound)

I would rate this song quite a lot higher if it were actually used in any significant part of EarthBound, but alas, it is resigned to a delightful little miscellaneous parts bin. But really, all you need to know to understand how different EarthBound is from every other RPG in existence is that this piece of music is in it. It's peppy. It's happy. It's carefree. It's everything RPG's aren't supposed to be. In fact, you don't see the kind of themes this music invokes in just about any video game that isn't aimed at young children.

EarthBound isn't aimed at young children by a sight, not even as much as Pokémon is. (A few other pieces of music that will appear later in this list will demonstrate that.) EarthBound is a deceptively mature game that pulls on remarkably mature emotions--but you have to be drawn in by its zany and semi-cartoony feel to understand it.

And what's really interesting is, you don't have to have ever heard of EarthBound to understand all of the above just by listening to this music.

I dare you to listen to it without whistling along. I double dare you.

My Favorite Video Game Music: Introduction

I'm going to be posting my favorite pieces of video game music, one by one, on here until I'm through. I put together a top 50 list, actually, and will count it down from #50 with a YouTube link and a little mini-essay on each one.

This is NOT some kind of faux-authoritative list on which video game music you should like. It's what music I like, and you will see that I have odd tastes. (I'll have fun elaborating on those tastes as I go.) Also, if your favorite game is completely omitted from the list, you're in good company with millions of other people. This is because the list draws only from games I played, and I only played a small number of games. I grew up in a house where money was pretty tight, and I got two new games a year: one in May for my birthday, and one on Christmas day. That pattern never varied for 12 years, ages 6 to 18. All of my gaming experience was on the NES (15%), SNES (75%) and N64 (10%). I hardly ever touched a Genesis or a PlayStation. And my experience ends in about 1999.

The entire list, then, is pulled from a handful of games. Almost all the music on it, actually, comes from the great SNES RPG's, because those were my favorite games. There are a few exceptions.

Every song on the list comes from one of the following games:

Chrono Trigger
Final Fantasy IV, V, VI and VII
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Lufia II
Mario Kart 64
Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario RPG
Super Mario 64
Tecmo Super Bowl

And that's it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tecmo Speaks on Super Bowl 45

Simulation 1

Packers 0 13 0 0 13
Steelers 10 0 7 0 17

Scoring Summary
1Q: Hines Ward 9 yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger (0-7)
2Q: Shaun Suisham 33 yard field goal (0-10)
2Q: Greg Jennings 28 yard pass from Aaron Rodgers (7-10)
2Q: Mason Crosby 33 yard field goal (10-10)
2Q: Mason Crosby 37 yard field goal (10-13)
3Q: Mewelde Moore 12 yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger (17-13)

Injuries: Emmanuel Sanders, James Jones, Greg Jennings

Player of the Game: Greg Jennings (5 receptions, 142 yards, 1 TD)

Simulation 2

Packers 0 7 0 3 14
Steelers 7 7 7 0 21

Scoring Summary
1Q: Hines Ward 13 yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger (0-7)
2Q: Rashard Mendenhall 4 yard run (0-14)
2Q: James Starks 10 yard pass from Aaron Rodgers (7-14)
3Q: Mike Wallace 7 yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger (7-21)
4Q: James Starks 1 yard run; 2-point conversion failed (13-21)

Injuries: Rashard Mendenhall

Player of the Game: Rashard Mendenhall (10 carries, 122 yards, 1 TD)

Simulation 3

Packers 7 7 7 14 35
Steelers 0 0 0 7 7

Scoring Summary
1Q: Donald Driver 6 yard pass from Aaron Rodgers (7-0)
2Q: James Jones 8 yard run (14-0)
3Q: Greg Jennings 33 yard pass from Aaron Rodgers (21-0)
4Q: Greg Jennings 24 yard pass from Aaron Rodgers (28-0)
4Q: James Jones 14 yard pass from Aaron Rodgers (35-0)
4Q: Emmanual Sanders 7 yard run (35-7)

Injuries: Tramon Williams, Ryan Clark

Player of the Game: Aaron Rodgers (11-16, 245 yards, 3 TD)

Simulation 4

Packers 3 0 0 13 16
Steelers 7 7 3 0 17

Scoring Summary
1Q: Mike Wallace 21 yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger (0-7)
1Q: Mason Crosby 14 yard field goal (3-7)
2Q: Mike Wallace 4 yard fumble return (3-14)
3Q: Shaun Suisham 41 yard field goal (3-17)
4Q: James Jones 1 yard run (10-17)
4Q: Greg Jennings 34 yard pass from Aaron Rodgers; 2-point conversion failed (16-17)

Injuries: Ben Roethlisberger, Casey Hampton

Player of the Game: Ziggy Hood (2 sacks)

Simulation 5

Packers 3 0 0 10 13
Steelers 7 7 7 0 21

Scoring Summary
1Q: Emmanuel Sanders 8 yard run (0-7)
1Q: Mason Crosby 47 yard field goal (3-7)
2Q: Emmanuel Sanders 9 yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger (3-14)
3Q: Rashard Mendenhall 1 yard run (3-21)
4Q: Mason Crosby 31 yard field goal (6-21)
4Q: Greg Jennings 21 yard pass from Aaron Rodgers (13-21)

Injuries: James Jones, Cullen Jenkins

Player of the Game: Emmanuel Sanders (17 carries, 86 yards, 1 TD; 1 reception, 9 yards, 1 TD)

Packers: 13,14,35,16,13
Steelers: 17,21,7,17,21

Mean score: Packers 18; Steelers 17
Median score: Packers 14; Steeelers 17

TECMO'S PREDICTION: The Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowl 45, 17-16.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Test post

Check it out, dudes: just last month we got like 80 inquiries from high-wealth types looking for some of our prime juicy real estate.

We ought to accommodate them. Our real estate firms are chomping at the bit to sell them some land, but you know how rich folk are, always bitching about how there ought to be a, whatyacallit, doctor in the town they live in.

Yeah, but we put a hospital in here and they'll just move haphazardly right into the middle of the slums. That's the last damn thing I need, a line of rich morons at my office that moved into the slums and then want to bitch about the neighborhood.

So we bandied that about a little and decided the best way to deal with it would be to lay out some land for the rich folk, put a clinic in the middle of it, but not give it any ambulances. The rich snobs ought to like that, a medical clinic undefiled by filthy peasants. The peasants won't like it none too much, but since when do we care about peasants?