Monday, April 22, 2019

100 Albums Supplemental: Video Game Soundtracks

So far on this list I've had two broadway soundtracks, one movie soundtrack (two if you count Help!, which isn't really one but...), and one season of a score from a television show. I like soundtracks. One thing that is not going to show up on this list but is very much represented in my music collection is soundtracks to video games. They're usually available for a couple dollars as DLC, if you don't mind hunting through system folders to find them. I love video game music, but the soundtrack albums tend to not make very good albums. Invariably, some of the music is really more about setting a soundscape, which is really cool in a game and hard to listen to on its own. But it does mean that even the best ones are hit-or-miss. And some of them are really shoddily put together. But they can also be incredible in their own weird way. So here's a smattering of video game soundtracks that I don't really listen to, but definitely have a couple tracks mixed into my favorite playlists.

Darren Korb - Bastion

Swampy steel guitars and a low-key country vibe under light-industrial drums. It reminds me of Firefly a little. The best song: Spike In A Rail.

Aperture Science Psychoacoustic Laboratories - Portal 2: Song To Test By

It's four freaking discs long. And it includes the soundtrack for the entire first game as well, because of course it does. It generally blips along pleasantly (or darkly) enough, but there are some great high points. Robots ftw has a bouncy, dissonant party vibe. Furthering The Cause Of Science does a good job of capturing the awe-and-wonder side of the game. And of course there's the brilliant Still Alive penned by Jonathan Coulton that plays under the closing credits of the first game.

Markus Captain Kaarlonen - Rochard

A game about space junkers with a bluesy theme song, the album is surprisingly made mostly of ambient tracks with big shimmery orchestral swells. Aliens & Indians is worth your time.

The Adjective Plural Noun - Full Boar

Actually this album is terrible. It was pretty clearly put together by a multi-instrumentalist who could play anything but didn't really know much about tracking. The crazy-impressive guitar work is all out of sync with itself. But I included it anyway because it is one of my favorite band names.

Mike O.K. - Windforge

Steampunk RPG that's... not well-received. The soundtrack mostly builds itself around one particular theme, but it's a huge theme, almost on the scale of Lux Aeterna from Requiem For A Dream. It churns relentlessly but has a gorgeous melodic resolve in the fourth bar. It's best exemplified in the track At The Top Of The World.

Jean-Marc Giffin - Sentinels of the Multiverse

There are currently seven volumes with an eighth on the way--one for each of the expansions. Since this is an adaptation of a tabletop game, it doesn't have levels or the kind of narrative progression you see in most video games. Instead, the tracks are all musical themes tied to either a location or a character, and these characters and environments are riffs on traditional comic book settings. So you have the crime-ridden urban noir theme, or the theme for Wager-Master, an impish villain who wants to put the heroes through a life-or-death game show. These can get weirdly specific in very entertaining ways. Omnitron is a villain from the base game who comes back as an environment later, so its environment theme is an expansion and deconstruction of its villain theme. The Time Cataclysm theme is based on the idea that the deck of cards it represents is a mash-up of environments from all the previous games, so the song for it is a seventeen-minute series of mash-ups of previous themes. There are fifteen "team" villains that you fight not individually but in groups of three to five, and all of them have the same melody for their themes but with different arrangements, because when you hear that theme in the game, it's built of threads of all the individual villains, meaning you get a different arrangement depending on which villains you fought and what order you had them standing in. Honestly, it's all kind of amazing.

Nobuo Uematsu - Final Fantasy VI

The music in Final Fantasy is generally well regarded, but FFVI is definitely the highlight, and I'm not just saying that because it's my favorite video game of all time. But seriously, just listen to this theme that you walk around the world-map to! The music is gorgeously composed and doesn't fall into the some-of-it's-just-a-creepy-soundscape trap. On the other hand, it's three hours of chiptunes, none of which have an actual ending because they're made to loop indefinitely in the game. So for each track you hear the theme looped through twice and then fade out.

And you can't talk about Final Fantasy VI without mentioning...

Overclocked ReMix - Final Fantasy VI: Balance And Ruin

This is a fan reinterpretation of the music from FFVI and you can download all six insane hours of it for free! Every single track was recorded by a different artist, so you wind up with fingerstyle-guitar, rag time, and dubstep--all on the same disc! There's a gorgeous classical rendition of the evil Emperor's theme. The iconic-if-clunky opera (yes, this is a 16-bit game with a major story arc surrounding an opera) is given a 9-minute treatment by someone who, methinks, is a big fan of the song Bohemian Rhapsody. If you're a fan of the game, you need to have checked this one out.

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