Archive | November 2012

Assassin’s Creed III — Main Theme

I’ve been listening to this an awful lot lately.

I fully admit to being a devotee of the Assassin’s Creed games. A unique and interesting narrative is enough to sell me on a series, and though the overarching story has sometimes drifted into the realm of sci-fi/apocalyptic cliche, the characters and settings are totally engaging. I loved climbing all over Damascus during the Crusades. Renaissance Florence took my breath away. Even Constantinople was superb.

The Assassin’s Creed series is an excellent example of how a modern game’s score can be both interactive and cinematic, malleable and evocative. This main theme from the latest entry, while not done by series veteran Jesper Kyd, is driving and excellent. Good music for listening to if you need to get stuff done. Composer Lorne Balfe did a real good job.

 

Kingdom Hearts II — A Fight to the Death

My apologies for a bit of a hiatus! Real life has become doubly real in recent weeks.

The Kingdom Hearts series, in my experience, is a somewhat divisive one– not quite a “love it or hate it” scenario, but many of the gamers in my acquaintance are either tremendously enthused with the premise or exceptionally uninterested.

I’d posit that to like Kingdom Hearts, only a couple of things need to be true: You must A) be able to enjoy a simple action-RPG, and B) have some affection for the various worlds of the Disney universe. I’ve met a lot of people who possess these two criteria.

However, in order to love Kingdom Hearts, you have to have an exceptional tolerance for the usual JRPG abstract philosophical gobbledygook, with which the games are flooded. There’s so much talk of light and darkness and hearts and memories and faith and friendship that it’s quite overwhelming, especially when much of it is so abstract that it begins to make very little sense. (Riku is hindered by the darkness inside him, but also made powerful by it–and by “embracing” it, he gets to keep the power but not be manipulated by it? I think?) What do light and darkness even MEAN in this world? Are they synonymous with hope and despair, or kindness and anger? None of the characters ever seem to be able to satisfactorily explain it, especially later on in the series when light and darkness both seem to be good things? Maybe?

Whatever your feelings about the games’ narrative(s), you can’t possibly object to their scores, by Square’s talented Yoko Shimomura, responsible also for Parasite Eve and Legend of Mana, among others. I brought up “Hometown Domina” earlier, but the track I’ve provided here today is proof that Shimomura is quite adept at battle music as well. The juxtaposition of energetic piano and intense rhythm creates a superb sense of urgency, and “A Fight to the Death” is one of my favorite pieces of boss music ever. It brings in some of the leitmotifs that Shimomura establishes elsewhere in the score in a way that is very effective.

Also, it’s a very appropriate accompaniment to the absurdity that’s occurring in the game–apparently, after the release of FFVII: Advent Children, Square decided that the film’s style of “Dragon Ball meets the Matrix” action scenes would fit perfectly in the climax of Kingdom Hearts II. In fact, if you haven’t played the KH games, I’d almost say that KH2 is worth it for the final battle alone. Completely absurd, over-the-top action. Totally disconnected from reality.

I love it.

Suikoden II — Bright Curtains (the Cooking Duel)

It’s Election Day, and as America selects its leader (and its destiny), this song will be stuck in my head from the moment I get up until the moment the results are all in.

I… I don’t know why. It’s just a thing.

Humans + Gears — Quickening

Speaking of Xenogears.

It’s early morning on a Sunday, and I’ve risen from my bed in order to tackle an almost insurmountable stack of evaluations to write for my students. There’s no one else up in my house, so I decide to put on some OC Remixes and get to work.

The first track that comes on is this one, from the community’s “Humans + Gears” project, a two-disc album of Xenogears remixes. Though the whole thing is a bit hit-or-miss, there are a handful of truly exceptional tracks, including this take on “Faraway Promise” by remixers Avaris and Level 99. I highly recommend you check it out.

Xenogears ramps up its religious allegory/giant mechas theme pretty early on, so the game doesn’t often stray into the pastoral (not in the same way that, say, Legend of Mana does), but there are a couple of locales in the game that utilize Mitsuda’s brilliant score to convey that setting quite nicely. I think the acoustic piece that these fine remixers have put together only adds to this mood, and hearing it in the kitchen of my house early on a Sunday morning definitely makes me wistful for the farmhouse in which I grew up.

Xenogears — The One Who is Torn Apart

It’s NaNoWriMo time, and that means it’s time for me to assemble my yearly writing playlist.

Based on the tune I’m offering here, go ahead and take a guess at the tone of my piece this year.

Xenogears is one of the most brilliant and most flawed games I’ve ever played. When it was initially released, it was among the most technically and visually impressive games available for consoles, and certainly the JRPG with the greatest scope–beating out even the biggest Final Fantasies. (It probably still doesn’t stack up against the Baldur’s Gates and Planescape: Torment, but hey).

I’m always hesitant when I consider recommending that someone try and play through Xenogears. If you can cope with its pace, its difficulty, the often awkward and dull translation, and the fact that the game is essentially unfinished–the second disc is like an outline for what the developers envisioned the rest of the game ought to be–it’s one of the most thoughtfully created and emotionally resonant games out there. It’s a game that legitimately tries to tell a mature story, though the telling of that story is hampered by a number of factors.

Recommending Xenogears is kind of like recommending someone tackle Ulysses–if they can glean from it the brilliant and remarkable insights present within the text, there’s little that can compare with the experience. There’s just an awful lot to slog through in order to reach those jewels.

But seriously, though. You should totally play it.