Culture

Nostalgia, Video Games and the Power Of Music

Hello once again to you all! It’s been quite some time but after my recent marathon of reviews based on similar subjects (my last topic not relating to sci-fi or comic heroes in some way was Anno Dracula after all) I’ve decided to return to one of my occasional opinion pieces. As for my topic? I’ve always considered discussing gaming in some way. But for the most part those are Sgathaich’s domain…however audio is mine so why not discuss music?

I’m probably giving my age away here but whatever. I am very much of the first generation where video games of any sort weren’t just a novelty making beeps and bloops like the 1970s Atari machines and where it was a possibility for machines to be inherited or borrowed from siblings. Why am I bringing this up? Because this means that I grew up with these machines as the norm. Be it Nintendo’s NES or Super Nintendo, Sega’s Mega Drive or later the original generation Sony PlayStation, these machines and their tunes burned their way into your brain. But perhaps I should name some examples?

Some of the songs I’m going to discuss are ones I remember very fondly from my childhood which literally never left my brain. Others are ones I’ve discovered in recent years and developed a genuine emotional attachment towards and nostalgia for.

Part 1 – A Rare Simian Cavalcade

Let’s begin with Nintendo and their original mascot before Mario, Donkey Kong…or in this case the 1990s Super Nintendo Donkey Kong Country trilogy! DKC is a game series that is well known for its extremely catchy music courtesy of David Wise, Robin Beanland, Grant Kirkhope and their fellow composers for British game studio Rare. The series shines as an example of the use of wonderfully intricate melodies and composition to bury themselves in the player’s mind. The jazzy style of the majority of the music (such as the main theme to the original game, the first level music DK Island Swing and the appropriately menacing final boss music Gangplank Galleon) also makes it stand out heavily from the traditional styles of most game music back then – synthesisers – or in modern years through attempts at cinematic sound.

However my personal favourite comes from the second game in the trilogy Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest under the name Mining Melancholy or alternatively Kannon’s Klaim. Melancholy’s heavy use of drums and ambience alongside the other instruments of note used to replicate the sounds of a mineshaft in operation do indeed give it a strongly mechanical air which made it a song I oddly adored when I first discovered it several years ago but the soothingly melodic choir partway through the song still give it a sense of sadness and desperation for me as well as the ability to draw tears from me just based on the music alone.

Between the drum rhythm and the choir Mining Melancholy has indeed developed a reputation as one of the more fondly thought of songs in a series known for excellent music. There’s a reason that when the DKC series was resurrected with new games on more modern consoles the lack of David Wise and company on the soundtrack raised enough eyebrows that the most recent game Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze made a point of having Wise return and also why Wise, Beanland and Kirkhope have a history of contributing to fan remix collections for the DKC series of which there are SEVERAL.

Part 2 – A Wish Upon The Stars

As for my second game or series of choice? Sticking with the Super Nintendo for now let’s check in on Mario. But not through a game that made it to the UK…at least not initially. Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars was a co-produced game between Nintendo and Japanese game developers Square who – especially at the time – had a reputation for producing excellent Role Playing Games as the creators of the Final Fantasy series. The game had multiple composers from both Square and Nintendo in the form of Yoko Shimomura, Koji Kondo and Nobuo Uematsu all three of them are world famous and very highly respected figures.

The song I feel I must address here is the Forest Maze (also known as Beware The Forest’s Mushrooms) which is considered the most famous song from the entire game as well as one that is infamously catchy and addicting. My main reason for adding it here is that as a melody that I discovered many years ago through the power of the internet, it affects me somewhat personally as a tune which I consider almost inherently tied to nostalgia. The positive and happy and extremely cheerful atmosphere really does make me as a listener think of a strong and long lasting forest with children, nature or fairy creatures running throughout it. It just seems such an innocent song that it can very easily worm its way into your mind and as in my case become intrinsically linked with certain thoughts despite never having played the game (unlike DKC which I have at least played.) Super Mario RPG did eventually make it to the UK during the lifetime of the Nintendo Wii console through that system’s Virtual Console method of playing classic games.

Part 3 – To Good Friends And Far Away Times

My next game under the microscope is one I was originally going to write a giant article about all on its own. Another of Square’s famed Super Nintendo RPGs. The legendary Chrono Trigger. ChronoTrigger is a very complex game involving time travel, preventing multiple apocalypses, undoing tragedy, robots, frog men and so much more than I can say here. (Gee I wonder why it might appeal to the science fiction nerd in me…)

As well as being a genuine attempt by Square as a company to create their magnum opus in terms of story and game production – and interestingly containing character designs from world renowned manga writer and artist Akira Toriyama, he of Dragon Ball fame – Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack is universally regarded as a masterpiece in the medium. The game’s composer Yasunori Mitsudais now considered something of a master craftsman with Chrono Trigger being his first work as a composer. It features many songs from numerous different musical styles ranging from something worthy of a fantasy hero of old for the chivalrous knight character of Frog (not a typo!) and his theme, something akin to being lost in one’s own mind and at one’s tether while completely isolated for Brink Of Time and something utterly joyous and celebratory for First Festival Of Stars (a personal favourite from a soundtrack I absolutely adore) but none of these are the reason I had to mention Chrono Trigger here today.

Chrono Trigger as a soundtrack would earn its reputation for one song alone even if all the other great works were removed. Singing Mountain. Singing Mountain is an interesting case as despite being composed for and intended for the game it was decided to cut it late on. Despite the song not being in the original game it was still included on all soundtrack releases and developed a reputation among fans. One I feel it deserves. Chrono Trigger is a game deeply important to me as I experienced it at a transitional period in my life and I became deeply attached to the stories of the characters as well as the music.

Singing Mountain is a glorious ethereal choir piece with a truly intricate harmony. The voices are heard clearly and shine with beauty worthy of an ice capped mountain up in the Andes. A piece which makes me think of both isolation at the peak and being together with friends by a fire during a climb, Singing Mountain has brought me personally to tears on more than one occasion due both to the strong emotional attachment I hold to the game itself, the power of the composition and the memories of my life which it somehow manages to conjure. There is a solid reason that I went out of my way to import a copy of Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack from Japan and why I’ve spent my entire time writing this section listening to Singing Mountain.

I could bring in so many other examples in gaming: A certain flying battery and a nuisance of a hedgehog, one of the vampire sisters from the Scarlet Devil Mansion, a vampire killer who is the most famous scion of a great house and endless others but for this article I think I’m done.

On the other hand I’m not quite finished talking about video game music and nostalgia. I hope you’ll be willing to indulge me yet once more as I discuss the sheer power this music can have if you let it embrace you.

Sayonara!

Nephrite

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