Hello to you all once again! I, Nephrite, have returned to continue and conclude my unusual digression into the world of video games and their music. Previously I discussed some prime examples where the music in question either explicitly was designed to create a particular emotional response or successfully created one in me as a player without that being the direct intention. Nostalgia, Video Games and the Power Of Music. Now to return to my theme. It is highly recommended you read my previous article on this subject if you haven’t as this one is intended as a direct continuation.
Part 4: A Flying Battery, A Hedgehog and Fan Mania
My next example will take us away from Nintendo and on to their main rival during the 1990s. Sega and their blue friend Sonic The Hedgehog. Sonic is well known for his ubiquitous speed and that has a habit of spreading over into the series’s music. To the point in themodern day that even if a game ends up not so great the music is universally agreed to be a positive. But back to my main point.
Flying Battery Zone Acts 1 and 2 are a personal favourite pair of songs from the hedgehog’s glory years in the 1994 game Sonic and Knuckles. However as much as I enjoy the original versions those aren’t the ones I’m covering. Sonic as a series has a reputation for being very accepting of various forms of fan creativity. This even spreads to allowing fans to help create a special anniversary game in 2017 called Sonic Mania with fan creators and developers recreating some classic levels and creating new ones as well as fan musicians working on the soundtrack.
The musician for Sonic Mania goes by the name of Tee Lopes and has quite the talent for catchy music. The versions of the two Flying Battery Zone Acts created for Sonic Mania have excellent music alongside them. The first Act – as is common with the Sonic Mania soundtrack – attempts to create a modernised recreation of the classic Flying Battery Zone music up to and including using as many of the original electronic synthesised instruments as possible complete with an intense rhythm and very powerful feel.
This allows Tee Lopes to play on the fan’s memories, be it flashing back to when they were children, playing at their friend’s houses or introducing their own children to the games they enjoyed when they were young. Combine this with the redesigned levels of Mania and it can be quite the powerful experience. Act 2 on the other hand is much different with both the level and the music exploding with differences and creativity compared to the original as the fans are able to show just how important these games were and are to them and what they mean to these people. Real or not, these games and creators had quite the impact on their…our…formative years. There’s a reason Sonic Mania is the best selling game in the series in 25 years since the classic 1990s originals. But I have more games to discuss today.
Part 5: The Belmonts, Dracula and Legacy
The next game under discussion is part of the beloved Castlevania series originally created by the company Konami. Castlevania is a series of games where the list of well known and fan favourite songs could go on from dawn till dusk. A very traditional horror inspired series, you follow the vampire hunting Belmont clan over the course of the games as they fight the ever looming threat of Dracula and his minions.
One of the most famous, most covered and remixed and ever lasting songs from the series comes from the 1991 game Super Castlevania IV. IV’s music was created by Masanori Adachi and Taro Kudo who did an excellent job with the game’s spooky, morbid and occasionally bizarre music. One of the few exceptions to this (not counting redone versions of themes from previous games) was the theme for the game’s hero Simon Belmont which is used early in the game as a level theme.
Simon’s Theme is a very motivational and positive song. With its strong use of electronic instruments to echo the sound of a powerful organ and piano and later on in the piece echoing trumpets it comes across to the player as a challenge. As though Simon through the music is pushing you on. You already got as far as the gates of Dracula’s castle. You can’t chicken out now! If you don’t do it whose going to take on Dracula and destroy the ancient menace? The music later on in the piece seems to acknowledge the intensity of the challenge given during a slower and sadder section but it is immediately followed by a resurgence of the triumphant organ. Much the same happens later in the game partway through the final battle with Dracula where the previously playing ominous music (very worthy of the vampire lord) is replaced by Simon’s Theme to give you as a player that final push to break through, deal those final strikes, and save the world from the dangers inside Dracula’s Castle. But then Dracula…no matter his importance isn’t the only vampire I shall be mentioning today.
Part 6: Touhou, The Scarlet Sisters and The Scarlet Devil Mansion
I have to say I never thought I’d be mentioning the Touhou series in my articles! The Touhou series of games is a somewhat famous series of PC games made in Japan as part of a genre of games called bullet hell games or danmaku. They are a subgenre of vertical shoot-em-ups where as well as controlling a character, ship, or something similar with access to weapons, the player’s view is practically overrun with bullets (hence the name) and the player must avoid danger from attack patterns while also finding the right timing to attack the various bosses.
The Touhou games are created by and composed by ZUN otherwise known as Jun’ya Ōta. The specific game I shall mention is the sixth game in the Touhou Project series from 2002 known outside of Japan as Touhou: The Embodiment Of Scarlet Devil. In this one the main characters have to fight their way inside the Scarlet Devil Mansion run by a vampire by the name of Remilia Scarlet. The Touhou games have quite the fan following and an entire fan subculture based around groups of individuals working on numerous music albums based on remixing Touhou music and in some cases creating entirely original albeit unofficial games based on Touhou’s characters. That should tell my readers something about the popularity of these characters!
The character and associated music piece I shall be mentioning in particular is the secret extra boss in this game. Flandre Scarlet is Remilia’s sister…who has been in the mansion’s basement for 495 years! As a result Flandre’s theme – U.N. Owen was her? (Not a typo I promise) is extremely chaotic, representing Flandre’s extremely unstable, very juvenile and almost unknowing mental state. It has been made clear both in the original and other media that she genuinely has no idea what she does. She simply wishes to play. Except…being a vampire with no control, you know what that would mean.
It sounds almost like a mix of a child playing on some form of electronic xylophone intermixed with very prominent scare chords that sound like someone having far too much fun recreating the shower scene from Psycho with the backing of a very enthusiastic orchestra albeit with a clear tone of sadness and melancholy underneath the madness.
It is not uncommon for fan versions of U.N. Owen – of which there are an uncountable number due to its iconic nature in the fan community and going viral on the internet on several occasions – to include gothic choirs, singers that sound somewhat like children or entirely new sections designed solely to add either to the sadness of the original or make it feel even more mad than the original.The original does carry quite the impact especially to individuals who care for the series but it can be quite the experience even for those with no prior exposure.
I hope that reading these has been as intriguing for those of you who did join me on my unusual journey as it was for me to write them. I could have kept going even still – and in fact that was the original plan – but I don’t want to go on for too long or bore my readers. Maybe one day I can discuss the world of Mega Man, be it Classic or the X games and the music of 21XX. But for now I shall be returning to my usual haunt of audiobooks. See you all soon when I am ready to return!