The Storytelling is in the Music
This is a guest post by Elliott who can be found @2PProject.
editors note, listen to the songs after each paragraph while reading to best experience the story!
I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t drive anywhere without having the tunes cranked. It’s normal to enjoy music from time to time, and, for the most part, listening to music can improve your day. I’m not normal. Well, I might be normal among the audiophiles of the world, but if you ask my wife she would beg to differ. She rarely listens to music. In general, she claims the music disrupts her focus and puts her to sleep. I on the other hand, have music going when I’m cooking, when I’m working out, while I’m driving, and while I play video games. Even as I write this article, I have some video game music playing. Right now, I’m listening to a few tracks from Terranigma and Super Metroid. I’m all over the board when it comes to music. What can I say, music keeps me motivated to accomplish whatever it is I’m doing and adds flare to my day! Wanna know the real kicker? As you might have already guessed from reading the opening paragraph, the music I listen to is not hard rock or metal (though I do indulge in rock from time to time), and not country, screaming, or easy rock. Nope. I am a genuine fan of video game music. Whether the piece is from the original soundtrack, or a remix of a classic favorite, if the music is video game related, I’ll listen.
I am still not sure why I was drawn to video game music in the first place. I guess you could loosely attribute my love for the music to nostalgia. I have dabbled in creating my own music from time to time, but nothing like those who can lay down any sort of complexity to a track. I’ve been long interested in the ability of those who can compose track after track with such variation. For me, listening to music is an opportunity to relive a point in a video game or even in my life. I see music as an opportunity for musicians and composers alike to play a crucial role in shaping a memorable experience. Using different keys, the composer and musicians can string together a set of chords that can change the mood of the piece. The ability to change the pace of a musical composition from happy to sad, or calming to horrifying, is a skill that only few people have.
Look at the Super Mario series for example. On the surface, the games are colorful, bright and cheery, and yet, the Princess is kidnapped by Bowser and/or Koopa in just about every game. Thus, the kidnapping sets the stage for Mario to leap from platform to platform without fear of his demise. I mean, one wrong step and it is game over…literally. There’s just something in the music that masks the stress of failure as you fall from those thin platforms that Nintendo trolled you with. You ask just about anyone to hum the tune of Super Mario and I’m sure you’d get a positive response. That’s because the music in Mario is very pleasing and memorable. As the gamer, you also feel at ease and have fun playing because the music is designed to keep you feeling this way so that you continue to play the game. If, however, a subtle change is made in the music of any of the Super Mario games to a darker sounding tone, our perception of the game and how we play is altered. I believe that video games rely on music to tell many different stories. The tale of love, or loss, of a favorite character, or the painting of a colorful universe, can all be told through music.
One story that has been told countless times, yet never gets old, and has also evolved in gameplay alongside the music, is Final Fantasy. I’m going to take a minute to tell you guys about one of my all-time favorite composers, Nobuo Uematsu. I’m sure many of you are familiar with his name. From his humble beginnings, to his most recent successes, Nobuo Uematsu has accounted for well over 100 albums and just as many, if not more, compositions as part of these albums. While his works are most notable from the Final Fantasy series, he does have other successes (Chrono Trigger, Lost Odyssey, The Black Mages and Earthbound Papas among countless others), but I’ve only experienced his music through the albums and soundtracks that have been released in North America. I’ve always found it frustrating that many products related to video games that have been produced or manufactured in Japan rarely sees the shores of North America. Would it be too much to ask for companies like Square Enix to realize that they also have fans in different regions of the world? One reason that might allude to companies located in Japan not wanting to release many of their products worldwide may be because they can’t market their products in other locations as well as they can in Japan. Who knows. I should move to Japan. Regardless, for the most part, I usually pick up anything that finds it’s way here that I can get my hands on, including soundtracks by Nobuo Uematsu.
Uematsu’s creations and music have influenced my own creativity from time to time. Whenever I’m writing articles, making videos or building something, I draw on his inspiration. Did you know that Uematsu taught himself to play piano at a young age and was never formally instructed to play or compose music? That’s crazy considering the number of accolades he has collected over the years. I am a self-taught guitarist and flute player. I wonder if I’m the next Uematsu? I don’t know about you, but Uematsu has earned my respect. I would have loved an opportunity to be able to sit down and speak with him about his inspirations or even his work in general. Hell, I would settle for a simple handshake! I’m probably not the only one. Well, if I couldn’t speak with him or shake his hand then listening to his music live was the next best thing. I’ve enjoyed Uematsu’s work for a long time and was close to giving up my dream of ever being able to see, or hear, one of his compositions live, when I heard that Uematsu was teaming up with grammy award winning Arnie Roth. The Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concert series, which showcased full orchestra live music arrangements from the Final Fantasy series, is a must-see. Though I couldn’t secure a ticket to go backstage, I did get some pretty great seats, awesome pictures and Nobuo Uematsu himself was present! They played songs from all the games, most notably a fan favorite, ‘One Winged Angel’, from Final Fantasy VII. Sure, you could say I’m devoted to his musical genius, but, in the same breath, I have respect for all video game music.
I grew up in the 90’s, an age where video games really started coming into their own, so to speak. The music of this Era was, for the most part, built on a foundation of 8-bit sounds. Don’t get me wrong, video games on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, at the time, showed what music artists could do. With capacity on 8 and 16 bit cartridges limited to MIDI alternatives of live compositions, video game music carved out a niche market for artists familiar with video games. I believe, however, that it wasn’t until the release of the Sony Playstation, and its accompanying disc based games, that we began to hear arrangements made for a full orchestra. Compositions may not have been recorded live, but you could hear the subtle differences as far as instruments were concerned. The music in video games has always been in a state of evolution, and I think we take for granted the hard work and dedication of many video game composers, like Nobuo Uematsu. The true storytellers, so to speak.