Video Game Music Spotlight #5: Cityscapes & Small Town Folk - ArticleTaneli Palola , posted on 16 March 2019 / 1,913 Views
We tend to use a pretty weird system to categorize video game music when you really think about it. We rarely think of any particular video game song in terms of its genre, but rather in terms of where it's placed in the game it appears on.
We don't, for example, tend to talk about rock, pop, jazz, metal, or any other specific genre when discussing video game music. Instead, it's battle music, or dungeon music, or, for the following nine tracks, town music. It's odd on the face of it, and yet it still feels like a very natural way to separate and categorize different pieces of video game music.
My Village Is Number One!
Up until this point there's been a severe lack of Yasunori Mitsuda's music in these spotlights, and that's not a good thing as he is easily among the greatest video game composers to ever live as far as I'm concerned. Bursting into the scene with his exceptional work in Chrono Trigger back in 1995, he quickly went on to establish himself as one of the most prolific composers working in the industry, with numerous high profile projects throughout the late 90s and early 2000s. Among these was Squaresoft's PS1 cult classic, Xenogears.
The song 'My Village Is Number One!' sets up a fairly lighthearted, cheery mood early on in the game, betraying little of the events to come, which makes it all the more shocking when the cheerful tone is shattered soon after. The sound and style is also classic Mitsuda, whose music has often had a strong celtic influence - something that can be heard here as well.
Frontier Village Dali
(from Final Fantasy IX)
From one exceptional composer to another, Nobuo Uematsu has remained a constant in the industry since the mid 1980s, working for Square before going freelance in the early 2000s. Throughout this time he has composed some of the best and most iconic pieces of video game music of all time, most notably for the Final Fantasy series.
The track 'Frontier Village Dali' is a prime example of a song that denotes a moment of respite in the wake of a long stretch of constant danger and uncertainty. The characters have just been through an airship crash, escaped a monster-filled area, and climbed through a frozen cave, finally making it through to a place where they can take a moment to relax. It's a perfect song for what is essentially the first time since the very start of the game that there isn't a sense of danger surrounding the characters. That is, of course, until the cracks begin to show in the town's facade.
(from Dark Souls II)
The Dark Souls series isn't exactly known for its tranquil, calming locations that make the player feel safe, but if there has ever been one such place then it's probably Majula from Dark Souls II. Serving as the game's main hub location which the player will return over and over again throughout the game, Majula is completely different from nearly every other place found in the entire franchise.
Bathed in sunlight and sitting on a seaside cliff, Majula stands out as a place of rest for the player, but also carries with it a feeling of sadness and loss, as the dilapidated buildings tell a very clear story of a once great kingdom fallen to ruin. The song that plays here captures this feeling perfectly, having a calm, quiet tone, with an ominous undercurrent that never quite lets the player relax completely.
Old Traditions, New Methods
(from The Last Remnant)
The Last Remnant was a product of Microsoft's attempt to capture part of the Japanese market early in the Xbox 360's lifecycle. This yielded some interesting, if not all that great JRPGs on the console. The Last Remnant falls into this category, having some genuinely novel ideas and elements, but falling short of being genuinely excellent due to some poor design choices and technical issues.
However, one of the best aspects of The Last Remnant was unquestionably its music, and among my personal favourite pieces from the entire soundtrack is this town theme. I still distinctly remember just taking time to stand still and listen to this piece whenever I visited the city of Melphina. Overall, I think the game is actually somewhat underrated, as it got quite a harsh reception upon release, whereas I think it's a fairly good game that just doesn't quite reach the heights of the genre's best.
(from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time)
There are certain composers that almost never really get the attention and recognition they deserve, and in my opinion the person that this description fits better than perhaps anyone else is Motoi Sakuraba. Quite possibly the single most prolific video game composer of the last 30 years, in 2018 alone he composed music for four different video games, two of which were solo scores. He is probably best known for his work on Namco's Tales series, Tri-Ace's Star Ocean games, and FromSoftware's Dark Souls trilogy.
Among Sakuraba's finest works is his score for Star Ocean: Till the End of Time and from it one of my favourite tracks is 'Rust Color', a beautifully melancholic theme that plays in an old mining town the player visits during the game. For me the theme evokes the feeling of a once thriving town now long past its glory days; one that is now simply surviving from day to day while looking back at what it once was.
Undertale is one of those games that I know I should get around to playing at some point, but I just haven't found the time to do so yet. However, one aspect of the game I'm quite familiar with already is its soundtrack, mostly because at one point music from the game was just everywhere. Not that I really minded, since the soundtrack is actually really good, even if certain songs from it ended up being overplayed.
Fortunately, there were still some tracks that I wasn't that familiar with, and one such example was 'Snowdin Town'. It's a very nice, upbeat and positive sounding tune, which can become something completely different depending on the player's actions during the playthrough. The way Undertale incorporated its music into the game's storyline is wonderful and something I wish more games would do.
Town of Hoax
(from The Legend of Dragoon)
Many town themes serve a purpose beyond just being background noise for some random location. Sometimes the song can inform the player of the history of the place they're visiting, or serve as a warning of what's to come in the future, and the song that plays in the town of Hoax in The Legend of Dragoon is one such theme. From the moment the player enters the town the music surrounds them with an air of sadness and foreboding, which is quite fitting.
Hoax was once just a normal town in the kingdom of Serdio, but the civil war that broke the country in two has transformed it into a fortress on the border between the two warring sides. What was once a peaceful town is now just another part of the war machine that has engulfed the land, and the song that plays in the town is a perfect representation of this, as if telling the story of the things that were lost when the war began and the lives of the people in Hoax that have been changed forever.
A Moment of Clarity
(from Cthulhu Saves the World)
There's something to be said for a game that starts with Cthulhu waking up to destroy the world only to immediately have his powers sealed by a mysterious wizard. This is then followed by the narrator telling the player that the only way to break this curse is to become a true hero, only for Cthulhu to let the narrator know that he was eavesdropping and now knows how to break his curse. Cthulhu then proceeds to go on an epic adventure to become a true hero, so he can use his powers to cast the world into darkness.
In case you didn't notice, Cthulhu Saves the World is a rather tongue-in-cheek game that definitely doesn't take itself too seriously. It parodies many classic JRPG tropes and cliches, but does it in a way that also makes for a pretty good game. It's very old-school in its design, but a lot of fun regardless, largely thanks to its comedic tone. This stretches all the way to the game's town theme, which sounds like it could come from any number of classic 16-bit JRPGs.
City of Commerce
Town themes as a central idea often convey a certain type of song in a lot of people's minds - a sort of upbeat, friendly tune that is often found in the main protagonist's home village (at least before it's inevitably destroyed by some evil force). Some of the themes in this article certainly fit that description as well. However, that's a very narrow perspective on this particular topic, as you have probably already noticed from some of the earlier entries on this list.
Another good example of a very different type of town theme is the one that plays in the city of Façade in Nier. The city is governed by thousands of rules, many of which feel completely arbitrary and pointless to outsiders. The theme that plays in the city captures this slightly off feeling, sounding mostly pleasant and calming, but betraying a hint of something eccentric and outlandish just beneath the surface.
Question of the Month:
What is Your Favourite Video Game Town/City?
For me, it's probably either Lindblum from Final Fantasy IX or Yharnam from Bloodborne. Two completely different types of location, but both extremely memorable. Yharnam as a setting is one of the best ever created for a game and Lindblum has a fascinating design and feel.
That does it for this month's video game music spotlight. I hope you enjoyed reading and listening. Once again, if you have any suggestions for potential future themes they are always welcome. Until next time, thanks for reading.
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