Yasunori Mitsuda Myth: The Xenogears Orchestral Album

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The list of memorable soundtracks, in my opinion, is a short one. Many times they’re haphazardly thrown together with a few big name bands writing a few original compositions in order to cash-in on some lame movie. I suppose there might be some correlation between how commercial a piece of art is and how awful the soundtrack will be. The more artsy the film, the more likely you’ll find a decent soundtrack.

Think more Rushmore and less Twilight, and you’ll get my point.

A good soundtrack reminds you why you loved the source material in the first place, and it’s no different in the case of video games. Yasunori Mitsuda (the second greatest video game composer of all time behind Nobuo Uematsu) has put together his fair share of memorable tunes, and his work for Xenogears–the 1997 PlayStation RPG in which the final boss you kill is God–is arguably his greatest work. There isn’t a bad song among the 40+ tracks that comprise the original soundtrack.

Xenogears, as a game and a series of soundtracks, is an anomaly. The game itself dealt heavily with religious themes that largely made no sense at all, and it eventually inspired a series of prequels that led nowhere. The music from the game is undeniably brilliant–so brilliant in fact, that it spawned not one but two arranged albums. 1998’s Creid was yet another odd excursion into genre exploration (the first being 1995’s Chrono Trigger Arranged Version: The Brink of Time which was some weird collection of jazz, fusion and awful) that felt more like an exercise in world rhythms than a proper arranged album. The second arranged album, Myth, is more along the lines of a traditional arranged album and it delivers almost impossibly some 13 years after Creid was released.

The fact that Myth even exists is an anomaly; how often does an arranged album pop up some 15 years after a game’s release? Answer: never (if I’m wrong, please enlighten me in the comments section below). But here it is, with all the bells and whistles of a properly orchestrated arranged album. They’ve selected the best tracks from the original soundtrack in my opinion save for the brilliant “Blue Traveler”–but you can’t have everything in life. The arrangements themselves are sharp and poignant; “Cage of Remorse and Relief” is a brilliant vocal rendition of the original’s “In a Prison of Remorse and Contentment” (why they have different titles is beyond me), and just as nearly breathtaking is the opener “Dark Dawn” which devotees will remember is the song played during the opening FMV.

As soon as I gleefully trudged through every last second of its 53 minute and 11 second run-time, I immediately booted up my copy of Xenogears, but I soon learned that the game itself is better left as a memory. I’m older now, and I probably don’t have 60+ hours to devote to a video game that I’ve already played, but if I’m feeling nostalgic I can blast Myth from my car speakers and remember fondly what it was like to be 17 again.

Grade: A

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The Best Closing Song to a Video Game

Dracula: “For what profit is it to man if he gains the world and loses his own soul? Matthew 16:26, I believe.”

Alucard: “…..”

Any game that quotes the good book has clearly gone into deep water. When the man doing the quoting is none other than the Prince of Darkness, you know there’s no going back. This is why Alucard, his son, is left speechless. After all, who knew Dracula was so well read?

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is known as one of the greatest games ever made, easily one of the best for the PlayStation. In a time when 3D gaming was all the rage, Symphony of the Night adamantly stood by 2D side-scrolling, and created a near perfect masterpiece for the platform RPG genre.

Outside the amazing gameplay, one of the great things about the game is its well-timed musical pieces, oft times accompanying tone-setting dialogue and amazing voice overs, particularly in the case of its famous “What is a Man?” scene. The game’s ending, to which the above quote comes from, is no exception. Alucard has just smote Dracula, and only in those last gasps for air does his father understand that he may have gone a bit overboard with his whole ruling the world thing. What follows is one of the great father-son reunions in video game history, leading to the game’s penultimate moment, when Alucard says “You have been doomed ever since you lost the ability to love.” Quite true Alucard. Quite true.

Skip past a well-placed scene between Alucard, his lover Maria, and his possessed-throughout-the-entire-game friend Richter, and you get to the end credits, where the awe-inspiring Mariah Carey-ish ballad, ” I Am the Wind” takes over. You would think a game as dark as Castlevania would end with a song a bit ominous, or spooky, or at least somber, but the good people at Konami decided to take their last risk. With lines like  “the best of me is all I have to give” and “sometimes I don’t like the person I’ve become”, the song was a poetic line in the sand. It was a bold statement.

And it paid off.

Without further adieu, here is the Symphony of the Night full ending.  Skip ahead to the 3:26 mark for “I Am the Wind”.