Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Feature: The Musicians

I want to take the time to celebrate the musicians of the video game industry; the composers who give video games life and their unique vibe. I present to you three of the most predominant musical figures in the video game universe.  

Yoko Shimomura
Yoko is best known for her work at Squaresoft later Square-Enix but she has composed for many game companies including Capcom and Nintendo. Yoko is known for being able to capture both epic and cheery happy-go-lucky moments in JRPGs. And this Yoko totally didn't break up the most important band in history.

One of her earlier and most notable pieces is the Forest Maze from Super Mario RPG. It plays while Mario and his friends are searching through a forest full of enemies. It's a simple and catchy song which is why it is the most remembered from Super Mario RPG. There were other musical gems in the game, but Forest Maze is the what comes to mind when thinking of SMRPG music.

This piece is a great example of her talent. Taking Modest Mossorgsky's classical Night on Bald Mountain and giving it her own take of it. This song plays while fighting Chernabog [that crazy demon looking thing that destroys a poor village at the end of Fantasia]. This is one of the more unique songs in the game but it still sounds like Yoko.

Now this song is very representative of the Kingdom Hearts series. It is whimsical yet dramatic. Dark yet childish. Sinister Sundown plays as a battle theme in the beginning of the game. You start as a young boy, Roxas, who finds some sinister creatures are causing mischief in his home. These creatures, you learn, are causing havoc and destruction in worlds afar. This song very much suits these battles.

This is an example of Yoko taking something as simple as Bowser battling his evil impostor and making it sound way too epic for its own good. Classic Yoko. It sounds fantastic but in context with the game's cartoony style, it just doesn't fit but stands as a magnificent piece in itself.

David Wise
Wise is known for his ambient influenced very 'groove-able' themes for the Donkey Kong Country series. For the most part he composes for Rare and Nintendo, having given them the zany music you might find in Diddy Kong Racing or the cool and relaxing tunes of Donkey Kong Country. There's no way of knowing how many of his songs have been covered and uploaded to Youtube. I would bet that he is the most covered video game musician out there.

Even if you aren't familiar with his name [or not too keen on video games for that matter], odds are you've come across this tune. This song plays on the first level of Donkey Kong Country and acts like its theme throughout. The song shows a bit of how ambiance is used in his songs but the key element here is his use of percussion which stays dominant throughout most of his DKC songs.

This is definitely my favorite David Wise tune. The sound of what appears to be hammers slamming against mine cart rails flows with the rhythm of the song so well. The atmoshere that this song sends to the player is trance inducing. I have to admit, the first time I heard this song, I just let DK and Diddy idle for a bit while I took it all in.

This song wasn't including in the original DKC3 on the SNES. The original Stilt Village sounded way more campy. In 2005, it was changed to this gem. I would love to know why Wise decided to change the music for the level but whatever reason, it was a great idea. I love this song.

Koji Kondo
His name may not be as recognizable as his music but I'll bet that I could go to anyone walking down the road and they'll know his work. Kondo is the man behind some of the most famous tunes in video game history, including the Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda themes. That should be enough to make him the most respected man in video game music but Kondo has quite the resume of ear pleasing songs that span his entire career.

People often forget that Yoshi's Island is actually the sequel to Super Mario World. It is a solid game with music on par with the original. I don't know if it's the twinkling affect or the just the overall composition that sets the song apart from the rest in Yoshi's Island. Anything Yoshi related in the Mario universe has a certain sound to it (whether it be added bongos or drums in general) and I believe this is the most well composed one.

With the help of some friends and a live orchestra, Kondo helped bring Super Mario Galaxy 2 to life through music. Most of the songs are whimsical but this song is rough and tough. Kind of like most of the parts of the game. Hey, not all of the levels in SMG2 can be fluffy and fun. This song reminds me that I spent hours of pain staking platforming and perfectly timed jumps to get passed each level. The great music helped me from throwing the control out the window at times. (Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic game).

These are only 3 of the many talented musicians creating works of art for every video game being developed. Music is just as important as the graphics or gameplay and without it, some games would just feel incomplete. Here's to all the video game musicians out there who continue to caress my eardrum with angelic melodies!  I plan to highlight even more musicians in the coming weeks.

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