VGM Wednesdays – Super Metroid (Orchestral)

by Kenley

“Super Metroid” from Orchestral Game Concert IV, recorded by the Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra

Super Metroid and I go way back.  I got it for my 9th birthday and we tried to play it at my party, but we just weren’t old enough to figure it out.  I was 16 years old the next time I tried it and, that time, I got it 🙂

Even before we talk about the music, there’s this incredible elegance in how the world is laid out with regards to power-ups, sequencing and ability.  It’s just a beautiful game and that’s even before we talk about aesthetics.

The dark colour palette, the seemingly-blind exploration, the stumbling into new worlds and the rich soundtrack lend itself perfectly to the true intent of the designers.  From the darkness between the throbbing timpani lines and overdrawn low strings to mixing the pulsing synth and sweeping percussion… there is some beautiful work going on here.

I picked the orchestral version because it unites so much of the music that sits at the heart of the game – the Prologue, Brinstar (Green Vegetation), Lower Brinstar and the Wrecked Ship.  The orchestrator has handled the work of composers, Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamono, very delicately without compromising the integrity of the work.

For example, the Crateria Underground themes are full in the OST, but are very light in the orchestral version.  Even though there are differences, however, the core creepiness and curiosity within the music itself is never compromised.  During the prologue, moving the theme (ascending minor scale in thirds, or dubba-dubba-dubba-dubba-dubba-dubba-dubba-dubba) into the celli and double basses almost works better than even the original.  I wish that I knew who the orchestrator was because their work is just lovely.

My favourite section is during the “Brinstar (Green Vegetation)” sequence, which feels like a mini-climax within the piece.  The xylophone and high strings are covering the ostinato, the basses are belting out the melody, but the show-stealer for me is the trumpet section, who is playing this intense dynamic hairpin (crescendo-decrescendo, or ” < >”) on these harmonically-moving chords.  It happens at about 3:37 – just gets my heart-a-poundin’ 🙂

Then the floor just drops out and we’re left with the oboe-flute pairing that leads us into the darker depths of Brinstar: the red soil.  I really love the xylo/flute pairing here too.  It happens a few times, but it happens first at 4:22.  The first note is accented, but the second note isn’t, so the second note feels more like an echo than a rhythmic subdivision.  But even still, there’s something so moving about that whole section.  For me, I think that it’s the basses moving from the Im chord to the bIImajor chord (the Phrygian II, as it’s often called), then the melody itself moving downward.  It’s like harmonic collapse as the two lines move inward, but again, the structure is handled with this tremendous delicacy.  Just love it.

Taken from the YouTube post itself, the medley is structured as follows:

Theme of Samus Aran (0:002:08)
Crateria (2:092:41)
Brinstar Green Vegetation (2:424:00)
Brinstar Red Soil (4:015:39)
Super Metroid Ending Theme (5:408:05)

… and now the originals from the OST

Theme of Samus Aran
Crateria
Brinstar Green Vegetation
Brinstar Red Soil
Super Metroid Ending Theme

Compare and contrast, then see what you think and feel free to post comments 🙂

Thanks!
Kenley

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