Kenley Kristofferson

Composer.

Tag: VGM Wednesdays

VGM Wednesday – “Demise of the Ritual” from Shadow of the Colossus

“Demise of the Ritual” from Shadow of the Colossus, by Ko Otani

Shadow of the Colossus is one of those games that I never, ever thought I would beat.  I don’t know why, but I had this fear of it, like I wasn’t very good or something.  I knew a ton of people who’d beaten it, but I never thought I’d be one of them…

… until one day I was.

I picked up the Ico/SOTC Remaster for PS3 and started playing it, getting to the third colossus and being unable to make the jump on the platform.  For those who’ve played, it’s this one:

3rdColossusJump

Ugh, so hard, except it’s not.  Once I learned the back jump control (R2 + looking back + triangle), it wasn’t hard at all.  I just didn’t understand the controls, which I needed to learn.  The game gave me a situation where I needed to figure it out so I could use it later on, which is just good game design.  Once I got it, I got it for the rest of the game.

Then I fought the colossus and fell into my old traps of thinking I couldn’t do it and that I wasn’t good enough to beat him.  How was I supposed to beat this game if I’m stuck on the third boss? There are thirteen more after this! So I kept running, falling off, and eventually dying.

But each time I died, I did a little better each time.  This is a concept that comes up in our classroom a lot: Failing better.  Every time I died, I was further along than I was before, and on the fourth round, I beat him and there was much rejoicing.  Then I fought the fourth one and beat it the first time, and the same with the fifth.  I was getting better.  I could do this.  As we say in the band room, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

I still died at times as the game progressed, but I was dying less and less and getting better at figuring the puzzle of beating each colossus.  The game got a lot more fun once I overcame my self-sabotage.  If I reframed my perception and my approach, the game (or, at least, the playing of it) was entirely different experience.  It was fun.  It was exhilarating.  There many times where Wander was literally holding on for dear life and I was right there with him.

Before I knew it, I was at the sixteenth and final colossus.  I had reached the end of a game I never thought I’d finish.

Malus-final-colossus

That’s where the music comes in.   Ko Otani’s score is absolutely gripping and I would finally hear “Demise of the Ritual” in the game environment.  A lot of the battle themes are moved around and reused, but not this one.  This one only happens during the last colossus and, in the spirit of honesty, I never thought I’d hear it while I was playing.

And hear it I did.  By the end of the nearly two-hour battle, I was humming all of the inside parts and singing some of the beautiful English Horn writing whenever it came up.  It’s a humbling experience to die five times on the final boss then win after hours of fighting, but I was failing better each time.  On my third attempt, I hadn’t even reached him yet and had no idea how to proceed.  It was one of those experiences where you just have no idea how you’ll ever succeed, where you collapse before you’re even close to the finish line.  And we’ve all been there, right? I’M SO TIRED AND IT’S ONLY TUESDAY!

But then you keep going.  You assess where you went wrong and what alternate solutions are.  You keep doing what you did right and changing what you did wrong.  If you don’t do something exactly correct, you practice until you get it, and that’s where video games shine:

If you can’t do it, you can’t move on.  There are no pity passes or half-marks, it’s pass/fail and that’s it*

In the end, I did it.  It was a gripping feeling to finally beat a game I didn’t think I could ever finish.  As weird as it sounds, sometimes I feel like a fraud or a phony for not beating games in the core repertoire.  Granted, there’s an argument that the need to finish games isn’t entirely necessary to experience them, but I try to finish things that I start.  I haven’t beaten Ocarina of Time yet, which is embarrassing, but I felt the same with it that I did with SOTC: I just can’t do it…

…except that I can, and taking down SOTC showed me that.  So  I guess I’d better get on that!

-K

PS: (I’m going to try to create some content again because that’s important)

* Mostly, not every single game has pass/fail, like that ridiculous option to skip parts you can’t beat in L.A. Noire, which is garbage.

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VGM Wednesday – “Forever Rachel” Transcription for Live Instruments

“Forever Rachel” from Final Fantasy VI, by Nobuo Uematsu
Transcribed for live instruments by Eiko Ishiwata.

I’ve really been trying to limit my posting of Final Fantasy music since starting this blog.  Even though I have so much history with the franchise and I know this music better than any other VGM game or series, there is so much great game music out there and I want to explore as much of it as I can – both old and new.

There are so many Final Fantasy remixes and arrangements out there.  That being said, there are very few transcriptions.

What’s the difference?

An arrangement is the setting of pre-existing musical material and changing it to fit a new style, form, or ensemble.  Any remix that you’ve heard is, almost certainly, an arrangement of some kind.  A transcription uses the precise source material (with no edits or changes) and presents it as is.

That sounds like it’s just the song, though.  Well, it is, but not always in the way that you expect.

Eiko Ishiwata has transcribed “Forever Rachel” and had it performed, note for note, by the same instruments that Uematsu used in his score.  The difference lies in the character of the sound, not the notes on the page.

I have to digress for a moment here, because if you didn’t grow up in the 8- and 16-bit era of video games, you and I may interpret synthesized instruments differently (or maybe not, right?).  When I hear music from the SNES or Genesis/Megadrive, there’s a part in my head that’s already converting the flute synth to real flute, or the string synth to a real orchestral string section.  But, there’s another simultaneous part that’s appreciating the tone colour for what it is and just welcoming the 90s SNES sound into my head.  The two parts of the brain are working in tandem.  It’s a very strange sensation, but I’d be interested to see how others listen to VGM from that era.  Feel free to tell me in the comments section 🙂

Anyway! This transcription is what I’ve been hearing in my head since I was ten years old, so I’m happy that someone made it happen.

If you’re unsure of what the theme means (especially to the arrogant treasure hunter, Locke), the Final Fantasy Wikia article describes the tale and is dripping in spoilers.

The player is introduced to Rachel as Locke’s girlfriend from Kohlingen. One day, Locke took Rachel to Mt. Kolts, supposedly looking for what would become her engagement ring. Upon crossing a rickety bridge, it began to collapse with Locke on it, before Rachel pushed him out of the way just in time. In doing so Rachel took the fall for him. Locke saved her and brought her back to Kohlingen, but due to the fall, she had lost her memory. Her father blamed it on Locke, and he kicked him out of their house.

Rachel agreed to her father’s decision because she had no memory of Locke, and only saw him as someone who was upsetting her parents. The residents of Kohlingen were also angry at him, leading him to leave the town. Rachel was killed one year later in a raid by the Empire, but her memory was also restored right before her death. Her last words were: “If a man called Locke should ever return, please tell him that I love him”.

Locke eventually heard about the attack, and came back to Kohlingen only to find he was too late. Determined to do something for her, he took her to an herbologist living in Kohlingen, who preserved her body in its youthful state using herbs. After that, Locke searched for a way to bring her back to life. His feelings of guilt continued to haunt him, causing him to try to protect every woman he came across in need. He searched far and wide for a way, but he does not find it until the world is destroyed. He hears of the legendary esper, Phoenix, that can revive the dead.

He immediately goes searching for it, and finds it right when the player party shows up. When he gets to Kohlingen, he uses the Phoenix esper on Rachel, but the cracked magicite shard could only revive her for a few moments. She helps Locke overcome his guilt, tells him to “give his love to the one who now dwells in his heart” and dies again but not before her spirit merges with the Phoenix magicite and restores the magicite to it’s original splendor. Thus allowing Locke to finally make peace with his torrid past.

Ah, young love.

Have a great week!
Kenley

VGM Wednesday (Friday) – “Com64” from “Sword & Sworcery”

“Com64” from Superbrothers: word & Sworcery EP, by Jim Guthrie and released in 2011.

This past week, I was recording the Episode 6 of the IRL Podcast with Francesca and Kyle.  This particular episode was about the Humble Indie Bundle V, which I talked about last week.  They also wanted to talk about the music, so they asked me to come on (from previous Into the Score experience, and I think that we’re always looking for reasons to podcast together because we always have a great time).

While we were discussion the music from Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Francesca brought up a piece that she says “she can’t listen to on the bus anymore.”  It’s a bonus track called “Com64” and, when I listened to it, I immediately knew why.

As soon as I started playing it, I started moving my body back and forth, bobbed my head and did some punch-dancing in my chair.

That four-on-the-floor bass (0:08)…

Then the kick (0:12), with the rhythmic noise tracks clicking on the upbeats (0:00)… GAH! What a solid foundation!

Then the synth groove comes in with the main riff with the bass in octaves… (:17)

Then the turnaround (0:36) right before the melody comes back in with octaves (0:41).

GAH! Dancing so hard!

I hope you’re all dancing so hard too! Also, it’s officially summer for teachers, giving rise to many days of crazy dancing.

Have the best time,
Kenley

VGM Wednesday – “A Proper Story” from Bastion

“A Proper Story” from Bastion, by Darren Korb and released in 2011.

So, the Humble Indie Bundle 5 was released just a few weeks past and it included this highly-praised game called Bastion.  I’d heard of it, but never played it.

It wasn’t until Francesca over at the IRL Podcast sent me a note and told me that Episode 6 is going to be on the music from the Indie Bundle and invited me on the show to talk about it.  Because Francesca is awesome and I want to promote indie games as much as possible, accepting was a no-brainer.  She really wanted to talk about two games in the bundle in particular: Sword and Sworcery and Bastion.

Well, better start playing them 🙂

Sword and Sworcery has been around for a little while and is scored by Jim Guthrie (who scored the fabulous Indie Game: The Movie), while Bastion is scored by Darren Korb.  Both games are spectacular and you’ll hear a lot about the music if you check out that ep of the IRL Podcast., but let’s start with Bastion.

Korb describes the music as “acoustic frontier trip hop,” which is right on the mark.  The strummy/slidy acoustic guitar gives it a real Western edge, especially the minor pentatonic opening riff of “A Proper Story.”  But it’s not only that, it’s the sliding into the chord shape that happens after it too.  So, even just in the first four bars, we hear the riff, then three slide patterns; the riff, then three slide patterns.

Right after that, the layers of electronic drum beats come in.  Deep kicks, synth cymbals and tambourine, then a synth snare on two and four.  During that sequence, the acoustic guitar part changes to a progression of

| Im     Im      | Im    bIII IV|

… which in itself is a rough-and-tumble rock progression.  However, the acoustic guitar that slides into the chord shape (of the Im chord) doesn’t make it feel like a rock riff, but almost like a cowboy one.

Then the mandolin and sitar come in and trade bars, like a call and response in jazz.  The mandolin brings in a bluegrass sort of feel, while the sitar (with its augmented seconds and 1/4 tone bends) incites a Middle Eastern flavour to the harmony.

It’s SO eclectic and we’re not even out of the first 30 seconds 😐

This is Bastion, now go out and buy it 🙂

(Then listen to the IRL Podcast in two weeks!)
Kenley

VGM Wednesday – “Zero’s Theme” Medley – The Plasmas

“Zero’s Theme ~Medley~” from Mega Man X, performed by “The Plasmas.”.

One of my earliest prominent memories of video games was going to my aunt and uncle’s new house in St. Rose du Lac.  They had Mega Man 2 and, like most who grew up with it, it was a transformative experience.

Then I got Mega Man 3 and 4 a little while later, and they were cool… but then came that silver-coloured issue of Nintendo Power.  Come on, you know which one I’m talking about.

Mega Man X 🙂

Now, I was nine years old in 1993 and I knew in my heart that this was the pinnacle of the Mega Man franchise.  I mean, look at this resolution!

And then was Zero! And then Zero’s intense metal theme! (Well, metal for SNES anyway).  That theme BLEW MY MIND.

Then came X2 and the craziest thing happened: Zero had a new theme? Which, for character themes, is kind of bizarre because you want to hear the continuity of it through the series.

Anyway, enjoy the metal rendition by “The Plasmas.”

Kenley 🙂

VGM Wednesdays – “Prologue” from Castlevania: SOTN

“Prologue” from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, by Michiru Yamane and released in 1997.

This piece has so many aspects that I’ve loved from music throughout my life: Music, 80s guitar, Romantic Era-esque arpeggios overtop of thick choral and string chords… it’s like my whole musical career wrapped into one piece.  All it needs are cadential resolutions to IVadd9 chords and we’ll be set.

(I really, really need to stop using that cadence).

When I had a PS1, it wasn’t really cool to have a PS1 anymore.  I’ve always been painfully behind on the times.  I finally picked it up when I was in university in 2002 (about five years after its release) and, after hearing SO much about this game, the disc was scratched.  That’s what I get for picking it up second-hand.

In 2006, I tried again.  My PS1 had since brokedown, but I acquired another copy of the disc, so I thought that I would rip the disc image and play it on my Mac.  I mean, I purchased it legally, I just wanted to play it! Then my gamepad screwed up and Alucard would keep walking left… no matter which direction I tried to make him go.  A broken analog stick, you see…

Then finally in 2009 (I think), the Dracula X Chronicles came out with an unlockable feature of Symphony of the Night.  I really had to work to unlock it… many an hour put into this venture.

But it was worth it: I finally got it.   And I loved it.  Ugh, Metroidvania makes me so happy…

And Alucard is just so awesome 🙂

Okay, this is getting too long.  Please play this game.  Hopefully you’ll have better luck getting it to work than I did!

Happy VGM Wednesday… err, Thursday,
Kenley

VGM Wednesdays – “Mushroom Kingdom” from Super Mario RPG

“Mushroom Kingdom” from Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, composed by Yoko Shimamura and released in 1996

Why isn’t there more bassoon in VGM? Seriously, its bouncy woodsiness sells me immediate in “Mushroom Kingdom.”

I love what Yoko Shimamura (or Parasite Eve and Kingdom Hearts fame) does here.  Instead of adapting a theme from Mario for the iconic Mushroom Kingdom, she puts pencil to paper and creates something new.

Because, let’s face it, we’ve been in the Mushroom Kingdom through most Mario games, but when have we ever been inside the Mushroom Kingdom? Maybe we have, but when we actually get to walk around and explore it feels like a new experience and I think it should have new music.  Thankfully, so does Shimamura 🙂

But it’s not only the bassoon in the beginning that make it shine, there is also tambourine and triangle which sits juuuuuuuust beneath the bassoon colour and adds some sparkle to the colour.  There’s also a click in there somewhere, maybe a cross stick, temple block or wood block.  I’m not sure what it is, but I like it.

Then we have English Horn on a small melody in the A section – a double reed duet.  YES!

Some low reed and low brass colours take over the melody in the B section (0:13) and catapult the listener back into A section, which now has a flute on top.

Until about 0:48, the piece is carried by the winds.  Now, why is that important? It’s really because we depend on strings for just-about-everything and the winds and percussion usually colour that sound.  This time, in the absence of strings, we have only colour and it’s beautiful 🙂

Thoughts? Write them below, send me a tweet or comment on the facebook post!

Thanks,
Kenley

VGM Wednesdays – “Staff Roll” From “LoZ: Wind Waker”

“Staff Roll” from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, composed by Kenta Nagata, Hajime Wakai, Toru Minegishi, Koji Kondo and released in 2003

It feels strange to use a game that I’ve never played for VGM Wednesdays, but I once did a St. Patrick’s Day interview with Radio Free Gamer and this game came up.  I’ve never forgotten its since.

It’s the second Koji Kondo game in two weeks, I know, but these two pieces are so different.  The staff roll plays at the end of the game and just feels so expansive and broad, like sailing on the open sea (which is a prominent feature of the game).  There’s this sense that all that matters is freedom and your own experience.

Live your own life and live it the way you want.

Even though obstacles get in the way, you’re surpassing of them only makes the victory that much sweeter.

The score to Wind Waker has a much less epic feel than other Zelda titles and I think that it has to do with its Irish influence.  Irish music is more local, but also more distant.  Orchestral music is mighty, royal and heard in castles.  As the audience, we get that connection, but Irish/Celtic music gives us a different image of the world and that’s the one that Wind Waker explores.

Primarily, the composers show us the Irish flavour with instrumentation: The bodhran and hammer dulcimer (or bad synth steel guitar) at the beginning, then the Irish whistle at 0:11, then Uileann pipes at 0:24 and the fiddle at 0:35.  But it can’t just be generic melody or harmony on these instruments because, as with most cultural music, the instrument and the performance practice are so interconnected.

For example, the Irish whistle doesn’t just play a smooth melody, it has cuts (slamming the left pointer finger over top of the open hole, creating a grace note).  An Irish whistle playing without that idiomatic cultural style would sound out of place to our ear because we’ve heard an Irish whistle before and that’s not what it does.  It’s that “Irish” sound.  The instrument and the performance practice are linked.

I have a soft spot in another element in the music: the ascending bass line over a static melody.  You can hear it at  1:20 as the strings move homophonically underneath the Irish whistle.  It just… it just makes me so happy 🙂

Stay tuned for more over the weekend!

Thanks for reading,
Kenley

VGM Wednesdays – All of the Cutscenes from Ninja Gaiden

Cutscene Music from Ninja Gaiden, composed by Keiji Yamagishi and released in 1992

Things I love about this game:

1) The Music (goes without saying, right?)
2) Cutscenes in an NES game! And by the same company that made Tecmo Bowl!
3) ScrewAttack rated this game as the 7th hardest NES game of all-time… I agree.
4) … (and I suppose a nostalgic connection).

Initially, I wanted to use the introductory sequence as the “VGM Wednesday,” but then I kept listening as I was writing this and was grooving hard to the cutscenes in my chair… so I had to put all of them in.  You could watch the whole video, it’s quite an engaging story.

It begins with the young ninja, Ryu Hayabusa, travelling to the US to find his father and falling into a web of espionage, seduction and a powerful embodiment of evil called “Jaquio.”  Every cutscene is a reward because the game is just so damn hard.  I miss those days, when an NES cartridge could barely hold any memory, so the developers needed to make it crazy hard to keep the player playing for a while.  It’s like the hover craft scene from Battletoads (and anyone who has played that game knows how crazy-hard that level, simply by the sheer amount of memorization and hand-eye coordination required).

The music pulls you in – no pretense, no flashiness, just the 2A03 sound chip and a team of individuals trying to tell a story about a ninja looking for his father.  The video takes an especially crazy-turn at about 13:20 and the ensuing battle is one wrought with inner conflict.  I remember being about 8 years old and thinking “but… I can’t…”

(don’t want to give it away)

Let me know what you think! Any good memories associated with the score? Let me know!
Thanks for reading!
Kenley

VGM Wednesdays – ~Revived Power~ Battle with the Colossus

“~Revived Power~ Battle with the Colossus” from Shadow of the Colossus by Koh Otani, released in 2005.

How did this get published? This is supposed to be next week’s VGM Wednesday.  I must have hit “Publish” instead of “Schedule”…

Oh well, I guess it’s already out there!

________________________________________________________

Aren’t you pumped now? What a ride!

I love so many things about this game’s score.  There is an Into the Score episode on this game and it’s still one of my favourites to this day.  The battle music in this game works in pairs – there is a piece that’s darker more ominous when we first begin our fight, then when we unlock the secret of the Colossus’s weakness, this upbeat and inspiring music plays.

This is the latter.

But this score is so much more than that.  As one of the loneliest games that you may play, the absence of music becomes very prevalent as you and Agro traverse across the barren landscape.  Lots of browns and sunken greens, faded colours and a pale sky.  Ugh, crushing.

I could write and write and write about this episode, but I’d mostly be rehashing the podcast episode.  If you want to hear it, it’s down below!

I can’t recommend this game enough.

Happy (or not-so-happy) playing,
Kenley