Kept you waiting, huh?
No, but seriously, it has been a hot minute since we’ve taken the time to talk about video game music.
Way back in 2017 I promised you a monthly place to retreat to and listen to brand new tunes from the gaming sphere and while life managed to completely derail that concept, life also, uh, finds a way. So let’s try again.
While May was a little thin on major releases, especially after the krater the God of War reboot left in the 2018 release schedule, it does give us a chance to slow down and appreciate some of the smaller titles that are often overlooked.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Composer: David Wise
Available on: Nintendo Switch / Wii U
I’m not one for fate, but I really could not have hoped for a funkier way to kick off this collection of music.
Helmed by Donkey Kong soundtrack alumni David Wise, the music of DKC: Tropical Freeze is immediately infectious and only rewards listeners the deeper into the playlist you get. Wise has worked on Donkey Kong titles since the SNES (approximately 24 years!) which has allowed him a distinct level of creative control over the series’ musical tone, guiding each entry to sound new each time while retaining an undeniably Kong sound. Tropical Freeze sees Wise blend retro platforming rhythms with Caribbean influences to produce a sound that is wholly unique and refreshing, equal parts the sound of your childhood and the kind of innovation we’ve come to expect from Nintendo platformers. Steel drums, bongos, smooth guitar, impassioned choirs…it’s just delicious.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
Composer: Justin E. Bell
Available on: PC
Of course, if you’re after something a little more traditional, a little more grandiose, you cant look past an orchestra scoring a fantasy adventure. Justin E. Bell, more widely known for his TV work than video games, has crafted a truly epic sound for the Obsidian Entertainment RPG. Performed by the exquisite Budapest Art Orchestra, the soundtrack roars to life from the title track onward and rarely relents. While fans of the genre likely won’t find much here they haven’t heard in various other fantasy RPGs, there is a soulfulness to the soundtrack that inspires a sense of optimistic steadfastness, which is my roundabout way of saying it makes me want to stand side by side with other adventurers and slay some goddamn beasts.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux
Composer: Shoji Meguro
Available on: Nintendo 3DS
If you’ll allow me the obvious, there has always been something a little bit strange about this one.
First released back on the DS in 2010, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey was the fourth entry in the series but the first one I had the pleasure of experiencing. I say pleasure, but something about this game always made me feel a bit off-tilt; from the box art that is simultaneously the cliched man standing with a gun but also this weirdly alien-looking helmet as a portal rips open in the background to the utterly unnerving tale of demons spewing forth from a scientific anomaly in the Antarctic, this game is weird. It feels like the kind of movie you accidentally see late at night, worming its way into your brain before vanishing, leaving you wondering if you ever really saw it or not only to resurface years late, the mere sight of the poster sending a small chill down your back (which yes, happened to me upon seeing that damn man with his gun again).
Anyway, this game’s lasting impression was due in no small part to the amazing work by composer Shoji Meguro, whose desire to infuse the game with a darker tone resulted in some fascinating technological compromises. Featuring a haunting cross-section of orchestral sounds, subtle ambient noises, and choir, the soundtrack was heavily compressed to fit onto the DS cartridge’s small storage size, while the choir chanting was crafted entirely artificially using Eastwest Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs. Seriously, Meguro stepped up for this game and the end result is bloody terrific.
Of course, this is just the best music I’ve heard this month.
If you’ve heard something you think deserves to be acknowledged leave a comment below and we’ll have a listen!
So what next? Well, I’m already working on the June post, in which we will be incorporating some music from outside the gaming sphere because it’s important to diversify your interests. I’m also building a Spotify playlist for you to follow for near constant updates from gaming music old and new! So keep an eye out for that and as always, go and enjoy some music.