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#TuneTuesday!

#TuneTuesday!

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#TuneTuesday No. 106: UNATCO


Jack Le Breton

Deception has been a common theme throughout the last few months. Government bodies being aware of the COVID-19 virus and not telling their body about it, certain country leaders dismissing it as something that is worse the common cold but less than the flu, whilst others dismiss the idea that the Coronavirus even exists. Some would go a step further and say that it was some governmental bodies that created the Coronavirus. Well, I thought I would talk about a game that manages to encompass all of these themes and more strikingly horrific similarities to how modern world politics seem to operate.

I am of course talking about the original Deus Ex. This weeks #TuneTuesday tune is UNATCO, composed by Michiel van den Bos.

Deus Ex is set in the near future of 2052, where a virus is wiping out large swaths of the New York population. Well, the poor and the homeless are the ones who are suffering the most, whilst the rich and famous seem to be unaffected. You play as JC Denton, a new anti-terrorist agent working for the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition (or UNATCO, for short), based on Liberty Island. His first mission is to investigate an NSF terrorist attack on the island itself, and find the leader in the Statue of Liberty, who begins to tell you things that make a lot of sense, placing a lot of ambiguity over the morality of the presented antagonists.

After dealing with said leader with either violence or a conversation (there is a lot of choices in this game with dialogue and how to approach practically everything), you return to your base, where you will hear today’s cue. It is an ambient EDM track with arpeggiated synths, which is to be expected, given this game is set in the future and the protagonist is enhanced by nano-machines or something. The repeated filtered ostinato (a fancy word for ‘riff’) is very clearly in the key of Bb minor, not the most common of keys to write in. 

To me, Bb minor has a serious melancholic nostalgia to it, and I don’t say that because it has been years since I have played the game. It creates the sense that something big is coming, something that will change the lives of those around you, which is rather fitting, given how this game ends and who UNATCO are. What I’ve just described to you sounds incredibly epic, which it is. But this cue is anything but. Its sparse arrangement allows the listener to pay attention to all the parts clearly, to appreciate the cogs and wheels that drive the piece forward, such as Denton’s authorities push him to his own fate and decisions, which you the player are free to make.

The cue is understated, not drawing large amount of attention to itself, which is what you would want for a secret(ish) organisation. It does not feel so one-sided as a traditional cue to inspire heroism. There are no large fuck off the brass, no syncopated strings, and very little percussion, just the occasional electronic kick drum that highlights new sections in the piece, each one with different velocity (a fancy term for the intensity of volume as it were), giving the piece a lot of dynamics, allowing it to breath, to let the player make their own decision about who and what UNATCO are.

NOTE: For the longest time, I enjoyed doing these once every week, but with COVID-19 stress and other priorities taking precedence, I became overwhelmed and did not fancy doing these for a while. Whilst I will continue the #TuneTuesdays, for I still enjoy them, I will not beat myself up if I don’t do one every single week.
 

#TuneTuesday No. 105: Ending: Alexander


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday post has us look at one of the calmer cues from one of the most horrifying games to have been made. The cue is Ending: Alexander, from Amnesia: The Dark Descent, composed by Mikko Tarmia.

You play as Daniel, a young man from London who has awoken in the dark and empty halls of the Prussian Brennenburg Castle with little to no memory about himself or his past. All he can remember is his name, that he lives in Mayfair and that a 'Shadow' is hunting him. It does not take him long to find a letter from his past self, telling him that he has deliberately erased his own memory. But before doing this, he instructed his future self (ie, you) to kill Alexander, the castle's baron (it's set in 1839). Why he didn't kill Alexander before wiping his memory is beyond me...

Gaping plot flaw aside, it is considered to be one of the greatest horror games to have spawned from the mouths of hell, and I am in that mindset. The Dark Descent takes many influences from Lovecraftian horror, using the famous quote “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” to it's fullest. 

 I discussed in a previous #TuneTuesday thread (almost a year ago) about the impeccable sound design and score, both of which scares you more than the monsters themselves. You cannot fight the monsters, so your only option is to hide. They are sensitive to the light from your lamp, so you have to hide in the dark. Problem is, Daniel is scared of the dark and can start making whimpering noises, should his Sanity drop too much. You can't really look at them drains your Sanity Meter, which is not good for Daniel.

In short, you're fucked.

Should you survive to the very end, you meet Alexander in the Inner Sanctum, who has nearly completed his ritual. Should you let him finish it and not kill him, you are killed by the Shadow because [INSERT PLOT DEVICE HERE], which gains you the bad ending, and this piano piece in G minor plays. To me, it serves to purposes.

  1. To show the player you gone and fucked up (as if being torn apart by a strawberry monster wasn’t frightening enough!) as this is essentially a piano requiem, a song for the dead.
  2. To make the player feel for Alexander’s plight.

There are no real heroes in this game, but some players would feel terribly sorry for Alexander’s circumstance. Should you unlock this ending, he gets what he wants, but the price is very dear (ie, your life) and despite all that transpires between Daniel and Alexander, I get the impression that he did care for you and did try to help you, but not as much as he was helping himself.

Now I could be looking into this far too much, as Alexander could very well just be using Daniel the whole time so that he could [INSERT PLOT DEVICE HERE], but that is the interesting effect the cue has had on me. Music can warp and distort the listener’s perception on the media present, making you reconsider everything you have learnt about the universe unfolding in front of the eyes of the audience, and this cue has made me feel sorry for one of the most manipulative and sinister characters, Alexander von Brennenburg, Baron of Castle Brenneburg

#TuneTuesday No. 104: Vienna Orsi


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday post has return to the World of Darkness and talk about the first and heavily underrated Vampire: The Masquerade videogame. The game is Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption, the cue is Vienna Orsi (according to the filename, as the soundtrack was never officially released) and the composer is Kevin Manthei.

Most people who have taken an interest in reading this blog post are likely to be a little confused. The only Vampire: The Masquerade game you are probably aware of is Bloodlines, and its soon-to-be-released sequel. That cult classic was not the first attempt someone made at turning the popular tabletop roleplaying game into a videogame. That credit goes to Redemption, which is actually the first videogame adapted from a game found within the World of Darkness, the universe that Vampire: The Masquerade exists, along with Werewolf: The Apocolypse and Wraith: The Oblivion.

But I digress. In this game, you play as the noble French crusader Christof Romuald, a once-proud, religious church knight who is embraced by a vampire of clan (essentially the breed) Brujah, pulled into the politics and squabbling of the Kindred, the in-game word for vampires (they also use Cainite, FYI). Whilst coming to terms with his new condition, questioning his understanding on life and faith allying himself with other Cainites, his anchor to humanity the nun Anezka, a human with a pure soul who loves him even after his transformation, is kidnapped by members of clan Tzimisce (pronounced Zi-me-zee) for plot-related reasons. Christof then makes it his goal in unlife to save her and thrawt the plans of the Tzimisce.

Whilst not being a perfect game by any means, one of the things that makes this game very interesting is no only its faithfulness to the lore of VtM (for the most part), but its change in settings. The game occurs in two time periods: 12th century Prague and Vienna, and late-20th century London and New York City, each one having fantastic attention to detail in the voice acting and change in music (for a game released in 2000 on PC may I add). The Dark Ages setting has great orchestral work and great period music in the almost pointless explorable pubs, whilst the Modern Nights setting has more electronic sounds and gritty phat beats (there is even a rap when you explore certain parts of New York).

Whilst in 12th Century Vienna, Christof and his party (known as a coterie in VtM terms) must speak to a Cainite by the name of Orsi. The player will hear this cue as you enter his home before you get to meet him, and you can instantly tell the sort of individual this Orsi is just from the music. Regal, remarkably pompous, and incredibly stately. It is a stereotypical classical string quartet arrangement (2 violins, viola & cello), basing all of its melodic ideas off the first few dotted rhythms, which is an arpeggiated E minor chord, which to me suggests that he has a lot of power, and may not be a good vampire (if such a phrase truly exists). The final chord of the cue, the Bsus4 7th serves to add to this I think, and possibly suggests Orsi’s religious ties. It could also just be an interesting and ‘proper’ chord to use to allow the cue to loop around. Whilst the sound itself is somewhat cheesy, given the string quartet sounds are General MIDI ‘sounds’, it still serves as an impressive cue to me because of it’s the ability to tell the listener everything they need to know about the character before meeting them.

There is one final detail I wish to draw your attention to, which some of you may have noticed already. It may require you to wear some headphones to pay closer attention. With a decently trained ear, you will notice the cello is on the far left speaker, the viola closer to the centre of the stereo field, but slightly to the left, the 2nd violin mirroring the viola (right, but close to the centre), with the 1st violin on the far right. String quartets usually reverse the seating arrangments (cello far-right, viola centre, but near the right etc.). Is this a fault on the composer’s behalf? No, as the composer can do what he/she/they pleases, but that is not the case here. It was only up until the string quartets of Joseph Haydn (which is some 500 years after the game’s first time period) and beyond where quarters took that seating arrangement. The few string quartets that existed before Haydn took the seating arrangement you are currently listening too.

Hopefully, you have learnt at least two new things today...

#TuneTuesday No. 103: Intro


Jack Le Breton

Deception has been a common theme throughout the last couple of months. Government bodies being aware of the COVID-19 virus and not telling their body about it, certain country leaders dismissing it as something that is worse the common cold but less than the flu, whilst others dismiss the idea that the Coronavirus even exists. So, I thought I’d explore a game cue for this weeks #TuneTuesday tune that sets up the player’s expectations to be one thing, but in reality, presents them with something completely different altogether. The cue (or at the least the only name for it I could find anyway) is ‘Intro’ from Fatal Frame (or Project Zero, depending on who you ask, which was also marketed with lies in the west, claiming that it was based on a true story), composed by Ayako Toyoda and/or Shigekiyo Okuda.

The premise for the game is rather simple. You play as Miku and Mafuyu Hinasaki (but mostly Miku). Mafuyu has heard that a famous novelist has disappeared in the haunted Himuro Mansion, and so makes the “sensible” decision to go looking for him, which takes place as the game’s tutorial, with an old black and white film filter, to create the impression that what you playing in is the past. Surprise, surprise, he then goes missing, and his sister Miku goes to find him, with colour returning to the player.

It may come to little to surprise to you that Fatal Frame is a survival horror game where the game’s enemies are a seemingly neverending platoon of ghosts, that takes a lot of influence from the likes of the old school (or ‘rather new’ at the time) Resident Evil and Silent Hill games, especially the latter. The main catch that makes it more frightening in many ways than both games is the combat. You have to stare at your opponent for a long time using the Camera Obscura, a magical camera that can take pictures of ghosts. It is a terrifying premise actually, one that forces you to literally face your fears, rather than shoot blindly or run and hide.  

The accompanying score draws a lot of inspiration from Silent Hill, in that there is actually very little music. Just a lot of chaotic noise and creepy whispers, child giggling and a female ghost who can’t find her eyes. But the game’s main theme doesn’t present that sort of image to listeners. It sounds more like a JRPG/action-adventure game, which sounds an unusual choice to go with for a survival horror game. There is also a sense of the serious Japnese classical tone to it, especially in its introduction, that ties nicely with some of the game’s setting that I shan’t spoil to you. E minor (and the D minor it flirts with) is a good key for establishing this royal sound (to me at least. You can make any key sound/portray any emotion with the right level of thought). 

So why did the composer(s) do this? I’d like to propose the idea that this was done to deliberately screw with the player. A lot of Japanese games feature female protagonists, a usually high school looking/age girls that are overly powered and can do anything with the power of friendship. Then you play the game and realise that both characters are pretty powerless without the aid of their inherited camera. This musical contradiction adds to the initial fright/shock factor that the game is aiming for as you take selfies with ghosts.

#TuneTuesday No. 102: Song of The Ancients


Jack Le Breton

I was overwhelmed by family affairs last week, so I was unable to do #TuneTuesday last week. So, I thought I would make up for it by talking about a cue that has many different versions found within the game its prequel. The cue is ‘The Song of The Ancients’ from NieR & NieR: Automata, composed by Keiichi Okabe and vocals by Emi Evans.

It is difficult to talk about either game with revealing massive spoilers to either game, so I will avoid the plot, making this little blog post smaller. What I will mention is that both NieR games have a huge array of interesting eclectic characters, two of which being the android twins Devola & Popola, two of the most important characters in the series, who serve slightly different purposes in both games. Canonically, it is Devola that is singing the song, which is why when you search for the song on YouTube, you will find lots of artwork with the two characters.

The version that I included above comes from NieR: Automata, and is not heard all the frequently in-game, neither does the two characters it is associated with, which makes sense to me for narrative versions. I love all the arrangements of the cue, but this one (and ‘Fate’ from NieR) is my favourite, for I believe the arrangement is the most interesting. What is often overlooked with the soundtrack is how small the ensemble is. Most orchestral soundtracks have large strings, brass and wind sections, with about 40 players, 21 one of those players being string players (violins, violas, cellos/celli and basses). NieR: Automata has 13. This isn’t a financial decision, but an artistic one, for SQUARE ENIX (the publishers), has a shite tonne of money to go around, with a huge chunk of their games having a full-on orchestra.

A point that I’ve mentioned before is that you can have more punch our of a smaller ensemble, which works wonders here, as most of the cues in both NieR games that use strings are short, detached (or Stacatto, to use the correct terminology) ideas that add excitement and tense to what’s going on screen. The battle cues are often percussion-driven anyway, so a larger ensemble could potentially muddy/dampen the feel.

As for the language the song is performed in, I believe it is a made-up language, smashing together German, French and Japanese to form the in game’s Chaos Language, which is only ever heard in the game’s songs. It is an interesting choice for sure, one that I’d love to see in future games in the series. It is this approach to songwriting that has made vocalist Emi Evans particularly well known within the gaming community.

#TuneTuesday No. 101: Blinded By Light


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from one of my favourite RPGs, that I definitely need to replay sometime. And no being stuck at home with little work for 12 weeks, there is no better time to replay Final Fantasy XIII! The cue is ‘Blinded by Light’,  composed by Masashi Hamauzu, who is one of my favourite living composers.

I can usually waffle on for many paragraphs about the synopsis of every game I discuss in these musical blogs, but it has been over 10 years since I first played the game, and my memory of it is incredibly hazy. Three things standout in my mind though whenever I think of the game.

  1. How Lightning (one of the main protagonists) is so precious and how I must protect my waifu.
  2. How incredibly long it was. I want to say that it well over 70hrs in length before you reach the midway point and are able to explore the open world in its fullest, but again, my memory fails me there.
  3. How fantastic the score is.

Being a Final Fantasy game, the game’s combat is similar to that of FFVII, where it is not quite live but not quite turn-taking either. Blinded by Light is what you will hear through most of your playthrough when you are battling monsters and PSICOM troops, who are the main antagonists. The combat always feels fun and engaging, mostly because of this powerful and exhilarating cue.

What a lot of fans of Masashi Hamauzu’s work may overlook is the amount of fusion prevalent in his pieces, with Blinded by Light being an excellent example. The strings perform what I call ‘The JRPG Rhythm’, with those sharp, stabbing syncopated parts, flirting with the keys Em, Bm & F#m, with the horns singing a very sad melody, but in the context of everything else, almost sounds like a mournful battle-cry. So far, this is fairly traditional stuff, but then a drum kit and distorted electric guitars enter, adding support to the strings.

A bit out there still, but thing become more harmonically interesting when we reach the ‘chorus’, where the infamous solo violin is practically screaming this fantastic melody over the top everything else, giving the listener goosebumps as a result. Beneath all of this, the drummer begins to lose his marbles at this point urging the player to push on, you’ve got this, you’ve almost got the fight. The chorus reaches its end, fading into a link section (so that the cue can loop around again) with some rather crazy mini-modulations, littered with add9 and Major 7th chords, traditional staples of Masashi Hamauzu’s writing style.

So in this 1:17sec cue, you have a piece that rises and falls in tension and excitement very quickly, with a unique bland combination of orchestration, smashing jazz, orchestral writing tropes and rock together to create something incredibly unique. My love for JRPG soundtracks has exceeded many western approaches for the longest time, for the urge to just create great music often exceeds the need for making scores interactive for the player. Whilst I do enjoy a good interactive score, such as Journey and NieR: Automata, the emotions trying to be delivered has to come first. So if you have a score that is relatively simple to implement in the game score but moves the listener/player to tears whenever they are beating the living daylights out of enemies, not because of a guilty conscience, but through the music, them I say that is a remarkable talent of any composer. That is what composers for games should strive for, not what kickass things can I do in Fmod/Wwise to enhance the player experience.
 

#TuneTuesday No. 100: Cigarette Smoke (Reprise)


Jack Le Breton

You probably haven’t been counting, but this week marks the 100th edition of my weekly #TuneTuesday, so I wanted to do something a little bit different and talk about one of my own compositions, something I try to avoid doing so it doesn’t look like I’m arrogant. In any case, this weeks #TuneTuesday is one of my more personal compositions. It is ‘Cigarette Smoke (Reprise)’ from Lore By Night, a Vampire: The Masquerade Podcast.

In case the above title didn’t give it away, Lore By Night is a podcast about the tabletop RPG game, Vampire: The Masquerade, where players assume the role of vampires in a modern night setting. They must fight their foes, the ongoing vampire politics, and the constant fight with their own humanity and The Beast, this ravenous nature within them that just wants to sleep, feed and kill everything around them. It is harrowing stuff, and there is no real game quite like it.

Each cue found in the soundtrack was my attempt at presenting the sound of the World of Darkness (the universe in which VtM exists) in a different light, whilst making sure the music wasn’t too involved to distract from the narration of the VtM metaplot and lore in the podcast. Those who have played ‘Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines’, or watched the World of Darkness Documentary on Amazon Prime would know that the ‘established’ sound for the World of Darkness is edgy goth rock, which does a splendid job at covering the aforementioned conflicts. I believed, and still do believe, that there are many ways of exploring that inner conflict with oneself, which is why a lot the vast majority of music found within the podcast is either jazz or orchestral, which I (perhaps biasedly) believe are much more effective mood setters than goth rock of the late 90s/early 00s.

There are exceptions to this of course, which leads me onto Cigarette Smoke, which I describe as a soft middle of the road rock track with acoustic guitar and jazz harmonies (you can listen to the original here). I had two main thought processes when I first imagined Cigarette Smoke. I imagine vampires to incredibly miserable, perhaps depressed, creatures. It must not be easy for vampires to totally cut off from their former lives as humans, fighting each night just to survive. I imagine that friendships/alliance are formed between vampires on this concept/understanding alone and they meet in bars, smoking and drinking their collective clusterfucks into oblivion.

This piece reflects this inner-struggle with oneself, reflected by the three chords in the ‘verse’ sections; Bm9, Fm#9/B (or B69omit3rd), Bm9 and F#mM7, which is a real spicy chord that many people will hate. It sounds like I am constantly playing a mistake, but I assure you it is a very deliberate choice.

The tune was always very much intended to have this orchestration, but I wanted to test the waters with its structure, as I do with everything I write. Before I notate things onto the score (which the Lore By Night ost is remarkably assent of, for I played most of the instruments on the soundtrack (minus the orchestra and choir samples obviously)), I take myself to the piano and just play. I make note of anything I like and dislike, as I can attempt to bastardise such rejects at a later date. Cigarette Smoke (Reprise) was never is a 5:32sec one-take, improvised take me playing with ideas on the piano, with no editing of the sort (which is why bits of it sound out of time to the trained ear, but I like to think of it as being free). It was never supposed to be included on the album. It uses the same harmonies as the original, but with a slight change to Em7 here in the chorus to G6 in the main version.

I mentioned earlier I had two thought processes. The second is fare more personal struggle with myself. Without going into specifics, I was in an emotionally and mentally dark place when the piece was fully conceived, and I feel that comes across with the spicy jazz chords and the aggressive bridge section in the main version of the cue. I wouldn't be able to recreate this piece again, not with the same level of energy and passion I used to create it. Even though the mix is questionable and the elitist within me hates myself for publishing it to the world, I much prefer this more raw rendition, in addition to the out of time piano reprise. 

This is why this one the personal pieces I have composed to date.

#TuneTuesday No. 99: Modern Day Christof’s Theme


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from a videogame that I don’t think gets enough love. The game is Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption, and the cue is ‘Modern Day Christof’s Theme’ and it is either composed by Kevin Manthei, Chris Collins, Greg Forsberg or Rob Ross (I have found various sources disagreeing with each other constantly, including the game’s credits).

Most people who have taken an interest in reading this blog post are likely to be a little confused. The only Vampire: The Masquerade game you are probably aware of is Bloodlines, and its soon-to-be-released sequel. That cult classic was not the first attempt someone made at turning the popular tabletop roleplaying game into a videogame. That credit goes to Redemption, which is actually the first videogame adapted from a game found within the World of Darkness, the universe that Vampire: The Masquerade exists, along with Werewolf: The Apocolypse and Wraith: The Oblivion.

But I digress. In this game, you play as the noble French crusader Christof Romuald, a once-proud, religious church knight who is embraced by a vampire of clan (essentially the breed) Brujah, pulled into the politics and squabbling of the Kindred, the in-game word for vampires (they also use Cainite, FYI). Whilst coming to terms with his new condition, questioning his understanding on life and faith allying himself with other Cainites, his anchor to humanity the nun Anezka, a human with a pure soul who loves him even after his transformation, is kidnapped by members of clan Tzimisce (pronounced Zi-me-zee) for plot-related reasons. Christof then makes it his goal in unlife to save her and thrawt the plans of the Tzimisce.

Whilst not being a perfect game by any means, one of the things that makes this game very interesting is no only its faithfulness to the lore of VtM (for the most part), but its change in settings. The game occurs in two time periods: 12th century Prague and Vienna, and late-20th century London and New York City, each one having fantastic attention to detail in the voice acting and change in music (for a game released in 2000 on PC may I add). The Dark Ages setting has great orchestral work and great period music in the almost pointless explorable pubs, whilst the Modern Nights setting has more electonic sounds and gritty phat beats (there is even a rap when you explore certain parts of New York).

The exception to this is with the second rendition of Christof’s theme, which returns to the orchestral style in my favourite key, B minor, with a strong dramatic melody with the French Horn, accented with toms and tubular bells and strings, before being replaced by a slightly more simplistic chromatic distorted electric guitar idea, acting as a clever transition between the Dark Ages sound, to the grunge sound of 2000, which has since become the Vampire: The Masquerade sound.

Whilst I say this is the second rendition (as the title would imply), that cue plays during the game’s opening cinematic and doesn’t really feel like a character theme to me. This weeks cue does, reflecting the strong willpower of Christof to carry on, and the saddness of his condition. He did not ask to be embraced, he did not want to be one of the damned, a scion of the night. He has these powers, this undeniable thirst, but not wanting to become a monster, he does not want to succumb to the beast and lose control. He wants to do what’s right, which is why on so many occasions Christof tries to detach himself totally from Anezka, so he or his vampire brethren do not harm her. 

What I have just described is the ethos of Vampire: The Masquerade, which is why I admire it, and this game, as much as I do, for this is an element that Bloodlines doesn’t deliver as strong in my mind, simply because with that game, you create your own character, which becomes an extension of you. With Redemption, you are ‘forced’ to see the world through Christof’s eyes, to feel with his heart, and this theme captures that character perfectly, even if all the samples in that sound terrible because this is 2000, only 20yrs after MIDI was invented.
 

#TuneTuesday No. 98: Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There


Jack Le Breton

As I was knee-deep in a particularly large composing gig last week (and still am, sort of), I was unable to talk about a piece of video game music that I like, which is a huge shame (for me and hopefully for you too). This week, I shall try and make up for that and talk about a cue that has two different versions within the same game, one acting as its main theme, and a shorter, instrumental version that plays during the game’s climax. This weeks #TuneTuesday is ‘Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There’, from Persona 5. It was composed by Shoji Meguro and sung by Lyn.

I've discussed the Persona games in great detail before, so I will just give a brief overview. Take your favourite shonen, slice-of-life anime, slap it with Pokemon with an existential crisis, and you've got yourself every Persona game. The plot of Persona 3 revolves around a group of Japanese high school kids (surprise-surprise) who hit the books by day and hit the Shadows (daemons essentially) with their powers of Persona summoning by night. These are manifestations of one's inner self, which are essentially more mature 'Pokemon' based on real-life mythic deities.

Persona 5 is the latest main entry to the series, with the enhanced version, ‘Persona 5: Royal’ expected to release later this year. Like so many, Persona 5 was my introduction to the franchise and was rather hesitant playing a game where I would have to micromanage animu friends and save the world from corrupt adults. 80hrs later, turns out that shit is loads of fun!

I knew I was going to enjoy this game the very moment the opening titles rolled with all that pop art inspired artwork and the first thing you hear is the main theme, titled ‘Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There’. This track, as well as most of its soundtrack, is effectively Acid Jazz. Given that this may well be the most accessible Persona game to date, this musical direction is incredibly bold and brave, as Acid Jazz is not always the easiest form of Jazz to easy to listen to. A form of Jazz that is easier to listen to is Swing, An example of a game that is Swing-based is ‘Cuphead’, (composed by Kristofer Maddigan) which got a great deal of praise and yet.
Anyway, back to Persona 5!

To further my point about it being an Acid Jazz soundtrack and as to why it was a brave stylistic choice, I shall dump some music theory on you to soak up. The opening track, ‘Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There’ has a clear G Dorian sound (The use of the C chord gives this away as opposed to C minor). The intro then immediately going to G major for the verse (who does that?!). I believe the chord progression here is GM7, Gm7, GM13(?) and GmM7. This repeats before the brilliant use of a D half-diminished chord on the words ‘it’s useless’ which is fantastic word-painting I think. It’s not quite the four-chord progression that we all loathe and love of modern pop songs is it?

The point I am attempting to make here is that these folks at ATLUS their in-house composer, Shoji Meguro and the rest of his team, had a very clear vision of the world and sound they wanted. You do not compose an Acid Jazz soundtrack by happenstance, or for the shits and giggles. For a track as polished and deliberate as this, I knew the game was going to be great as they clearly cared for the music, so they must care for the game just as deeply and therefore, would be a fantastic overall project.
 

#TuneTuesday No. 97: Karasu


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from one of the most emotional and breathtaking games I’ve played in the last two years, one that has an equally fantastic score. The cue is Karasu from GRIS, composed by Berlinist

‘GRIS’ has you control the silent eponymous protagonist, who wakes up in the palm of a crumbling statue of a woman. She attempts to sing but quickly becomes choked up by something, unable to finish her heartfelt song. The statue’s hands crumble, dropping her to the colourless earth below, all of which is presented with this gorgeous watercolour painting styled animation, very fluid and lush.

Already the game has told you what it considers to be important in addition to it’s narrative and themes. Death and mourning of a loved one are the main topics, both being told by communicating not a single word, but through its art and it’s music. There are no enemies to fight, no quests to conquer, just you facing a tale of depression, death and possibly suicide. Why suicide? To discuss greatly about that would enter spoiler territory, but I will explore death in GRIS, but discussing today’s cue.

Throughout the course of the game, you are being stalked by a flock of black birds, that occasionally destroy paths for you, forcing you to look for alternative routes for progress. At some point, these birds form to create a much larger blackbird that will begin to chase you through one section of the game, shrieking and sending you gusts of wind to disrupt your progress., I am dubbing this birds name as Karasu, which is a reference to the Karasu-Tengu, a goblin, bird, man deity in Japanese culture. The Japanese word Karasu means raven, crow or simply blackbird. Ravens and crows have been used as indicators of death in media, partly due to the many ravens that make their home at The Tower of London, which was a grandiose execution palace.

The cue, like the rest of the score is incredibly moving with just the right level of intimidation to make the player worry about what this bird can do to you, with the short, stabbing string pattern, alternating between the chords E minor (the tonic/home key), A minor and C major, not necessarily in that order.

‘GRIS’ is one of many artistic experimental games that takes inspiration from Thegamecompany’s ‘Journey’, which is evident when comparing the design of Gris and the wanderer from ‘Journey’, the two games’ desert areas and the fact that Austin Wintory, the composer for ‘Journey’, is included in the game’s credits’ ‘Special Thanks’ section. As such, some players may also see the ‘subtle’ connections and subconsciously expecting a ‘Journey’ clone as they are playing. I should know, as I stupidly felt the same as I played. I also feel that many players will have just interpreted ‘GRIS’ as a pretentious tale of a sad girl who wants to be less sad but becomes sadder, with no real sense of resolution, if you allow me to be crass for just a moment. It is very clear through the imagery that the game is conveying many a metaphor for enduring depression, and many will just leave it at that.

I enjoyed my first playthrough of ‘GRIS’, but I was left feeling a bit hollow, and not in a particularly good way, partly because of audio stuttering at the last cinematic, and partly because I felt it lacked the substance filled punch that I initially felt Nomada Studios was aiming for. It was only after I began thinking about why I felt hollow that I realised how successful ‘GRIS’ was in conveying its messages. Or at the very least, how I have interpreted the game’s themes. It was upon further reflection that I began to fully appreciate ‘GRIS’.
‘GRIS’ is a beautifully depressing experience, one that combines entertaining puzzles into an ethereal platformer. It presents a masterclass in evocative romanticism of depression and death, one that could only work in a videogame. Hopefully, you can come to your own insightful conclusions about ‘GRIS’ and be moved as just as I was.

#TuneTuesday No. 96: Ludwig, The Holy Blade


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday just so happens to be one of my favourite boss fight cues, in addition to being one of my favourite bosses in gaming. It is Ludwig, The Holy Blade from Bloodborne, composed by Nobuyoshi Suzuki.

Bloodborne is developed by FromSoftware, who are the same people who bought you The Dark Souls Trilogy, so you know that this game is tough as hell and has next to no plot with all the lore told through item descriptions, the environment and the occasional NPC who speaks in riddle.

The plot for Bloodborne is incredibly simple on the surface. You are a hunter who must hunt the beasts that are slowly taking over the people of Yharnam, the city/land in which the game is set. As the story marches on, dragging you through the mud and blood (which there is a lot of) you will find that there is a lot more going on than people being turned into monsters for you to be killed. Without too many spoilers, the world in which Bloodborne is incredibly Lovecraftian (the term being derived from everyone’s favourite racist author, H.P. Lovecraft) as you find many of these beastly monsters and creatures to have Cthulhu-esque designs, each with a strange connection to things that live in the stars that may well have been the study of many a scholar within the Bloodborne world. That is where today’s cue comes in.

Ludwig, a character who is mentioned every-so-often in the main game by NPCs and item descriptions, is a boss in the one DLC, The Old Hunters. He’s actually the first boss and one of the most unforgiving bosses in the whole game. He is also one of the most enjoyable (for me anyway) in the whole game. As you can tell by the thumbnail of the video and the header, Ludwig has become a beast, one that is best described as a monster/zombie horse lined with teeth and eyes. Like his visage, his theme is incredibly discordant, almost as if the entire orchestra is dying a slow and bloody painful death, led by a solo cello and almost screaming choir. I would usually hate something like this, but to analyse the harmonies and the deceptive rhythm (it makes the casual listener think it is in ¾ when it really is in 4/4) is just fascinating to analyse

Bloodborne was the first FromSoftware game the introduced bosses with multiple phases, meaning that once its health has dropped to a certain amount, the boss will unleash a new set of attacks. In the case of Ludwig, his second phase is separated by a cutscene filled with lore, which allows him to transform into a more majestic, and laughably easier, knight form (in the video, this is about the 2min mark). The cue still playing, transitioning into a more sinisterly noble theme, with the brass more prominent, far more frantic with more syncopation, now in the key of E minor, a tone higher (previously D minor) than before. It acts as a final send-off for the character, who is rather significant in Bloodborne’s lore, a brave hunter fallen from grace. 

Even if you don’t bother reading any of the lore in the game, or ignore all of the NPCs, it would be hard for you not to feel some remorse slaying this mutated stallion, as he is one of the few bosses that talks to you during a fight, and the only one afterwards, where he has realised the monster that he has become and begs for you put him down.

As much as I enjoy the narrative and lore of Bloodborne, I am a huge fan of its incredible soundtrack, consisting of 6 fantastic composers, each one adding something amazing to this game. This cue is no exception, as we have intense gothic horror one moment before doing a complete 180 for an almost heroic brass theme, whilst retaining that distinct Bloodborne take on Lovecraftian horror.

#TuneTuesday No. 95: The End of The Battle


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from one of my favourite games that has one of the most ingenious soundtracks. It is ‘The End of The Battle’ from Shadow of The Colossus, composed by Kow Otani.

In the game, you play as a boy/teen/young man called Wander (I believe that is the correct spelling) who travels to The Forbidden Land with his horse Agro to dick about with the god Dormin’s ancient magic so he can bring a girl back to life. It is never explained whether this girl is his girlfriend, girl-friend or sister, but it is rather obvious that it is someone he cares for deeply. In order to resurrect the girl, Wander must kill the 16 Colossi, thus beginning the adventure.

Many open-world games like this would populate their world with life and music galore that would make The Forbidden Land a truly scary and terrifying place. Not here though. The only life you will see is the odd lizard and eagle. After the game’s introduction, you won’t hear any music until you fight the first Colossus, which creates an incredibly desolate feeling, making you feel that you really are in a sparse Forbidden Land. 

When you encounter the massive colossi, the music here is what you would expect, involving grandeur brass, blasting out at you, hyping you up for the fight, as you finally realise that you have to scale the bastard to kill it. The levels are the bosses.

If like me, you are a heartless bastard, you will have no real problem killing the colossi because you are on a quest to save a girl! Previous video games have taught you to treat all enemies like this. It is a back bad creature after all, why should I care whether it should die? This is a common video game law; if it moves, it must die!

Once you deliver the final stab, the cue will stop, and you expect a grand fanfare, applauding your victory! You may even want the infamous Koji Kondo Chord progression (Chords I-bVI-bVIII) that is famous in pretty much all of the Final Fantasy victory fanfares. But with Shadow of The Colossus, you get this cue, which is essentially a requiem, which is a Mass for the repose of the souls of the dead. The music is melancholy in tone and yet is somehow bittersweet. It is clear to me that it was designed to make you pause and think. Most of the colossi, most notably the first one (my personal favourite) do not attack you unless provoked. In fact, most of them don’t attack you at all. The music tells here tells you that you are a bit of prick and it is Game Over for the colossi.

This cue becomes more powerful in its meaning as the game progresses. The rest of the soundtrack music becomes more discordant, meaning that it uses more unpleasant harmonies and it becomes more difficult to listen to. Wander’s appearance changes and you slowly begin to realise that you are no hero in this game, you are a cold-blooded killer. But that's ok, you tell yourself because you are trying to bring some girl back from the dead and the life of one already dead girl is more valuable than the life of 16 large, peaceful creatures.

There is very little dialogue in Shadow of The Colossus and most of its story is told through your actions and the developing music. Not only is it an incredibly beautiful soundtrack in its own right, but Shadow of The Colossus is also what is called a ‘symphonic poem’, music that tells a story or sets a scene. This is why I love the music from Shadow of The Colossus.

#TuneTuesday No. 94: Revived Shibuya -another-


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday has me return to one of my favourite games and soundtracks. It is ‘Revised Shibuya -another-’ from CHAOS;CHILD composed by Takeshi Abo.

I have mentioned this relatively unknown title before but to give a brief summary, Chaos;Child is the fourth main entry in the Science Adventure series (the same series the famous 'Steins;Gate' comes from) and a thematic sequel to Chaos;Head. As such, the plot is incredibly involved and rather confusing at times.

In it, you take the role of Takuru Miyashiro, the president of his school's newspaper club, who investigates the "Return of The New Generation Madness" serial murder case that has been taking place in Shibuya. During the course of the game, he experiences delusions where the player gets the option to choose if Takuru should experience a positive or negative delusion or neither. These choices affect the plot's direction, causing it to branch off from the main narrative into different routes. That is, once you've played the game through for the first time, as you only have access to the common route (the canon route if you would).

Chaos;Child is a murder mystery thriller, so death is commonplace within the narrative. Various members of the cast are thrown into mortal danger constantly, so one would expect the many cues to be creepy ambiences and/or horrifying assault on your eardrums. And you would be right with this, as there are many cases of both of those. My recent mentioning of this game was one of those such cues, ‘Peak Level’, which I described as ‘a broken Trance/Dubstep with some weird tribal vocals going on’ that usually accompanies the game’s horrific murder scenes or/and when shit hits the fan.

As important as it is to have a horror game with scary music, what makes all good horror standout is the mastery over pacing. If you were to have scare after scare after scare, constantly, for however long your story is, then it wouldn’t be that scary. Your player (or reader in this case) would become climatised to it, and you never want someone to become climatised with scary things. It’s not good on the psyche.

There are two ways you could address this. You can take the usual Western approach and just up the scares, but then end making the billionth SAW film. Whilst this is necessary, what is often needed are some calmer moments, so the player/reader can digest what has just happened and be lured into a false sense of security, and have time for some character development.

‘CHAOS;CHILD’ has pacing like no other, and has lots of fantastic music to depict all sorts of moods. As the title would imply, this is a variant on Revised Shibuya, which is much calmer and is often played when the characters, most of which are high school students and best of friends are trying to enjoy their lives, running the newspaper club, having meals, or going out shopping with each other in the bustling shopping district of Tokyo’s Shibuya district. You actually hear this version of the cue more than the other one, and more than any other cue in the game for that fact, and it never feels boring or repetitive.

This also is to do with it’s pacing, and how the various instruments build and add to the starting piano part. There are also some creative use of chromaticism, which are notes and chords that are not usually found within the home key which in this case is the happy key of C major, the does a wonderful job at pulling you into the social life of the cast, making the world and those who live within feel alive and genuine. It is not an interactive score by any means, but it delivers on the emotion with amazing prowess.
 

#TuneTuesday No. 93: Chinatown Theme


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from one of my favourite games, one that I only discovered last year. It is the Chinatown Theme from Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, composed by Rik Schaffer.

I have talked about VtMB before, in addition to the tabletop RPG, it comes from. So much so, I made a conscious effort not to mention it at all, because I know I can (and have) gone into large massive tangents about its expansive lore and metaplot that barely anyone who follows me on social media is interested in. That being said, one has to provide some context for the process of this post.

Set in modern-day/night LA, you are some random schmuck who gets laid in your apartment by a vampire, who can be one of 7 different clans/breed of vampire, depending on the sort you wish to play as. Members of the Camarilla, which is sort of the vampire government, comes in, stakes you both (resulting in paralysis, not death in VtM lore) and take you both to court. The Prince, the ruler of LA’s Santa Monica, decides to have your sire killed, before sending you on a suicide mission to prove yourself in Kindred (the VtM word for vampire, along with Cainite) society.

The game has you traverse between 4 uniquely hub worlds, Santa Monica, Downtown, Hollywood, and of course, Chinatown, which is one of my favourite hub worlds and cues in the game. Chinatown is the last hub world you can explore too, which is both the most disappointing and interesting. VtMB went through what many call ‘a development cycle from hell’ and was released unfinished, due to legal reasons with the publisher. This is evident in many of the games’ glitches bugs and exploits, and a lot of the quests in the game’s latter half. Chinatown as a hub world feels considerably rushed when compared to the other three. Whilst this is interesting in of itself, the context of its existence and the current politics is especially interesting to me.

The developers of the game, the now-defunct Troika Games, did a fantastic job at explaining and including the lore found within White Wolf Publishing (the original creators and publishers of the VtM tabletop RPG) World of Darkness universe. By the time you reach Chinatown, you should have a good enough grasp about how vampires in this game works, how they feed, behave, and the politics that runs rampant throughout their lives. The game introduces a curveball at Chinatown with the inclusion of the Kuei-Jin, which are described as ‘Kindred of The East’, vampires from China. You speak to one, to find there is about more to them that, as they do not feed on blood, but the soul. They don’t turn to ash in sunlight but just rot, which is certainly a unique twist on vampre legend of old.

I go into detail about the game’s setting because the music does a fantastic job at creating the musical impression that you are in a strange place. The other three hubs share a similar sound, which is a Westernised chilled rock or/and lounge jazz sound. Chintatown Theme is not strictly Asian in its sound, but it is not the same sound as the other three. This F minor vamp is mysteriously ominous. You were protected by the Camarilla and the Anarch in the other three hubs. The Kuei-Jin has nothing to do with the rest of vampire society, and you have to be your best behaviour, as the Kuei-Jin and Kindred do not get on. At all.
 

#TuneTuesday No. 92: The Pokemon League (X&Y)


Jack Le Breton

The first #TuneTuesday of the year/decade is from #Pokemon X&Y. The cue is 'The Pokemon League', composed by Shota Kageyama.

We all know Pokemon, right? You are 11-year-old trainer, kicked out of your home to collect all the Pokemon, fill up your Pokedex, defeat the 8 Gym Leaders, take on the Elite Four and defeat the Champion, replacing them. Alongside all of this, there is some narrative where you to stop a group of nasties who steal Pokemon and cause mischief. Since Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, the antagonistic organisation has wanted to use the power of an ancient Legendary Pokemon to take over the world.

This isn't the case with Pokemon X&Y, for Team Flare wish to use the power of the main legendary Pokemon (which varies depending on which game you play) to destroy the world, because they believe that there is too much violence in the world and just want to end it old with a 1000-year-old super cannon. Strange flex I know, but one can't but sympathise with Team Flare's leader, Lysandre a little bit.

X&Y is also interesting because it introduces a peculiar ancient pride in its lore, that seems to extend beyond its reach of the Kalos region, the continent where the games are set, which is reflected in its narrative, world design and the music. And there isn't a finer example of that with the Pokemon League cue, with the staccato strings playing a perfect fourth apart, which is both ominous and regal sounding, complimented by sustain trombones and horns. It is certainly a sound one would not immediately associate with Pokemon. It works perfectly in game, as you leave the Victory Road, ascend the stairs leading you to the League itself, which is best described as a huge palace that had a baby with a cathedral.

It is an incredible site to behold, and it is such a shame that GAME FREAK never made a Pokemon Z, that would have been an extension of X&Y. They were far more keen with Sun & Moon, which I did not enjoy so much.

#TuneTuesday No. 91: Celebrating My Musical Influences Throughout The Last Decade


Jack Le Breton

Introduction
27th March 2018, I claimed Tuesdays as a day I would celebrate pieces of music that resonate deeply within my heart for one reason or another. These Tuesdays would be Christened #TuneTuesday, with the goal of not only showing my appreciation and love for music but to encourage conversation and debate amongst anyone who followed me on social media. The name of the hashtag comes from my love of alliterative titles, which is evident by at least one cue from a project I’ve worked on. ‘Scorching Scrimmage’ from Hartacon Tactics, ‘Recover & Regain’ from Two Point Hospital and ‘Cainite Congregation’ from the Lore By Night Podcast are three such examples.

The final #TuneTuesday of 2019 coincidentally falls on the last day of 2019, which got me thinking a lot about the last ten years of my life. In the Summer of 2009, I would decide to study and be examed on music, something that I had previously wanted to remain ‘a nice hobby’. Shameful I know, but I knew not the radical impact it would have on my life. Since the first music lesson someday in September 2009, I found my purpose in life, which is to partake a career in music. A year later, I decided I would compose. I didn’t know at the time how I would make a living doing this, but I was determined to do it somehow. It took ten years of hard work, patience and dedication, but I finally made it. I am a professional composer and I find it incredibly exciting to be a part of the gaming industry, learning and developing compositional techniques and trade secrets within the gaming industry.

Certain pieces of music, both in and out of video games, had a huge impact on my compositional sound throughout the last ten years and I wish to do a special #TuneTuesday post dedicated to those pieces of music and the geniuses that wrote them, some I am honoured to call my colleges. They won’t be in any particular order unless I state otherwise. I have spoken about some of these pieces before, so I am probably going to be revisiting old ground here but I’m sure you won’t mind...

One little disclaimer before I fully dive into this thread, one that I wish I didn’t have to make but will mention anyway. One of my defining musical influences during my mid-teens was the cue ‘The Street of Whiterun’ from Skyrim. I will not discuss this soundtrack, the cue or its composer for obvious reasons that have soured my previous love for the game and its soundtrack.

1. Nascence (Austin Wintory)

 

I might as well do the most difficult part of this blog-esque post first, as it will probably be here where I will go blind through my own tears as I regurgitate one’s memories concerning this game and these cues. That, and I’m sure some of you are fed up of me entering fanboying Austin Wintory yet again.

It was during the later part of my GCSEs, early A-Levels (2011-2012), I decided that I wanted to be a composer and I was fairly certain that I wanted to compose for video games. I never really have been a huge film or TV fan, and I have always idolised video games. That was what I wanted to do. The biggest doubt I had over this was not the struggle that all freelance artists fall into at some point or another (which I was unaware of at sweet sixteen), but whether my more ‘serious’ classical/romantic style would fit into the mould of video game music. I don’t say this with any level of elitism/arrogance. Many orchestral game scores up until the 2010s had a very typical ‘Epic Game Sound’ that would simply loop around until certain trigger points within the game’s engine were met. This is neither good nor bad on its own. 

I love a good melody and sweeping romantic/impressionistic harmony but did not know how these colours would fit into a game without getting in the way. Alongside this doubt of ‘am I doing the right thing with my life?’, I was beginning to suffer badly from depression and my self-esteem and courage were beginning to nosedive at an alarming rate for a variety of reasons I shan't go into.

Wanting to develop my sound further, I took to YouTube and searched ‘Best Video Game Scores’ which led me to a WatchMojo video going through their top 10 Video Game Composers. He was number four on their list because his music for Journey was the first video game ost to be nominated for a GRAMMY. I knew I had to give this game a go and see what the fuss was about.

The first thing you hear when you hover on the game icon on the PS3/4 icon is the cue 'Nascence' and I truly overwhelmed with emotion and, at the time, though it was one of the most beautiful pieces of music I had heard, and it wasn't even 2mins long! You never hear this cue in its entirety in the game, only short fragments.

Journey and the entirety of its soundtrack is inspiring, both on a musical and technical level as the cues are cleverly implemented within the game engine. After playing Journey and wiping away many an emotional tear, I knew that I wanted to do what Austin did. Not to copy his sound or make another Journey, but I heard music with rich colours and unique textures that came and went depending on where and what I was doing on the map. It is a sound that could only exist in that game.

That was what I wanted to do. I wanted to contribute sounds to whatever world I was helping to build so that music wasn’t just an afterthought to be slapped on at the last minute. All of Austin’s scores have this quality. None of his scores sounds like another one and I am a huge fan of such diversity. With diversity comes greater appreciation and understanding. With appreciation and understanding of the wilder world, comes a greater knowledge and respect for those around you.

I don't have many male heroes in my life, but Austin Wintory is definitely one of them. The music of Austin Wintory will always have a special place in my heart because of discovering him on a Top 10 video (soz). I am ever so grateful to have been blessed by so many wonderful soundtracks composed by him since and many wonderful games that he has worked on. I wouldn’t have had the courage to write music for Two Point Hospital whilst juggling with a dissertation. In short, thank you for the music.

2. The Show Must Go On (Queen)

 

My final year of studying my GCSEs (2011-2012) proved to be an important time, for that was when I decided to become a composer, as previously mentioned. Despite this, one was destined to perform an ensemble piece. In less pompous, academic terms, I had to form a band.

All the other music students formed their own bands, leaving me and my friend P. by ourselves. With help from the guitar and bass teacher on bass and vocals and a Year 9 pupil named T, we had a band-I mean, ensemble.

Learning to play an instrument through sheet music is one of the most important skills I ever learnt as a musician, for one can physically see how piece unfolds and how it is structured and arranged. Studying Queen’s swansong is particularly fascinating because of such exotic harmonies and key changes (Bm-C#min for the verse and choruses and F major in the bridge because fuck any sense of normality!). 

One type of harmony that is used throughout the piece is what is known as the suspended harmony, otherwise known as the sus chord, which is a form of suspension. 

A basic chord is made up 3 notes, the root, (note 1 of scale) mediant (note 3) and dominant (note 5). The mediant can either be major or minor, which are semitone/half-step apart. If you use the 2nd note (the supertonic) or 4th note (the subdominant) you form a sus 2 or sus 4 chord. They are very simple chords but are effective at creating beautiful tension without throwing tonality out of the window. The one that got me the most is the Dsus4 chord to D major at the end of the bridge, creating an almost religious sense of home. I don’t think enough composers use suspensions. They are incredibly effective harmonic and melodic devices.

It was also with this song that I discovered I was both a perfectionist and procrastinator (both have been demolished now) because I spent a good hour dicking about with a keyboard to get the right synth string/pad tone to make it as similar to the original as possible. I learnt what ADSR meant that day. I think it is because of that assessment that I spend at least an hour acquiring the exact synth tone now. 

3. Insane Family (Olivier Deriviere)

 

Similarly to Journey, the score to 2018s Vampyr is rather interactive and manages to capture the dark and gritty atmosphere of this intriguing game. Whilst not as technical as Journey (few games are), this particular cue can enhance different emotions depending on your actions in the game.

In Vampyr, you play as a Dr Jonathen Reid, who has returned to post-WW1 London to carry on doctoring and visit his ill mother, only to have been embraced and is now a (particularly strong) vampire. This is a game with a morality system. You can get to know the civilians and increase the value of their blood, which acts as this game's EXP. Doing so will make you stronger and life easier for you, but doing this makes the surrounding districts worse off and people start dying. You can get through the game without sucking any civilians dry, but the game becomes much more difficult as a result, and you may have to kill that guy trying to turn his life around. It is a brilliantly frustrating balancing act that is much more fun than I just described.

My issue with morality systems, in general, is that the game either forces to be either cunt or saint, with somewhere in the middle being all that boring. There is rarely any real consequences either until the end game. Vampyr is a tad different (cue context/spoilers): Towards the end of the game's first act, you have to locate some other vampire who has been killing people off willy-nilly, and you chase them to a graveyard. This vampire is your presumed dead sister, Mary Reid, who you accidentally turned into a vampire. She, of course, is not all too pleased to see you and has bought your mother along, who has become Mary's brainless puppet. 

A cutscene plays, which can go in one of two ways. If you haven't killed any/few civilians, Jonathan is incredibly sympathetic, begging Mary not to kill their mother out of spite, assuring her that he can find a cure for vampirism, willing to save them both. She reluctantly listens and sends mother home. If you have been sucking off people left right and centre, Jonathan is incredibly angry and hostile with her. She is with him also, because she knows how merciless you have been. She kills your mother, angering Jonathan further. Regardless of your morality, you have to fight Mary, which is where today's cue enters.

Now whilst the cue during the cutscene (titled; 'The Funerals') is far more interactive, as you won't hear certain elements depending on your actions and the boss music is broken down into different segments, which come and go, depending on how low Mary's health is. It fairly simple and rather typical for video game music interactivity. 'Insane Family' is far more interesting to me for the following reasons. Other than being incredibly dramatic (which is amazing, considering it is just one cello some percussion, and thunder samples(?)) but depending on how you have played the game (shown in the previous cutscene), one can interpret the emotional delivery of this cue, on an emotional level differently.

If you have been a morally good vampire, this can be the anger coming from Mary, with the pitiful sorrow of Jonathan riding underneath, not wanting to end his sister. If you have been a morally bad vampire than this is just pure hatred for his Mary, wanting to eliminate his once-beloved sister who has clearly gone mad (from Jonathan's perspective).

Whilst the interactivity/implementation of music in video games is incredibly important to me, what has (and always will) exceed that is the need to imply certain emotional responses in the player. Games are no different from films in that regard. To create a cue that has two different responses depending on the outcome requires a huge amount of thought and understanding in composition, and love the music for Vampyr because there is simply nothing else like it. You may not like it's extensive dialogue trees and the inability to run for long periods of time without the game crashing, but I can guarantee you will feel that you are in a dark, gritty TV drama about vampires.

4. La Cathédrale Engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral) (Claude Debussy)

 

My school was an all-boys school, which also had its own sixth form, which was where I studied my A-Levels. One of the selling points for the school was its smaller classes, which meant that A-Level classes had no more than 5 pupils at a time. In the case of music, there was two. The other pupil left at the end of the first year, leaving me having one-on-one lessons with my music teacher, and I would love every music lesson that year.

It was during this second year of my A-Levels (2013-2014) that my teacher went full-throttle with the music theory, which I have always loved because I am incredibly weird. I still have the old exercise book written by Ann Rice that was helpful during one’s dissertation.

Anyway, a lot of the music theory taught by my teacher and this exercise book was what is considered the true classical approach to composition, which I found pretty odd (and by Classical, I mean the Classical period of music, not all orchestral music that is coined classical). One of these practices was not constantly using consecutive fourths and fifth intervals, be it in motion or to form a chord/two-part harmony. If that doesn’t mean much to you, think of any rock song by The Who, Green Day or Nirvana. You have heard this open sound before, many, MANY times.

One lunchtime, the GCSE and A level music students were made to attend a lunchtime music concert. Someone from a nearby college was entering a competition and used us as a practice audience. He played a handful of pieces by Liszt, Chopin and Mozart, all of which were masterfully performed and interpreted. The opening piece was The Sunken Cathedral by Debussy, who was a huge rule-breaker in 19th Century France.

The piece is filled with these huge consecutive fourths and fifths and excessive pedalling on the piano, often the sustained one being held for most of the piece, creating this wash of sound that transported me to places I had never been before. In addition to this, I just fell in love with the constant extensions heard in the chords, which essentially means Debussy just added notes on top of your basic chords, usually in clusters to create a brilliantly warm sound. I can remember going to my music teacher after the concert and telling him about how much I loved this piece and Debussy’s use of harmony in that piece. During the following lesson, we discussed the piece in great detail, tearing apart and putting back together again. When I was allowed to compose a piece of music for an assessment that wouldn’t penalise me for following Classical tradition, I adopted harmonic cluster chords and extended close harmonies, both are things I practice to this day.

5. & 6. Riverman & Introduction (Nick Drake)

 

When I went to college (2014-2016), I studied Music Tech, to further my music production skills to improve the quality of my orchestral mock-ups and recordings. Despite it being a Music Tech course, it focused a lot on performance and songwriting/craft. I had lots of experience with the former at school and the sixth form, but not the latter. I learnt a lot during those two years about that though.

During my second and final year, I felt more confident than I ever had done before. My guitar playing improved, as did my songwriting. That being said, none of them is mainstream radio material. They were good though...or so I was told.

One afternoon, I auditioned to play in a college gig that would take place during an opening evening. One of the three songs caught the eye of one of my lecturers, for it reminded him of a Nick Drake song. At the time, that meant very little to me, so I wasn’t sure that it was a compliment or an insult. So when I naturally investigated this further, I searched for Nick Drake on the YouTubes and found Riverman, which is in 5/4 time that couldn’t decide whether it was in C major or C minor with this incredibly chilling string arrangement, with Nick Drake’s vocals that could easily be a sax line.

I love it!

Nick Drake would become my favourite guitarists and one of my favourite songwriters. His lyrics were incredibly poetic and fuckin’ miserable that toyed with death and insecurities with unique chord voices and string tunings unique only to Nick Drake. I quickly saw what that lecturer saw in that song of mine.

As I do with most pieces of music I love, I have a habit of studying other works that they did, which led me to ‘Introduction’, one of the few instrumental tunes of his, and one of many string arrangments done by the great Robert Kirby. Lyrical and simply subline, with legato lines that soar like songbirds. It is quite easy for anyone to over saturate one’s orchestrations with notes and movement where it is not needed. Less is often more, and any writer/arranger for strings should study Robert Kirby’s works.

7. The Lark Ascending (Ralph Vaughn Williams)

On the topic of brilliantly British writing, I return to one of my favourite pieces of classical music, a piece I discovered whilst transition from college to university. It is a tone poem set the actual poem of the same name with a solo violin and chamber orchestra accompaniment. The observant ear will notice that the strings will have mutes on the strings, not to interfere with the delicate virtuosic pentatonic/folky melody (the harmonies are also rather simple). Likewise, and solos from the horns, clarinets, flute etc. are all literal solos. Nothing interferes with the melody, which is just as useful composition advice, as it is on a music production level.

As is the case with many of the pieces on this list, The Lark Ascending tells a story through music and create many stirring emotions in the process. It is an important principle I stand by when composing.

8. Literally any Pokemon Game Score… (Various, mainly Junichi Masuda & Jo Ichinose)

I have always been heavily passionate about the Pokemon games and their accompanying scores, even though I have rarely talked about them on my social media pages. I should make an effort to address throughout 2020.

But I digress. I think I have always been influenced by the game design and music of the Pokemon games. I learnt I loved RPGs (and by extension, JRPGs) with simple battle mechanics strengthened by strong narratives. The Pokemon games have played their part in my love for catchy melodies and interesting nonfunctional harmonies that I try and incorporate into my works as I deem appropriate.

9. The entire Oneknowing Album (Lena Raine)

 

I first heard of Lena Raine in a similar fashion that so many others did, which was through the critically acclaimed game ‘Celeste’. I haven’t gotten round to playing the game or listening to the soundtrack in full, as I have a rule of thumb that I won’t listen to a soundtrack before experiencing the accompanying media, to minimise spoilers. I will admit that I have heard snippets of it through social media. Of course I have. There has been no avoiding it, as both the music and the game have been very popular. ‘Celeste’ is one of many games this decade that tackles difficult mental wellbeing. In particular, anxiety is a focus of the game, in addition to overcoming all the odds that life throws at you. It saved a few of my friend’s lives, something I am grateful for. I said this to Lena when I briefly spoke to her at the 2019 BAFTA Game Awards, thanking her on their behalf. She seemed pleasantly surprised that her music had that effect on these people.

What makes the music of Lena Raine stand out to me is how unique her sounds are. I say ‘sounds’, for Lena has a wonderful take on synthesis and production that you just don’t hear anywhere else. And there is no better place to experience such wonderful electronic soundscapes than with her latest album (as of 2019), Oneknowing, which is the most refreshing albums I have heard in years. So many contemporary artists follow similar production techniques and harmonic progressions that have become stale and boring to my ears. With Oneknowing, you are never quite sure what to hear when you listen to this album and I love that. One moment you are in a New Age bed of dreams, before being teased with a mini-D&B backbeat that pulls the rug beneath your feet, with strangely hypnotising lullabies that could fit nicely into the ‘NieR’ franchise. 

In case you’re curious, my favourite track on the album is Momodani.

10. GIANT (IMERUAT)

 

I have been in awe with this piece and its music video with the same level of intrigue and childish wonder since the first time I watched it on YouTube. It was one of the more influential YouTube algorithm recommendations of my life.

IMERUAT is a duo consisting of composer Masashi Hamauzu and singer Mina Sakai. Masashi Hamauzu is most famous for composing the soundtrack to FINAL FANTASY XIII, which is one of my most favourite games in the franchise (don’t at me) in addition to one of my favourite soundtracks. Mina, whilst most famous for being the face of IMERUAT, she was also a vocalist on the FFXIII score (‘Sulyya Springs’, ‘Will to Fight’, and ‘Gapra Whitewood’).

The arrangement of this is deceptively complex as the sections hop back from 5/8 time to 6/8 time, meaning an additional quaver (or eighth-note to you Yanks) is added, which is just enough for the piece to remain interesting on a rhythmic level. That is not to say the harmonic content and melodies aren’t interesting. I think it is a beautiful violin melody that has clearly been double-tracked (you can hear a slight chorus effect, implying the same violinist played the same part twice) to create a richer and stronger sound.

What is also deceptive is the harmonies found in this piece. The syncopated piano chords could easily be found in any jazz standard. Jazz is hidden behind many of Masahi Hamauzu’s works, usually with close voicings (ie, the notes are close together, not spread out) which create a warm texture, like a hug.

Then there is the dance that accompanies the piece, which is incredibly captivating. Music and dance have gone hand in hand with each other for literally thousands of years, so it is only natural for us to seek pleasure out of the relationship between song and dance. This especially so because I find it so unprecedented. I long for the day to have a piece of music of mine set to dance or write a piece of music to be set to dance.

Coda
There are hundreds of pieces that have played a huge part in my compositional style, so to name just ten(ish) examples across a 10 year period is painstakingly difficult, so I will leave some honourable mentions for to explore at your leisure, in no particular order of preference. Some are albums, whilst some are specific pieces of music.

  • The soundtracks for Silent Hill 1-4 by Akira Yamaoka
  • 'The River Cam' by Eric Whitacre
  • The soundtrack to the Kharon's Crypt by Tony Manfredonia when that releases (I had the pleasure of hearing snippets of it whilst it was being worked on, as my friend Tony would ask for my help concerning production (things like EQ, compression, etc.)).
  • Any score done by Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman & Erich Wolfgang Korngold
  • Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Stephen Sondheim
  • The Music from Riverdance by Bill Whelan
  • Wicked by Stephen Schwartz
  • 'The Light We Cast' from Everybody’s Gone to The Rapture by Jessica Curry
  • The first movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, performed by Jacqueline du Pré
  • The soundtrack to Shadow of The Colossos by Kow Otani
  • 'Music' by John Miles
  • Nick Drakes albums. All of them!
  • Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of The Worlds (Original cast recording and New Generation cast)
  • The soundtracks to Dark Souls & Tales of Berseria by Motoi Sakuraba
  • The Bloodborne soundtrack, composed by various fantastic composers.
  • The soundtrack to CHAOS;CHILD by Takeshi Abo
  • Oxygene by Jean Michel-Jare
  • 'Fire on High' from Face the Music by Electric Light Orchestra
  • The soundtrack for The Last Guardian by Takeshi Furukawa
  • Requiem for My Mother by Rebbeca Dale
  • Literally, everything done by Kate Bush, Earth, Wind & Fire, Motown, CHIC & Shoji Meguro and the rest of the ATLUS Sound Team.

#TuneTuesday No. 90: Ice Mountain Zone Act 1


Jack Le Breton

This weeks winter edition of #TuneTuesday tune does not have the word 'snow' in its title. It is Ice Mountain Zone Act 1 from Sonic Advance on the GBA, composed by Tatsuyuki Maeda & Yutaka Minobe.

Everyone knows Sonic the Hedgehog and the concept of all of the games. You 'gotta go fast' to defeat Dr Robotnik/Eggman from taking over the world with his evil robot minions, usually with the aid of at least one of the Chaos Emeralds, which I've never really fully understood what they do other than make Sonic and other characters go Super Saiyan/hedgehog.

Levels whiz past in a dizzying blur as run, jump and spin your way through levels and enemies. The music of the games usually reflect this adrenaline rush, but this cue (and the slightly varied Ice Mountain Zone Act 2) is somewhat laid back, as more delicate platforming is involved. That said, there is some brilliant cross-rhythms and almost jarring time syncopations, allows players to continue to fill excited and pumped as they are moving forward in the stage. The plinky percussion is the main instrument that suggests we are entering a winter wonderland, one that is covered with ice or snow. It was also the first level in the game to have an underwater segment, which does slow the player right down because of science.

I could be wrong, for it was almost 20 years ago since I first played that game. Fuck, I feel really old now...

#TuneTuesday No. 89: Snowpoint City


Jack Le Breton

It occurred to me recently I had not talked about any Pokemon music in any of my #TuneTuesdays, so I wish to change that with this weeks wintery tune, one that comes from a game pretty close to my heart. It is Snowpoint City from Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum, composed by Junichi Masuda, Gō Ichinose & Morikazu Aoki.

I'm sure everybody who both follows me and reads these weekly musical threads what and how Pokemon operates. For a quick crash course, you are a Pokemon trainer who has 3 objectives. Catch all the Pokemon, become the Pokemon Champion by beating the 8 Gym Leaders & Elite Four at the Pokemon League, and stop the evil schemes of whichever group of baddies are wanting to take over the world.

In the fourth generation of Pokemon, the story revolves around you stopping Team Galatic, who plan to use the Legendary Pokémon Dialga and/or Palkia (it depends on which game you play) to create a new universe just for themselves, while destroying the current one.

Pokemon had been a while with many cool locations that exist on small islands, treehouses and even at the base of a fucking volcano. Never had there been a city/town that was covered in snow. That is, until Generation 4's Snowpoint City, which sits at the base of Mt. Coronet. You visit the city late into the main campaign, where things with Team Galatic are beginning to get intense and have a fight with some of their Admins in the tunnels of Mt. Coronet and appear in a snow-covered path, the first in a Pokemon game.

As pretty as it is seeing other Pokemon trainers dashing about on skis and snowboards in the snow and around the trees, the two routes you have to traverse to get to Snowpoint City, Route 216 & Route 217 (both having pretty music themselves) have a notable danger with them. It is snowing, which in gameplay terms is translated to it Hailing in battle, which means non-Ice type Pokemon will take a bit of damage after every turn, which can destroy ill-prepared trainers. I can remember it doing just that to me during my first playthrough on Pokemon Pearl 12 years ago.

The intensity of the snow pickups as you move from Route 216 to 217, turning it into a full-on blizzard. This doesn't affect your team during battles, but it does make things a bit more difficult to see as you are trying to navigate through the linear route. Eventually, you arrive at Snowpoint City and hear this almost creepy delayed synth line, unsure whether you have arrived at the city. Cautious players will walk and not run, just in case more trainers/wild Pokemon appear. A dock will appear on the bottom of the screen, some houses and Pokemon Market & Centre in the corners of the map, the Pokemon Gym at the city's centre, and a big-ass temple at the top of the map.

It is fair to assume at this point you have reached Snowpoint City, ignoring the missable pop-up that appears on the top left corner.

As you explore some almost-jazzy strings enter introducing new harmonies not found in the implied key of E major, making the percussive synth parts sound more friendly as the piece progresses, making the player feel not only safe in this city but creates a sense of 'let's play in the snow', something I wanted to do as a kid all the time. Pity you can't make snow angels in any of the Pokemon games...

What I described about route traversal and the exploration of the city were my own experiences with the game, which is incredibly personal to my own development. Pokemon Pearl and my Limited Edition silver DS Lite (both I still own) were birthday gifts of mine 14th December 2007. I was so excited to have that cool DS in my hand, playing a new Pokemon on not one, but TWO screens, one of which is a touchscreen. No one liked Pokemon at my primary school, so I had to play the GBA games by myself. Even if they did own those games, they wouldn't have played with me anyway. To spare you revisiting old scares and scars of my past, let's just say that I was not terribly popular. I had Pokemon Pearl finished by 1st January 2008 and when I went back to start the new year and term at school, no doubt did many of my peers had new DS Lites, mostly in black or white, for those were the only colours available (outside of the grey original DS). Most people also owned Pokemon Diamond, so I was suddenly the go-to guy for all the Pokemon Pearl exclusive Pokemon to trade with Diamond Pokemon I desired. 

All of a sudden, I was a popular kid and would soon develop friendships through these new Pokemon games, and I think there is not a better cue, to sum up, this transitory period in my life. The uncertain loneliness and desolation (the teasing chromaticism of the synths), followed by the growing confidence of speaking to people (the introduction of the second synth part) with the New Year granting me some friends (the aforementioned string parts) before ending with having a small pocket of good friends that were my crutch for the next 5 years at secondary school (the positive synth parts at the very end).

#TuneTuesday No. 88: Lost in The Snow


Jack Le Breton

This weeks second wintery TuneTuesday comes from the second Final Fantasy XV DLC, Episode Prompto. The cue is 'Lost in the Snow' by Yoshitaka Suzuki.

The latest instalment of the beloved Final Fantasy franchise takes place on the fictional world of Eos. Aside from the capital of Lucis, all the world is dominated by the empire of Niflheim, who seek control of the magical Crystal protected by Lucis' royal family. On the eve of peace negotiations, Niflheim attacks the capital and steals the Crystal. Noctis Lucis Caelum, heir to the Lucian throne, goes on a quest to rescue the Crystal and defeat Niflheim in addition of trying to mary Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, as per the previous peace treaty. He later learns his full role as the "True King", destined to use the Crystal's powers to save Eos from eternal darkness. In short, it is all a typical Final Fantasy/hero's journey setup, be it with a unique game engine that took some 12 years to fully realise.

Accompanying Noctis are his four childhood friends/servants. Ignis, the brains and cook with his many Quick Recipehs (that is a legitimate canon spelling by the way), Gladiolus, the throbbing beefcake, aka The King's Shield, and Prompto, who is forever optimistically snapping up photos and selfies of your adventures together. Throughout the game, something happens to the 3 party members that is only fully explained in their respective DLC. How did Ignis <<INSERT SPOILER>>? How did Prompto <<INSERT SPOILER>>? Why does Gladio have two <<INSERT SPOILER>> now? As previously mentioned, today's cue comes from Prompto's DLC.

During <<INSERT SPOILER>> Prompto ends up in Gralea, the capital of the Empire of Niflheim in FFXV. It was once a hot desert landscape but due to half-explained lore reasons, is now covered in snow and ice. Fans of FF can probably guess why.

In any case, the soundtrack for this DLC is incredibly varied, much like the rest of the game and other DLC's in FFXV. Episode Prompto has the 'standard' orchestral sound (mostly lush strings & solo cello in Episode Prompto) but also have an array of EDM cues that just punch you in the face as you popping caps in many a bad guy ass.  'Lost in The Snow' is one of two world exploration cues, one that plays when you navigate the modestly-sized tundra in a stolen snowmobile, heading for the next objective, or fighting monsters.

One of the things I love about this cue is how it builds, starting with that gorgeous Cm11 chord spread across the piano and strings, which immediately creates a very cold texture before the strings take a staccato accompaniment for the simple piano melody. The instruments build and become more exciting and interesting to listen to. When the piece reaches its climax, the string orchestra perform EDM-inspired syncopated rhythms as well, despite containing only orchestral instruments (minus the occasional sneaky synth bass line), and syncopation always creates some level of excitement, with the occasional French Horn response to the piano and string melody. All this creates this wonderful sense of adventure and exploration, pushing you to explore as much as the map as possible, find it's secrets and just enjoy getting Lost in the Snow.

#TuneTuesday No. 87: Snow Queen


Jack Le Breton

As we're now in December, I am going to cover tunes that either Christmasy, Snowy or Icy in nature for this months #TuneTuesday tunes. To kick things off, here is the #Persona3 FES version of Snow Queen, composed by Idehito Aoki & Kenichi Tsuchiya, arranged by Shoji Meguro.

This is the version that most Persona fans would be immediately aware of.

 

The original comes from the original Persona, which I will include here also, for comparison's sake, which definitely has a more snowy flavour.

I've discussed the Persona games in great detail before, so I will just give a brief overview. Take your favourite shonen, slice-of-life anime, slap it with Pokemon with an existential crisis, and you've got yourself every Persona game. The plot of Persona 3 revolves around a group of Japanese high school kids (surprise-surprise) who hit the books by day and hit the Shadows (daemons essentially) with their powers of Persona summoning by night. These are manifestations of one's inner self, which are essentially more mature 'Pokemon' based on real-life mythic deities.

Persona 3 had an extended version (like the Pokemon games) do call Persona 3 FES, which didn't add in a whole, besides previously Japan-only DLC 'The Answer', an epilogue to the original story and additional music for the dungeon areas, known as Tartarus, a seemingly neverending tower that reaches the heavens by the end of the game. The remix of The Snow Queen was one of those included tunes, which is in A minor, not in the original's C minor and is an emotional dance track and not the whispery orchestral version found in the original Persona game. It's inclusion in FES is a very good one, as it works well as you make your ascent in Tartarus, especially when you reach the final few floors at the game's climax. Another altered version is also on 'Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight', which just adds to the emotional drive of the tune.

The Snow Queen is a famous boss in the Persona universe and some gaming circles for two reasons.

1) She is a gruesomely difficult boss, as is her arc in the original game. It is not part of the main story, and players can only do that route of the main story route as if The Snow Queen was DLC or a story in an alternate universe. The reality is that both The Snow Queen and the main route happen at the same time, but with different members of the party, depending on one which ones you choose to explore with or what you decide at a certain point in the story.

2) The Snow Queen questline is not found in any version of the original Persona, outside of Japan and no one seems to know why (inform me if I am wrong about this!). I am presuming it is because of it being too difficult for western audiences, but I am not certain. 

Both versions of the cue have become iconic within the Persona fanbase, for good reason. They are both incredibly moving, delivering on the intended emotions and setting of each perspective game.

#TuneTuesday No. 86: YO (Acid Jazz ver)


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from the recent(ish) remake of one of my favourite games. It is the Acid Jazz remix of YO from Catherine Fullbody, composed by Shoji Meguro, with rap and sung melody by L-VOKAL & Meitsuki respectively.

For a quick summary, you play as the hopeless Vincent Brookes, who is pressured into marriage by his long-time girlfriend, Katherine, who is portrayed as strong, stern and remarkably cold at times. Vincent, after one drink too many at The Stray Sheep, he finds himself momentarily intoxicated by alcohol and Catherine, who is best described as the opposite of Katherine; young(er), childish, busty and remarkably blonde, resulting Vincent taking her back home with him.

Thus begins a tragically hilarious love triangle, as the game presents to you the idea of you being able to choose your waifu, Catherine, or Katherine as you respond to text messages from both of them at night as you wander around the bar, talking to the other punters (or patrons, to you Yanks out there) and choosing how to respond to them as well, which affects a morality meter unlike any other. I am usually opposed to such methods in games, as you either have to be a cunt or saint to reap the maximum benefits. But without saying too much and ruining the ending, this plays slightly differently in Catherine. And to further complicate Vincent's love life (and the number of waifus to choose from), Fullbody adds another girl, Qatherine, (or, Rin) who Vincent runs into (literally), saving her from some stalker, giving her a place to sleep, and a job at The Stray Sheep, playing the piano.

What I have just described is one portion of the narrative, which is the beloved social aspect of many of ATLUS' games. The game proper is a weirdly difficult puzzle game, where Vincent and the souls of other indecisive men (who all appear as sheep to each other) must climb various towers, by pushing blocks about, forming their own climbable paths. On a related note, Catherine (and Fullbody) doesn't shy away from its mature content. That's not to say there is anything pornographic, but do prepare something to say if a member of your family walks to find a naked Catherine straddling Vincent.

As for the tune itself, it is a remix of the original theme, titled YO. Unlike that one, it is not a slightly expanded Acid Jazz remix a semitone lower (Bm-Bbm), with a new sung verse, sexy sax, seductive flute and a proper phat bass line. I won't lie, but this is an incredibly sexy arrangement, one that has matured nicely, like an old wine. It immediately lets you know that you are going on a ride like no other. What I think is most odd is the fact it is a rap song in a romantic horror Japanese game.

It's very interesting, to say the least, but I think a lot of ATLUS' choices for Catherine could be described as such.

#TuneTuesday No. 85: Bathroom Dance


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from a recent (at the time of typing) film soundtrack. It is Bathroom Dance from 'Joker' by Hildur Guðnadóttir.

Given that the film is fairly new (at the time of typing), I won't say too much about the overall plot of the film, other than that this film is an interesting take on the origin story of Batman's nemesis, The Joker, who is presented in a far more sympathetic light than pretty much every interpretation of The Clown Prince of Crime. Whilst some may not like this take on the Joker, I love sympathetic villains, especially when it comes to the Joker because you are almost rooting for him to cause chaos, even though you shouldn't.

We are not born monsters, but it is our environments that descend us into madness...

As such, there are many points in the film where Arthur Fleck could become the mastermind known as The Joker. His metamorphosis is hinted constantly with this cello idea in C sharp minor, rocking back and forth between the C sharp and the E, perhaps representing the seesaw motion of Joker's sanity. These parts of the score are very different from the usual, brooding textual devices and 60s records the rest of the film is filled with. It is held off, for a very long time, for obvious plot and tension reasons.

Then there is a moment towards the end of the film, where this idea is fleshed out in full, with more cello overdubs and female vocals. This is where Arthur finally becomes The Joker, dancing to himself in a public bathroom, hence the cue name. I am reminded of a Nietzsche quote at this point in the film. "And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

It is incredibly sad to listen to for sure, but more than anything, there is a sense of catharsis as Arthur breaks free, realising that he no longer has to pretend to be like everyone else, not hiding the fact that he takes pleasure in the murder and violence around him, whether he caused it or not. From the point of the audience, he has finally snapped, no longer wants people to abuse and bully him. In any case, he is free from the shackles of his former self. The Joker is born.

#TuneTuesday No. 84: One-Winged Angel


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday is long overdue, as I deem it to be one of the most influential pieces of game music and I should have talked about it ages ago. It is One-Winged Angel, from Final Fantasy VII, composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu.

To give a VERY brief overview of the plot, for those who have not played this 1997 gem for whatever reason, the story follows Cloud Strife, a mercenary who joins an eco-terrorist organization to stop a world-controlling corporation from using the planet's life essence as an energy source. Events send Cloud and his allies in pursuit of Sephiroth, a superhuman intent on destroying their planet. During the journey, Cloud builds close friendships with his party members, including Aerith Gainsborough, who holds the secret to saving their world.

FFVII introduced quite a few firsts for the series. It was the first in the series to use full-motion video and 3D computer graphics, which featured 3D character models superimposed over 2D pre-rendered backgrounds. Although the gameplay systems remained mostly unchanged from previous entries, it introduced more widespread science fiction elements and a more realistic presentation. The game had a staff of over 100, with a combined development and marketing budget of around $80 million, which was one of the largest budgets for a game at the time.

FFVII is arguably one of the most influential and important games in the industry, as many open-world and (J)RPGs can be take right back to this game as its source. The game also has some of the most famous plot twists and narrative in gaming, which I'm certain most gamers are aware of, even if they haven't played FFVII.

 'But what about this EPIC theme?' I hear you ask. Don't worry, I'm getting onto that!

Like the plot twists, I am certain that every gamer knows that this is the theme during the final fight with Sepiroth, in his final form and it is very different to everything else in the soundtrack and pretty much every piece of gaming music up until that point. Uematsu has often stated that this piece of music takes inspiration from Igor Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring', which is a famous atonal ballet that caused riots in the streets of Paris upon it's premiere. Like the 'Rite of Spring', 'One-Winged Angel' presented a new way of composing video game music, combining modern classical music motifs (or chopped-up fragments, as he calls it) with rock and roll music from the late 60s to early 70s to make an orchestral track with a "destructive impact", to use his words.

It also used a live choir, something that hadn't been done in any game (to my knowledge) up until that point. Imagine the look on SQUARE's face when Uematsu presented that idea, knowing how limited the PlayStation's hardware was! The PlayStation had 24 audio channels. Eight were reserved for sound effects, leaving sixteen available for the music.

To be terribly crude for a moment, many game soundtracks before (and a little bit afterwards) could be described as 'plinky-tinky' noises. Game music had a very unique sound, with the 90s using the most basic of MIDI samples to produce sounds that sort-of resemble instruments, or create weird new ones with synthesisers. To an extent, a lot of music in FFVII falls under this category.

 But what makes a lot of this soundtrack different in its sound was the process that it was written. Uematsu's approach to composing the game's music was to treat it like a film score and write music that reflected the mood of the scenes, rather than trying to make strong melodies as that approach would come across too strong when placed alongside the game's new 3D visuals.

It is this sort of mindset that I think all composers in media should aspire for. Not to get caught up in all of the Fmod or Wwise tools and toys to make the music as interactive as possible, as I think that just alienates players and flexes your ego. Nor should you get caught up in maximising templates and buying every sample library Spitfire, NI or any other company spits out. The music in any piece of media, be it game, film or TV should enhance, suggest and support whatever emotion is being portrayed in the visuals and narrative, not to get in its way.

#TuneTuesday No. 83: My Friends


Jack Le Breton

This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from, 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'. The song is 'My Friends', composed by the incredible Stephen Sondheim.

This musical is based on the play of the same name by Christoper Bond, who depicted Sweeney Todd, not as a raving throat-slitting lunatic like the Sweeney Todd of ye olde British myth, but a killer with a purpose. Similarly, Mrs Lovett, a woman who puts people into meat pies. As morbid a topic for a musical you think it is, very few musicals have overly positive themes. Les Miserable has The French Revolution, Hairspray has racism and segregation, to use two examples.

This song appears towards the beginning of Act 1. Sweeney Todd has discovered through Mrs Lovett what happened to his wife and daughter, the latter in the 'care' of a Judge Turpin, who raped Todd's wife, forcing her to commit suicide. Todd has a new mission, which is to avenge his supposed dead wife and reclaim his daughter, Johanna. Mrs Lovett suggests Todd becomes a barber once more, to lore the Judge to him. She returns him his razors, which is when this almost hypnotic Ab sus chord plays on sustained strings and Todd sings today's song to his razor.

Todd is almost in a trance as he sings to them. The opening lyrics are filled with sibilances (S sounds). 'These are my friends. See how they glisten, see this one shine, how he smiles, in the lights.', giving a beautiful dream-like quality to the song. He then opens up in both volume and emotion with the following line, 'My friends'. The song progresses, and there is a key change to A major, the semitone higher and Mrs Lovett begins to sing, making the song a duet.

What makes this song a different sort of duet is that they don't sing together. Todd is still singing to his razors, whilst Mrs Lovett is singing at Todd, hinting her true feelings to him, but he is obsessed with his own motives and razors that will 'soon drip rubies'. And if that is not enough death for you, the melody constantly references the 'Dies Irae', as does the rest of the musical. I'd look into it if I were you, as it has been referenced as a sign of death in film.

My brother loves every Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (poor thing) and my mother has a fantastic taste in older musicals (her favourites are 42nd Street and Fiddler on The Roof), so for years I felt I couldn't rightfully claim one as my own. Daft as that may sound, but we all have our fav bands, musicians that are different from what our friends and family listen to, even if we all share the same music tastes. That changed when I began my A levels and we had to study 3 musicals, which were 'Oliver!', 'Oklahoma!' (another fav of mine) and 'Sweeney Todd' (I still own my various notes and the piano score of 'Sweeney Todd'. Best £70 I've spent!). Whilst my class hated the musical lessons, I naturally loved them and was very drawn to the almost operatic Sweeney Todd, which I saw in the summer of 2012, with Micheal Ball and Imelda Staunton as Sweeney Todd & Mrs Lovett respectively and I thought that was fantastic.

It may come to no surprise to you that 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' is my favourite musical. It is morbidly dark and witty in places, with some of the best music to ever hit the West End (and Broadway). If you ever get the chance to see it on stage, you must go! Failing that, the Tim Burton film adaption starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter is a very good film, staying very faithful to the musical.

#TuneTuesday No. 82: Taurus Demon


Jack Le Breton

To conclude this years #Spooktober's Edition of #TuneTuesday, I will talk about the panic-inducing Taurus Demon cue from Dark Souls, composed by  Motoi Sakuraba.

I'm fairly certain everyone at this point is familiar with how difficult the Soulsborne series is, which would soon create the 'git gud' mentality from many players, but you may not be aware of the story, which I will briefly go over for you, for context sake. You are undead, and you must go and link this great fire. That's it. Everything else remotely narrative is built upon various bits of lore that you can choose to read on items and weapons you find, and the occasional NPC who talks at you.

But one does not play the From Software games for stories, they play them because they are masochists who like smacking their head against a brick wall 100s of times to defeat the franchise's gruelling boss fights. It is also during said fights you will hear music, as the games are pretty mute otherwise (with a couple of areas having some music, and Sekiro having music practically everywhere).

First time players would have struggled with the game's first proper area, Undead Burg, as they learn that anything can easily kill you, enemies often ambush you and not to take on the Black Knight, lest you get completely destroyed. You finally ascend the inner works of a castle, pass through a fog gate, and wander around the very narrow Crenellations, which can be easy to fall off of, should you not pay attention to the environment. The next thing you know, a large, sheep/bull demon with a huge axe leaps off of the opposite tower and begins to charge at you. This is where today's cue enters.

What I think many fans of Dark Souls and video game soundtracks overlook is the size of its orchestra. Most games that have symphonic sounding soundtracks have full-phat orchestras with lush reverbs and may have screaming full-phat choirs. I don't need to go into more details about that I'm sure. Dark Souls has a much smaller ensemble, most likely a chamber orchestra, recorded in a much smaller recording space. The choir seems to be much smaller as well. Because it sounds smaller, does not mean it has any less punch. In fact, I would say that it was more because of this orchestration/compositional decision, which adds to the fear of whatever hideous boss monster, demon or dragon is tearing your arms and pancreas apart, the vast majority of these cues being atonal messes. If the orchestra was the more typical 80-100 piece a lot of the unique energy the cues had would be lost.

There are very few soundtracks to that of the original Dark Souls, where the soundtrack is just boss cues. Some of them are rather moving and emotional, whilst others, like Tauras Demon, induce PTSD-esque flashbacks. And of course, there are very few games as frighteningly frustrating as Dark Souls.

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