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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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...
  6. This weeks #TuneTuesday is a guilty pleasure of mine within gaming music. It's Pepsi Man, composed by James Shimoji, performed by his band 'James & The Gang'. This will require some explaining, as I'm sure many of you have no idea what's going on. Having survived the great Game Crash during the mid-late 80s (yes, this was a thing), video game popularity skyrocketed, thanks to a little Japanese company known as Nintendo. Up until then, they made playing cards. They would change the world of gaming. This of course inspired all sorts of people in the 90s who played Nintendo's games during the 80s. Many non-game companies saw the opportunity to promote their goods to children through video games such as horrible Yo!Noid (Dominos Pizza) Cool Spot (Sprite) and of course, Pepsi Man, who was only ever marketed in Japan, as was the game...despite being in English. It didn't sell well. The game itself is really weird. It is in the style of Temple Run, where Pepsi Man must run to people who need help, not to be rescued from a burning building or a plane crash (which are actual scenarios), but to give them a drink of teeth-rotting Pepsi. If you can get past the over the top advertising, strange logic and Mike Butters watching you (it makes sense (almost) in the game), it is not a terrible game by any means. It's not great, but not terrible. What I especially like about the song is how all the instruments are live. This game came out in 1999 on the PS1 and many at the soundtracks relied heavily on MIDI. Not our Lord and Saviour Pepsi Man! He gets his own band! Maybe someday when I put together my own game music concert/show, I'll include Pepsi Man. I mean, how many surf-rock game cues can you think of? It will certainly spice things up a bit...
  7. This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from one of my favourite JRPGs. It is 'The Way of The Embodied Dragon' from Tales of Berseria, composed by Motoi Sakuraba Tales of Berseria is the most recent entry of the Tales and acts as a prequel to Tales of Zestiria, some 1000 years prior. The Tales games take the usual anime adventure, happy-clappy setting of a group of varied and talented friends off to vanquish some great evil. Berseria is not so jolly. Velvet Crowe and her younger brother Laphicet are saved by her brother-in-law Artorius when a Scarlet Night occured, causing daemons to attack their village. Seven years later, Velvet takes care of her sickly brother with Artorius. The Scarlet Night returns, with the entire village succumbing to the Daemonblight: when Velvet finds Artorius, sacrificing her brother as part of a ritual, known as the "Advent". Artorius attempts to use her for the Advent as well, but she fights back and the Daemonblight possesses her arm, mutating it and turning her into a Daemon called a "Therion", with the ability to absorb Daemons. In a rage, she slaughters the nearby Daemons before passing out. She awakes in a prison for Daemons on the island Titania, swearing to kill Artorius and avenge her brother's murder. Velvet does encounter others who wish to stop Artorious and his newly founded Church, but for different reasons. Every character in the party is incredibly selfish, acting in their own accord, using the others for their own benefit.It is not until the very end of the game's narrative that they acquaintances. It is where this cue sneaks in. This cue plays during the final area, where Velvet and co. are off for that final showdown with Artorious, ending his tyrannical rule. I can't reveal why the cue is named as such without spoilers, but as the dragon and the dungeon itself, it is quite the epic cue. The cue begins in G minor, but doesn't really stay there for very long as it leaps and stabs its way into other keys totally detached from the starting key. The constantly shifting harmony creates a lot of tension, which is added to the excitement the player climbing higher and higher through this last dungeon to fight the final boss after a good 60hrs of compelling narrative and frantic fights. I don't usually make comments about samples, but I feel that it's required here to note that whilst I would have loved have heard more live instruments in this cue (and the rest of the soundtrack), there is a certain 'punch' that has been achieved that I don't think one could have replicated with a live string section and drums. I could be wrong in that assumption, but if there are any live performances of it out there, chuck it my way and prove me wrong!
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