2332: A Musical Journey


Let’s try a little experiment, shall we? I’m going to start with a YouTube video of a piece of music I really like. Given that I’ve just come off a session of Ys Origin, let’s make it a piece from Ys Origin. After that I’m going to see where the Related Videos take us, and we’ll go on a little journey. I’ll try and give a bit of useless trivia for each track.

To give things a bit of variety (though I’m not promising quite how much!) I’ll pick the first Related video that isn’t 1) a Recommendation for me based on past viewing and 2) from the same game, movie, whatever as the previous one.

Ready? Here we go.

This is the theme that plays in the final area of Ys Origin, and I particularly like it because it uses one of my favourite soundtrack techniques: making use of the main theme in a different way to how it sounded originally. When used in a finale sequence, as it is here, it gives the whole thing a nice feeling of “closure” — or at least of approaching the end, anyway.

To put it more simply, effective use of this technique can get you seriously pumped for the final battle. And Ys Origin certainly does it well.


I haven’t played Ys: The Oath in Felghana yet, but it’s probably next up after I finish with Ys Origin. As such, this is the first time I’ve heard this piece, and I’m pleased to hear that it has Falcom’s distinctive prog rock-inspired sound about it. While I don’t really know a lot about prog rock itself, I do like the sound of music inspired by it, and it seems there are a number of Japanese groups that do it very well — Falcom’s sound team being one. (Nobuo Uematsu’s bands The Black Mages and The Earthbound Papas are some others, though they do arrangements of game music rather than directly soundtracking games for the most part.)

Unsurprisingly, YouTube is taking us on a distinctly Ys-ian journey. Again, I haven’t played this game, so it’s my first time hearing this track, and initial impressions are good. Again, it has the melodic rock sound to it, but it also makes use of some violin melodies, which I often find sound really nice in the context of instruments you might not typically associate violin with. Other examples of this being done well include its combination with electronic instruments in Final Fantasy XIII’s main battle theme, and as part of a distinctly modern-sounding pop ensemble in Omega Quintet’s two battle themes.

Yet another Ys I’m yet to get to, and I know I have at least a couple of friends who count this soundtrack among their favourites. The timbre of this one’s soundtrack is a little “cleaner” and perhaps more artificial-sounding; there’s certainly some synthesised brass going on, but the guitars and solo violins sound fairly convincing.

The slightly more artificial sound of the music is presumably down to Ys VI being an earlier release than Oath in Felghana and Origin, and Falcom’s sound team still refining and developing their sound with new tech and capabilities.

We’ve escaped the Ys series! And we find ourselves involved with another Japanese video game company’s internal sound team that is world-renowned as being Rather Good. In this case, we’re with Gust, developers of the Atelier and Ar Tonelico series, both of which have simply lovely soundtracks.

This particular piece is from one of their slightly lesser known games, Mana Khemia, which is often regarded as part of the Atelier series due to its thematic and mechanical similarities.

And speaking of Atelier, here’s a track from one of the more recent ones. It very much sounds like the distinctive sound Gust has put together for the Atelier series over the last few installments, featuring prominent use of traditional “folk-style” instruments such as harmonica and penny whistle.

I’m also a big fan of this track’s title.

Staying with Atelier and moving forwards in time, this is from Escha and Logy, a game I don’t know a lot about but know is reasonably well regarded in the Atelier canon. There’s a pretty cool guitar solo in the middle of this track, too.

And we’re up to the most recent Atelier game, Atelier Sophie, and a track with a pretty magnificent rhythm guitar part. There’s also a hint of Nights of Azure in there with the prominent use of harpsichord/clavichord. In fact, this whole track wouldn’t be out of place in Nights of Azure.

YouTube agrees. Nights of Azure was a really great game that I enjoyed a lot, and a big part of that was due to its wonderful soundtrack, also the product of Gust’s sound team, but clearly heavily inspired by Michiru Yamane’s work on the older Castlevania games. This sort of Gothic rock is perfectly fitting with the game’s fast action and overall tone, and contrasts nicely with the more gentle music used in its story sequences.

Let’s do two more, or we’ll be here all night. This one’s from Megadimension Neptunia V-II, a game which I’m sure you already know I liked a whole lot. This particular track was one of my favourites due to its heavy use of some distinctly retro-sounding synthesisers, which brought to mind a few things: the synthesised music of Sega Mega Drive/Genesis games, and the once-fashionable .MOD format of digital music, which effectively used short, digitised samples as “notes” on a virtual synthesiser-sequencer and allowed those who knew what they were doing to put together multi-track compositions.

Last one!

Eternal Sonata was an extremely peculiar concept for a game in that it’s an RPG based around the noted Romantic composer Frederic Chopin. In keeping with that, the soundtrack has a distinctly Romantic feel to it, with authentic orchestral instruments used to give the music a very different feel to more obviously “gamey” pieces. The game also used some of Chopin’s work directly in its soundtrack.

1553: Fight On: A Music Post

I wanted an excuse to share this excellent piece of battle music from Demon Gaze, which I’m still playing through for review, so I figured, what the hey, why not just do a battle music post?

All right. Without further ado, first up, and in no particular order after that:

Demon Gaze (PS Vita) – Blue Eyes Hunter

This track from the dungeon crawler is the battle theme that plays when you fight against the enemies that pop out when you toss a gem into one of the many Demon Circles that adorn each of the game’s levels. This is a core game mechanic that allows you to acquire new equipment without having to pay for it; you can subsequently either equip it if it’s better than what you’ve got, break it down for Ether to use in upgrading existing equipment, or sell it for profit.

Demon Gaze’s soundtrack is consistently excellent and unusual. The fact there’s a heavy Vocaloid component to most of the tracks gives them a very distinctive feel, and this track is a good example. There’s a pretty wide selection of music throughout the game, and partway through your adventure the default battle theme changes — something that I always like to hear happen in an RPG, as it’s an obvious signal that you’ve made significant progress.

Final Fantasy XIV (PC, PS3, PS4) – Fallen Angel

This track from one of the toughest battles in Final Fantasy XIV’s main story (but one of the more straightforward battles from the endgame) is one of the best pieces of music in the whole game. It accompanies the battle against Garuda, one of the gigantic Primals who are threatening the land of Eorzea after being summoned by the beastmen tribes who worship them.

Garuda, or the Lady of the Vortex as she’s also known, is a nasty piece of work, and her fight really gives a strong feeling of clinging on for dear life against powerful winds lashing against your face. The music’s frantic energy helps complement that, too, making this an incredibly exciting confrontation.

Menace (Atari ST, Amiga) – Boss Fight Theme

This isn’t an RPG battle theme; instead it’s a boss battle theme from the Psygnosis side-scrolling shooter Menace — a surprisingly competent game that stood up reasonably well to its console equivalents of the same period.

This track by David Whittaker may be repetitive and simple, but it helped get the idea across that battling bosses was serious business. I vividly recall finding it almost impossible to beat the first boss on Menace when I was a kid. I wonder how difficult I’d find it now?

Time and Eternity (PS3) – Towa Battle Theme

Time and Eternity was critically panned when it was released by pretty much everyone except me — I rather liked it, and looking back on last year it’s actually one of the games I feel like I enjoyed most even though I will freely admit it was not, by any means, the best game I’ve ever played.

Two big contributing factors to my enjoyment of the game were its beautiful HD anime art style — the game used hand-drawn anime cels for sprites rather than the more common polygons seen in many of today’s games — and Yuzo Koshiro’s astonishing soundtrack. Koshiro, if you’re unfamiliar, is the guy behind one of the finest soundtracks of the 16-bit era, the Streets of Rage 2 score. This particular track is one of the normal battle themes for the game — there are two; one for each of the two main characters, Toki and Towa. This is Towa’s.

Baldur’s Gate (PC) – Attacked by Assassins

I’m generally not so much of a fan of Western-style RPG soundtracks because they tend to be more “cinematic” in nature; in other words, in contrast to the catchy, singable tunes of Eastern games, Western games tend to have music more as something going on in the background. This is fine, of course — it’s worked for a lot of movies and TV shows over the years — but I’ve never been a huge fan because it makes the soundtracks less memorable overall for me.

There are exceptions, though, and this track by Michael Hoenig for the original Baldur’s Gate is one of them. One of the first battle themes you hear in the game, this track just has a wonderfully aggressive, pounding energy to it that makes you want to keep on fighting. (Of course, at the time you first hear this track, all your characters are level 1 and consequently are very likely to get killed by a small rat breathing anywhere near them, but that shouldn’t stop you from feeling like a hero while you still have a few HP.)

TFX (PC) – Defence Suppression

Oh man, I’ve been wanting to hear this track again for years now, and good old YouTube delivered the goods. YAY. Ahem. Anyway.

This is from the distinctly “arcadey” (for want of a better word) flight sim TFX from 1993, a spectacular-for-the-time game that I always really wanted to play 1) to hear this music (which was included as Redbook CD audio, so you could listen to it on a CD player) during gameplay and 2) to switch between the internal and external views a few times just to see the G-LOC-style “zoom” animation where the camera zipped back and forth dynamically rather than just switching like other boring flight sims.

Unfortunately, I could never get the copy we owned running, and thus to this day I’ve still never played TFX. I somehow doubt it will stand up quite so well today, but this is still a cool (if distinctly ’90s cheesy) piece of music.

Ar Tonelico Qoga (PS3) – EXEC_COSMOFLIPS

Ar Tonelico Qoga was not the strongest installment in the Ar Tonelico series — that honour belongs to Ar Tonelico 2 — but it has one of the finest soundtracks. In fact, with the amazing music in all three Ar Tonelico games, it’s nigh-impossible to pick one favourite soundtrack.

It is less difficult, however, to pick a favourite individual song; this one, from Ar Tonelico Qoga, is simply wonderful. Just listening to it will hopefully give you an idea of its majesty to a certain extent, but taken in context of what is going on in the story at this point, it’s just magnificent.

Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1) – Trisection

Final Fantasy Tactics had a few good tunes, but on the whole I thought it was a relatively weak soundtrack, especially when compared to the rest of the Final Fantasy series which, at this point, was still dominated almost exclusively by Nobuo Uematsu. (Tactics, meanwhile, was composed by Masaharu Iwata and Hitoshi Sakimoto.)

This track, though, is one that I’ll always remember. Accompanying the very first battle in the game, it was the absolute perfect way to stir up the emotions and encourage you to do your best — which is why I was disappointed it wasn’t used more often over the course of the rest of the game. I always wanted major battles to be accompanied by this tune, and every time the “story” music faded out in preparation for the battle to begin, I found myself hoping and hoping that I’d hear those distinctive opening rising passages again.

Trauma Team (Wii) – Be the One

The Trauma Center series has consistently fantastic music throughout, thanks largely to the involvement of Persona composer Shoji Meguro for part of the run, but this track here is a particular highlight that I believe I’ve drawn attention to on this blog before.

This track is from the culmination of the entire game’s storyline; the final operation to stamp out the disease that has been running rampant throughout the population once and for all. (I won’t spoil any further circumstances, as additional narrative aspects make this an incredibly nerve-wracking scene overall.) It’s a track that says “don’t fuck this up; everything is depending on this”, and the track that comes immediately after it was enough to get me sitting forward in my seat pretty much holding my breath as I attempting to bring the game to its conclusion. Amazing stuff.


Well, at nearly 1,500 words that’s probably enough for a “throwaway” post on battle themes from video games. If you have any favourites of your own, feel free to share in the comments. Include a YouTube link if there is one!

#oneaday, Day 312: Quest Complete: C25K

I’ve been somewhat short of what one might call “victories” recently. In fact, most of my endeavours for the last I-don’t-know-how-long-now have ended in what could politely be called failure. As such, I’ve been in a bit of a funk recently, getting very tired of… well, everything, really.

So when an actual, genuine, bona fide victory-slash-achievement rears its head, by golly I’m going to celebrate it.

Tonight I completed the nine week Couch 2 5K running programme, introduced to me by one Mr Calin Grajko, who is a really cool guy and, I have it on good authority, doesn’t afraid of anything. I’ve mentioned this a few times previously, but for those of you who can’t be bothered to look back a few entries, have joined me recently or who are having trouble finding exactly what you want using the search box (which is fine by me), let me explain.

Over the course of nine weeks, you go from being someone who “can’t run” to someone who, well, can. The first week begins with you running for a minute at a time, then walking for 90 seconds, then repeating this process several times. Each week ups the ante somewhat until you reach the final week when, in theory, you should be able to run for 30 minutes at a time without stopping.

When I started the programme, I seriously doubted that I’d ever be able to do more than a couple of minutes at a time. I deliberately hadn’t looked at what horrors the end of the programme had to offer because I figured the system shock would just put me off and demotivate me. So it was a genuine surprise each week to find out what I’d be doing. It was a big surprise in the last few weeks when the jumps started getting bigger.

But I’m pleased to announce that I can now run for 30 minutes without stopping. It’s not easy, sure, and I’m not quite at that elusive 5K distance just yet (not far off, though—my best distance in 30 minutes is 2.99 miles, just under the 3.1 miles that roughly equates to a 5K) but I figure I can get there with a bit more training. Tonight, I felt a noticeable increase in my speed, for example, though that disappeared with the hilly bits towards the end of tonight’s run.

The important thing with any exercise regime is motivation, and making sure you keep this motivation flowing in both the short and long term. By “short term”, I mean “while you’re doing your exercise”, and by “long term” I mean “the duration of the programme and beyond”.

Through this programme, I think I’ve got both of those things pretty comfortably sorted. The long-term motivation is handled nicely by the programme itself—making constant, regular, measurable progress is motivation in and of itself. Plus telling friends that you’ve completed week whatever-it-is is something you can genuinely take pride in, particularly if your friends are appreciative of what you’ve been trying to do.

The short-term motivation—keeping going while in the middle of a session—can be harder. If you run out of energy, you run out of energy. Part of this is about pacing yourself, but it’s also about not getting too bored of what you’re doing as well.

As such, I have made sure to have some banging playlists on my iPhone while out on my running sessions, matched reasonably well-ish with the timings of each session. Me being me, these songs have mostly fallen into the video game soundtrack category. Conveniently, though, the generally regular tempo and “inspiring” nature of a lot of game music makes it entirely appropriate for use in exercising. So without further pontificating on the philosophy of exercise (there are plenty of people out there who can comment on it with much more authority than I) I will share with you my playlist for tonight’s run. iPhone users, tap the song titles to play the tunes. Everyone else, you should have a fancy-pants Flash player to play each song with.

Warm-Up: The Elite (from Split/Second)

The Split/Second soundtrack was a fixture on my playlists. For the first few weeks, my playlist consisted solely of the Split/Second soundtrack. Because it’s awesome. And free. But this song in particular was an excellent warm-up track because it builds up a bit at a time. There’s also a spooky bit in the middle with jangly guitars that is great when you’re going out at night-time. During this piece, I was doing my 5-minute walk as a warmup for the main event.

Get Ready: Operation Briefing (from Trauma Center: Second Opinion)

The sole reason this song is in there is so that the woman on the GetRunning app which gives verbal coaching for the C25K programme has something unnecessarily dramatic to talk over while she’s briefing you about how long you’ll be running for. Timing the start of playback perfectly will mean that you start running with the next piece, which is…

Go!: Friend (from Bayonetta)

If you’ve never played Bayonetta, know that it’s a study in glorious excess. SPOILER: There is a bit where you ride a motorbike up a rocket into space in order to go and rescue the titular Bayonetta, who has gotten herself trapped in the crystalline eye of God, who happens to be a large female statue that is more than a bit pissed off. This music is from that bit. And it’s awesome. It’s also perfect music to get you pumped up and moving. The tempo is a good pace for running to.

Jenova Returns (from Final Fantasy VII, OCRemix album)

And so begins a set of Final Fantasy VII pieces, or more specifically some awesome remixes by the immensely talented community at OCRemix. When this piece gets all dramatic in the middle, I was just hitting my stride tonight. Which was good.

Beginning of the End (from Final Fantasy VII, OCRemix album)

This is one of my favourite pieces from FFVII. The original version always used to get my pulse racing as the final battle with Sephiroth began. Used at this point in the playlist, I was just starting to feel the proverbial “burn” a bit, and the overdramatic nature of it helped push me through.

Black Wing Metamorphosis (from Final Fantasy VII, OCRemix album)

This is a great, creative remix of the song that everyone knows from FFVII—the final boss theme, One Winged Angel. Bad-ass choirs and screaming guitars? That sounds like motivation to me.

Final Battle: Opportunity (from Skies of Arcadia)

You may be spotting something of a pattern with these pieces. Since it was my last run, I figured I’d make it something of an “occasion” with some ridiculously overdramatic music. The Skies of Arcadia final boss theme is neat because it starts ominous, threatening and dramatic and turns triumphant and victorious by the end. In-game, these changes happened according to how well the battle was going, so you could tell aurally when you were winning. Knowing this sent me subconscious signals that I was on the home straight.


Panic Attack (by Dream Theater)

I loved this song ever since I first encountered it in Rock Band 2, where it gave my fingers something of a workout. And cramp. It’s also, like, deep and stuff, cause I can, like, totally relate to the lyrics and whatnot, yeah?

In an exercise sense, it’s fast, gets the adrenaline flowing and has the line “rapid heartbeat pounding in my chest” in the middle of it. So it’s, like, appropriate.

Of course, it also has the line “I am terrified, so afraid to die” in it. Which, depending on your fitness level, may also be appropriate.

Navras (from The Matrix Revolutions)

Ever since I first heard this piece, I thought it would be an awesome accompaniment to some sort of final battle. In fact, a variation on this piece called Neodämmerung is used in the final battle with Mr Smith in The Matrix Revolutions. This piece, to my mind, though, is superior and is only used in the end credits.

So why not have this piece as the grand finale to the nine-week push? Why not indeed. Conveniently, my 30 minutes were up just as it got to the slow bit in the middle, so I got to cool down to some trippy floaty ethnic-sounding warbling. Which was nice.

So, in summary, then? Keep your motivation up (possibly through the use of some banging tunes) and you can achieve whatever goal you want. I’ve achieved one, which is something of a relief after so many things that have gone wrong over the last couple of years.

Now, just another 50-something posts to go to achieve another goal…

#oneaday, Day 146: Overly Ambitious Interactive Post

This post is interactive. And long. As such, I am using a More tag for the first time ever. To take part in all the fun, read the full post. It’s about Persona 4‘s music, and how I think it can be made relevant to pretty much any situation you might find yourself in in everyday life. I commented on this on Twitter the other day. I thought it might be fun to prove it. Turns out it is fun. And rather time-consuming to prepare. But here it is anyway.

Continue reading #oneaday, Day 146: Overly Ambitious Interactive Post

#oneaday, Day 134: Busy Days

Hello everyone! Apologies for the late hour. It’s been a genuinely busy day today, despite it being a Bank Holiday (or Memorial Day if you want to be all American about it).

My day started with waking up several times, snoozing my alarm and then waking up again. The last snooze inexplicably went on a lot longer than the other ones so I had a minor panic when I woke up the last time, because I actually needed to get up today.

Why? I hear you ask. Well, today was my first performance in public for ages. What? I hear you ask. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been playing the piano for quite a long time now. Since the age of five, in fact. Which makes it… a long time that I’ve been playing. I haven’t performed in public for quite a while, though, and my friend Sam assures me that he’d never heard me play in public before. I’m convinced otherwise, but he’s very insistent on this matter. I know he certainly didn’t see the last piano performance I did at university, which was a duet performance with one of the strangest people I’ve ever had the curious fortune to encounter in my life that was followed with one of the most memorable and terrifyingly inappropriate pub conversations I’ve ever experienced. Those who know who I’m talking about also know what the conversation was about. Those who don’t… well, I feel it would be improper for me to discuss it here. Unless you really want to know, in which case leave me a comment and I’ll tell you there.

So today was my first performance in public for ages. We’ve established that.

What did you play? I hear you ask. Demanding, aren’t we? Perhaps you should stop asking so many questions and let me get on with my story because it’s entirely possible I might have been about to tell you what I played. In fact, I’m half-tempted to just not tell you now.

Except that would make this blog entry run rather short and not allow me to include the lovely media that I’m about to. So I’ll tell you.

A few years back, I discovered the Final Fantasy Piano Collections and managed to acquire most of them. Some of them I have the actual books of. The older ones I managed to track down some scans from the Internet. More recently, I managed to locate some piano scores for the music from Persona 3 and Persona 4. These respective series have some of my favourite music of all time, so I figured a public performance would be a good opportunity to spread the love and let other people know what they’re all about. So that’s what I did.

The event itself was part of Southampton’s “Keys to the City” event, celebrating local arts and the piano in particular. Today’s performance took place in the city’s art gallery, tucked away on one side of the Civic Centre near the library. I got the impression not many people know about it. But there’s a lovely Steinway piano there which has clearly been crying out to be used for some time, so my friend and ex-colleague Stephen McCleery of Retrograde Recordings helped to organise an event to give it a bit of attention.

Here’s three of the pieces I performed. I’ll be recording the others over the next few days, so there’s a few posts ready to go if I’m short of inspiration!

If you’re reading this on an iPhone, don’t get pissy about the Flash audio players not working. I’ve been good enough to supply direct links to the files. Just click on the title. I’m good to you people. Not every blog would do that, you know.

Anyway… enjoy. More to come over the next few days.

Main Theme from Persona 4

Prologue from Final Fantasy

Velvet Room from Persona 3