Musical Medicine: Some Uplifting VG Soundtracks To Keep You Sane
A long time ago, when I first started writing about video games for NRW, I did an article about the amazing music written for the Genesis/Mega Drive and talked about how much I like sounds of the YM2616 chip that system uses. I still listen
A long time ago, when I first started writing about video games for NRW, I did an article about the amazing music written for the Genesis/Mega Drive and talked about how much I like sounds of the YM2616 chip that system uses. I still listen to the music from classic video games the way most people would crank their hair metal, their Talking Heads, and of course, their synthwave. Video game music isn’t just special to me; it’s beloved and essential music that speaks to me. I engage with it in a nostalgic way, yes, but it also stirs the same meaningful responses in me that other music does. Music makes you feel things.
I’m not ashamed or embarrassed at all to admit that I even get a little teary-eyed at the right piece of VG music if I’m in the right frame of mind. What does shame me is that I’ve spent so little time talking about that here – the music itself. I’ve chosen a few pieces of music to talk about, and I’ll provide a link for readers to listen along with me. I bet some of you know these soundtracks by heart the same way I do though… you can probably call them up in your mind just like I can.
Everyone’s looking for ways to cope right now, and music is fantastic tool for that. Let’s immerse ourselves in it today like a nice hot bath. Let’s listen. Everyone’s been going through some rough shit lately, and we’re not going to talk about that at all, because everyone’s sick of it. We’re going to forget the lousy news and the stress and uncertainty of it all, and we’re going to pursue some self-care together. Let’s listen to some video game music.
Crash Man Stage Music
Mega Man II
Composer: Takashi Tateishi
Ooh there’s energy in this one. Like… I love funk. I love jazz. Those types of music pick me up and keep me smiling and snapping my fingers when things get rough or I get discouraged. I think Jazz is medicine. And this piece is funky. Like you want to move. And in Crash Man’s stage, you certainly can’t sit still. The octave-walk on the bass line, the smooth but busy lead riffs… that’s fucking jazz fusion. And it bops. It makes you bop with it.
Composers: Yuzo Koshiro, Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Mark Cooksey
For an action-oriented ride like Space Harrier, this is such hopeful and upbeat music. The lovely harmonies and steady 80s rock beat lend this track a sense of forward movement, which is entirely appropriate and forms a huge part of the game’s charm game for me. You can tell that while there are aliens and obstacles to be blasted in the Fantasy Zone, Sega’s composers wanted you to remember: life can be fun. You’re playing a video game. Escape. “Welcome to the Fantasy Zone! Get ready!”
Thunder Landing (Stage 1 Theme)
Composer: Motoaki Furukawa (Club Kukeiha)
The music you put in the first stage/area/level of your video game can have a huge impact on how memorable it is. I always loved this one because it sets the tone for the entire game right out of the starting gate; You get that nice intro riff as your drop out of the helicopter, and that weighty orchestra hit comes back to… well, hit you.
Side note: I’ve probably gushed over this before, but Konami has always placed a high value on their music and the composers they use. I like to think it’s part of why they’re still in the ring after all these years. The Contra series is no exception.
Toxic Dump (Parts 1 and 2)
Composer: Howard Drossin
Yo, let me start by saying I love this fucking game. You get to play as an amorphous blob of green mutant ooze. It’s incredibly innovative and fun, and it has a killer soundtrack to boot. This is another good example of “make the level 1 music pop so they take notice.” I could listen to it on loop for a while.
I almost want to call this shit thrash-funk. Funk-thrash. You sort it out. You tell me. I just dig it. It’s dirty but frenetic. If Quentin Tarantino directed an Oscar the Grouch segment for Sesame Street this music might work well for it.
But that should never, ever happen. Or should it?
Evergreen (Ending Theme)
Castlevania 3/Akumajou Densetsu
Composers: Yoshinori Sasaki, Jun Funahashi, Yukie Morimoto
This one’s just a little piece of beauty to help close out an incredible masterpiece of a game. CV3 is one of the finest in the series (at least in my opinion), with the JP version utilizing that delicious VRC6 cartridge expansion to enrich and deepen the music’s body. To some people (who suck), it’s just some low-bit “strings” layered over each other. To me, this track speaks of comfort. The relief and peace of a job well done. Fuck you, Dracula. Get a hobby. Stop bothering us.
But then, if he ever did, we’d run out of Castlevania juice. I need that shit. I’m thirsty. (the third season of the show is so good!)