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Top 100: SMD #94 Altered Beast "Rise From Your Grave" posted by Luna on November 2, 2015

"Rise From Your Grave" from Altered Beast (1988, Sega Mega Drive; originally Sega System 16 arcade board)
Composed by Tohru Nakabayashi

The Mega Drive (or "Genesis" in North America) has a much wider range in sound quality than most systems. It seems that many sound designers weren't really able to bring the Mega Drive's sound chip to its full potential--case in point, tracks like this.

Altered Beast is considered something of a classic despite not being a very good game, probably because it was the original pack-in for the Mega Drive. The arrangements for the music are, like with most early Mega Drive titles, sparse and suffer from poor instrumentation. That means that this track makes it onto my list entirely by virtue of the composition itself, which is actually impressive!

"Rise From Your Grave," the first level theme (and rather appropriately named after the infamous soundbyte that precedes it), opens with war trumpets, soon followed by a steady marching rhythm, which is quite appropriate for the game's faux-Ancient Greece setting. Soon, however, a modern drum beat joins in and the rhythm simplifies. The tune almost becomes rock at this point, but the choice of instrumentation and the relatively high-pitched bassline don't quite let it get there.

In that respect, it's quite unfortunate, but it does cause another neat effect. Immediately after the rhythm change, the melody and bassline are playing the same note at a different octave. However, the next note on the melody is one semitone higher, creating a minor second interval. In layman's terms, this sounds incredibly tense, and it doesn't let up until the next section of the song. It fits the game quite well, I think--here you have this legendary Hercules-esque warrior (or two, if you're playing with a friend), resurrected to fight hordes of undead monsters because there doesn't seem to be anyone else left to do so. Zeus really needs someone to save his daughter Athena, you see. I guess he's really busy. (The fact that Athena needs saving is also pretty stupid, but this article is supposed to be about music.)

There seems to be some sort of unwritten rule about the first level in old action games. The music needs to start off fairly driving (check) to draw the player in, but after that there's always a bridge that throws everything upside-down. This is often done by changing from a minor key to a major key (or vice versa.) I like to call this the "introspective" part of such a song. You know, the first part is about how badass the hero is, followed by this part that delves into the hero's inner struggle and their motivation for their quest. It's possible I'm applying entirely too much of a subjective narrative on what is professionally referred to as "background music," but that's the feeling it invokes in me, and that's pretty cool.

"Rise From Your Grave" doesn't actually use a key change for this part of the song. In fact, all it really does is take away the chugging chords and replace them with some soothing keyboard arpeggios, making everything sound softer even though the song itself hasn't changed. Perhaps I was being too hard on the arrangement after all.
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Top 100 Mega Drive/Genesis Tracks posted by Luna on November 1, 2015
Hey everyone, I've just finished the Mega Drive/Genesis list for my Top 100 Video Game Tracks project. As with the other lists, this one is available in ascending (#100 to #1) and descending (#1 to #100) versions. Check it out!

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Top 100: SNES #97 Dragon Quest V "Battle Theme" posted by Luna on October 29, 2015

"Battle Theme" from Dragon Quest V (SNES, 1992)
Composed by Koichi Sugiyama

Dragon Quest's battle themes, throughout the series, have a certain quality to them: they're always entirely string-based with no guiding percussion, which is condusive to their chaotic mood. Compare this to Final Fantasy, a franchise that ostensibly came into existence just to rip off Dragon Quest. Their battle themes are usually very rhythmic, occasionally even rocking affairs. They make you feel pumped up for battle, whereas in Dragon Quest, you never quite feel at ease--battling the hordes of evil is actually tough and scary.

Although I haven't played every game in the series just yet, there might not be a more appropriate place in the series for such a battle theme than DQ5, a game which starts you off as a child and thrusts you into a world full of danger. Even after your character grows up, the narrative never allows you to feel entirely at ease, and this battle theme accentuates that perfectly.

On the other hand, a more direct reason for Dragon Quest's commitment to string arrangements is most likely composer Kochi Sugiyama's background in television and movies. Again, compare that to Final Fantasy's Uematsu, a self-taught musician who only started composing for games as a favour to a friend. Not that that's somehow a less valid path to becoming a professional composer (it sounds very familiar, actually), but the place both men come from is definitely audible in their approach.
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Top 100 Video Game Tracks posted by Luna on October 28, 2015
Lately, I've been compiling top 100 lists of video game songs by console. Unfortunately, YouTube's playlist notes don't really allow for a lot of commentary... so instead, I've decided to spruce up my blog!

Now I'll update frequently with some commentary on various songs in the lists--in no particular order.

NES: Ascending / Descending
SNES: Ascending / Descending
Mega Drive/Genesis: Ascending / Descending

SNES #97 Dragon Quest V "Battle Theme"
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Castlevania "Bloody Tears" Konami arcade-ish remix posted by Luna on February 14, 2015

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