Welcome back to No Tune Unturned, a feature in which some dude with no musical training beyond boring childhood piano lessons elaborates on why, precisely, he likes videogame music so much. Last month’s instalment charted the four corners of Azeroth in a grand tour of World of Warcraft and its many incarnations, and now we face yet another agent of fantastic videogame music; a friend gone but not forgotten.
Thirteen years ago this very day (14 October 1999) the Dreamcast jumped head first into Europe to cries of elation and glee. A storm of unconventional experiments came with it, raining down wonderful games overrun with ambition and silliness. The musicians held up their end of the bargain, daring to venture wherever the games called them, sanity be hanged. Speaking of death marked by a sudden stop, 2001 was the end of the road for Sega’s short-lived console, which only brings the wealth of accomplished soundtracks into sharper focus. Since it’s a birthday of sorts, we might as well celebrate them!
A Whole New World
From Phantasy Star Online
Composed by Hideaki Kobayashi
The age of the internet had dawned and Phantasy Star Online was there to carve a path through the stars. This space operatic theme sets the stage for a shining era where limits don’t exist, and after plugging your modem-ready Dreamcast into the wall and embarking on an online quest with players around the world– well, maybe there were no limits! A Star-Trek-esque opening builds up to a clear voice at 0:29, soaring along with a grandiose orchestra from the future that rises, and rises, and rises before hitting 1:15 and exploding with interstellar bliss. Strange landscapes and characters flash across the screen as the intro sequence plays on, inviting players to join the adventure with a beautiful display of symphonic splendour. 1:58 is the beginning of the end, horns and strings typifying the game’s sense of exploring the far reaches of videogamedom. This was the future, folks.
From Space Channel 5
Composed by Ken Woodman
“Hey there, space cats! Ulala here coming at you from Space Port 9,” purrs the news reporter with fluffy neon-pink pigtails. “Tonight I’m investigating reports that aliens have invaded and are forcing people… to dance!”
Now that you know the plot in its entirely, kick back and enjoy the groovy music that permeates this patently mental rhythm game. As Ulala puts one strutting boot in front of the other and hip-swings the extraterrestrial invaders into submission, jazzy big band music blares relentlessly with no holds barred. In case you were wringing your hands together in fear of Space Channel 5 lacking proper grooviness, please direct your ears to the saxophone solo at 0:58, followed by another chorus of remarkable enthusiasm. This is one of those games that probably should have stayed behind in Japan but sneaked its way overseas to smack us foreigners upside the head with really good music.
From ChuChu Rocket!
Composed by Yukifumi Makino
While we’re on the topic of space cats, let’s throw space mice into the mix and talk about ChuChu Rocket!. Catchy tunes hop along as players attempt to save hordes of rodents from a terrible fate in this delightful puzzle game built of tiles and grids. The title screen kicks off with an electronic loop that recalls the simple songs of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, securing equal space with the classics in my overburdened brain. After what one may call a tinny drum solo, 0:50 introduces a very chill parade of bassy beats that may stimulate the bobbing of heads. You are encouraged to answer the call until a repeat of the opening notes close out the end with satisfied finality.
Open Your Heart
From Sonic Adventure
Composed by Crush 40
Speaking of rodents, the Dreamcast début of Sonic the Hedgehog made a huge splash at launch, epitomized by a city torn asunder with waves in the opening cinematic. Just as brazenly audacious as its brand new polygonal power, Sonic Adventure’s theme song took no prisoners in its quest to create a radical rock song. Initial string plinks erupt out of nowhere with a frenzy of fretwork, rivalling Sonic himself in speed and cool factor. Johnny Gioeli lends his voice to the apocalyptic setting at 0:23, sharing centre stage with an aggressively engrossed guitar. Of course, a round or two of the chorus is all that bundle of strings can take before launching into a wild solo at 2:40. Snatches of scales and warbling notes ring out with admirable use of the whammy bar, practically screaming of natural disasters and shattering glass. If that didn’t convince you of the unrestrained awesomeness on display, 3:40′s manic cry of “Gotta open you heart, duuuuuuude!” will surely do the trick. After all, how many platformer heroes have their own personal hard rock band?
Won’t Stop, Just Go
From Sonic Adventure 2
Composed by Jun Senoue/Takeshi Taneda
Sonic Adventure 2 took a sharp turn down Attitude Avenue and wound up somewhere between Hard-Boiled Boulevard and Radical Highway. Every character had his or her own musical style, leaping from upbeat pop songs to misguided attempts at rap. As for Sonic the Hedgehog? He ran with rock fueled by optimistic adrenaline, and that’s how Won’t Stop, Just Go came to be. The level’s pace is matched step for step with relentless guitar chords as tennis shoes pound like drums in the colossal forest. Each instrument bashes away at its own trade, contributing to a textured track that doesn’t let up. It’s a headlong rush to the finish without a chance for the player or the music to breath, let alone find time to stop and smell the Jeep-sized flora and fauna. When the cymbals smash to a close, it’s like exhaling after a long jog, only better because exercise is super hard.
Composed by Hiroshi Iuchi
Originally a Japanese exclusive, Ikaruga lit the skies with flashing lights and had an intense soundtrack to match. As is customary in the shoot ‘em up genre, swarms of enemy ships did their best to break you (mentally and physically) in a twitchy fight for survival. The first chapter begins with a dramatic score heavy on the synth and self-importance, tossing a measly morsel of bad guys your way– but then, at 0:23, everything changes. Your ship fires up its lucent thrusters just as the music follows suit with a bevy of orchestra hits, launching you into the real action. The desperate, resolute song of battle fits “giant, world-crushing space armada” like a glove and gets the blood pumping. You’ll need the extra edge, too; Ikaruga makes a habit of swallow unsuspecting players whole.
From Virtual-On Oratorio Tangram
Composed by Kentaro Kobayashi
When I clicked the Dreamcast disc tray shut and waited for Virtual On Oratorio Tangram to start up, I had no clue what to expect beyond robots fighting each other. That particular promise was delivered in full, but I failed to anticipate the tidal wave of musical jelly beans that poured out of my speakers. Sunshine Generator cheered on my feeble attempts to wrestle complex controls, almost mocking in its chipper assurance that everything was going to be 100% super-duper hunky-dory if only I’d believe in myself. As I mashed buttons with reckless abandon, colourful mechs fired colourful lasers at other colourful mechs (who also fired colourful lasers) in a colourful display that made less sense than the game’s title. Meanwhile the music smiled down on me as it bounced up and down with high notes and muted guitar strums, all wrapped in a warm synth vibe devoid of sharp edges. It wanted me to succeed so badly, but my fingers could not communicate effectively with my brain and it was all for not; but it was real nice of Sunshine Generator to try.
From House of the Dead 2
Composed by Tetsuya Kawauchi
I don’t know about you, but the shrieking start to this song reminds me of a monstrous undead man clutching handheld chainsaws in either fist as it lurches closer. That works out well considering the source material. Churning guitars, a slick bass line, and madcap horns serve as a backdrop to Chapter 2 in the on-rails zombie-blaster, inspiring both the busting of moves and heads. Citizens with outstandingly rubbish voice acting scatter like ants as the undead terrorize their manic city, and it’s the music that hammers the final nail in this cheesy coffin. Heck, you could slice up the organ solo at 1:19 and put it on a cracker. Get it? Because it’s so cheesy. You could slice it up and put it on a cracker because it’s so cheesy.
Leaving the World Behind
Composed by Akitaka Tohyama
Not every member of the walking dead community is a barrel of laughs, and as the contemplative opening notes of his theme suggest, Cervantes de León is one with a tragic tale. Resurrected through the evil magic of a sword that drove him mad with power, the doomed pirate sails the high seas in tandem with an imperious orchestral flair that sounds more saddened than swashbuckling. 0:50′s rush forward to the oncoming flourish reflects the despair of an ocean aflame with a blood-red sunset, casting the stage Cervantes calls home in a dramatic light. Trying to take this combatant down is like waging war with a typhoon, meaning your opponent rains down blows with lightning speed and is seemingly overpowered. This same aggression comes to a violent close at 1:21 when the crescendo halts and the waters settle.
From Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future
Composed by Tim Follin
Little did dread pirate Cervantes de León know, there was a brave dolphin named Ecco beneath the familiar waves; a dolphin who saved the world from an alien invasion. After this daring quest, the credits roll to the sound of a soothing ocean tide that rises with an ethereal collection of instruments and vocals, leaping into a joyful chorus like… well, a like a dolphin. I haven’t experience it personally, but there is no doubt in my mind that 0:32 is exactly what it feels like to be a dolphin swimming free after having rescued all of one’s fishy friends from a dire menace. The soulful electric guitar of 1:43 takes up the same tune with a heartfelt ’80s vibe, whaling (ahem, that is, wailing) away into streams of undersea sunlight. Yes, this is the ending theme to a videogame about photo-realistic dolphins battling extraterrestrial beings amid spiritual and philosophical narration. That’s the Dreamcast for you.
The Dreamcast was a shining era for creativity and my ears thank Sega for it. Some of those games deserve their own instalment in No Tune Unturned history, and you can bet we’ll be hearing from them again soon. If you’re wondering why hit titles like Jet Set Radio and Samba de Amigo didn’t show up, you can blame that on licensed soundtracks, which disqualify their audio accomplishments. Better luck next time, Crazy Taxi.
For more melodic adventures, please do follow @NoTuneUnturned on Twitter. It offers daily videogame songs free of charge! Seriously, they’d even be free if charging for them wasn’t illegal.
That wraps up our time for this month. If you have any suggestions, let me know in the comment or via Twitter; I’d be stoked to hear your ideas. For now, I have the same obvious advice that I can’t help but to dole out every time:
Videogame music is great, so listen to it!