Music Review: Greatest Video Game Music 2
I realize music reviews aren’t something you’re likely to see much of here on Giant Fire Breathing Robot, but given that we’re talking about video game music, indeed the Greatest Video Game Music, I’m going to shoehorn this in and you’ll need to bear with me.
This isn’t the same kind of album as its predecessor. The first Greatest Video Game Music album has a much grander feel to it; the tunes on that album tend towards and epic, bombastic feel. The ones on this album are, generally, more mood pieces, something to set a tone rather than get the blood flowing. I say generally because there are a couple of exceptions.
If there is a problem with the album as a whole, it’s that it doesn’t really feel like a “whole” work. By that I mean some of the pieces feel out of place next to some of the others. Adventure sits uncomfortably next to the Icarus theme from Deus Ex, for example. It’s the nature of the beast however; when you’re pulling music from right across the the video game genre, it’s almost unavoidable. It’s a small crime, and very easy to overlook. It’s also interesting to note that many of the main themes on the album have a dark, depressed tone or feeling to them. That’s in no way a criticism of the album itself, but rather an observation of a trend in video games as a whole. There might be something there worth looking into, if anyone is looking for a research project.
I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow review of each track, because that would probably be unutterably dull; instead I’ll talk about some of the more noteworthy tracks you may be unfamiliar with. Have a look at the tracklisting first:
- Assassin’s Creed: Revelations – Main Theme
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Far Horizons
- The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker – Dragon Roost Island
- Final Fantasy VII – One-Winged Angel
- Mass Effect 3 – A Future for the Krogan/An End Once And For All
- Halo – Never Forget/Peril
- Sonic the Hedgehog – A Symphonic Suite
- Chrono Trigger – Main Theme
- Luigi’s Mansion – Main Theme
- Kingdom Hearts – Fate of the Unknown
- Super Metroid – A Symphonic Poem
- Diablo III – Overture
- Batman: Arkham City – Main Theme
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Icarus Main Theme
- Fez – Adventure
- Portal – Still Alive
- Little Big Planet – Orb Of Dreamers (The Cosmic Imagisphere)
Adventure, from Fez, is a perky, happy-go-lucky track that conjours up the setting of the game wonderfully and sounds like a day at the seaside. It feels like it should have seagulls in the background.
Dragon Roost Island, from Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, opens with a flourish of Spanish guitar that sadly doesn’t stay long; I’d have loved to hear more of it. Regardless, it’s a great tune that constantly hints and teases at the main Zelda theme, but never quite breaks out into it. It’s tempting to call fault with that, but leaving it out gives the tune a life of its own.
Far Horizons, from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, is pretty much what you’d expect from a Skyrim track. Epic, melodic and moving, it’s music to watch mammoths by. There’s a lovely 5-note melody that keeps recurring through the track that hits just the right side of haunting, without being maudlin. It’s helped by some beautifully delicate piano playing.
Fate of the Unknown, from Kingdom Hearts, is one that I wasn’t expecting much from. I’ve never “clicked” with the Kingdom Hearts series, and the increasingly daft titles and stupendously complicated lore as time has gone on haven’t endeared me to it. So, I’ll hold my hands up and say right now that this may be my favorite tune on the album. At the very least, I think it’s the one where the arrangement works best with the orchestra. The choral chants that open the track lead you to think a sweeping, epic, emotional piece is about to begin, when it’s actually quite fast paced, almost like something from a rock opera. The clarinet work throughout the track is central to its success. There’s something about the whole song that recalls youthful exuberance and joy, which is probably the point given the source. At the same time, it manages to keep a healthy sense of danger about it.
A Future for the Krogan/An End Once And For All are both from Mass Effect 3. I’ll confess to some curiosity as to why these two tracks have been put together, although they do share a similar feeling. The Mass Effect series has always had an excellent soundtrack, and these two pieces are no different. They’re both low key and restrained, with a sense of quiet hope, desolation and desperation. It’s the soundtrack to silent, slow motion explosions in space.
One Winged Angel, from Final Fantasy 7 is where I set myself against my brothers, the rabid legions of FF7 fans. I’ve never been a big fan of One Winged Angel. It’s always felt to me like a track that’s trying too hard to be something special, something epic and overpowering. Generally, it comes across as just overblown and hollow. That’s not always the case, as I had the great pleasure of seeing it played live at the Distant Worlds concert in Edinburgh last week, and it was undeniably jaw-dropping. One of the problems with One Winged Angel is that there are so many covers and version of it going around, that one version is very much like another. This version sticks with the original lyrics, rather than the Advent Children version, which sound fantastic when the choir opens up in unison.
Still Alive, from Portal. Well, what can you really say about Still Alive that hasn’t been said? Worst tune on the album, that’s what. It simply doesn’t work. One of the reasons the original worked so well was the subtle underlying menace in the song – not just in the lyrics, but the vocals by Ellen McLain. I’ll say right now that the vocal performance by Sarah Covey is outstanding, but the overall arrangement of the song gives it an almost happy-go-lucky vibe that it at odds with the lyrics. It’s an interesting take, but it just didn’t work for me. That said, here’s a short video of the song being recorded, where you can hear Ms. Covey at work:
Overall, it’s Fate of the Unknown from Kingdom Hearts that wins my prize for the best track on the album. It’s the one where the power, depth and breadth of sound provided by the orchestra adds to and compliments the pace and vitality inherent in video game music. Should you buy this album? Yes. There’s not a bad tune on there. Still Alive is a bit wonky, but listen-able if only for an alternate take on one of the most popular video game tunes of all time. There are some very good “mood-pieces” on here, something to play in the background while you chill out, or tracks to use if you’re putting together a playlist for your next RPG night. Buy it, you won’t be sorry.
A copy of this album was provided to Giant Fire Breathing Robot for the purposes of this review.
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