Sunday, February 20, 2022
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Well, now that we've broken in this little series with the first type of music you hear most in an RPG (battle themes), let's move along to the second: environmental tunes! These are the songs that play the role of establishing the various settings you travel through in an RPG. From dungeons to caves to forests to sewers to trippy and yet somehow, by this point, extremely mundane crystalline structures built within the open, shimmering cosmos, Setting music can be found everywhere, and its single, inestimably important job for the game's atmosphere is to establish the hell out of whatever place you're traipsing through and maintain the mood called for by the game's events. This is the only kind of music you may hear about as much as Battle music, but while Battle music usually only needs 3 - 5 different ditties to cover all its bases, Setting Music has to be as numerous and diverse in its offerings as the game's own locales.
Which means we're kinda in for a long one, today. To make it a bit more fun, though, let's make a little adventure of it, and join a sight-seeing tour as we follow a generic RPG party as they make their way through their quest.
Note: I do not in any way care about what the actual name of any of these tracks is. I organize the songs I listen to by their function, essentially what I'll remember them for. So if you really love the Phantasy Zenyth 43.277 song, "Tranquil Splendor of the Green Dream (Your Throat's Filled with Spiders Refrain)", which played in forest areas, then just assume that I call it Phantasy Zenyth 43.277 Forest, as that's the game of origin and its actual function.
Also Note: This wasn't an issue last time, in which every category had at least 1 A+ song, but going forward, if a musical category doesn't have any residents that quite meet the A+ criteria, then I'll just instead say my piece about my personal favorite of the lot.
Well, we've been thrown into the thick of things right off the bat. But hey, learn by doing, right? How lucky for our protagonist Hiro Gai that he happens to live not 2 miles away from the world's only tutorial dungeon! Ooh and aah as he learns, for the first time in his 16 years of life, what the concepts of "Attack" and "Defend" are, and discovers that his every earthly action is governed by a duo of mighty goddesses known as "A Button" and "Direction Pad."
How else could we start our melodic world tour for this genre, if not with 1 of the titular halves of that which ultimately all game RPGs trace their ancestry back to, Dungeons and Dragons? Plenty of games besides our imaginary one here outright begin in a dungeon (Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment, Jack's scenario in Wild Arms 1, etc), and even if a game doesn't, it's a pretty safe bet that it'll at least be heading into 1 soon. Abandoned temples of non-specified worship, ancient civilizations' ruins, labyrinths, towers, actual dungeons, and just any hostile man-made environment a little too generic to be called anything else, the Dungeon is the foundation upon which exploration and adventures are created.
As a result, I don't really have many thoughts about the guidelines for this particular style of music. Generally, of course, a song is going to fit the bill if it gives the feeling of a dark, perhaps creepy, perhaps wistful, perhaps archeological building, but quite often, a dungeon's more defined by its presence in the narrative (an enemy's stronghold to be conquered, a resting place for a revered legacy, etc) than by its own inherent qualities, so this kind of music tends to go all over the place in terms of mood.
- Phantasy Star 4 Air Castle
- Izuna 2 Wind Corridor
- Skies of Arcadia Ancient Temple
- Skies of Arcadia Valuan Base
- Wild Arms 1 Dungeon
- Wild Arms 2 Dungeon
- Xenoblade Chronicles 1 Agniratha
- Ys 1 Dungeon
- Atelier Iris 1 Iris's Resting Place
- Secret of Evermore Collosia
- Secret of Evermore Ivor Tower Maze
- Xenogears Dungeon
- Ys 1 Shrine
- Pier Solar and the Great Architects Garden Ruins
In addition to providing possibly the greatest boss battle music in RPG history, Pier Solar and the Great Architects gifts the player with this beautiful tune that perfectly captures the ancient, wistful loss within the ruins of a small pocket of an erased history Just truly, utterly beautiful!
- Shadow Hearts 2 Neam Ruins
A lovely theme to go with exploring the sacred, undisturbed ruins of antiquity. Not much I can say about this one, honestly; it's just really, really pretty.
There's more to dungeons than just stone walls and a monster-based ecosystem whose food chain dynamics are frankly baffling. If you possess a sharp eye, an agile wit, a hearty helping of perseverance and luck, or, as our esteemed Mr. Gai here, a strategy guide from a higher plane of existence, you might just find your way into special caches within a dungeon filled with treasures beyond your wildest dreams! As long as your imagination has difficulty conjuring up much more than $40 and a Potion, that is.
Vaults, caches, secret stashes, the Treasure Room music is an uncommon, but not unknown, tune meant to depict a single spot that's difficult to access and exists for the sole purpose of rewarding you for finding it. While it does occasionally have an actual role in a game's events, such as Chrono Trigger's sealed rooms in 2300 AD relating back to the Kingdom of Zeal, this is generally more of a gameplay thing. Most RPGs don't feel the need to bother with a whole other song just for a room designed to be ransacked, but a decent number do. Hell, with the Millennium series proudly promoting their secret rooms as a signature feature, they'd better have a separate tune for them.
Treasure Room music doesn't really have any rules that I can think of. A pleasant, upbeat song like the Millennium series uses would seem like the most obvious go-to, but at the same time, a calmer, more serene offering can better convey the idea that this is an untouched secret of the ages you've uncovered. And of course, a plot-related Treasure Room has to work within its context. So it can kind of go all over the place, in terms of musical style.
- Startropics 1 Treasure Room
- Chrono Trigger Sealed Door
- Mass Effect 2 Hock's Vault
This song does a great job of conveying the secret heist aspect of Kasumi's Loyalty Mission as you make your way stealthily through that jackass Hock's private collection of priceless artifacts. I really like the cool, sleek gravity of the song; it may be more of a situational Treasure Room theme, but it's still my favorite.
Having successfully made it to the heart of the dungeon and retrieved its treasures, which somehow have remained undisturbed for the last 1000 years in spite of being located within 5 miles of a thriving city, and protected by the demonstrably weakest monsters on this planet and a single logic puzzle so simple that an iguana might consider it an insult to her intelligence, Hiro Gai now returns to his hometown. Get your cameras ready, folks, you won't want to miss getting a shot of him getting congratulated by his lifelong pal, Ves Frennd, for his success, and berated by their mutual acquaintance, Lah Vinteress, for putting himself in danger. Remember, we're observers only, so restrain your instinct to point out to her that the "danger" he faced was basically just him bullying some slimes and imps who literally couldn't hurt a bunny rabbit on their best day.
Towns, villages, cities, metropolises, even just a friendly camp of nomads, sooner or later in an RPG, you're gonna be headed to a settlement for supplies, new weapons, new quests, or a 3 second go at an inn bed. If it's not the first setting within an RPG, there's something like a 90% chance that it'll be the second, and Town music is there to...well, usually to suck, honestly. I've already spoken my piece about Town music before, and the likely difficulties that Town music represents for a composer, so no need to repeat myself. But every now and then, you happen across an RPG composer that accomplishes the impossible, and actually creates a generic village tune that's enjoyable to listen to! Here's what I've found.
- Wild Arms 1 Town
Yes, that's right. There's only 1. 1 good basic, generic town theme in almost 400 RPGs I've played. But at least it's catchy--actually managing to combine the desired feeling of civilization's safety, the bustle of everyday village life, and a genuinely enjoyable tune, this is the theme that other games should aspire to mimic.
With their first conversation in our presence having thoroughly established Ves as an affable buddy archetype and Lah as defined entirely by her ownership of a vagina, it is Hiro's priority now--as it will be for every town he visits--to peruse the local supply retailers for new equipment and healing items. Go ahead and follow him in, folks, and don't forget: while Hiro makes his purchases, you can make your own from our souvenir vendors, and pick up a great reminder of our tour today! Equip yourself with an "I Found 100 Golden Spiders, and All I Got was a Big Rupee and This Lousy T-Shirt" while supplies last!
This one's easy. Shop music plays at locations devoted to buying stuff. Weapons, curatives, spells, class changes, armors, survival tools, maps, food, toys, just actual garbage...the merchandise may vary greatly, but the specifics of the location don't. Shop music is for shops.
Shop music tends to be upbeat and active, but inoffensively so, kind of just a variation of elevator music. As such, it rarely stands out--for every 1 Junes jingle (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4), there's at least 100 Shop songs that you'll never, ever remember or care about. It can up the ante and get a little more aggressive in its capitalistic themes, of course, but at that point, it usually starts getting repetitive and annoying--probably the most essential, perfect representation of Shop music, to me, is that of The Magic of Scheherazade, and I fucking hate that thing.
- Rakuen Midnight Tea Shop
Unsurprisingly, the 1 and only great Shop music I've encountered is A, a creation of Laura Shigihara, and B, really just not like Shop music at all anyway. Good, appropriate theme for a tea shop in a fantasy land, though...quiet, pleasing, reflective.
Once he's finished single-handedly propping up the local economy, Hiro's next stop in town will inevitably be the local church, where he'll give a run-down of everything he's done lately to the local priest. You may remember that glowing cube we saw him touch at the beginning of our tour, in the dungeons? That's right, the one that grants him immortality, as long as God doesn't lose his soul's memory card. Well, due to a fascinating natural phenomenon that scientists call "arbitrary time-wasting bullshit," there are no glowing cubes to be found in human settlements, so Hiro has to check in with the local clergy to achieve this same saving effect.
Now don't worry, tour-goers, we'll be continuing along very soon. If you thought Hiro didn't waste time with his sleeping habits back at the inn, wait 'til you see him summarize every detail of the last few days of a journey packed with world-changing events and personal revelations. We'll be out of here in another 15 seconds, tops.
PLACE OF WORSHIP
Cathedrals, synagogues, churches, mosques, temples...the Place of Worship music is that which plays for a religious building that's in active use within the community (unlike the more numerous abandoned temples within the purview of Dungeon music). The stereotypical organ piping a dragging, dreary ditty of divinity is generally what you can expect here, which makes Place of Worship music yet another type of RPG song that tends to be boring and same-y. Yeah, I'm sure it makes me both a philistine and a heretic, but church hymns and organ music sounds, to me, even less distinct from 1 to the next than John Williams's works, and unlike Williams's single song reiterated hundreds of times, this one wasn't enjoyable to start with. And to take a break from bashing my own religion's musical trends, even the pieces for this RPG setting that try something other than halfheartedly imitating church hymns tend to be kind of meandering and dull. Still, it's not impossible to pull off a quality Place of Worship song, as what's below proves.
- Dragon Quest 8 Savella Cathedral
- Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Shrine
It's repetitive, sure, and pretty simple, but this is still a really pretty piece, and decently soothing. Good music to relax to.
Well, it looks like our intrepid young Hiro Gai has been summoned to the castle for an audience with the king! Shall we see what His Majesty wants from our adventurer? Go ahead, everyone, walk on in--you'll find during this tour that the strong majority of kings have an open door policy for any random citizen who wanders by, and the 2 guards at any and every castle gate are largely decorative.
As well as fortresses, keeps, and so on. Castle music refers to strongholds filled with soldiers and, usually, the royalty who rules the land. Well, the ones belonging to good guys or neutral parties, that is--enemy HQs are a different matter. Castle music tends to involve a lot of bluster and fanfare (trumpets figure heavily into this category), as they're most of the time trying to impart a sense of the military might and/or the supposed glory and right to rule belonging to the aristocracy. As such, this is another category that doesn't have a whole lot of really great tunes, because the message it's trying convey is usually pretty straightforward and surface-level. Still, it beats the theme of "RETAIL SURE IS FUN BOY-HOWDY" at least, and every now and then a castle's got a story to tell through its music that can be pretty neat.
- Sailor Moon: Another Story Castle
- Legend of Dragoon Castle
- Suikoden 1 Dragon Fortress (Link avoids unnecessary intro)
Classic, elegant, and almost mournful; I don't know how a lovely, elegant piece like this got paired to a fortress of people who raise dragons, but I love it.
Oh, no! It looks like during the span of that single, 7-text-box-long conversation with the king, Lah has been kidnapped by the underground-dwelling Glorblucks, and brought all the way into the very heart of their territory! Good thing Ves was there to witness it and let Hiro know. Bunch up your pant legs as high as they'll go and prepare to get a lot less attached to your current footwear, folks, because we're following Hiro and Ves on their rescue mission into the sewers!
RPG Land Tours would like to take this opportunity to remind all our valued clients that we have a firm no-refunds policy.
Sewers are a bit of a head-scratcher, as RPGs go. First of all, while they aren't as frequent as, say, caves, forests, and mountains, they're still way more common a setting for an RPG to visit than seems realistic. I mean, besides settings like under the sea, outer space, and entire other dimensions, sewers are probably 1 of the places that you may visit in a game, yet will never enter in real life--and unlike places like the bottom of the ocean and orbit, it's not so much physical and logistical barriers keeping you out so much as it is personal choice. They are, as Jontron once said, the farthest from plain sight that anything in a society is. Yet somehow, it seems like 1 in 3 adventuring parties are going to have some reason to go traipsing about in them.
The other puzzler about sewers is the music. Sewer music is peppy. It's upbeat! Sewer music more often than not is having a good time. Sometimes it's a quirky, cutesy little theme implying some sort of tip-toeing mini-adventure, like in Chrono Trigger, sometimes it's pumped up and ready for hearty adventure, as with Lunar 1, and sometimes, such as Romancing SaGa 1's Sewer theme, it's got the feeling of a carefree day at a goddamn water park. I don't know if maybe the majority of composers in Japan were just really wowed by the bonus stages in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games from the 90s, but only like 25% of the time do you find a piece of Sewer music that is even close to having enough seriousness to be an accurate mood music for a period of time in which you're stomping through thousands of human beings' piss and shit.
Still, I suppose the only reason I've got any entries for Sewer music below is because of the wildly incorrect mood this genre shoots for, so I can't complain.
- Lunar 1 Sewer
- Romancing SaGa 1 Sewers
Whoever composed this piece may have been under the impression that traversing sewers is less about trudging through fecal catacombs and more like an unending water slide, but damn it if it isn't fun, even a little emboldening to listen to.
What better time could there be to take advantage of the amenities the king has provided for Hiro Gai and his allies than now, when he needs a shower more than any other time in his life? With Lah Vinteress lying on the couch recuperating, Ves Frennd studying their maps, and Hiro making full use of the facilities, we've got an opportunity to take a look around this building that the king has designated as Hiro's headquarters, and take a little rest ourselves.
Once Hiro's done and he and his friends are on their way, we can all take turns in the shower after our sewer ordeal, too. Not to worry, we won't get in Hiro's hair--in spite of the fact that he'll spend 5 cumulative hours of his total quest time specifically dedicated to pursuing a complete collection of decorative furnishings for it, he's only going to actually visit this place about 4 times, for less than 10 minutes each. We could honestly make a case for squatter's rights if we wanted.
The headquarters is the home where a protagonist would hang his hat, if he ever unequipped it. It can take a variety of forms. It could be a home, a mansion, an extra-dimensional pocket space, a mobile fortress, a dorm, a town (sometimes stationary, sometimes mobile), a castle, a room at an inn, a spaceship, or something else entirely. Whatever form it takes, though, there's a 90% chance that you can customize it to some degree, from furniture to wall decals to recruitable occupants. From Breath of Fire 2's Township to Pathfinder: Kingmaker's capital, from Baldur's Gate 2's stronghold to the Suikoden series's castles, from the room in Sweet Lily Dreams to the Railroad's HQ in Fallout 4, headquarters are favorite features of RPGs new and old, Indie and mainstream, on both sides of the ocean. The idea is that this is both a safe haven, and a base in which the heroes plan their next move, and from which they launch their operations. In this regard, although a home can easily qualify, it's not the same as just where the protagonist lives, as "home" tends to be a place left behind quite early in an adventure.
Headquarters music can have a wide functionality, depending on the kind of base it's meant to be and the kind of story it's in. The music can be boisterous and encouraging for a military base in a game mostly about large-scale conflicts, quiet and intimate for a personal home in a personal story, mildly upbeat for a room whose purpose is mostly in its customization, quiet and frantic in a headquarters for a group at constant work to defy incredible odds...Headquarters music is highly malleable, in much the same way and for many of the same reasons as Specific Town music (see below).
- Deus Ex 4 Headquarters
- Wild Arms 2 Valeria Chateau
- Dragon Age 2 Home
This is a really thoughtful and carefully-made piece, I think. It deftly captures the comfortable, familiar feeling of being in one's home, perhaps sitting in front of the fireplace on a quiet evening...and yet, it also has a distinct, inescapable loneliness to it, capturing the loss that Hawke has suffered through the course of Dragon Age 2. She lives within the rightful home of her family, and yet that only underscores the fact that her family is broken...her parents and brother dead, her sister taken from her. Somehow, this song manages to capture both the comfortable, secure familiarity of the home she won, and the haunting weight of her loss of the people that it was all for.
And we're off! Now that Lah has fully recovered, she and Ves have joined our intrepid Hiro Gai as he ventures forth on his quest from the king to save the world! And we'll be along for every step of the way!
And what better way to introduce Hiro and ourselves to the wonders and joys of this grand, remarkable world of adventure than a long, largely unremarkable set of plains almost indistinguishable from each other? Nothing grabs the attention of a fresh expedition more than an uninterrupted sea of monochromatic grass! Keep those cameras ready, everyone, you won't want to miss all the nothing we're going to be seeing for the next few hours!
Plains, certain valleys, grasslands, rolling hills, prairies, and the like, the Field music is meant to accompany a sustained trek through expanses of easy territory. The mood of the Field is generally one of a brisk, eager pace, adventure while the adventure's still young enough to have novelty, in which the terrain doesn't offer much to challenge a traveler (monsters notwithstanding), and the plot is in transition from 1 moment of importance to the next.
Which does not, in truth, lend itself very well to stirring, memorable music. In terms of where Field music generally sits in an RPG's story as a whole, it's kinda like asking something great from the part of your daily routine that's you leaving the house and walking to your car. Still, a few games have managed to do something pretty cool with this setting.
- Anodyne Field
- Lagoon Hobbit Valley
- Ys 1 Field
I like this song for its energy. It's got some depth, not just a single mood the whole time, but generally it's a great, peppy piece that you can feel the act of marching forth to, full speed ahead, through the hills and dales, sword swinging all the way to beat back the various beasts looking to make you a meal (which means this song's gotta work extra hard, since in Ys 1 you don't so much swing a sword at enemies as you do slam yourself bodily into them and hope that you rate higher on the Mohs Scale than they do).
With the rollicking plains behind them, our heroes have arrived at their first ecosystem of actual interest: the dark, dank, damp jungle! Hiro and his friends will need to pass through this dense tropical forest if they want to make it to the distant city of Plotsburg in time to save the world!
Please make sure to watch your step, stay on the path, and keep your hands to yourselves, folks. While Hiro will somehow never face anything more dangerous than some monsters slightly stronger than the ones in the last area, we're not so lucky to have the narrative's divine favor ourselves, so for us, this is just the normal kind of jungle, where every single thing in it is toxic, predatory, or both, and wants desperately to kill us.
Jungle music has it tough. As a general rule, it's expected to portray a full, vibrant array of natural life, but that which is so busily, actively at work that you don't get the chance for the sweet, quiet beauty that Forest music (see below) enjoys. Adding to that is another obstacle: the instruments that Jungle music seems to be expected to mostly restrict itself to (for some reason) tends to be stuff that we associate with less technologically advanced tribes--basic percussion, some reeds, and so on. And there's nothing wrong with those, of course, but they have a tough time coming up with a really compelling tune by themselves. Small wonder that a lot of RPGs just flake on themes for their jungle settings and go with a bunch of ambient sounds of insects and rustling shrubbery and such, rather than an actual piece of music. The situation being what it is, I have yet to encounter Jungle music that meets my standards in RPGs. That's not to say it can't be done, but so far it's only been Super Metroid and the bronies who have managed this feat. Hopefully, however, I'll someday have something to put into this category.
Having navigated their way through the dense jungles with the timely help of their newest party member, Mid D'laydge, and his skills with inexplicably anachronistic firearms, our party of adventurers now enter a cavern said to be the only way of passing through to the next territory on the journey. If you look to your left, you'll see 1 of the more spectacular landmarks of the RPG cave, a pile of guano! And if you look to your right, you'll see Mid struggling against every instinct he has to shoot Hiro and Ves in the back of their heads as they crack yet another joke about how washed-up and broken he is at the ripe old age of 28.
You may not actually encounter an outright Dungeon. The suite of locales you find yourself visiting may be missing a Forest, a Field, a Mountain, a Sewer, or any of the other usual suspects of the RPG setting. You may never show up at a Town with its own unique theme. But 1 thing's for damn certain: if you're playing an RPG, you're gonna go spelunking sooner or later.
Caverns, mines, tunnels, the Cave music covers all those holes in the walls and floors of nature that you're inevitably gonna grope your way through during an RPG's course. The name of the game here is darkness and literal depth: the Cave song should make it clear that you're deep within the organic hollows of stone and earth, working your way through the stalactites and stalagmites of a solitary subterrany. You might think that this wouldn't lend itself well to very appealing music, but honestly, the solitude, and the fact that cave locations often possess the beauty of crystals and/or the serenity of slow or pooled water, gives this type of music a surprisingly decent rate of success at beauty.
- Startropics 1 Cave
- Arc the Lad 4 and 5 Cave
- Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Cave
- Final Fantasy 4 Cave
- Final Fantasy 5 Cave
- Final Fantasy 8 Cave
- Neverwinter Nights 2 Crystal Cave
- Rakuen Morizora's Cave
- Xenosaga 3 Mine
Beautiful, soulful, and elegant. The echo and depth clearly establishes it as Cave music, and everything else defines it as the shining, golden standard of the level of beautiful tranquility that the depths of the Earth can impart to us.
The cave's led all the way to the middle of the mountain range separating the previous kingdom from the next. Looks like the next part of our heroes' journey is going to be scaling these lofty peaks. Why, you might ask? Well, as 1 great adventurer once put it, "Because it is there!"
You may notice that this is also the rationale behind about 80% of all of Hiro's actions, in fact.
Cliffs, peaks, summits, volcanoes, and all that jazz, Mountain music is there for all your background needs when it comes to scaling very high pieces of rock. Or, for that matter, going through them--while Cave music is its own thing, plenty of mountain areas in RPGs contain quite a few cave systems of their own, but since they're attached to the larger land form, they just share the same theme as the outside of the mountain. Mountain music, like Field music, is often given to a feeling of energy and adventure, except to a more intense degree, since climbing narrow trails along cliff edges, scaling craggy walls of stone, and running through caverns with lava pooling around here and there is all a far greater adventuring exertion than just frolicking through a meadow. Basically, if the adventurous nature of Field music is what you listen to on a pleasant morning jog, Mountain music is what you listen to during an actual workout at the gym. As such, it's got a much better success rate at creating great tracks, being more committed and all-in on what it's doing. The mountain is the boss battle of settings, and it's got music to back that up.
- Crystalis Mount Sabre
- Final Fantasy 9 Volcano
- Pokemon Generation 4 Mount Coronet
- Anodyne Cliffs
- Chrono Cross Fossil Valley
- Suikoden Tierkreis Mount Svatgol
- Terranigma Mountains
- Dragon Fantasy 2 Dragon's Horn Mountain
For a lighthearted homage to old-school RPGs, DF2 sure has a great and engrossing soundtrack. A lot more piano-y than you'd expect for music about ascending a mountain, but this piece still works as an accompaniment to a marathon trek up and down a perilous peak, and it's got a really cool blend of sounds, both smooth and pleasingly choppy in turns.
Well, would you look at that! Hiro and company went so far up the mountain that they climbed right up into the sky! How fortuitous; being able to run and hop along the top of the clouds will let them get where they're going in a jiffy!
Go ahead and follow along, folks, nothing to be worried about. These clouds are as solid as any ground you'll find down below--more than some, in fact! You're going to find that basic laws of physics tend to take a backseat to the laws of what looks cool, in Hiro's world.
Whether you're wandering around a floating temple, trekking through a passage of unusually tangible clouds, or just doing something so mundane as plain old flying, an RPG is sometimes going to need Sky music to remind you, as though you could forget, that you're hanging out in the stratosphere. It'll typically be music that feels exciting and freeing, connected as it is with the idea of flying and escaping the bonds of gravity.
- Baten Kaitos 2 Diadem Cloud Passage
It's cool, fun, and keeps your energy up for running through the clouds. What's not to like?
- Romancing Saga 1 Trials of Elore
Now isn't this typical? The weatherman never said anything about precipitation today! But then, these meteorologists never bother considering whether or not some group of heroes is going to be running across the tops of clouds for miles, then using an ancient magical device to transform themselves into snowflakes so they can drift down from the skies safely to the ground. Can you believe these weather quacks go to college for this stuff, and can still overlook something so obvious?
At any rate, now that they're back on solid ground, it's time for Hiro and his friends to continue their quest. Be sure to take in the pristine beauty of nature as we go: the snow-capped hills, the frozen rivers, and the solemn, adamant determination of Lah Vinteress to die of exposure before she'd ever change into something less flattering.
Most of the time we think of settings in terms of just the Where they and that's because that's usually the major, substantial quality of them...but there are settings that are defined by How, too. It's the latter that we're interested in, here, for there's a significant category of setting music for RPGs that's based on the quality of a place, rather than its actual location: Cold music. This is the kind of tune that plays for locations blanketed under snow, or frozen with ice. The actual geographical location can vary--you're as likely to find Cold music playing in an iced-up cave as you are a snow-capped forest or a stretch of plains in the midst of a blizzard--but the general approach for the song is the same: make the place feel cold. That may mean a song that calls to mind rushing wind and struggling steps through freezing flurries, a soft and serene song invoking the pure and simple beauty of fresh-fallen snow, or a chiming, echoing song conveying the still artistry of a place glazed with sparkling ice. Either way, Cold music is out to define an environment by its temperature more than its more tangible qualities, and the result can sometimes be lovely.
- Borderlands 2 Frost Bottom
- Alundra 1 Kline's Nightmare
- Final Fantasy 10 Mount Gagazet
- RPG Maker Snow (I first heard this in and associate it with a Cold area in the Laxius Force trilogy)
- Skies of Arcadia Ice Dungeon
- Dragon Fantasy 2 Snow
- Millennium Series Snowy Mountain
- Okage: Shadow King Pospos Snowfield
- Secret of Mana Ice Country
This song holds a special place in my heart as the first game tune to convince my mother, so many years ago, that video game music could be legitimate, that it had the potential to get great and to be beautiful. Even without that fond place in my heart, though, I think it's still safe to say that this is an objectively lovely, elegant song that sublimely portrays the crystalline forest and snow-dusted clearings it was created for.
Out of the snowy region and back to more temperate environs, we now follow our heroes as they come to a quiet bend of river. Well, we've made good time this morning, and we're all probably a little tired from the trek. What do you say we take a moment to rest and relax? If you've packed a lunch or a picnic, feel free to dig in, or take a nap. True, there's no nearby town, no roadside lodging, no wayfarers' camp or traveling quest-giving salesmen, but mark my words, Hiro Gai is going to put his journey to save the world on hold here for at least a few hours.
How do I know? Well, you see, as a tour guide, I've been trained to pick up on certain geographical clues for predicting protagonist behavior. Do you see that small corner of the river, where that 1 fish keeps leaping out of the water over and over? That's what we in the business call a "Fishing Spot," and if I know my heroes, Mr. Gai is going to delay the world's salvation until he's minigame'd himself a complete collection of every indigenous ichthyoid in this whole region. Get comfy, folks, we're gonna be here a while.
Rivers, ponds, lakes, streams, waterfalls, creeks, estuaries, and so on; Freshwater music depicts water, whether bodies or in motion, in land-locked settings. As far as RPGs go, water settings tend to have a much stronger musical presence in a game's events when they're ocean-related; running and stationary freshwater areas frequently share their music with other generic areas (typically Field or Forest music), rather than get their own. Still, non-saltwater settings have their own atmosphere which merits some musical representation, too. Freshwater music tends to be either A, peaceful, tranquil in a comfortable, warm way, even as it maintains a musical flow that represents the movements of water, or B, energetic and playful, meant to form a mental picture of navigating river rapids and such, often through the application of annoying minigames.
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles River Belle Path
- Tales of the Abyss River
It's calm, slow, and pretty, but at the same time, has just that hint of waning energy. This song makes me visualize a sunny afternoon spent on the banks of a slow, steady creek, fishing and enjoying the breeze. Which is something I'd find boring as hell in real life, of course, but conceptually, it's a very pleasant thought and song.
With a sack quite impossibly filled with every type of fish in a quantity of 99 each, and assured that they somehow will not start to smell at all even over the full course of his journey, Hiro Gai has finally resumed his quest to save the world. His next stop will be the bog which this river feeds into.
Although swamps and the like look like places of death and decay, they are, in fact, ecosystems positively teeming with diverse and interesting life, countless tiers and hinge points of animals and plants all interconnected in a beautiful, robust, yet surprisingly fragile complex web of life. We'll be passing by remarkable specimens with every step we take, folks, and I suggest you keep your cameras at the ready and full of film if you want to capture the marsh's striking biodiversity...because by the time Hiro and his cronies are done passing through, every single type of organism in here large enough to have looked at them wrong is going to be endangered or extinct.
Marshes, bogs, glades, quagmires, and so on, Swamp music is for all those muddy, squelchy places that combine forest and/or field with retained water. Swamps are another setting that have it tough, generally, because our overall (incorrect) perception of areas like this are locales that are dark, gloomy, scary, and frequently aligned with the idea of death. And while RPGs are more than happy to musically turn a goddamn sewer into a day at a water park, they're generally less adventurous with exploring what the marshlands can be. As a result, most Swamp music tends to be heavy, slow, and disquieting, or at the very least, more of that ambient nature-sounds stuff like Jungle music gets saddled with so often. So, not a lot of really good music gets made for this setting. Still, sometimes an RPG will try a little harder, put aside certain biome prejudices, and focus on different qualities of this setting, which can make for some more compelling tunes.
- Phantasy Star Universe Ukishima Islands
It's not easy to combine a cool, calming tune with an upbeat, adventurous, cheerful tempo, but PSU manages it in this piece, and it's both fun and encouraging, and reassuring and relaxing.
- Xenoblade Chronicles 1 Satorl Marsh Night
As the ground they tread becomes a little less mushy, Hiro Gai, Lah Vinteress, Ves Frennd, and Mid D'Laydge transition from swamp to forest, and rejoice that they shall soon arrive at Plotsburg, and finish this long first leg of the journey. But what's this? It seems they're being followed by a shadowy figure! Observing their every move, it's clear that this ominous entity is up to no good...unless it's just someone who joined our tour late. Let me check the attendance list.
...Nope, everyone who paid the cover charge was already present and accounted for. This guy's definitely a villain.
At any rate, watch your step for roots, logs, and the like as you go, folks. Don't worry about falling a bit behind the hero group, we won't get lost. The forests Hiro encounters on his quest will be, by and large, remarkably straightforward and linear with their paths.
Next to battle themes, Forest music is, I think, my very favorite type of music in RPGs. There's something about the woods that calls to us, as a species (or at least, it does now; a few hundred years ago, untamed natural splendor tended to scare the dickens out of locals, if European folklore is anything to go by), and more than any other setting brings us a sense of serenity, and oneness with the natural world. Although you could quite reasonably make the argument that other environments are better or more quantitative displays of Mother Nature at work unimpeded, the temperate groves, copses, thickets, woods, and forests seem to be the places of the world which we most and easiest associate with nature and the web of life. This brand of RPG music seems to be the opportunity that composers take in their soundtracks to go all in on the shady, pleasant, peaceful perfection of a forest, and the end result is some of the most calming, joyful compositions you can find.
- Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Forest
- Pokemon Generation 4 Eterna Forest
- Xenosaga 3 Old Miltia Forest
- Final Fantasy 10 Kilika Woods
- Phantasy Star Universe Mizuraki Forest
- Shin Megami Tensei 4-2 Fairy Forest
- Tales of Legendia Forest
- Tales of Phantasia Mystic Forest
- Final Fantasy 6 Forest
- Final Fantasy 9 Evil Forest
- Legaia 2 Forest
- Romancing Saga 1 Mazewood Forest
- Chrono Trigger Forest
This is my favorite RPG song. As in, of all of them. This is the ultimate expression of serenity and unity with the natural world, containing a melody that embodies the enduring peace, the entrancing mystery, and the sublime beauty of the forest better than any other has or could. It's insane to think that this flawless work of art only plays in 2 locations (3 if you separate time periods) in the entire game, and each of them only a single area's size! Could've been the greatest waste of potential in RPG history, really, but thankfully, everyone who plays CT seems to manage to stick around in Guardia Forest long enough to get caught up in and being appreciating this greatest of RPG tracks.
- Mario and Luigi 4 Dreamy Somnom Woods
How do you make Forest music even more serene, inviting, and lovely? Make it music about a dream forest. Adding a layer of mystery and a sense of being wonderfully lost, mixed with the drowsy weight of being in dream, makes for a song that's enchanting even by Forest music standards.
After narrowly surviving their run-in with Hiro's long-lost brother Baadt, who has apparently decided that the only way to save humanity is to end it (you'll find, in this world, that a surprising number of people are very unclear about the definition of the word "save"), the party continues on, dispirited and brooding. Hiro in particular asks himself, over and over, how it could come to this. Who could have predicted that his brother's lifelong hobby of delivering heavy-handed, unnaturally vague exposition with a sinister smile would have led to this?
On the plus side, they've finally arrived at Plotsburg! At last, Hiro's quest to deliver the Quantonic Legendium Crystal can be completed, and the world can be saved! How fortunate that the extremely fragile, 1-of-a-kind gem has managed to avoid being broken, chipped, or even mildly smudged over the course of a continent-spanning trek through rough terrain which involved life-threatening combat encounters at an average of every 10 - 20 paces while transported within the backpack of a not-entirely-cautious teenager.
The Specific Town song is basically Town music that's unique to 1 particular city in a game, rather than most/all of them. Sometimes a town gets its own song because of its importance to the plot, sometimes it qualifies because it's a settlement with such a strikingly different setting/aesthetic that it just wouldn't function without its own appropriate background, and sometimes it's just of such a different scale than the other cities visited in the game that it requires a different atmosphere in its melody. Whatever the case, the Specific Town music covers a wide range of possibilities both urban and rural, and plays a major role in defining 1 particular city setting as significant to a game.
Of course, it's a lot easier to compose a decent-quality song when it's not saddled with the unreasonable responsibility of covering all possible bases for a good dozen different communities in an RPG, and that's why there's a lot more below than there is for the more generic Town music, much in the way that there were more Event Battle songs in the last rant than more generic ones.
- Breath of Fire 2 Dologany
- Cosmic Star Heroine New Rhomu
- Icewind Dale 1 Kuldahar
- Icewind Dale 2 Kuldahar
- Pokemon Generation 7 Seafolk Village
- Whisper of a Rose Rowmo
- Ys 1 Zepik Village
- Anachronox Votowne
- Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscuras Quintara
- Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden Neo New York
- Borderlands 2 Flamerock Refuge
- Icewind Dale 1 Lonelywood
- Icewind Dale 2 Targos
- Lufia 2 Narvick
- Neverwinter Nights 2 Port Llast
- Skies of Arcadia Valua City
- Suikoden 3 Alma Kinan
- Xenogears Shevat
- Breath of Fire 4 Windia
- Dragon Fantasy 2 Tsundarian Encampment
- Dust: An Elysian Tail Aurora
- Final Fantasy 12 Eruyt Village
- Grandia 1 Ruku Village
- Knights of the Old Republic 1 Ahto City
- Legend of Dragoon Hokes Village
- Okage: Shadow King Highland Village
- Radiant Historia Alistel
- Suikoden 1 Elven Village
- The Witcher 1 Murky Waters
- Breath of Fire 5 Middle Layer
Serene, calming, and beautiful, and yet with a note of longing, even melancholy...this tune is just wonderful.
- Star Ocean 3 Whipple Village
I don't know if I'll ever hear a better, more soulful piece to represent a small, quiet (yet not peaceful) village hidden within the earthy environs of the forest. The timing of this track to the game adds to its perfection, too, as there's a tone to this music that contains the suggestion of beginnings, the implication that we're at the outset of a journey grand and spectacular, and that all that is to come is born of this first, vital stop in this village, a hidden niche of a nation that's a small corner of a world that's an unknown, infinitesimal fragment of the universe. Certainly 1 of my absolute favorites, this one.
As it turns out, Hiro Gai's quest is not yet over! It seems that the world-saving ritual using the Quantonic Legendium Crystal will require 1 more sacred component, which he must now fetch from the middle of the nearby desert's oasis. Bad news for him, but good news for our tour! Incidentally, folks, seeing as how we have yet to see a single civilization actively destroyed before our eyes this adventure, I'm going to strongly advise that no one sit out Hiro's trip to the desert from the comfort of Plotsburg. Trust my tour guide instincts on this one.
The desert is a harsh yet strangely beautiful setting, we'll find, notable for its heat, hardy flora and fauna, and a turn-around of the clothing dynamic that we witnessed in the cold regions before. Lah Vinteress's skimpy and previously impractical traveling attire is now quite comfortable and reasonable, and it is now Hiro, Ves, and Mid who stoically suffer for being too prideful and stubborn to change out of their favored outfits, which fully cover them.
Dry wastelands with little in the way of flora and fauna (although that's not all that accurate in real life, if nature documentaries are anything to go by), deserts are a minimalist setting by nature, and their music in RPGs often reflects this. Desert music tends to be more distant in its style and components, made to reflect the ever-present yet somehow faraway intense, dry heat of the desert's air, sand, and winds, as well as its silence. That, or some rendition of that traditional Arabian musical style.
Either way, though, Desert music usually amounts to little more than serviceable background noise, decent at creating its atmosphere, but without many melodic ambitions. As a result, much like Jungle music, there's nothing of this type of music that I've yet found in RPGs that I like enough to keep for myself. But also like Jungle music, there's still hope for RPGs' Desert music, because the bronies have proven that there are ways to make Desert music really work.
Oh, no! This is why I advised no one to stay behind in Plotsburg, everyone--we were well overdue for 1 of the towns that Hiro and company have visited to get utterly destroyed in some calamity. Watch out for broken glass and twisted rebar while you pick your way through the rubble, and out of respect, do your best not to kick any of the little girls' dolls strewn about--ruined villages are always absolutely littered with children's toys, so that the heroes can't fail to find 1 and enhance the dramatic power of this scene that much more.
Luckily, however, the 1 member of any given village guaranteed to be holding onto life at least as long as it takes for Hiro to return from his errands is also always the single person in the village whose death could have stopped the quest in its tracks. It looks like the elder has been holding out here just long enough to tell Hiro that it was Hiro's evil brother who did this, and that there's still a chance to save the world, even without being able to perform the Quantonic Legendium Crystal's ritual.
...And yes, that does mean that the entire journey up until this point was sort of pointless. To be honest, RPG Land Tours wouldn't have a product to sell if hero groups didn't spend most of their time dithering about, whether intentionally or not.
Wreckage music encompasses the songs played within settings that have been relatively recently destroyed, or settings containing wreckage of present note. This most often means cities, villages, and so on that have been totaled by some natural disaster or villainous temper-tantrum, but it can also encompass something smaller, the crash site of the original Normandy in Mass Effect 2, for example, or something larger, like the overall wasteland of civilization to be found while traversing through most Fallout games. There's a distinction in play, however, between Wreckage music, and the music for more typical RPG ruins: the latter are basically relics of bygone civilizations that don't really have much emotional significance, while Wreckage music refers to the ruins in a game whose relatively recent disaster invokes (or is meant to invoke, at least) a significant emotional response.
Wreckage music is pretty straightforward in what it's going for. It's out to communicate loss and, potentially, despair. You walk into this setting, and you're supposed to feel the weight of the staggering loss that this place represents.
- Alundra 2 Ruined Village
- Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled Ruined City
- Fallout 4 World
- Deltrarune Empty Castle Town
- Legend of Dragoon Ruined Village
- Fallout 3 World
- Knights of the Old Republic 2 Jedi Enclave Ruins
The weight, the melancholic memory, the gravity of what has been lost...combined with the cerebral and emotional substance of all that occurred within and all that still yet will occur here. This track is a magnificent one, seamlessly doing double-duty between being the greatest of Wreckage music and also appropriately underscoring the heavy revelations and events that occur near the end of the game within these ruins. Utterly masterful stuff!
With the knowledge that their next goal lies across the sea, Hiro and his friends' next stop is the beach. How lucky that Plotsburg simultaneously bordered not only a dense forest and an expansive desert, but also a beach facing the ocean in just the right direction to draw a straight line between it and Hiro's destination.
Be sure to take in the sights and get your pictures quickly, everyone--building a sturdy craft to take him and his friends safely across the perilous seas may seem like a task that would require quite a bit of time, not to mention far more crafting knowledge than Hiro's party collectively possesses, but as it turns out, the great god Narrative Convenience has seen fit to rearrange time, physics, and probability to such a degree that Hiro will have his vessel by the end of a 2-minute construction minigame.
The background theme to the shores of an RPG world tends to come in 1 of 2 varieties. Either Beach music is, A, not music so much as it is just the ambient sound of waves with like maybe 4 total notes interspersed almost at random in there, or B, the bright, warm, but ultimately insubstantial tune you'd expect from a vacation resort's beaches. Which, as with a handful of other locations we've seen thus far, doesn't generally make for particularly compelling melodies.
- Anodyne Beach
This...is not your typical beach music. It's haunting and soulful, and the melody takes its time. Which, honestly, DOES kind of fit a beach, if you look at the setting in a different light, with an emphasis on the ceaseless tide coming in and out, taking and depositing the detritus of the world, gently but inexorably wearing down all the matter it comes into contact with. Sea life comes to the beach to either create life or to die, beings caught between the land and ocean but never fully at home in either base their lives around it, and life decays as far as it can while being cured in saltwater. Really, when you think about it, our perception of the beach as some bright, pleasant, desirable destination is a pretty artificial invention; Anodyne's the one that's got it right with this slow, ethereal song here.
In a flagrant, shameless affront to the very basics of nautical travel, Hiro Gai has managed to successfully traverse the raging seas in a wooden 1500s-era-esque vessel manned by exactly 4 individuals, none of whom had so much as set foot on a raft prior to this journey. It won't be long now until they reach their goal, and can finish their quest to save the world!
At least, in theory. In practice, building the boat reminded Hiro of his unquenchable thirst for insultingly simplistic, crudely programmed minigames, so his crew's going to be dropping anchor in the middle of the ocean for a while to take part in a diving-for-treasures minigame. And, of course, so will our RPG Land Tours cruise ship. Now's a good time to get in some whale-watching, or do a bit of fishing! Just make sure, if you do, that you don't accidentally hook Hiro himself while he's down there, or any of the treasures he's unearthing...the last thing we want to do is anything that will extend how long we're gonna be stuck here while this idiot digs for that 1 randomly-generated pearl with a 1/4096 chance of appearing in any given attempt.
For a setting that takes up the majority of the surface of most given RPG planets, the ocean actually has very little attention paid to it in the music department. The thing of it is, most of the time, transactions occurring at sea are just crossing it on a ship, and that usually just uses a song specific to the vehicle, which is a type of music I'll cover in a later rant. So there's not usually much of a call for there to be Ocean music at all.
With that said, it's far from a total unknown. There's plenty of occasions where being out at sea is more a song in and of itself than a tune designated to a ship, and occasionally there will be a situation in a game wherein characters will be swimming within the ocean, or traversing its floor. At the surface level, Ocean music tends to be bracing, with a clear give-and-take to its melody that calls to mind the tides, while its depths are given to music that's calmer, more serene, deep and encompassing--it's likely no surprise to you, given my tastes thus far, that this is my preferred version of Ocean music.
- Whisper of a Rose Underwater
Cool, meditative, and undeniably marine. You really feel the sensation of walking along the sands and reefs below the waves here, the inherent serene paradox of being surrounded by flourishing life in action and yet peacefully, beautifully alone.
And finally we arrive at Finale Island, home of the secret laboratory that has been researching alternate ways to save the world, just in case some moron with a chip on his shoulder about existence decided to go and ruin things for everyone by burning down Plotsburg.
Careful of all the electrical and fiber-optic wires strewn around everywhere, and try not to get distracted by the dozens of holographic displays around every corner! And for your own mental well-being, try not to think too hard about the fact that an isolated laboratory has invented and perfectly manufactured computers, robots, holographic displays, and trans-dimensional travel, on a world whose most advanced civilization has only just figured out how to cobble together a barely functional toilet.
Science music covers a reasonably wide array of locations. Obviously locations like laboratories and other places of research qualify, as do learning centers if they're more specifically devoted to scientific learning. But beyond just study, Science music also covers settings which represent an application of higher research and knowledge, usually in a distinctly technical sense. So, say, the inside of a giant robot that you have to crawl through, a massive reactor providing power to a city, and a factory for producing killer robots and/or mutated monsters would all typically qualify, too.
There's no particular trend in Science music that I can really pin down. Sometimes it's very synth-y, or has a heavy mechanical beat, or uses other means of instruments or construction to convey the scientific mood. But just as often, Science music doesn't even bother to don these obvious trappings, and instead is designed more to convey the mood, methods, and morality of the experiments or manufactures performed in the location, which means Science music is too variable to really pin down with a generalization.
- Borderlands 2 Wildlife Exploitation Preserve
- Undertale Core
- Wild Arms 1 Gate Generator
- Wild Arms 3 Laboratory
- Xenoblade Chronicles 1 Mechonis Field
- Dark Cloud 2 Lunatic Wisdom Laboratory
This is so insanely good. There's such simple, classy substance in its elegant tone, creating something that feels epic and yet soothing at the same time. Any RPG could count itself lucky to have this tune play for its most plot-significant location.
Having arrived at Finale Island and spoken to the leader of the researchers here, the High Elder of Science, which is apparently a thing that somehow happens in RPG worlds' scientific groups, Hiro and his friends have learned that the secret to saving the world is surprisingly simple: take a bunch of Quantonic Legendium Crystals and just smack a single, giant monster in the face with them enough to kill it. Yes, even the calamity that threatens this world periodically, a horrifying manifestation of mankind's sins and follies, is just as flesh-and-blood and capable of being physically harmed as any given random encounter rat or goblin. If you ever decide to take our tours again in the future, folks, you'll find that it's a surprisingly common theme that manifestations of evil that represent humanity's terrible, indefensible acts of violence are, themselves, usually overcome just by heroes happening to be better at said violence.
At any rate, in order to acquire more of these crystals, Hiro and his friends will have to journey into an entirely different dimension, from which the Quantonic Legendium Crystal originates. Hiro, a man who has spent his entire life living in a roughly medieval-era city in which a horse-drawn wagon is considered the height of modern technological convenience, has shockingly few questions about the prospect of entering into and exploring an entirely different reality.
Extra-planetary settings are the domain of the Space/Dimension music. RPGs are frequently fond of including travels to settings either cosmic or outer-worldly, so it's not unusual to have 1 wherein its protagonists at some point walk on the moon, or find themselves exploring a bizarre other dimension altogether, even while being ostensibly a fantasy game. Mind you, another world and/or another dimension that are fairly normal places don't count as Space/Dimension settings--they just fall into the regular, appropriate setting musics. Space/Dimension music is for decidedly cosmic and/or other-worldly locales.
As a result of this, Space/Dimension music is another melody type that tends to be pretty varied. While the Space side of it is usually fairly reliable, with synth-y bits and pieces frequently incorporated into the tune that 70s and 80s cinema firmly cemented into place as the go-to audio theme for the cosmic, alternate dimensions and the like are more defined by what kind of bizarre landscape they consist of--a jarringly weird, disorienting mix of purple and pink glops unlike anything found on Earth will doubtless have a song with it that sounds perplexing and quizzical to some degree, for example, while another world that's a strange but pleasing array of blue pods sitting atop spires, like a world of mushrooms made of sea glass or something, would probably sound strange but calming, and even beautiful, to match the decor.
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past Dark World
- Paper Mario 2 X-Naut Fortress
- Final Fantasy 9 Terra
- Xenosaga 3 Abel's Ark
Yuki Kajiura's job was to create music that would perfectly embody the vastness of an inter-dimensional space, the elegance and beauty of a crystalline structure traveling the limitless cosmos, and the sublime divinity of traversing a location that is basically the eye of God Himself. And she nailed it.
With the return to our normal dimension, our tour and Hiro's quest are closing in on their mutual end, everyone. He's got 8 shiny new Quantonic Legendium Crystals in his backpack. He's sat through Lah's confession of her affections, and been completely surprised in spite of it having been so painfully obvious that our tour's hottest-selling merchandise have been Team Lah and Team Shut The Hell Up And Get A Second Character Trait hoodies. He's had a cathartic, absolutely-no-marketably-homoerotic-undertones-we-swear wrestle with Ves, and reassured his best friend of his valuable contributions to the team as meat-shield. And he's gotten some final sage advice from Mid, who has long since given up trying to convince anyone that being over 20 years old is not the same as being geriatric.
There's only 1 more piece of unfinished business to attend to before he leads his friends to the final conflict: he's gotta head over to the nearby laundromat and run the crystals through a spin cycle or 2, and get those eldritch mustard abomination stains out. Ethereal or not, you can't save the world with crystals tarnished by the smears of some arcane horror's lunch. Little does Hiro know, however, that there's still 1 loose end waiting to be tied up, and he's lying in wait for our hero right at the change machine...
Miscellaneous Setting music is the catch-all category for the stuff that won't quite fit anywhere else. Music specifically created for a kitchen, or a laundromat, or a multi-dimensional lounge in which a secret lab's scientists cooperate with alternate reality versions of themselves during their smoke breaks that will appear before you as a joke related to Schrodinger's Cat, it gets tossed in here, at least until such time that a location type it applies to becomes so commonly used that it deserves its own category. Also, the music for any location which covers a broad enough area that multiple categories of settings are incorporated within its scope gets put in here, too.
- Anodyne Windmill
- Borderlands 2 Gluttony Gulch
- Kingdom Hearts Series Hollow Bastion
- Pokemon Generation 5 Route 10
- Rogue Galaxy Gulza Sanctuary
- Shadowrun: Dragonfall Feuerstelle
- Neverwinter Nights 2 Mulsantir Gate
- Nier: Automata Copied City
Beautiful and thoroughly unnerving, just as the Copied City itself is, this song perfectly captures the growing anxiety of traveling through the perfectly replicated, yet repellently wrong and alien representation of humanity and civilization created by a mind so close to, and yet forever impossibly far from, understanding the human race. A mind defined by hatred for that race, the hatred born of familiarity and the hatred born for the alien and unknowable. This song is elegant and pleasing, even as it burrows within your chest and disturbs you.
Huzzah! Hiro's brother Baadt has been soundly defeated once and for all, and then offered the olive branch of a place in Hiro's party--because the best time to completely change your group's combat dynamics is half an hour before its greatest battle, and because the best man to trust with your life is the guy who you've instantly forgiven for murdering an entire village because he said he was sorry after you beat him within an inch of his life. With this final matter behind them, and the new Quantonic Legendium Crystals freshly laundered, neatly folded, and smelling of mountain breeze scent (whatever that is), our heroes, and the ostensibly repentant mass murderer they've allowed to tag along, turn their eyes to the last leg of their journey.
This is it, everyone, the final destination for Hiro Gai and his friends, and the final stop on our tour! Behold the Bad Fortress of Hurty People, a giant, crystalline structure which houses the forces that threaten Hiro's world. Use up your remaining film, take this last opportunity to visit our mobile gift shop stand, and watch your step--beautiful though they may be, the logistics of living in and traversing through a building made entirely of interlocking crystals are charitably described as a nightmare. Enjoy the show, pay attention to our route through this castle because we will have to evacuate it later when it starts coming down around us, and thank you for choosing RPG Land Tours for all your sightseeing needs.
RPG Land Tours: You'll see everything but a refund.
The Final Dungeon refers to the last overall area of the game. Duh. It's frequently some sort of cosmic or trans-dimensional kind of place that would have fit into the Space/Dimension category otherwise, or a basic tower or fortress that otherwise would just be a Dungeon location, but it can be virtually anything, really. The job of Final Dungeon music is pretty straightforward: be strong, impart feelings of both confidence and anticipation, and create a general atmosphere of this being the greatest and final hurdle to clear. A little introspective vibe for the long and involved journey it took to reach this place is also a nice touch, though not always necessary.
- Golden Sun 3 Apollo Sanctum
- Planescape: Torment Fortress of Regrets
- Super Mario RPG Factory
- Golden Sun 1 Venus Lighthouse
- Star Ocean 3 Spiral Tower
- Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Doom Castle
- Lufia Series Fortress of Doom
It's just a pretty damn cool and epic song. Dunno what else to say about this one; you really feel the weight of the finale upon you when you listen to it.
- Ys 1 Darm Tower
Friday, May 28, 2021
But 1 of the things you can’t say that Etrian Odyssey 5 is, is a story.
Perhaps riding high off the mild success of the previous installments, the developers of EO5 gambled that their audience had by now been trained, over the course of the preceding 4 titles, how to play an Etrian Odyssey through to the end purely by habit and muscle memory. Figuring that they’d use Pavlovian instinct to their advantage, the creators of Etrian Odyssey just decided to forego writing an actual, present narrative for the first 4 of the main game’s 5 dungeons. I mean, there’s a bit of a subplot--and I do mean a bit, certainly no more than that--in the third dungeon regarding a side NPC and the duty of her heritage and whatnot, but certainly there wasn’t any story leading to that moment, nor any in the dungeon after it.
The EO series is not, of course, known for its strength in storytelling. I realize that. Still, the previous installments in the series DID actually HAVE a narrative sequence of events to drive the game’s actors forward. Etrian Odyssey 2 had that stuff with Arianna’s quest and the rituals and Overlord and so on, EO4 had a running story with the empire and the different races connected by the world’s history and all that jazz, etc. And I actually kinda liked EO1’s story; it was nothing unique, but the characters were decent and the story with M.I.K.E and the righting of past mankind’s wrongs and whatnot was pretty good. In each game previous to the fifth,* you had a reason to be exploring dungeons. Etrian Odyssey 5, however, just lazily decides that exploring dungeons is its own reason, and leaves it at that for 80% of the title.
Oh, they did try to be sneaky about it, I’ll admit. Shameless though they were about the matter, the game’s writers at least gave a halfhearted effort, at the end of the game, to seem at least slightly less transparent about their sloth, and shot for a retroactive “THIS is what it was all about, all along” deal. Unfortunately, though, this ain’t Startropics 1, and what, in the hands of competent writers and ideas-men, added a welcome and surprising gravity to a game that comported itself with levity and cheerful adventure in the early days of games as narrative vehicles, does not suffice in the hands of the inept and lazy for an RPG that acts like it takes itself seriously during an age in which RPGs have an established history and expectation of storytelling. EO5’s Arken is just not equal to the role of Startropics 1’s Argonian children.
Nor does she have the significance and weight of personality that allowed Rucks and Subject Not Found to function adequately as the sole voices of Bastion and Transistor’s story and lore. Arken is the closest thing to a character of plot significance in this game, and yet we learn nothing of her until the absolute end of the game, nor hear any thoughts or impressions of substance from her during the entire long, long lead-up to that point. You can’t just have the only character who knows anything important to the story or directly connects to the core purpose of the game be a complete, blank unknown for 85% of your work! And even when, at the end of the main game’s course, Arken finally does open up to any degree, she’s mostly just spouting exposition at us--a much-needed trickle of information after the long drought that is more than 4/5ths of Etrian Odyssey 5, to be sure, but she doesn’t have any personality to speak of, so we still can’t form a connection with her, and thus we as an audience still have no stake in anything we do in the game.
With only 1 character who really matters and presents any real plot, and with that character being closer to an impassive Wikipedia plot summary page than to a personality, the act of beating Etrian Odyssey 5 is about as exciting and rewarding an accomplishment as successfully doing one’s laundry.
Now, of course, Etrian Odyssey does love its post-game extra super dungeons, and EO5 is no different. And since Arken decides to join you on your journey through this sixth dungeon, you’d think, naturally, that this is where EO5 is gonna turn it around, develop her as a proper character, get some actual storytelling going.
Nope! Arken may be with you the whole damn time you traverse the sixth dungeon, but she’s only going to say stuff a few times throughout the whole trek. Mostly just when you reach each new floor, in fact. Just about the only reason you’ll remember she’s there at all is because she pops up to let you know she’ll be waiting in the dungeon every time you leave to resupply and heal back at the town. The most noticeable presence Arken has as a character boils down to a parting “See you soon!” message.
It’s completely baffling! First of all, the sixth dungeon in EO5 is an even longer and more tedious pain in the ass than the usual Etrian Odyssey post-game slog, so a more active speaking presence by Arken would have been a pretty positive countermeasure to the inevitable boredom. And if she’s not going to do anything to entertain you, why not at least have her take part in battles as a guest character? The tagging-along-guest-fighter bit was done earlier in the game, during the technically-part-of-the-main-game-but-in-reality-basically-just-amounts-to-a-sidequest stuff with the necromancer king. They already had the mechanics in place for something like this, and Arken’s lived in the monster-infested fifth dungeon for a bajillion years so she must know how to throw a punch. At the very least, you’d think she’d help with the fight against the Star Devourer. The thing destroyed Arken’s entire species; you’d think that’d be personal enough to at least warrant her throwing a rock at it, or something.
Although she didn’t seem to dwell all that long or deeply on the news that her race was wiped out in a single stroke. Maybe they were banking on her aloofness being a selling point of how alien she is, or something. I dunno. Still seems like a hell of an under-reaction to the situation.
Someone explain it to me. If the character isn’t going to speak or interact with you for more than 5 collective minutes over the course of as many hours of exploration, and those few minutes of interaction still don’t result in much character development even in situations where they should, and she’s not going to assist in combat or have any other effect whatsoever on the gameplay...then what was the point of her even being there at all?
I don’t get Arken. And I don’t think anyone who made Etrian Odyssey 5 gets RPGs. She’s the only mouthpiece and actor in the game’s “plot,” so-called, yet only materializes in the last 20% of the game. She’s supposed to function as the single, solitary character of importance to what is ostensibly a narrative, yet has no personality and rarely speaks even once she’s finally shown up. Then, post-game, they have her accompany the party through a long, frustrating dungeon that desperately needed some factor of distraction to make it more palatable, and which had a difficulty high enough that a guest party member would have been welcome...and yet squander the chance to enrich her lacking character, add purpose to the game, make the tedious sixth dungeon more tolerable, and give players a token helping hand with especially difficult battles, by having her almost never speak, say and react very little when she does, and contribute nothing in any gameplay capacity. I don’t know how much potential one can honestly say Arken had to begin with, but one can say, with certainty, that Atlus utterly wasted all of it.
* I think. I actually haven’t played EO3 yet. I suppose it could also be meaningless crap like EO5. I guess I’ll see sooner or later.
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
I recently played Laxius Force 1, created by Aldorlea Games, an RPG creator that’s obscure even for an Indie developer, in spite of possessing a startlingly large catalogue. And I’m not gonna mince words: Laxius Force 1 is a bad game. It’s not terrible--even has a few moments that are kind of good!--but there’s little about its plot, characters, villain, events, or writing style that’s compelling for more than a moment, and there are a lot of elements within it (and its sequels) that are a strange and off-putting mix of uncomfortable and amateurish.
You know that feeling you get when you stumble into a particular corner of Fanfiction.net, or Deviantart? Like, you’ve found someone who’s got some weird and vague-but-troubling unhealthy ideas about how love and/or sex works, even though they don’t seem like they have a lot of practical knowledge about the subject, and it’s all somehow made worse because the narrative or visual quality is so hamfistedly basic that it kinda feels like a kid made it? There’s a lot of stuff in Laxius Force that gives you that same feeling.
Here’s the thing, though: even though I had no emotional investment in the characters (and, in fact, actively disliked the majority of the most important ones), and found the plot as a whole no better than passable...by the end of Laxius Force 1, I actually found a strange compulsion in me not to uninstall the game, beat a hasty retreat, and quietly forget I’d ever played it, as would be sensible, but rather, to keep right on playing into the second game. A compulsion which, in fact, endured long enough to take me into the third Laxius Force, too, in spite of LF2 having ramped up that uncomfortable feeling I mentioned before.* I’m not sure I’d say I wanted to keep playing this trilogy through to its end, but I did somehow feel the need to do so.
It’s not an entirely new sensation to me. Witch Hunt and the Millennium quintology, the other Aldorlea Games works that I’ve played, had a similar draw to me as I played them. I wasn’t sure what it was, but this Indie RPG developer was doing something right, apparently. And since it sure as hell wasn’t the writing in Laxius Force’s case (and while I enjoyed Witch Hunt and Millennium while they were going well enough, they weren’t amazing, or anything), I had to assume there was something about the actual gameplay that was doing it.
Certainly it’s not the most noticeable part of an RPG’s gameplay, the battle system. Aldorlea Games titles seem to inevitably devolve, sooner or later, into a game where you’re either effortlessly breezing by enemies with 1-hit-kills and no damage taken, or getting fucking wrecked by them. They’re like Sailor Moon: Another Story most of the time: there’s no middle ground between being overpowered or underpowered in each enemy encounter. Not all that fun even by RPG standards, and while I don’t mind RPG Maker’s engine the way some people do, I can’t say it adds much to the experience.
No, the magic touch of Aldorlea Games is not in the combat, but rather in the slightly more mundane portion of an RPG’s gameplay: the exploration and numbers-management. It all boils down into a few points:
A: Thorough, and creative, exploration pays. There is a fuck-ton of stuff to find in an Aldorlea Games title. More, I think, than any other RPG I’ve ever played can equal. Any piece of furniture can be hiding a sack of gold. Any bit of shrubbery might provide a curative leaf. Any given ice crystal might reward you with a stat booster. Bookshelves are heavy with Mind-increasing items. 1 sword hanging on the wall might be lootable. And beyond that, plenty of bits and pieces of the background may not provide an actual item reward, but may increase parameters if examined with the right character. Examine torches with a Fire Elemental in your party, and she might just get an extra HP or point of Resistance from them. Check the right bit of vegetation, and your pet might just eat it and gain some experience points. The vast majority of screens in any given Aldorlea Games RPG have secrets to be found within them.
And it’s not always just straightforward searching, too. Of course there are tricky little secret passages here and there, as many RPGs employ, but there are plenty of hidden treasures to be found that require more than just a normal check-everything approach. On the rare occasion, for example, it pays to check a treasure chest more than once--a few of them actually are saving their best contents for persistent robbers. And occasionally there are tricks to finding stuff that are so unusual and unexpected that it’s a wonder anyone ever finds them--there’s this 1 spot early into Laxius Force 1 where you make a quick hop from a cave exit to a little ledge, and if you hit the opposite direction at just the right moment, the leaping character will hesitate just enough to fall down into the crevice she’s leaping, which leads to you exploring a minor cave area with a few extra goodies within it. You only get a single chance at this, and the timing has to be quite precise--it’s the sort of secret you’re surprised anyone could ever discover (I only know of it thanks to another player’s strategy guide, and Yveen only knows how he/she found it). Aldorlea Games has an outright obsession with hidden loot, concealed treasure rooms, and obscure, rewarding easter eggs, and the constant feeling of every location in the journey being a treasure hunt helps keep the otherwise repetitive battle-heavy experience interesting.
B: The rewards of that exploration matter. Most of the time, when you find stuff in an RPG, be it from a treasure chest or from examining a suspicious piece of pottery or whatever else, it’s a nice, positive experience, but you wouldn’t feel too upset at missing it. The sword in a dungeon’s treasure chest that you happened to miss would have been handy for 20 minutes or so, but the next area will surely have it or a better weapon available for purchase or discovery. Healing items found before the endgame are potentially useful, but usually you’ll have a giant stack of them in your inventory by the end that you never had need for. For most of the game, the stuff you find in chests and through careful searching is a minor convenience and little more, with few exceptions.
In an Aldorlea Games work, though? The stuff you find has significance. First of all, a lot of the stuff you find is either a variety of permanent stat-increasing items that you can use on the characters of your choice, or minor events that will increase the abilities of a specific party member. Every now and then, you may find such an event that teaches a character a new skill, even, or an item that can do so for multiple individuals. This isn’t just happening to find a potion and thinking, “Eh, I guess that was worth the trouble of pressing the X button, maybe.” This is stuff that permanently strengthens your team! If you’re thorough, you easily find enough stat boosters in the course of 1 of these games to equal anywhere from 20 to 50 levels’ worth of growth in a specific parameter! It’s a min/max player’s dream, and even less obsessive audiences are still going to feel substantially rewarded by it.
Even beyond the stat increases, though, there’s weight to the stuff you find in these games. You’re gonna need healing a LOT, and inn-styled rest areas aren’t always easily accessible at some points in the story--or they’re expensive enough that you don’t want to be using them too often (more on that in a second). Further, there’s enough lingering status effects in these games that it’s a real good idea to hoard all the curatives you can get, because you never know when you’re gonna be stuck in a part of the game where your party members don’t have a spell to cure a particular status ailment that indigenous enemies are fond of inflicting.**
Items that cause temporary beneficial effects are valuable, too--not just for the combat utility, as you might normally think, but also because there are occasions in these games where your characters require a certain stat to be high enough to garner a reward from some event or quest, and beneficial status effects may be the only reasonable way to boost the characters up to that value at that point. There are similar situations which also give value to items that give beneficial temporary boosts--there are some NPCs in the Laxius Force trilogy, for example, who will increase a character’s stats based on the values of a different stat, and you can manipulate this with beneficial conditions to get some amazing results.
Lastly, items used for attacks in combat sometimes are stronger than what attacks your characters can muster, or possess elements/status effects that you don’t always have access to, making them a handy utility at times. In fact, there’ve been a good few special boss battles in my time with this developer where the only reliable way to win was to use attack items. So yeah, even just the act of finding basic items has more weight in an Aldorlea Games adventure than it does in most others.
Next: Money. In most RPGs, money’s a backburner concern, something that’s rarely so scarce that you need to actively seek it, and even when it’s harder to come by, that usually just means a few minutes of fighting some enemies to get some more.
In an Aldorlea Games title? Every goddamn cent counts. There’s some variance of this (money is much tighter in the Laxius Force trilogy, for example, than in Millennium or Witch Hunt), but as a general rule, there’s stuff you’ll need a ton of money to buy that you will really want, or that’s required for a quest, or something like that, and you’ll always be scrambling to acquire said funds. Enemies don’t tend to drop very much of the stuff, and the ones that do aren’t usually ones you can encounter repeatedly. Limited-time offers on unique equipment are common, quests that require you to fork over large amounts of cash to complete them are common, exchanges of money for services that permanently improve party members are common, and hell, there are even moments where you’ll have a temporary opportunity to buy an expensive piece of equipment for a character you don’t even have yet that will turn out to be the best armor or weapon they can get. And because money is so scarce, it makes finding it, in any quantity, almost more rewarding at times than the stat-boosts.
And lastly, the equipment. With the varying needs of stat or elemental resistances for some battles, the utility of certain beneficial effects, the occasional requirements of 1 particular stat to be boosted to high heaven...it all means that whatever equipment you may come across in your explorations may be something that’ll be valuable for you not just now, but later in the game, too. The best equipment in the game isn’t necessarily the stuff you find at the end of Aldorlea Games titles! The Alchemist Hat you find somewhere in the middle range of the Millennium quintology has use throughout the series. Some of the early Relics you can find in Witch Hunt stayed on my characters up to the very end. The Luck Ring, Key of Heroes, and Legend Sword you can find in the first chapter Laxius Force 1 are all gear that you’ll have use for right to the end of the third game! Whereas in most games the stuff you can find is pretty much always just scaled to be slightly better than what you’ve already got, and will be sold off shortly after as new gear becomes available, there’s every chance that the equipment you find in Aldorlea Games through careful exploration will be a reward you appreciate for a long stretch of the game, possibly its entirety.
C: The quest system is rewarding. In most RPGs, doing sidequests leads to rewards of money, experience points, items, stat increases, new abilities, and/or, most preferably, story-related content like lore, character development, and so on. And that’s usually it...sometimes a game will have sidequests be associated with some kind of jack-of-all-trades guild keeping track of the jobs your characters are taking, so there’s some satisfaction to climbing onto the top of that, but that’s about it.
Completing quests in some Aldorlea Games, however, has an extra dimension of reward to it. You not only get whatever tangible benefits come with a quest’s completion, but the game also does a little song-and-dance bit when a quest is completed, in which each party member involved says a little line of reaction to the fact that they’ve helped complete X number of quests--dialogue which changes as the number goes up. It’s cute, and in addition to whatever you got for the quest itself, the characters involved also get an experience bonus that gets larger depending on how many quests they’ve completed so far.
Additionally, some characters will get a bonus stat increase for each quest completed, which provides extra incentive to have them do so--the cockatrice character in the Laxius Force trilogy, for example, gets +1 HP every time he helps complete a quest, and since you get him very early, you can wind up, by the end of the series, with close to 200 extra HP tacked onto him. Which is a lot, when the range of fully-leveled characters’ HP tends to be between 800 to 1200. And considering he’s already a tanky character, that’s all the more handy.
Point is, doing sidequests with this little extra quest system in place makes it all the more enjoyable to complete as much of the game’s additional content as possible. Admittedly, I usually don’t need extra incentive to do that anyway, as I generally want to get the most out of my RPGs, but it’s still a nice little extra to grow my party members’ strength that much more as the adventure goes forward.
D: The enhancements add up. Sure, you may only get an extra +1 Strength or a couple more HP for a character from each bonus you collect, whether it be through a quest reward, examining the right spot in a dungeon, joining a guild, or whatever. But these little increases to characters’ stats happen a lot, and as a result, they start seriously adding up after a while, even before you count the stat-boost items you can dole out at your choosing. It’s not unusual, from what I’ve seen of Aldorlea Games, for the value of some characters’ most important stats to be 20 - 30% derived from the out-of-battle increases they get throughout the game. Knowing that these little bumps upward will accumulate into a respectable total keeps them feeling rewarding and relevant, even when most of them are very small increases individually.
These points probably don’t sound all that impressive on their own, in text, and to be sure, they’re minor quirks of game design. But they’re pleasant enough, compelling enough, that they make the experience of playing some of Aldorlea Games’s works stand out.
I like each area of the game having lots of stuff for me to find, rather than just being strictly defined by the obstacles of monsters and traps within it. I like the fact that what I’ll find while doing this exploration will often have noticeable, lasting value to me. When I realized that items carried over even when levels and applied upgrades did not from 1 Millennium title to the next, I started hoarding the stat-boosting items I found through the whole series, and I liked the act in Millennium 5 of using 5 games’ worth of parameter increasing items on Marine’s warriors (particularly since the whole point of the series is to find them and make them strong enough to win the tournament, so the extra emphasis on their combat capability gave a special sense of satisfaction). Had I played on any setting below Hard, I’d have probably had a lot of trouble maintaining enough losses in that game to get the true ending, with how pumped up the heroes were. And a min/max kind of player would probably have a field day with this stuff. I like that characters keep track of their parts in the quests of the game’s course and comment on it, and can receive extra benefits from that involvement. And I like that making characters stronger isn’t solely the domain of leveling up, but of all the parts of playing the game.***
They’re little boons to the act of playing, but they’re frequent, and they’re many. It adds up to something that, if not fun, exactly, at least has a significant draw to it.
There isn’t a lot about Aldorlea Games that especially stands out (and what does, such as Indinera Falls’s takes on romance and on endings, is not always positive). But I gotta give the developer credit here: they’ve figured out some ways to enhance the basic grit and glue of the RPG playing experience, and for that fact, it’s kind of a shame that Aldorlea Games is extremely unknown. Because I think that some of these approaches to exploration rewards, character stat development, the economy and utility of items and money making them feel more valuable to find, and so on are ones that other developers should take notice of, and start implementing into their own works. As ever, I firmly believe that what actually matters about an RPG is its narrative content...but it never hurts to make the packaging of that content a little easier and more interesting to deal with.
* Although, in fairness, LF2 also introduces the last of the major 4 characters, and she’s actually kind of a decent character (in spite of the laughably empty and unhealthy romance she gets thrown into), so there’s some marked improvement over the first game, too.
** Granted, this is sort of more a case of finding a way to get around a design flaw than an actual virtue, but still.
*** Not to mention that it’s a little more logical, too. I mean, it seems to me like it makes more sense that someone would get stronger and more well-rounded in their abilities from a wide variety of actions and experiences, rather than just having repeated the same strategy to kill a fish monster for the hundredth time.