Thursday, September 27, 2012

The History of Video Game Music: The 16 Bit Enlightenment

1991.  One year into a new decade.  With a new decade comes a new video game system and a new step in game music.  Enter the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.  The Sega Genesis had already started making headway into the homes of consumers.  In a few years to come, the Sega Saturn would make it's release.  All three of these systems stepped up from the capabilities of sound from the NES.  However, the Super Nintendo is where the really good music was at.

With the improvement of technology came less restricted ways to express yourself in music.  This was great for Koji Kondo and Nobuo Uematsu who took the opportunity to shine.  Granted, it was still all synthesizers but a wider range was available to them.  The music from some of the games of this gaming system had a big cultural influence that will be talked about in a later post. Until then, let's take a look at what some people did.

Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo

Nobuo Uematsu shined the most in his contribution to the Final Fantasy series.  Final Fantasy IV through VI were released for the SNES.  IV came to United States as II and VI came to the U.S. as III.  Confused?  I don't blame ya.  Final Fantasy VI is a favorite of mine.  The music in this game blew my mind.  Listen to this one:
Compelling, no?  Even in just synths, it's catchy and somehow beautiful.  Nobuo Uematsu did a great job not just because of his talent as a musician but as a storyteller as well.  He knows the right mood for situations and different characters.

Nobuo also worked with Yasunori Mitsuda (more on him later) on another game called Chrono Trigger.  Here's one of his works called "Sealed Door."

While Nobuo had his hands tied with the Final Fantasy games.  Koji Kondo was working on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and a game called Star Fox.  Koji's later work would be more impressive then what you'll hear here but I thought I'd share some stuff from this time anyway.

Beginnings of Other Musicians

As previously noted, Yasunori Mitsuda began his musician experience with Chrono Trigger.  You'll see in later posts that he would write music for other big hits as well.  Mitsuda's style is often thought of as minimalistic.  He also has said he's come up with songs while asleep, like this one: 

Another musician that started off at this time was actually located here in the United States.  His name is Jeremy Soule.  Jeremy Also worked for Squaresoft (now known as Square Enix) like Uematsu and Mitsuda.  Except, he worked for them in the United States not in Japan.
He would later work for other companies and become a influential figure in Video Game Music culture--especially here in the United States.  The above song is a rearranged composition from the game he wrote music for called Secret of Evermore. (The quality for the original song isn't as good as what you're hearing above.)

Most of these musicians like writing music that is simple but catchy or makes a lasting impression.  It's why they can make lasting impressions with the limited synthesizer technology that they have.
"I think [game music] is something that should last with the player. It's interesting because it can't just be some random music, but something that can make its way into the player's heart. In that sense, this not only applies to game music, but I feel very strongly about composing songs that will leave a lasting impression...What I must not forget is that it must be entertaining to those who are listening. I don't think there's much else to it, to be honest. I don't do anything too audacious, so as long as the listeners like it, or feel that it's a really great song, then I've done my job." --Yasunori Mitsuda
As we'll see in my next post, this lasting impression of video game music helped create a culture.  Until then, I invite you to explore some of the other works of these musicians and see what good tunes are out there.

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