Here are a few of my favorite things: Nintendo, Penny Arcade, The Legend of Zelda, Mario, Pokemon, Harvest Moon, Fallout, Dungeons and Dragons, books, dice, Professor Layton, Shadow of the Colossus, Minecraft, and so much more. I'm going to talk a lot about video games, I sincerely hope you don't mind.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Sounds of Secret of Mana

I wanted to use this entry to gush about not only one of my favorite aspects of gaming (soundtracks), but one of my all-time favorite soundtracks itself:

Hold onto your butts. Source! 
Hold onto your butts. Source!

That's right, the diverse masterpiece that accompanied Secret of Mana for the SNES. Composed for the then-Squaresoft game by Hiroki Kikuta, the musical companion to the 16-bit adventure did its job stunningly by lending many different sounds for multiple feelings and situations.  From dark times to happy days, and from hot summers to chilling winters, there was a tune for just about everything.  Though Kikuta's work was almost always only attributed games that never made it to America, I'm certainly glad his genius got a chance to shine through in the release of SoM for us Westerners.


If you want to dance along with the little fella up there, I'll be linking to many songs as you read so you can get an idea of just how great these pieces are.  Honestly, you don't even need to know the context of the tracks, they're beautiful in their own rite.

Now, I'm not going to gush about every note, even though I'd like to, but I am going to start with the intro sequence to the game.  Few pieces of music can set the tone for its subject right off the bat, and "Fear of the Heavens" does exactly that.  You're about to embark on a magical and dangerous adventure guaranteed to evoke all sorts of emotion and the title piece is so good at conveying a sense of hope and adventure.  Then, once you get started, you are treated to a slideshow (accompanied by "In the Dead of Night") giving you the story of this world you will be spending some time in, and all of the fun follows soon after.

But time flows like a river... and history repeats.  Source!
But time flows like a river... and history repeats. Source!

Every game with an open world needs to have good adventuring music, right?  I don't think a track from a game has ever gotten me ready to go quite as well as the aptly named track, "Into the Thick of It," to which you are introduced pretty much right when the gameplay begins.  As the player, your hero now has a sword he picked up in forbidden territory, and now you need to fight your way back to your home.  Your inner reassurance had better have a badass tune to go with it, and that's where "Into the Thick of It" comes in.  Here is an orchestral arrangement that I think did a brilliant job of remastering the sense of adventure and wonder.

Don't let the cuteness of the local flora and fauna fool you, either.  Source! 
Don't be fooled by the cuteness of the local flora and fauna, either. Source!

The mood of the in-game music changes frequently, and is mostly location based.  For instance, you will hear an ominous tune such as "Whisper and Mantra" as you move through one of Secret of Mana's many palaces to visit a sage or spirit.  You'll feel just how much Dwarves like to party when you hear "It Happened Late One Evening" as you enter their underground village.  You'll feel the sadness of a town falling victim to a mysterious plague in "Phantom and a Rose."

Hell, there's even wintery music when you meet Santa Claus.  Source! 
Hell, there's even wintery music when you meet Santa Claus. Source!

Location-based music is a fantastic tool for conveying situational feelings, but what about all of the in-between?  "What about the battles?" you might be asking.  There's plenty of urgency in "Danger" to let you know you're fighting for your life.  This is one of my favorite battle music pieces because of how hectic it is.  At the same time, I love the bridge in the middle that gives you some hope, only to have it slowly dwindle away back to the "You better put your ass-kicking boots on" mode.

Also, a good one that always successfully creeps Rachel out is "Ceremony" which plays in ancient ruins where citizens of a nearby town are gathering for an unknown reason.  Pretty unsettling, if you ask me.

"But I JUST started!"  Source! 
"But I JUST started!" Source!

I can't continue on until I mention the musical accompaniment when you take to the skies on your dragon.  There are multiple tracks that play when in flight depending on where you are in the game.  I feel the song that best depicted the beauty of the world from the sky (as well as how great the three-dimensional capabilities of the SNES were at the time) has to be "Star of Darkness."  Just listen to it!

I've got no words.  Source!

You know, I think I have both successfully and unintentionally covered almost the entire soundtrack of Secret of Mana.  It's rather easy to get carried away when there is so much material and in such variety.  I have to urge anyone who hasn't played this game to give it a try.  It is an absolutely fantastic title.  Give yourself the opportunity to experience the adventure and to appreciate both audio and visual aspects of this masterpiece.

Any fond memories of video game soundtracks?  Old or new, doesn't matter.  Tell me about it!

Special thanks to Hiroki Kikuta for bringing this music to life.



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