Wednesday, April 30, 2014

No Biweekly Music Wednesday! This Week

Hi there. Due to it being finals week and all, I've decided to put Biweekly Music Wednesday on hold until next week. Heck, it's the reason why this post is only up ten minutes before midnight!

Seeya soon!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 8 ~Brinstar Depths (Kraid's Lair)~ (Metroid)


Origin: Metroid
Composer: Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka
Plays In: Lower Brinstar
Status: Original Composition

My trip into the dismal, ruthless world of Metroid some three years ago still clutches at the back of my memory. To this day I'm still not sure if it was the excitement of finally "getting" a game concept that had long eluded me or if because it was the first game in some time to make me feel like a kid again. I mean, I dived into it amidst a turbulent period of moving into university for the first time, huddling with other students in a cramped hallway during a tornado watch on my very first night, and made steps within an uncomfortable environment to make friends all the while spending three days obsessively clutching my 3DS and playing a downloaded copy of a twenty-five year old video game. I sat through it for three days, barely peeking at guides and maps as I let this dark 8-bit world gradually take over my brain. It was such a short period, and yet just like childhood, it felt like forever.

Much like what the most fanatic proponents of the original The Legend of Zelda will tell you, the best way to play Metroid is just let the game's world gradually assimilate within your brain. For all the complaints regarding repetition in various room structures, there awaits much satisfaction piecing together an intricate map consisting of rooms you will visit many times over; in fact, it works wonderfully from a retroactive perspective, as it conjures the feeling of translating an ancient map. The result: an organic alien world that becomes overtly familiar to the player; in my case, the dangerous insides of Planet Zebes became me. Of course, Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka's fantastic score does wonders with this process, with this song in particular standing out. But what to call it? Youtube tracklists alternate between "Kraid's Lair" and "Lower Brinstar", but my nostalgic affection for Super Smash Bros. Melee (which is host to an arrangement of this very song) compels me to call it Brinstar Depths.

Indeed, I was very familiar with the Melee arrangement as well as the Smashing...Live! orchestral rendition (creepy bells and all!), yet I was thoroughly unprepared for the awesomeness of the original piece. To my knowledge, I can't think of any other song like it on the NES and so I treasure its booming, foreboding nature. I seriously got chills when the game transitioned from the upbeat, heroic theme of Brinstar into the eerie and unknown. Looking back, I think that was the moment I got hooked. The initial area in Metroid isn't so tough, but the game cranks up the difficulty in Lower Brinstar, what with ceiling-bound enemies homing in on Samus's blindspots and rapidly-spawning beetles emerging from pipes. The song is a perfect accompaniment: it is actively apprehensive throughout, reminding the player to never let up your guard in this deadly alien world, for it takes no prisoners. Expect the unexpected. Reserve your ammo. Persevere.

My personal favorite bit is the one that starts at 0:32, where it shifts from a looming danger into an enigmatic mystery. It's a brief but chilling slice of mystifying enticement as the player embarks further into uncharted alien territory, and that's what I ultimately associate with the song: the unknown. During my three-day expedition on this alien planet, I didn't know what I'd run into. Yes, rooms would repeat, but what rooms would do just that, exactly? Would it be the dreadful ones with the diveboming Skrees? More often than not, it would be, and the music perfectly complemented my fear. But as I became one with Zebes, I cherished it. I awaited the challenge, the triumph that awaited from crushing the ruthless alien denizens and Space Pirate forces no matter how much fear coursed through me, no matter how little health I had left. I just kept going.

Is it the area where I died the most often at? Yes, and I certainly have the boss Kraid to thank for that, but I don't really mind. Both it and Brinstar Depths represent my relishing of old school challenge in an era where are largely obsolete. No longer do we have purposely vague maps with deliberately repeating eras, yet I can't help but adore Metroid's approach to it. It is brutal, unfair, and relentlessly difficult throughout, but is so satisfying to conquer. One day, I'll be back.

Final Thoughts: Dammit, I want to dive back into this game tooooooooo.


Hmm, still a bit shorter than I want it to be, but it's longer than my last one!

So, I'm a bit late with my next Kirby piece. It looks like the game of my choice will have to be delayed to next month as I attempt to squeeze the next couple of Kirby titles into April. See you soon.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 7 ~Garden of Hope~ (Pikmin 3)

A Biweekly Music Wednesday! first: two songs! While they're essentially the same, please be sure to take a listen!

Origin: Pikmin 3
Composer: Asuka Hayazaki, Atsuko Asahi, Hajime Wakai
Plays In: The Garden of Hope
Status: Original Composition
My first play session with Pikmin 3 back last August is by far my favorite 2013 moment. The hypnotic disbelief of playing a sequel I'd waited nine years for took held my mind captive in a blissful state, and hours flew by as I once again visited the beautiful world of the Pikmin. I was still dazed with euphoria for the rest of the day, not registering anything around me as my brain continually repeated, "I just played Pikmin 3. I just played Pikmin 3. I just played Pikmin 3, and it was glorious."
The theme for the Garden of Hope location played a major role in my ecstasy. Continuing the series' tradition of dividing area themes into morning, daytime, and sundown portions, Garden of Hope is quite reminiscent of the original Pikmin's Forest of Hope in they both share the serene, soothing nature like that of a lullaby. Garden of Hope takes it a step further though and instills a soft, gradual sense of realization into the player: that they've returned to the mysterious alien world that captivated them a decade ago, and oh, is it sweet.

The morning bit happens to be my personal favorite portion of the song. It's a pure, distilled representation of the isolated early morning, and I can practically feel the morning dew emerging on the flowers of a beautiful garden. In the context of Pikmin, it perfectly complements the series' beautiful tone of the fragile balance between and death, and I always sigh in reverie when this is reflected around 35 seconds in. As I attend a Christian university, it's actually what I imagine playing whenever the concept of Heaven crosses my mind, and it helped a lot in dealing with the third anniversary of my brother's death (which fell three days after the game's release).

The daytime version with the banjo is pretty damn great as well, building off the previous part with a more active feel. The laid-back plucks of the banjo steal the show, and yet the piece never loses its serenity. It's part of why Pikmin remains Nintendo's most eerily beautiful franchise: even as your Pikmin soldiers become devoured by the dozens, you fell giant beasts with explosions, and ample evidence of a post-apocalyptic Earth lie everywhere, it's all accompanied by beautiful, careful strokes of instruments like the banjo and piano.

And yet the player moves on, despite their mistakes. Life continues on in both the game and the real world, as the player laments the loss of their Pikmin and the in-game characters march on without time to mourn. The banjo continues plucking on, not discriminating against who dies and who survives. Rare is the video game track that embodies both the tone and the themes of a game, and Garden of Hope passes with flying colors.

So long as I continue to enjoy life despite the tragedies surrounding me everyday, I can move on knowing he's watching me.

Final Thoughts: Man, I'm so excited to begin my third playthrough.


11:56 PM.....barely made it. But at least I did it, even if I didn't get as deep as I would've liked.