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Key Signature: The Glory Days

It’s not often that I feel like a discussion of a musical album belongs here. But upon listening to Jimmy “Big Giant Circles” Hinson’s newest chiptune masterpiece “The Glory Days,” I couldn’t help but put together some thoughts here on why I think this album really connects with me on a personal level.

The Key Signature feature idea was to go to different game soundtracks of the past and present and take a look at what tracks really stood out and why. In this case, “The Glory Days” isn’t a game soundtrack per se, but it includes samples and derivative works of many of gaming’s most treasured soundtracks, and so I believe this album, as much as any, belongs here. In this instance of the feature, I’ll be looking at my favorite tracks from “The Glory Days,” and why they really hit a personal note with me.

Go For Distance

This is an energetic, upbeat track that leads off the album like a perfect first level. There’s a looping, bouncing repetition to “Go For Distance” that really makes it sound like classic BGM for side-scrolling platformer from days of yore, and the loopable version on the album reinforces this as it flawlessly repeats back into itself.

“Go For Distance” reminds me of the excitement of starting an SNES game for the first time and figuring out what the hell I was doing while I dashed through the opening act. Most of the side-scrollers of that era started in a sunny, optimistic way, with a first level managing to be a tutorial without handholding, a proving ground that didn’t punish.

This song is the same way. It pulls you into the album and tells you what you can expect, but it doesn’t give too much away and it doesn’t ask too much of you in return. It’s a track that generates excitement every time I hear it, and it’s a fantastic start to the album.

Sevcon

A wavy, dreamlike track that swirls around in your head, reminding me of treks through moonlit fields, underground caverns, and sparkling forests. There’s definitely an element of dubstep wubbyness here at parts; like a lot of game music from the time that the album invokes, there has to be some kind of “action” to the music and the wild electronic sections of “Sevcon” harken to that.

Beyond that though, the song floats in my consciousness like a river. It feels like something that would pop up in the middle of the game, when levels start to get more mysterious as the mechanics start to get more familiar. “Sevcon” feels like falling asleep, and falling back into the kind of games I played when I was more carefree.

The Trials of a MAN

This track kicks things into high gear and feels like something out of Mega Man or Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s a frantic, kinetic song with a feeling of constant forward motion to it, and I can practically see a screen filling with enemies or lasers or something as I listen to it.

Frankly, the track sounds like something I’d hear playing while I was dying a lot. As the time implies, this thing sounds like something you’d hear during a “trial”, and it takes me back to the times when I was pretty goddamn awful at the whole video games thing. Seriously, a lot of people tell me they were way better at this as kids, but I can say with almost complete certainty that I was an utter trainwreck at this hobby as a kid. Bless.

This track soars and dips along with the highs and lows of a real action game experience, and I love it for that. I may have sucked at this when I was younger, but dammit, I loved doing it, and this track reminds me of that.

The Glory Days

This song is a culminating gut punch of warm feelings. It’s a trip back in time, both in music and mind, and the running homage to Super Mario World in the middle of the song drives in an end run that makes me think of, to paraphrase Field of Dreams, “all that was once good, and could be again.”

This is the track that sold me on the album. It’s a masterful, resonating strike at the heart of the longtime gamer, and it ends in what feels like a joyful sprint into the sunset. I can’t recommend this track (and this entire album) enough to anyone who loves games, chiptune, and remembering things were can still be. Excellent work, Mr. Hinson!

You can (and should) listen to and buy The Glory Days over at http://music.biggiantcircles.com/album/the-glory-days . It’s a name your price kind of thing, with the minimum set at $10.

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Key Signature: Ace Attorney

            In keeping with my ever-present need to reinvent the wheel, I’m going to be writing a new column for a bit that will replace the Monday Morning Mid-laner segment until Season 4 of the LCS gets rolling and I won’t just be fanboyishly writing about how sick the Koreans are every week.  Go watch OGN.  www.twitch.tv/ongamenet.  Go on.

This new column, titled “Key Signature”, is a look at the soundtracks of various series and games, highlighting my favorite tracks from each one and going into why I think each of these tracks really accomplishes the narrative or tonal role that it’s been made for.

So this week, I’m kicking it off with a series that’s heavily reliant on its music as a tone-setter, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, specifically the original trilogy starring only Phoenix himself. I’ll look at what I feel is the most prominent track from each game, and explain why I think they excel.

            What else would I have started with? This one sets the stage for this kind of moment in every game in the series after it, and they’re almost always some of the most memorable tracks on the soundtrack.  This track is the one the game saves for the true moments of excellence in court, where you’ve nailed the party you’re cross examining and are pushing them towards the series’ trademark guilty mental breakdowns where the true culprit implodes on his or herself.

“Pursuit ~ Cornered” represents the exact “turnabouts” that the series was named for in Japan.  The track’s upbeat, confident tone matches the way Phoenix changes when it plays. Phoenix spends most of his time in court winging it, figuring things out as he goes and hashing together theories out of thin air, but the moment things come together, he changes and starts to aggressively, brutally dismantle the person on the stand, and this track perfectly captures that feeling.

When this track is playing, it doesn’t matter how many OBJECTIONs the prosecutor throws out or how much extra evidence the judge wants. The player and Phoenix are in the zone, and each new prompt for evidence is just a chance to drive another nail in the guilty party’s coffin. It’s the iconic theme for the courtroom climaxes in the series, and it pops up again and again in subsequent entries in the series for a reason.

            Ah, Edgeworth. At the end of the first game, he’s not in a great place, having narrowly squeaked by a murder conviction, relived all of his worst memories, and then been defeated in court four times in a row by a rookie with ridiculous hair. So when you roll into the second game and Edgeworth isn’t present, his absence becomes quite a lingering concern; what happened to him in his defeat? With his values severely shaken, one expects an Edgeworth that’s a broken man, or at the very least, a deeply questioning one.

When he comes back in the game’s final case and this theme plays, though, we know exactly what Edgeworth’s been doing: bouncing back. This is a noble, striding, proud theme, a theme that immediately paints the returned Edgeworth as a new man and a more compelling rival than ever. Throughout the first game, Phoenix had the high ground morally in every case, and Edgeworth seemed a hair away from doing the same uncouth nonsense that his mentor Von Karma did in order to get a guilty verdict. Now, he’s like you: convicted, full of integrity, and dedicated to finding the truth.

It’s worth noting that this is the first time Edgeworth has a theme at all. This song sings proudly of an Edgeworth that has found himself, and as such, he finally gets the kind of musical motif that he lacked in the first game due to his internal conflict. The theme stays with him the rest of the series, and rightfully so. Edgeworth is reinvted, and “The Great Revival” makes it immediately apparent.

            Of course, while we’re on the subject of themes for prosecutors it’s almost impossible not to mention Godot’s. Godot’s theme here is a perfect summary of the character, and its lilting, melancholy tone actually changes meaning the more you learn about the character throughout the game.

This is the kind of song that would play in a dark, smoke-filled lounge at one in the morning on a Thursday. It’s very relaxing, methodical, and heartfelt, and it gives you a sense of mysteriousness that goes hand in hand with the strange masked prosecutor who presents such a stark contrast to the prosecutors from the previous games. Edgeworth and both Von Karmas are very showy, loud prosecutors who take a great amount of enjoyment from flashy grandstanding, but Godot is more subtle. It’s like being faced with a teacher or professor in the courtroom, knowingly smirking at all of your arguments as if he expected them all along. This theme sits right alongside that, making it seem as though there isn’t anything in the world that could faze Godot’s murky enigma.

By the end, though, the real tragedy of Godot’s backstory becomes evident and the sadness of this song really shines through.  I can’t hear it anymore without feeling a bit wistful, and the way it changes meaning throughout the game’s narrative is remarkable. Godot is the first prosecutor I felt sorry for, and it’s in no small part thanks to this wonderful theme.