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The Essential Games Music Collection Vol. 1 by London Music Works

The Essential Games Music Collection Vol. 1

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The Essential Games Music Collection Vol. 1 (Soundtrack) by London Music Works
The Essential Games Music Collection Vol. 1 (Soundtrack) by London Music Works
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Essential Games Music Collection Vol. 1 (Soundtrack) by London Music Works

The Essential Games Music Collection Vol. 1
Composed by London Music Works
Promotional Release (2010)

Rating: 6/10

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“As a stand-alone album, THE ESSENTIAL GAMES MUSIC COLLECTION VOL 1. Is acceptable as an introduction for those completely oblivious to the brilliance hiding within the video game industry. ”

Essential Questions
Review by Richard Buxton

 

Compared to the mighty film industry Gaming is still in its infancy, constantly shifting and developing in its strive to discover its identity. With each generation, the gaming industry takes another step towards an all-encompassing grip entertainment, be it through hardware capabilities or online functionality. From humble beginnings, games have grown at a breathtaking pace in not only concepts and visuals, but in audio. Long gone are the days when the sounds of a video game were dismissed as mere “bleeps and bloops”, and today the industry can boast musical journeys that can stand proudly beside their motion-picture counterparts.

The evolution of video game music has been punctuated by a number of pivotal achievements that have defined the growth up until each of these groundbreaking moments. Sticking in the memory are the likes of KOJI KONDO’S early and forever-iconic themes for SUPER MARIO BROS. and THE LEGEND OF ZELDA, TAPPI IWASE’S controversial METAL GEAR SOLID theme, MARTIN O’DONNELL and MICHAEL SALVATORI’S platform defining HALO scores, and NOBUO UEMATSU’S library of music for the FINAL FANTASY saga. These examples, among countless other scores, can all be argued as monumental works in the history of video game music, and so deciding what is truly an essential theme is an almost impossible challenge to be tasked with. Nonetheless, it is a challenge that LONON MUSIC WORKS has elected to tackle.

The biggest question one faces when compiling such a collection is what makes a theme or score essential? Is it simply the quality of the composition? Is it the theme’s effectiveness when heard in context? Or is it the influence the composition had on other composers and developers in the industry? A glance at the tracklist will reveal suggestions that LONDON MUSIC WORKS struggled with a similar question when the video game themes to be recorded were discussed. The tracklist presents a collection of both the classic and the new, offering a healthy balance of the refreshingly modern, and nostalgically aged. As one ventures into the “classic section” of the album, it becomes clear that a number of these themes are deserving of a place in any essential collection, but it is the recordings of more modern video game themes that are somewhat questionable choices for such a collection.

Not only are a select few of the tracks questionable choices, whatever merit they may have retained is reduced to critical status when a number of musical issues arise. To the casual listener, these issues may go unnoticed, but to anyone familiar with the themes on offer the inevitable comparisons with the original recordings leaves LONDON MUSIC WORKS efforts struggling for relevancy.

In order to establish just how successful each re-imagined is, a track-by-track comparison and evaluation follows:


1) “MW3 Theme (From “Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3”)

One of the most successful tracks in its attempt of imitating the original, this version of BRIAN TYLER’S theme for the juggernaut that is CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 3 is an impressively loyal recreation. The initial brooding chopping strings and ominously stirring choir retain the atmospheric build of the original composition in unnervingly faithful fashion. However, as the action ramps up and the brass takes centre stage, the piece loses a significant part of what made the opening moments so impressively reflective of the original track. The brass has an almost intrusive taint to it that lends the overall quality an artificial sheen, a shortcoming that is prominent throughout the entire album.

It is this the selection of this track, and various others that the question of “what is essential” arises. To call a theme from a game barely four months old essential is a bold statement to say the least, and while BRIAN TYLER’S theme is certainly very effective in the game, it is unlikely to be a theme that stands above the hordes in the pantheon of gaming history.


2) Gears Keep Turning (From “Gears of War 3”)

Another example of a relatively recent release, “Gears Keep Turning” (2) is the reimagining of STEVE JABLONSKY’S theme for the final game in the GEARS trilogy and an expansion upon his theme heard in GEARS 2. In many respects, GEARS OF WAR 3 was, despite effortlessly pioneering game mechanics and stunning visuals, a slight disappointment for the millions who had anticipated its somewhat delayed release. JABLONSKY’S score and for the second game of the series are unlikely to be remembered as anything more than sufficiently rousing and bombastic considering the game’s content, but his development on the theme in GEARS 3 brought things down a notch. The grand scale of the theme in 2 loses a lot of its tenacity and overpowering presence GEARS KEEP TURNING and the tempo is increased dramatically. It is in this tempo change that LONDON MUSIC WORKS’ effort is undone. The rhythmic motions that act as the base of the piece are a combination of strings, vocals, and brass. Once again, the weakness of the brass rears its head and gives the entire piece a faint, but incessantly obvious, bumbling and bouncing demeanour that does nothing for the stern nature of the theme.

Again, the choice of such a recent and anonymous theme in the grand scheme of video games is questionable.


3) Nate’s Theme (From “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves”)

One of the defining new IP’s of the current generation, UNCHARTED charts the irresistibly cinematic adventures of the limitlessly charming NATHAN DRAKE. For a series founded on the love of an interactive-movie experience, the UNCHARTED trilogy is one that requires, no, demands a score to match its dazzling set pieces and lovingly clichéd cut-scenes and story.

GREG EDMONSON’S original theme for the protagonist NATAHAN DRAKE boasts a wonderful mixture of traditional and ethnic instruments as the percussion drives the weaving brass and string sections, evoking images of the countless vista’s that have greeted Nate on his incredible journeys. The percussion heard in LONDON MUSIC WORKS’ interpretation is once again the lively catalyst for the theme, but it is yet again the brass that is the undermining force at work, its inefficiency bringing the entire piece down every time it rears its head. The strings do their job, but the prominence of the brass is truly too much and eventually overpowers whatever positives the composition might have offered.


4) Ezio’s Family (From “Assassin’s Creed 2”)

While certainly enjoyable, for a series steeped in such a glorious combination of history and myth, it could be argued that the music of the ASSASSIN’S CREED series has never quite reached the empire of potential it is surely nurturing. Veteran composer JESPER KYD certainly knows his way around a video game universe by now, but rarely have the CREED games explored any extensive thematic material that is begging to be unleashed. Nonetheless, the series and the second game in particular offer moments of true beauty. The choice of the piece “Ezio’s Family” is clearly an attempt to break up the bombastic and more thematically robust overriding theme of the album with its meandering vocals and strings. While sufficiently evocative and ethnic, the vocal performance loses the innocence of the original recording, instead appearing fuller, but ultimately less effective. LONDON MUSIC WORK’S interpretation is devoid of any brass-related interruptions and is subsequently one of the more tolerable cues on offer, despite the obnoxious use of electric guitar in the closing moments that fails to recapture the original’s effect.


5) Arthas My Son (From “World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King”)

One of the more ambitious undertakings on the album, this cue from the eternally musically invigorating WORLD OF WARCRAFT is an impressive suite-like performance and a certain highlight. The original recording is one of outstanding scope in both composition and orchestration, and an electrifying piece of scoring. The depth heard on the LICH KING soundtrack is hit and miss on this album as the solo vocal fails to ignite, and the admittedly improved brass is insufficient in recreating the menacing tone required of it. If this recording is even remotely pleasing to your ears, the original recording is a highly recommended investment.


6) Finish the Fight (From “Halo 3”)

Perhaps the defining theme of the current console generation, “Finish the Fight” was announced to the world on gaming’s biggest stage at E3 2006. From that moment onwards, that effortlessly simple reverberation of the piano struck a chord with gamers the world over as the theme of humanity’s plight against the ruthless and destructive Covenant forces. HALO already boasted one of the most iconic themes in gaming history, and MARTIN O’DONNELL and MICHAEL SALVATORI swiftly thrust another alongside it.

The theme retains its legacy here purely by association and a healthy dose of nostalgia. Otherwise, the theme struggles under the same failings as the rest of the album. The inadequacy of the brass if unforgivable when heard in a theme so reliant upon it, and the integral piano is reduced to nothingness in its meagre and soulless performance. It’s a great injustice for such an inspiring and aromatic theme to be rendered so impotent. That sense of wonder that simultaneously entranced the Microsoft Press Conference audience and the entire gaming community is almost entirely lost and is thus reduced to merely pleasing in its association with the real thing.


7) One Winged Angel (From “Final Fantasy VII Advent Children”)

Based on the theme of FINAL FANTASY VII’S infamous villain SEPHIROTH, ADVENT CHILDREN’S rendition of “One Winged Angel” has since become one of the most iconic themes to spawn from the 32-Bit era through its appearances in not only the motion picture, but as the climax of the world-renowned game music concert VIDEO GAMES LIVE and the FINAL FANTASY concert DISTANT WORLDS.

Launching with that infamously oppressive rally of strings and percussion, “One Winged Angel” retains its domineering demeanour; overbearing whatever atmosphere its sound waves are unleashed upon. The aforementioned obnoxious guitar finds its true cause in NOBUO UEMATSU’S composition, complimenting the menacing choral chants and propulsive strings. While being effective, the guitar still lacks the wild, impulsive, and volatile temperament of UEMATSU’S original recording.

The LONDON MUSIC WORKS rendition is at its best when the soundscape is dominating by strings as opposed to a mixture of brass and strings, but the overall mix casts shadow over the hit-and-miss brass and highlights the overall complexion of the piece well. The recording never achieves the heights of the original, but still manages to rise above the majority of the album in its attempt of recreation.


8) Theme (From “Battlefield 1942”)

The TERMINATOR derived BATTLEFIELD theme has undergone many changes over the years, evolving from compositions solely centred on the 6-hit motif and brass fanfare (1942, 1943), to the frantic and shape-shifting action piece of BATTLEFIELD 2, to the even more TERMINATOR-esque theme of BATTLEFIELD 3 that favour blunt force over any subtlety. The variation presented here is very much in the camp of 1942 and the downloadable 1943, blasting the unison of militaristic snares and brash horns, and evoking vivid memories of all-out war on the dunes of Wake Island.

The 1942 “Theme” is arguably the most efficient in recreating the sound of the original recording, sounding almost identical when the comparison is based purely on memory. Directly comparing the two provides slight differences, most notably being this version’s lacking of the percussive punch of the original. It’s in this track that LONDON MUSIC WORKS’ questionable brass sound finally finds its home, sounding genuinely effective as it navigates the warring melody.


9) Theme (From “The Curse of Monkey Island”)

The most easygoing experience on the album, “Theme” from THE CURSE OF MONKEY ISLAND makes a nice rest stop within the endless bravado of the album. The effortlessly affable theme of Guybrush Threepwood’s adventures on MONKEY ISLAND preserves its bouncing tropical character through identical instrumentation, but loses the swaggering edge of the original as a consequence of obvious differences in final mastering decisions. The inherent nature of the theme and its ethnic stylings is likely to be the most divisive for listeners in that it not your typical theme, shunning the stereotypical sheer masculinity and bombast of most violence and action-centric games of modern generations.


10) Staff Roll (From “Final Fantasy VII”)

The most interesting aspect of this lacklustre theme is the apparent unwillingness to improve upon the original. In most cases, the compositions that this album’s tracks are based upon are at a sufficiently high enough level of recording and technological quality to be called definitive. The original recording of “Staff Roll” is hardly a marvel of music technology in this day and age, and it would seem that this album presents an ideal opportunity to expand upon the original, and bring it into the modern age of video game scoring. The end result is an amalgamation of retro synths and modern samples that prove to be too similar to provide any interesting contrasts.



11) Intro (From “Turrican II: The Final Fight”)

Finally, LONDON MUSIC WORKS offers an interpretation that is arguably superior to the original. The reimagining preserves the classic retro synthetic sound in its irresistibly catchy melody and in the second half, provides a dynamic, and crucially, satisfying duel between the retro and modern sounds. The brass once again rears its head, but finds itself at home in the grand scheme of the cue. The transition from solely retro to the subsequent fusion is just subtle enough to retain the charm whilst adding a pivotal edge over the original.

12) Theme (From “The Legend of Zelda”)

Venturing into the realm of true classics, the penultimate track on the album is second only to the final track in legendary status. There’s little more that can be said about KOJI KONDO’S immortal theme other than that its legacy lives on through each and every ZELDA iteration, and almost every video game music compilation on the planet.

The opening follows the formula set in the prior tracks, opening with memories of 8-bit symphonies that slowly evolve into a fusion that just about manages to survive the awkward sample choices in the brass section. The theme can subsist on nostalgia and legacy alone at this point.


13) Ground Theme (From “Super Mario Bros.)

Potentially the most recognisable theme in gaming, and perhaps even more so than the majority of film themes, KOJI KONDO’S theme for Mario and Luigi refuses to die, and rightly so. The infectious nature of the theme is eternal and is a reminder of the years in which video games were truly innovating and finding their forms.

As is the trend, the 8-bit sounds dominate the opening section of the piece before the orchestral elements emerge in a fantastic eruption of joviality and reminiscence. The surfacing of the orchestral elements is a tremendously gratifying and cathartic moments and is a contender for the greatest element of the entire album. Such a classic theme deserves nothing but excellence, and while the orchestral sounds begin to grate towards the end, it’s worth it just to hear the transition between decades of video game music trends.

----------

As a stand-alone album, THE ESSENTIAL GAMES MUSIC COLLECTION VOL 1. Is acceptable as an introduction for those completely oblivious to the brilliance hiding within the video game industry. For those familiar with the games and scores of said games, this is merely a reminder that these scores are out there and that they are worth your attention although preferably when they are in their original form. In comparison to LONDON MUSIC WORKS’ previous release MUSIC FROM THE TRANSFORMERS TRILOGY, there is a gaping discrepancy in sound quality and faithfulness to the original scores, and it begs the question of why this release couldn’t have been treated with the same care?
 

Rating: 6/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 MW3 Theme (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3) 2:10  ****
2 Gears Keep Turning (Gears of War 3) 2:55  ***
3 Nate's Theme (Uncharted 2: Among Themes) 1:45  **
4 Ezio's Family (Assassin's Creed 2) 3:54  ***
5 Arthas My Son (World of Warcraft: The Wrath of the Lich King) 3:15  ****
6 Finish the Fight (Halo 3) 2:29  ***
7 One Winged Angel (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children) 6:06  ***
8 Theme (Battlefield 1942) 2:36  ***
9 Theme (The Curse of the Monkey Island) 2:11  ***
10 Staff Roll (Final Fantasy VII) 6:52  **
11 Intro (Turrican II:  The Final Fight) 3:44  ****
12 Theme (The Legend of Zelda) 2:36  ***
13 Ground Theme (Super Mario Bros) 2:14  ****
  Total Running Time (approx) 43 minutes  

 

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