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R P G A M E R   -   R O U N D T A B L E

Topic I: Favoritest OST in the Whole Wide World
01.26.06

Jordan: I would like to welcome you all to another of RPGamer's Roundtable discussions. Today we will be discussing music in RPGs. We've come a long way from the bleeps and bloops of our first systems, so it sounds like a great topic of discussion. We'll be looking at three topics today: What do we want in a Soundtrack, Favorite Soundtrack, and then a general discussion of music and how it affects games.

Jordan: So to get this started, what do you all think is the best RPG soundtrack (OST)?

Oddigy: My favorite would have to be the soundtrack to Final Fantasy VI.

Joshua: Overall? I'd have to say that my hat is off to Chrono Cross.

Elliot: I agree with Ourobolus. Chrono Cross is my all-time favorite

Janelle: I like FFIX myself.

Andrew: It's difficult to say, because you have both your 'old school' soundtracks (NES/SNES era) and then you have the newer stuff (PSX and beyond) which is more focused on creating an atmosphere than a standalone melody. That said, I'm partial to Final Fantasy 6.

Elliot: FFIX is my favorite Uematsu score. *

Matthew: hats off to Carlisle

Joshua: Well, if I had to take it back to the SNES-era of music, I'd also agree with FF6 being my favorite for the time.

Janelle: But for a non-Final Fantasy, I like both Star Ocean III and Earthbound. ^^; Both for the same reason.

Jordan: I would have to agree with Earthbound. I love that game's music, but I don't know if I'd call it my favorite.

Janelle: They enhance the atmosphere of the game. *

Joshua: wants to shake Uematsu's and Mitsuda's hands.

Jordan: There are so many good OSTs to pick from *

Elliot: shook Uematsu's :)

Oddigy: Hm, the reason I chose FFVI is mostly because each character has a theme, and the themes are reprised during various parts of the game. The music in each case seems to reflect the character's backstory and personality. Melodies are extremely well-pronounced, and it adds tons of atmosphere and life to the game.

Matthew: I can't really pick because there are so many different styles, akin to what zircon was saying, Final Fantasy VI is definitely my favorite score, however Chrono Cross has some of the best individual tracks all game music, and Uematsu poured his heart into FFIX. However If I had to pick just one, I'd probably go with Final Fantasy Vi.

Elliot: J_Sensei: Yes, there are countless... and many of them are excellent in their own rite. There really is no wrong answer (other than Chrono Cross is the best one ever ^^;)

Matthew: Who hasn't listened to "Time's Scar" a million times?

Joshua: Indeed, FFIX has some great music. I own the soundtracks from 5-10, and I love them all. *

Elliot: doesn't raise his hand *

Joshua: raises his hand...twice. >.<

Janelle: I've never heard the Chrono Cross one. Mostly because I've never played that game.

Jordan: I wasn't fully impressed with Chrono Cross, but I only played about 10 hours into it

Jordan: From what I've heard, I actually enjoyed Chrono Trigger's more

Joshua: While the game itself wasn't too impressive, it does boast some of the most amazing music found in an RPG.

Matthew: Then there are other greats to choose from, like Xenogears, which featured the best arranged album I've ever heard.

Joshua: Agreed. *

Jordan: was about to say that

Jordan: I suppose arranged albums also count

Jordan: as far as this discussion is concerned

Joshua: I'm partial to the Piano Albums from Final Fantasy, FFX in particular.

Matthew: Merkava Core theme on the Cried album is on all my playlists, and has the highest playcount by far.

Elliot: Oh, if you want to throw in arrange albums, then yes... Creid rivals even Chrono Cross, I think

Andrew: Chrono Trigger is another good one; that was actually more atmospheric in some ways, with tracks like Manoria Cathedral and Underground Sewer, which were REALLY fitting of the scene.. Final Fantasy VII really expanded on that with some very powerful tracks. I think a lot of people like that one (myself included) because of the emotions associated with the different songs; e.g.. seeing the beautiful church w/ the flowers for the first time

Janelle: One I'd like to toss out is Suikoden II. There were only a few tracks on there I didn't like, and the ones I enjoyed most from that game were the town themes.

Oddigy: zircon: I agree, sometimes a scene in a game can be remembered or defined by the music that plays when you encounter it.

Andrew: for the first time, sorry

Matthew: Ourobolus: To me the Piano Albums are a completely new animal

Joshua: The SaGa games are also well known for having great music, regardless of how the gameplay is concerned.

Joshua: SaGa Frontier II and some of the Unlimited SaGa games get quite a bit of playtime over here.

Andrew: Suikoden II is another one that's really high on my list. I've had the OST for that for awhile and it just has an amazing variety of songs to fit all the different moods. Even though the battle/boss themes might not jump out at you, the main theme (and the various arrangements) are incredible, and the sound quality at the time was very good for PSX

Joshua: er.. Unlimited SaGa tracks* *

Matthew: agrees with Ourobolus

Oddigy: Ourobolus: I agree with that also. Hearing a SaGa boss battle theme almost always means I'm going to end up at the Game Over screen pretty quickly. ;)

Janelle: Ourobolus: SaGa Frontier's was a bit on the boring side, but I won't argue about the others. ^^

Elliot: oddigy: absolutely. I mean, would Aeris's death have been nearly as memorable or emotional if it weren't for the music that played during that scene?

Jordan: or who can forget the last boss?

Oddigy: Carlisle: Definitely not. Aeris's Theme is a song that... if played under the right circumstances, can almost always get me to tear up.

Joshua: Carlisle: Of course it wouldn't. The track the fit in perfectly with the bouncing of the materia pretty much defined the scene.

Matthew: So far, we've mentioned a bunch of new games, but I'd like to toss out Makai Kingdom and Disgaea, with having, constantly fitting tracks that, albeit aren't epic masterpieces, are still solid soundtracks

Jordan: One-Winged Angel earns it my favorite OST just by being on there

Janelle: Often the sad scenes tear me up because of the music.

Elliot: Exactly. That theme helped to define the entire game, as well I think.

Matthew: Tiptail: Precisely, like Febronia from Xenosaga II

Andrew: barieuph; there you go, touching on some other FANTASTIC soundtracks! Disgaea is also one of my very favorites. It's very reminiscent of Danny Elfman's style of music writing, lots of very unique melodies and progressions, very fitting of the game's atmosphere but still quite catchy.

Andrew: Of course I might be a bit biased, Disgaea is also one of my all-time favorite games

Oddigy: Tiptail: Absolutely. If a fanfare were played during the serious death of a major character, most of the emotional impact would be lost. Of course, in a game such as Disgaea, it does the opposite, and adds to the humor. :)

Janelle: barieuph: I cried for the normal ending because of that Flower of Happiness song. ^^; I was like, "How dare you play such a song during a scene like this?? You want me to start crying?!" And then I did.

Joshua: Speaking of TRPGs, I'm surprised no one has mentioned FFT. *

Jordan: has the OST for FFT

Joshua: My little brother does. :'(

Matthew: I've been playing through Makai Kingdom a lot more lately, and I've been jumping up and down to the soundtracks, especially the bouncy track played when Mickey is around

Matthew: Final Fantasy Tactics is another great example

Andrew: Well, FFT is an interesting one.. the soundtrack there was not really like most other FFs, it was very well-written and executed but the individual songs were complex and deep and not quite as memorable because of it. At least, in my opinion.

Andrew: They did however fit the game beautifully and really contributed to the overall experience

Oddigy: Most of FFT's songs are excellent... in that you could loop one for 10 minutes and not get bored with it. (Some of the battles take much longer than that!)

Janelle: The only soundtrack that I actually own and don't have to listen to in-game or in my head is Chrono Trigger. I found it in some Japanese department store and snapped it up right away.

Joshua: The variety of the battle themes was one of the biggest pluses.

Matthew: zircon: Agreed, the tunes were great during story sequences, but because battles were so involved and long, they aren't as impacting for me

Janelle: zircon: Ooooh, yes. I love the opening song from that game.

Elliot: FFT did the best job out of squeezing the most audio power out of the Playstation than any other PSX game I ever played.

Elliot: It was PS2 quality sound *

Matthew: disagrees

Oddigy: Carlisle: FFT's entire instrument bank was only 512KB. :)

Jordan: I think my favorite on the PS1 is still Xenogears

Matthew: I give that to Chrono Cross

Janelle: Speaking of PSX, Legend of Mana was wonderful.

Andrew: What?! That's ridiculous.. especially considering an 800 GIGABYTE orchestral library was just recently released.. haha!

Elliot: 800 gigs of just sound? Sheesh

Joshua: Overall, I was disappointed with FF7's sound quality. The tracks themselves were good, but the quality was nothing special.

Matthew: We might have passed up one of my favorite OST's, Super Mario RPG, and it's sister Paper Mario 2. Both have bouncy tracks that do their job, and enrich the experience.

Oddigy: zircon: It's true. It's mostly in the hands of the sound engineers to squeeze as much life as possible out of the smallest instrument bank size.

Elliot: Yeah

Andrew: Ourobolus; well, yeah, but you have to consider it was one of the earlier games for the PSX.. I can't fault 'em for that

Janelle: I can't believe I didn't mention Legend of Mana before. That's probably my second favorite soundtrack of all time. Every location had a fitting theme that did not get repetitive, and all were beautifully arranged.

Joshua: True

Andrew: oddigy; It's a lost art :)

Elliot: You can't fault the composers if an OST has poor quality

Elliot: sound quality, I mean

Joshua: The only problem I had with Super Mario's OST was that the Battle Theme was...oh...5 seconds long

Matthew: Tiptail: The Bejeweled City especially

Oddigy: Ourobolus: When dealing with an orchestral soundtrack, fewer instruments are used, and it's easier to create more dynamic tracks. FF7 also used 512KB of sample RAM, excluding the vocal samples used for One Winged Angel.

Andrew: Tiptail; I agree with you 100% there. Stunning soundtrack to go along with the stunning visuals.

Oddigy: Tiptail: Legend of Mana has the most memorable vocal song in any RPG, I think.

Janelle: barieuph: Ohh, I love that track.

Janelle: But I'll stop gushing now. ^^;

Elliot: I heard somewhere that the sound engineer for VII purposely opted for more synthetic sounds

Matthew: While we're on the topic of Yoko Shimomura, Kingdom Hearts is a masterful piece of work. She takes all those disney themes and applies them as battle themes and otherwise, Kudos to her.

Andrew: If you actually go back and play FF7 now it's pretty shocking. The sound effects are all NES quality; very simple 4-8bit noise bursts

Oddigy: In a game like FFVII, which is much more... "industrial" - a more synthetic sound is appropriate.

Joshua: I'd argue the 'industrial' point, but that's for later.

Matthew: I think of Midgar as 8bit, I wouldn't want it any other way

Elliot: barieuph: yes, I was very impressed with Shimomura's work on Kingdom Hearts

Elliot: She really knew how to work those Disney themes that we all remember so well. She had a lot to live up to and delivered it masterfully.

Janelle: Hmm, I was sad that you only hear her arrangement of Night on Bald Mountain briefly, because that boss is simple.

Joshua: I actually heard "Eyes On Me" being played in a restaurant in Korea.

Joshua: Almost choked on my food.

Matthew: I especially like how the battle themes are so reminiscent of the disney themes, but yet individual

Janelle: Non arranged, that piece is an orchestral classic, and I was very impressed with how she did it, and turned around and made the simpler Disney themes as good.

Oddigy: I heard "Eyes On Me" being played in a Chinese restaurant in Oklahoma City a few years ago. :)

Matthew: Also, all the battle themes have a similar form, which bridges them all together

Janelle: Graagh, pardon my grammar.

Elliot: You can't count out Noriyuki Iwadare in this discussion either

Elliot: Lunar and Grandia have some of the best game scores I've heard

Janelle: Lunar? Hmmm...now I'm trying to remember those.

Oddigy: I disagree... his music is distinct, in that it sounds extremely generic. ;)

Oddigy: Town themes are appropriately bubbly, battle themes are appropriately... epic. Nothing stands out to me.

Joshua: Not all battle themes are appropriate...those are usually the ones that turn me away from certain games.

Janelle: Yeah, Lunar SSS didn't stand out for me. In fact, I found some of the themes a tad cheesy.

Elliot: Seriously?

Elliot: Sheesh

Joshua: For instance, I despised FFX-2's battle theme.

Elliot: You people are harsh :)

Matthew: Who is to say what is generic and not though? Aren't we just basing most of this epic music off of Uematsu and Mitsuda?

Joshua: Those are the two that most people are more familiar with, and they have plenty of material to compare with.

Janelle: Carlisle: No, I'm not trying to be harsh. I just didn't find the music memorable, and Luna's tendency to burst out into cheesy song was kind of...a turn-off, if you will.

Janelle: Though Rhapsody one-ups Lunar SSS in that regard.

Jordan: it looks like we're moving towards the second topic

Elliot: Well, Luna couldn't sing, that's not Iwadare's fault ^^

Jordan: So

Jordan: are there any parting thoughts on favorite OST before we move on to the meat of the discussion: what do we want from our music?

Matthew: Ourobolus: FFX-2 Music is, actually not that bad, when you consider that it is very much appropriate with the whole style of the game. Pop and full of cheesy brass and heavy bass, just like the game. The only track that contrasts this is the opening track, akin to "To Zanarkand".

Joshua: Well, yeah, but the only song that actually stayed with me was the Title Screen song.

Elliot: I was disappointed that that game's chocobo theme wasn't the one that we all know and love.

Joshua: The rest may have fit the atmosphere, but that doesn't make it good.

Oddigy: Same here... I played to the first save point and quit, though. The game wasn't my style just as much as the music wasn't.

Matthew: However, the FFX-2 Piano Collections is some really fine work

Andrew: I'm going to go ahead and ask for some clarification on that new question..

Joshua: I'll have to listen to it, I love the Piano stuff

Oddigy: What do I want in a game soundtrack? I want memorable character themes, hummable melodies, and tons of theme reprisals.

Oddigy: FFVI covered all of those. :)

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