Thursday, December 13, 2012

It's Okay to NOT Like Something...

I get into arguments all the time; I wouldn't call myself "curmudgeonly," otherwise.  Some of the most frequent video game-related arguments I encounter involve one or another aspect of "Fan Boy-ism" - when someone likes everything a company puts out regardless of whether or not it's actually good.

I have, at certain points in my life, been guilty of this sort of fanaticism.  For several years, I ate at the trough of Final Fantasy, pretending to like everything that Squaresoft/Square-Enix released, regardless of how great or awful it was.  We must, however, eventually put our blind adherence aside and just be honest, not only with ourselves, but with others, as well.

Take, for example, and argument I got into early in 2012, where I asserted that few video games put out music that sticks in your head.  Case in point - the Zelda series of games.

I have, for almost my entire life, been a musician.  I am a classically trained opera singer, a trumpet/horn player, a fair pianist, and a music arranger for both instrumental and choral music.  I have literally thousands of songs stored in my memory, for one reason or another, and I can identify the source, whistle, hum, sing, or play the melody, and give you a time signature, key signature, and count structure for almost any piece that's ever caught my attention.  Most of the past twelve years have been spent choreographing movement and equipment work to music.  I get music; I understand it; I have a deep connection with it.

The Zelda series has often been the source of several haunting, annoying, and memorable melodies, ranging from the unforgettable overworld theme in the original NES game to the opening theme in A Link to the Past.  Ocarina of Time presented us with several irksome ocarina tunes so catchy that I still hear them when I'm trying to go to sleep.  Even Windwaker had a few melodies in it that were worth humming.

But, for the life of me, I can't remember a single note from either Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword. Nothing grabbed me as particularly moving, poignant, or memorable.  The music was well-written, to be certain, and I won't argue that it was a case of bad composition; but it was utilized so sparsely and poorly that it served only as occasional background noise.  It never became a focal piece of the game, and provided the player with a moment that made you pay attention to it.

A heated argument, of course, ensued, and several video links were posted; how could I not find Midna's Theme (or whatever it was called) beautiful and moving?

Well, honestly, the piece, itself, is moving, and were I sitting in a dark room or a concert hall listening to a performance of it, I'd most certainly be moved.  However, in the context of the game, it falls largely flat.

And the problem doesn't lie only with the Zelda franchise; Final Fantasy, a series whose soundtracks have spawned countless orchestral arrangements, concerts, CDs, rearrangements, and OSTs, has fallen victim to the badly used music trend.

Even Final Fantasy XII, for all it's flaws, had gameplay-appropriate music, and the occasionally memorable moments in an inexorably tedious game were made almost completely by the soundtrack that accompanied them.  Final Fantasy XIII, though?  Aside from being a shitty game, the music seems largely like an afterthought.

I'm certain that the composers really went out of their way to come up with a complex and nuanced score, but it is very clear that no one sitting in the room asked anyone outside of the room whether or not the music was effective.

It's okay to not like something, just as it's okay to like something.  While cases of "like" are always subjective, there are reasons why certain things become popular where others do not.  Much as I loathe Lady Gaga (and her music), her songs are catchy (like the plague); I can't tell you who sings a certain song, but I can probably recite a line or two from it if it's accessible.  I'm not a huge fan of Sir Mix-a-Lot, but I can bust out with "Baby Got Back" every time it comes on at Frat Rat Karaoke.

And when I get a video game theme stuck in my head, chances are it's going to be the repetitive, tinny refrain of a classic NES game, where music HAD to be thoughtfully composed to make the best use of the sound chip, rather than an overly complex score written to fill in the gap when you're sitting in front of your screen watching an FMV instead of actively playing.  Hell, I often use those video breaks as time to take a piss.  

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