Monday, July 23, 2012

The Very Best Video Game Music Albums

                This is a "top 30" list of video game music albums, all released before the year 2001.
Below are images of some of my selections. Text follows.

                The hardest part of making this list was deciding how to make it. I couldn’t possibly just draw from what has been released without following some sort of guideline. There is too much to comprehend; enough has been produced to reasonably justify subdividing game music into separate realms, each intrinsically vast. So I have reasonably devised a realm from which I shall select my top albums.
                I have often read in interviews of the frustrations that early game music composers experienced resulting from the limitations of the system hardware. Since the early game systems couldn’t reproduce the music as the composer intended (or imagined), then video game music is merely an approximation. Therefore, only arrange albums are really video game music, since they are not hindered by the limitations of the hardware. But this sort of reasoning leads to a deeper problem. Arrange albums can’t possibly be video game music because they don’t contain any music that was used in the game. So we have a problem where video game music is not video game music.
                With a paradox like this, one must take a side. I have decided to side with the arrange albums. I find my first line of reasoning to be more amenable, that is, arranged albums are video game music and original music is an approximation. The paradox lingers in the back of my mind, naturally. If it comes to the front of my mind, then I will be continuously changing sides. I can’t have a list full of original albums mixed with arrange albums because they are not the same things. I find this very aesthetically pleasing and it solves most of the issues I used to have in devising my favorite album lists.
                There is another issue left unresolved, which I shall handle in this paragraph. I have sometimes seen top movie lists in which any films made within the past 10 years are ineligible. I like that restriction and I have decided to invoke a similar restriction upon my selections. Thus, I will only consider arrange albums made before 2001 and after 1985. I can’t think of any remarkable arrange albums made before 1986, so that is how I selected that year. I arbitrarily selected 2000 as the final year. I also want to point out that I am forbidden from looking at what I have or at VGMdb for any assistance. If I can’t think of it off the top of my head, then either there is something wrong with my head or I wasn’t impressed with it.
                My list is Konami-biased, due to the heavy exposure of Konami games throughout the years.

It took me about 6 months of contemplation, and more than a decade of listening to hundreds of albums to make this list. This was a very serious and careful effort.

        I.            Perfect Selection Dracula Battle
        II.         Perfect Selection Dracula Battle II
        III.       Perfect Selection Shooting Battle
        IV.       Perfect Selection Shooting Battle II
        V.         Perfect Selection Snatcher Battle
It was essential that I included the Konami Battle albums, only with the exclusion of “Battle the Best”. These have survived more than a decade of repeated exposure and I do not tire of them.

       VI.            MIDI Power Pro5 ~Salamander~
This CD is good enough to replace my entire game music collection. Lifeforce was “the game” when I was a child. These songs are deeply established in my memories.

  VII.            MIDI Power Pro2 ~Twinbee Yahoo! & Salamander2~
The arrangements are perfect, ferociously addictive.

VIII.            Snatcher Zoom Tracks
When I bought my headphone system in 2008, this was the first CD I listened to.

    IX.            Kukeiha Club pro-fusion ~SALAMANDER~
I remember being intrigued when I first heard this CD, due to the unfamiliarity of the style. It is a huge improvement over Twinbee Yahoo! Pro Fusion, as well.

I love listening to concerts and Konami concerts don’t come very often. Furthermore, there is a disc with arrangements from rarely arranged games.

    XI.            Game Music Graffiti
This is “The Nintendo” album. There are a few notable exclusions (such as "Pro Wrestling" and "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!"), but the fact that this was made is something all game music fans should be thankful for.

  XII.            This is NAMCO!
I first heard this album in 2011. It is extraordinarily quiet, about the same as Sound Fantasy Romancia in volume level. The arrangements are among the most professional in all of game music. I thought the Pac-Man song was completely made up, because I didn’t think Pac-Man had music (I have vague memories of playing it in the arcades). Sure enough, Pac-Man has a few jingles. The Galaga ’88 and Rolling Thunder arrangements are my favorites, while the Xevious “solo” is sweetly subtle.

XIII.            Symphony Ys
XIV.            Symphony Sorcerian
These two are perfectly acceptable for tricking people. You could play these in a public setting and no one would ever guess the music was video game related. I know this because I tried it once.

  XV.            Music From Jesus ~ The Fearful Bio Monster
I like the arrangements on this more than his (Sugiyama’s) Dragon Quest music. It’s my favorite Sugiyama album.

XVI.            Sword Maniac
This is ridiculous. It is like a damned infection in my ears. It’s like nothing else in this top 30 list and is something of an anachronism. It doesn’t sound like it’s from the 1990s. I would expect to hear something like this RIGHT NOW.

XVII.            Madara Special
XVIII.          Lagrange Point
Along with Snatcher, the music from these games is proof of Konami’s talent beyond what I played. Although Lagrange Point is not a full arrange album, the few arranged tracks are among Konami’s best.

XIX.            Twinbee Paradise Sound Fantasia
It’s unfortunate that many more of these “Sound Fantasia” albums weren’t made. Madara 2 got one, but that was it (and it wasn’t as good as this one).

  XX.            J.D.K. Band
I was obsessed with this CD when I first heard it back in 2000. I think I still am.

XXI.            Double Dragon II
This is one of my so-called “holy grails”. There really isn’t that much music in this game, but the arrangements are cool indeed. I was particularly interested in this album because Double Dragon II was a hugely popular game in my neighborhood when it came out.

XXII.            Insector X
The fact that this was made and made so well still leaves me in a state of wonder. This game was like, nothing. Not big by any means. Yet it gets a first-class arrange album.

XXIII.            Sweet Home
I got this at the same time as Insector X. Interestingly, they both fit together on one CD. Although unrelated, I think of these together, because I got them at the same time and they squeeze on one disc. Sweet Home is very short and not happy, cheery music as the name implies. I’ll take this any day over the unmelodic music from Resident Evil.

XXIV.            The Legend of Heroes IV Electric Orchestra
This is my favorite of the “electric orchestra” albums by Falcom. They made several, although they were not always named precisely.

XXV.            Zuntata Live 1998
I remember being blown away the first time I heard this. Some of these arrangements make the “originals” sound quite pitiful.

XXVI.            S.S.T. Band Live!
As far as I know, this is the first live performance of the S.S.T. Band. All of the music was completely unfamiliar to me the first time I heard it, due to the fact I didn’t touch Sega games as a child. This is a great introduction to Sega for the uninitiated.

XXVII.            The King of Fighters ’95 Arrange Sound Trax
I still prefer this one to the other KoF albums. The Mediterranean Sea Stage arrangement is one of those songs that makes me feel "more alive" somehow. This is truly conscious-enhancing music.

XXVIII.            Chikudenya Toubei: Hiroku Kubikiri Yakata
I found this completely by accident while browsing YJA one day in early 2011. I was looking for something else, but I recognized the cover art as one of those obscure albums on my wish list at VGMdb. I didn’t know anything about it other than the fact no one else had it. I’m sure there are a few more of these outside of Japan, but the owners are being very quiet. The high “unknown factor” led me to bid on the 7000 yen starting price (no one bid against me), which came to $120 after shipping and fees. I paid $120 for this CD. Sometimes that’s what it takes. I feel very fortunate that I found this because it is a true “ultra-rare” album. The music is wildly varied and the last song sounds like it came straight from Final Fantasy VIII with a sprinkling of Final Fantasy V. I recognized the guitarist right away, as he similarly arranged Galactic Storm on G.S.M. Taito 7.

XXIX.            Tokyo Dungeon
This CD disappointed me the first time I heard it. It is incredibly quiet and didn’t seem as interesting as Panzer Dragoon. However, it is better. This is mesmerizing music and takes one away like a dose of morphine. (I had lung surgery, so I know all about morphine.) It is an auditory trip inducing album. You will see things when you listen to this: an amorphous darkness pulsating geometries unknown in the manifolds of the mind.

XXX.            Brandish Piano Collection
I didn’t add this because I just wanted to have a piano collection in my list. This is an important CD. The Brandish series has some of the best compositions in all of game music, yet it seems to get very little attention. Sorrow is the main theme in this music and it is arranged with aplomb. 

Here are some that did not make into the top 30 (there are many more I considered):
I want to mention that these are all above average (for their time), as well.

Rockman X (with Toshiaki Otsubo)
Street Fighter II (with Yuji Toriyama)

Plus, a lot of the G.S.M. albums by Capcom, Sega, Nintendo and Taito have particularly good arrangements. And many of the KOEI albums are quite good, such as Romance of the 3 Kingdoms II.

The top 30 idea came from the forums at STC. I may expand this into a list of the top 100 arrange albums from 1986-2000, which will leave out fewer gems.