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Today I am counting down my favorite records of 2014, and if there is one absolute in my daily routine, it is listening to videogame scores…repeatedly. There is absolutely NOTHING I would rather be listening to.  If you knew me personally, you would also know that there is nothing I enjoy talking about more.  Congratulations to these tremendous artists.

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                    Listen: Persona Q: Shadow Of the Labyrinth: Maze Of Life

 4. Persona Q: Shadow Of The Labyrinth/ Shoji Meguro- Composer Shoji Meguro’s sheepishly long de-railed bullet train of scores in the name of Atlus’s hallowed Shin Megami Tensei :P ersona series carry with them perhaps the very definition of tangential madness. As such, coherence widely varies from listener to listener as Meguro’s rules of play are dictated with little to no regard for order, direction or movement along any legible or explicitly defined curve. Meguro, however, never misses a stop, and his routes of travel though entirely unconventional and round-about seem to have garnered him a rather ardent and staunchly dedicated mass of devotees. It’s so much bigger than that though; in fact, Meguro is an idol, a household name in his native Japan. His work is the stuff of stratosphere legend now, selling out even the largest of music venues. He has become a viable solid gold brand with unmeasured clout. The only thing on the market still yet to bear his name, though largely foreseeable to change, is breakfast cereal, and I imagine it’s only simply because they are still in the test-market stage. For those new to Meguro’s torrential storm of neon washed mish-mashed shapes, Persona Q: Shadow Of The Labyrinth is the quintessential guidance counselor for the Meguro novice walking you through the creation of his batter ingredient by ingredient. But while Persona Q offers up its conductor at his most revealing, his answers raise more questions than answers, and that’s a VERY good thing. Because while others would have sat back and gone creatively bankrupt, happy to collect the residual checks their name afforded them, Meguro creates fiendishly onward. He is seemingly lost in the chase of his platypus muse, devising the ever more convoluted ruse and spectacular quagmire in a never ending cycle of catch and release…to be in love.

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                           Listen: A Taste Of The Alien Isolation Soundtrack

 3. Alien: Isolation/ The Flight - Fear is least effective when erroneously channeled through the stomach instead of along the nerve. Too often, scores of this nature target a  part of the body that manifests its objections all too softly. Queasiness, unease and discomfort all begin in that pitted vessel of churning gastric acid, but it is something readily alleviated, something instinctually subjugated by simply turning away, tuning out.

It can only harm you in the dark, but not in the daytime, and certainly not in a situation you can control. European duo The Flight, however, are the mould and caste of an absolute and primitive horror, attaching and binding themselves to the proteins and nerve endings essential to traveling throughout the body unfettered. Terror is only truly effective at the level of neurasthenia, at breakdown, where closing your eyes medicates one side of the searing sensation but greatly swells the other. It is not something you can ignore or medicate. To get rid of The Flight is to expel its rapidly multiplying burrow from your system, and to do that is to rid yourself of you. The Flight’s accelerated rate of disability in the user is key to their genesis, much like the creature they are remolding some 35 years after its initial contact. The Flight, however, isn’t interested in some gloaming retread of original Alien composer Jerry Goldsmith’s work. While certainly some manner of pastiche may have been discussed, The Flight were quick to scuttle those ideas, and instead intend to sow seeds of horror specific to the times in which they live: where true evil and reality lie familiar bedfellows with one another…the lines have been completely blurred. The menace of The Flight’s Alien is no longer as easily definable, no longer as distant, and most of all, no longer as predictable. As of now, it can come from anywhere. The Flight makes possible the vision of developers Creative Assembly by authenticating their voice with authority, delivering what was once thought to be impossible: an exhaustively rewritten Alien doctrine. Never delicate, never expected, The Flight’s score for Alien: Isolation unleashes the brutality of H.R. Giger’s original designs. They enable them to hunt using fear as a mind killer, fear that travels along the nerve and not in the stomach, and a fear that will find you, regardless of sunshine, sunlamp, fluorescent bulb or otherwise.

 

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                         Listen: Fantasia Music Evolved: Meeting The Master

2. Disney Fantastia: Music Evolved/ Inon Zur - One of the most unsettling trends I have seen in all my years working music retail is the slow erosion of classical music from store shelves. I started out working primarily with classical music at age twenty, an age associated more with rocking out than it is an explosion of mid-day Baroque. I was at first a bit resistant to my post, but mostly afraid, because to be honest, classical as a genre is one of the most dauntingly complex in all of music. I feared being uncovered, found out by my customers as they sauntered in with their aged list of esoteric movements in whatever e-major or flat they had VERY specifically outlined. Each point on their list took time to research and dislodge from beneath the soil it had seemingly been buried under. Out of print catalog numbers, Sony Red, Naxos, Deutsche Grammophon, my customer’s single written clue a miniscule part of a VERY long trail. When I found their piece, we would often listen to it together, and they would do a play by play of their favorite moments in the composition. I learned classical music very much hands on, and find it criminal that an entire generation might miss out on it entirely, because I have seen my stock and sales decline astronomically in the past 8 years, but there is hope.

Composer Inon Zur whose scoring credits span the length of multiple unabridged volumes of encyclopedia Britannica has joined forces with developer Harmonix, and they have somehow impossibly found THE glitch, THE exploit, THE clandestine inside track granting them access to those youth who once shunned them for no real reason, tossing their literature to the ground just as it was handed off to them. Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved is that key. What now though? They finally have a room at attention. You let the master play and let his master marketer interpret. Inon Zur and Harmonix have that rare partnership here, and it is one that is at its absolute best. Where Harmonix once created new devotion for relics of the rock genre, it now does the same for stars of the violin, chamber orchestra, throngs of woodwind and piano. Zur’s newly minted original score plays high level and equal peer amidst some of the most celebrated and recognizable classical themes ever created. Zur brings with him not only his gifts of composition but of conducting and producing as well. His arrangements feel buoyant, vital, at times even coruscant. He has also brought along some very powerful friends: Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields, The London Chamber and Symphony Orchestra to name a few.

The Director’s Cut adds even more color to the overall package as remixes of everything from Tchaikovsky to Dvorak will no doubt make a case to those still on the fence. Each one showcases a different angle from which to view these masterpieces, making them easier on the palate of the uninitiated. It takes only one truly great piece of anything be it music, games, food, movies or books to alter the course of a life, and Inon Zur’s Fantasia: Music Evolved brings with it the possibilities of expansion over extinction, and the hope that new apprentices will one day outnumber the old guard.

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                                         Listen: Strider: Kazakh Theme

 1. Strider- Michael John Mollo - It’s not an easy thing to generate an open discussion amongst flat refusals, and for the better half of almost two decades, the only certain things when speaking with Capcom on the subject of Strider was the brief flashing of cards they held so closely guarded against their chest, and the walls instantly erected around the stubborn inquiry. Capcom’s reasoning, though seemingly strained of logic, is not without merit. Developers are given at most the smallest blinking of a mascot, perhaps a smaller grain of franchise, and rarest of all, the natural born legend. Strider is legend, and the few pieces of software that bear his name exist only because each parcel of space they inhabit has passed a litmus test of platinum standards raised by significant degrees of difficulty as each gets the green light. This makes the road more difficult for others to traverse, and near impossible for new contents to meet in whole. Exposure with even the slightest of lapses or compromises can and often does spell the end. Undoing a legacy of past and most importantly, future. Capcom’s reticence then is understandable. This weight, ALL of this weight lay squarely upon Strider’s brilliant new composer Michael John Mollo. Strider becomes HIS story, in his charge, and ultimately the ONLY reason you have a new canonical entry emblazoned with the Strider logo.

Because without his compositions, Strider is only half of what the storybooks make him out to be. Mollo is the fit that had long gone missing, the absent detente that would finally bridge the title from standard readiness to assured perfection.

Without knowing it, Mollo is of the same ilk and heritage as the long buried Capcom house band Alpha Lyla; he’s not foreign but rather the most native and organically spun element of the entire proceedings. He is one of them and always has been their spiritual successor. Mollo’s work on Strider is no sloppy collage of various diametric applications made to fit inside a grid. Mollo is poignantly, naturally textural, and sensitive to the meter of his scenes, and while he may scrutinize, he never once manufactures. To do this though, Mollo needed to fully understand the subject he was scoring, not textbook memorization, but to actually press the flesh, to know Strider, befriend him, and become him. What would have been a dry stage-left walk-on exercise in another composer’s hands instead becomes fully aware and alive with Mollo, who is by all accounts immersed in his method portrayal of Strider Hiryu. Now indistinguishable from the source, Mollo is also completely free to arrange as he sees fit. His compositions touch on the classic Strider sound flawlessly, but his focus remains resolutely on the sound of the future, and that is what separates, defines and elevates Mollo’s LP: his singular prodigious fingerprint. It takes steady hands to live in the shadows of original Strider composer Junko Tamiya, but Mollo won’t be second to anyone, and seeing as he’s rightfully a part of the Alpha Lyla brood, this is a passing of the torch, and an acknowledgement that Michael John Mollo has been, always was, and always will be the only REAL candidate to further one of gaming’s greatest and most hallowed icons.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week, I’m supposed to come up with a (mostly) self-imposed task of choosing the five best video game soundtracks of 2014.

My current count is nine, and I’ve already narrowed it down.

To clarify, this is not 2013. There was no BioShock: Infinite in 2014. Not even Garry Schyman could top himself with his own Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor soundtrack, as fabulous as that music is.

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If I’m brutally honest with myself, there are four that will stay on the list, and only one slot is up for grabs. I’m going to get a load of grief for quite possibly leaving one of the most popular soundtracks of the year off the list.

One of the soundtracks that already made that list has received very little recognition. I hope to change that a bit, because it’s mildly disheartening to me that no one seems to remember it (it came out earlier this year).

Critics and bloggers seem to be glossing over another fine soundtrack from 2014: Jesper Kyd’s Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.

Borderlands Pre-Sequel Cover

Purchase Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Soundtrack

If you read my words on occasion, you’re aware of my admiration of Jesper and his music. I feel like Jesper is a true magician with sound and melody. He creates the most incredible musical experiences while gaming. Here are some examples:

This track is called “Persistent Impulse”. Jesper is so good at “the groove”, amirite?? There’s a spot where it sounds like voices come in, although knowing Jesper’s music, that sound could be anything. And I love how the 8-bit, Mario-esque noise drops in as the track winds down. It’s perfect.

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The track right after “Persistent Impulse” demonstrates what I consider to be a trademark of Jesper’s (I hope calling it that doesn’t discourage him from using the technique). The track is called “Beyond the Biodome”. It starts with a winding, 16th-note motive that echoes and twists around until he flips where it starts and ends. Jesper does it so subtly that, unless you’re really paying attention, you could miss it. I love that trickery.

System Interference” is another great song to get your blood pumping. Or, if you need to chill out and take a trip, listen to “Outlands”.

Gearbox, the developer of the Borderlands series, tends to have difficulty creating games independent of lengthy swaths of repetition. Thankfully, these moments go by quickly thanks to a couple of the things they do well: great one-liners and Jesper Kyd.

Take a listen today, and let me know what you think. I think this deserves a spot on the list for sure.

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

I watched a show tonight called Doomsday Preppers. It’s a NatGeo show, I have no idea how many seasons there are, and I don’t care. In this program, the producers profile Americans who spend an above-average amount of time preparing for the end of the world.

In the episode I watched, one couple feared the North/South pole shift, another man hiked around Los Angeles foraging food from plants in preparation for a devastating earthquake, and a woman who readied herself for an impending oil crisis (she lives in Houston).

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Additionally, I’m an avid fan of The Walking Dead series of games and TV. I’ve played Fallout, State of Decay, The Last of Us, and plenty of Earth-has-been-invaded-and-life-as-we-know-it-is-over games like Resistance or Mass Effect.

Here is my conclusion: I’m not built for the apocalypse, no matter how it comes. Exception: if aliens come and have special interest in classical music or video game music or radio hosts, I’ll be A-OK.

When I watch or play The Walking Dead, I have *no* desire to live like that. None.

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There are survival skills I’d be willing to learn that could come in handy now, pre-apocalypse. Things like how to purify water, or how to start a fire. I was a Brownie for a while but I don’t recall being taught how to start a fire at age 8. It could come in handy in real life, if I ever get stranded somewhere.

I don’t want to learn how to stitch a wound, or barter for supplies. I can’t barter now. The other day, I got incorrect change back from a cashier (to the store’s favor) and I didn’t say a word. Imagine me in the apocalypse.

I don’t want to shoot anything but spiders. In fact, I would love to shoot spiders. But I don’t want to shoot an animal to eat it. If I shot spiders, it’d be for fun. My uncle shoots deer with crossbows and uses every last scrap of that animal for various foods and such. It’s impressive. Maybe I’d go crash at his place?

But that’s far away from where I live, and I already know I’d never make it. It’s a solid three tanks, maybe two, in a fuel-efficient vehicle. And that’s the other thing; I’d potentially be escaping life in a two-door Honda Civic. It’s probably not the best choice.

No music. There wouldn’t be music anywhere. I wouldn’t be able to hear Bach or Beethoven, or Jesper Kyd or Nobuo Uematsu or Respighi or Brahms or Rameau or Björk. I’ve dedicated my life to music. What would I do without it? There are no mp3 players, Discmans or Walkmans in the apocalypse once the batteries run out.

I don’t have any interest in learning any elaborate evacuation plan to get out of Minneapolis. Such a plan seems as though it might require some sort of physical strength or endurance. I can’t do a single push-up; I haven’t done a pull-up since middle school. I can walk fast because I’m six feet tall. But, the last time I ran a mile was 2005. I do not own a bike (someone stole it off my porch a few years ago).

When I watch shows like Doomsday Preppers, or The Walking Dead, or I play a game like State of Decay (or any sort of game in the survival genre), I can’t stop thinking: I don’t want to live this way. I don’t want to plan for a life in which I’m eating food out of jars and cans until it runs out. I don’t want to excessively ration supplies. Life isn’t nearly that hard now, but it’s weird enough, and I don’t want to fight to live.

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As I talk with friends about this, some wholeheartedly agree. My friends who disagree, however, really disagree. I wonder if they don’t think I value my life? I totally value my life as it is now. My actions, my career, all of these things demonstrate how I value my life. In the apocalypse, I would not feel the same way.

For the “Preppers”, maybe preparing for the end helps them feel in control of an uncontrollable event. It gives them purpose and focus. Well, music and games are my focus, neither of which seems that likely when the power grid shuts off.

In the coming weeks, I’ll highlight some of my favorite video game music from 2014. Thanks for listening to me rant about the end of the world.

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

A little over a month ago I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed the last couple entries please: click here

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Watch: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots E3 2007 trailer

# 1 Kojima Productions/Platinum Games/Konami – Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

 

On the surface, Metal Gear Solid as a series looks the part of any other videogame. There are trophies awarded for beating bosses, well-defined stages of progression, and there is always an option to save your progress. One thing, however, stands out rather strikingly and that is, Metal Gear lives in total fear of the gun it carries. It is one of the most important genes found within its DNA, one that separates it from all of its video game counterparts. In far too many games made today, your main objective is to shoot, and to shoot everything. So in effect, all you’re tasked with doing is to fire a gun. You’re made to carry this wide assortment of firearms and proceed to make rubble of everything and everyone around you, no questions asked. This lowly cap-in-hand exercise of wielding pistols to fire indiscriminately into a crowd, exacting both carnage and retribution over and over again, lacks all focus, foundation and any sense of humanity.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid 4 Soundtrack – Mobs Alive

Inside the world of Metal Gear, however, guns are as dangerous and permanent in their destruction as they are in the reality of the world around you. Metal Gear realizes that violence has repercussions; people will be affected, and the choice to stare down the muzzle of a barrel of a gun is the stuff of last resort. It should be treated as an extreme means to an end, and should be avoided at all cost. It defines a full metal jacket as the absolute worst course of action. In short, Metal Gear, over so many other video games, has a soul, and it has always been a troubled one.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid 4 Soundtrack – Old Snake

Metal Gear stubbornly takes none of the blind firing squad orders of its video game brethren, choosing instead to focus on the magnification of its character’s very personal struggles: the condition of the psyche behind that trigger, the irreversible consequences of firing it, and most importantly, the unending cycle of melancholy applicable to the gruesome acts of war. Nothing illustrates this point more perfectly than Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots, and while director Hideo Kojima may have done everything to protect his child from the evil, the broken, and the corrupt, sadness inevitably found him when he was young.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid 4 Soundtrack – Cold Memories

Metal Gear Solid 4 plays without the protection of its surprisingly absent and expected callous: Solid Snake may be well into his advancing years, but you will be made to feel all of his pain. MGS4 follows a man who is functioning, but only with the help of multiple manufactured aids to supplement his many failing original organs. The real battle is now an internal one that silently negotiates for time over confrontation. He seeks out penance and forgiveness, and as his strength fails, it becomes more and more painful to watch. Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of the few games to embrace the physical and emotional descent of age, what an individual legacy is actually worth, and that no matter how tall the image of yourself stands in public, what it is like to reconcile the actuality of that stature when alone in the dark. The territory Kojima explores here is bold. While it may not be as all encompassing as he might have liked it to be, nothing in the last generation can challenge its weight, nor the morose scrutiny of its post-modern-when-it-rains Death Of A Salesman drama, nor its matter-of-fact approach to the absolute isolation of death. But wait, there’s more!

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Watch: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance E3 2012 trailer

Playing almost full and perfect counter to Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots is Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. While not totally barren of the ponderous tomes of its aforementioned forbearer, Rising forgoes all subtlety striking in response to even the slightest of cause. There is reason for it though, and primary to that is the youth in its protagonist Raiden. He’s flippant and powerful, but not so naïve that he doesn’t already have some rather substantial regrets. Rising, however, parries the insurmountable numbness, that terminal acceptance of punishment found in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots and argues the evidence in support of its incarceration. It pleads to find redemption through works and effectively skews and alters the perception of its jury. Everyone can change.

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Listen: Metal Gear Rising Soundtrack – Rules of Nature

While I have crowned these two titles for their use of twilight of the tears, black-box theater, I have left all synopsis of the actual playtime (controlling these characters) absent, because as it stands, there is no real separation between the two. Both Rising and Metal Gear Solid 4 stand among a few, very select games able to blend their narrative and action together seamlessly. Playing them is something without equal, even now. The presence of Metal Gear Solid 4’s widely criticized longer cut scenes never felt to me like control had been somehow wrested away. I owned each part as a whole and stood inside the limping Solid Snake and the more athletically inclined Raiden without interruption at all times. There will be those who vigorously disagree, but what can I tell you? This is still the best experience I have had with regards to games across the entire 7th generation, for that matter, period.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid 4 Soundtrack – Love Theme

While it may be desperately light on the Hee-Haw, and insurmountably heavy on any number of philosophical doctrines, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance did not disappoint. Regardless of what Metal Gear’s long-time cagey resident Colonel Campbell once said about it all just being a game as usual, Metal Gear Solid 4 and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance prove it’s anything but.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

The following is my wish list for this holiday season:

  1. Stop playing Destiny.
  2. Get the raid gear for my Warlock and/or Titan in Destiny.
  3. A Vex Mythoclast in Destiny.
  4. Or a Hawkmoon.
  5. Finish Dragon Age: Inquisition instead of Destiny.
  6. Finish Far Cry 4 instead of Destiny.
  7. Play Assassin’s Creed: Unity instead of Destiny.
  8. Finish Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor instead of Destiny.
  9. I also want Pocket Infinity.
  10. Get me to level 30, or even 32, in Destiny.
  11. I’d like to take a vacation to Puerto Rico, where I could play Destiny in a LAN party with my PSN friends only IRL.
  12. I’d like new planets in Destiny. I understand we can’t walk around on Jupiter or Saturn, but let’s continue to suspend our disbelief and go to Mercury.
  13. Is Destiny, like, anti-dwarf planet? How about Pluto?
  14. I never finished Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments either. Thanks, Destiny.
  15. I’d like to get LittleBigPlanet 3. It would sit in a stack with all aforementioned games, watching me play Destiny.

Destiny is my new Diablo. Remember when I couldn’t stop playing that game? The platinum trophy for Reaper of Souls is within my reach, yet might take the rest of my life because I can’t do anything except play Destiny all the time – thanks, in large part, to the social aspect of the game.

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My warlock

I do love Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s a beautiful game, the fighting is a blast, the followers are fun, the story is engaging (in my opinion) and the tasks and missions aren’t any more tedious than what I endure in Destiny.

I get to play with friends in Destiny. All of those games I listed above also have multiplayer. I’m generally a PvE person, but sheesh, there’s PvE in most of those I listed up there anyway. But my friends aren’t playing those games either; they’re playing Destiny.

Above all, I wish I could get PS4s for all of my local gaming friends this season. Then we could all play Destiny together.

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

 

The problem with Dragon Age: Inquisition has nothing to do with Trevor Morris’s music. It’s gorgeous, and fits in beautifully with the continent of Thedas. You can hear an excellent roundup of the score in The Well of Sorrows.

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Morris’s themes are magnificent – a large orchestra, full choir, vocal soloists, loads of brass and percussion, and more. I love the music he wrote.

I don’t love how the music works in the game. If I want to hear all the great music Trevor wrote, I have to literally listen to the soundtrack, because I rarely hear it in the game.

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I’ve put about 27 hours into the game, and I’m slowwwwwwww at moving through games like this. I love to poke around in the forest, search corners of caves, walk along the rivers and lakes, see if I can climb that mountain with my horse, give up on the horse and try climbing it by jumping, give up on jumping and go all the way around, stop for every herb along the way, mine iron and summer stone and blue vitriol from every boulder, kill every bear, loot every cabin, root out all the bandits, mercenaries and apostates, and so on.

While I’m doing all of those things, things that I truly enjoy and adore about gaming, I rarely hear music with any melody.

Here’s why this matters. When I’m away from the game, I never find myself singing any themes from the experience. I don’t walk away humming tunes, wishing I could still be playing.

The Bethesda games, like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, are great. I can hear those melodies and instantly want to be in the game world playing. Same with the Jesper Kyd years of Assassin’s Creed, or Red Dead Redemption. Even Destiny uses melodic content during exploration, and I find myself singing those tunes many hours after turning off the game.

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My only complaint to Trevor is that his ambient music is too ambient. I can’t blame him for this, because I don’t know what the audio directors asked him to do. It’s possible they didn’t want melodic music, thinking it might be too intrusive to the experience.

If that was the case – if the audio directors wanted the music as background only, they succeeded. If I want to hear the best stuff, I have to wait for cinematics, which make up only a fraction of the amount of time I’m playing the game.

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My biggest takeaway from the music to Dragon Age: Inquisition is that I have no takeaway. The only way for me to truly enjoy the great music Trevor wrote is to stop playing the game and listen to the soundtrack with speakers or headphones. To me, as a gamer and a musician, this is a tragedy, and comes awfully close to negating the beauty of Trevor’s hard work.

Think of your favorite open world games that have an exploration/grinding/farming component. What are your feelings about the music in those games? Do you enjoy carrying a tune along with you when you’re not playing, or do you prefer the music to be more subtle?

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends. – See more at: http://www.sumthing.com/blog/#sthash.05TVzAhw.dpuf

A little over a month ago I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed the last couple entries please: click here:

#8 Bioware and the Mass Effect Series

Mass Effect at number 8, you say? Okay, let’s make something very clear about my “Best of Last Console Generation” list. In my mind the winner of the number 10 spot celebrates all the victories of the number 1 spot. No one is truly superior because by nature ALL of them rest at equilibrium. To me it’s fine that Mass Effect is at number 8 because it is like saying it is also at number 1. With that being said, at this late stage in the press coverage for Mass Effect as a whole, you’ve probably reached a rather heightened state of saturation. There’s nothing that I could add to that heaping parfait of praise or criticism.  So when I talk about Mass Effect here, I promise to make it brief. If you haven’t played the games, don’t worry. You’ll learn nothing about the contents of these titles, and that’s the point: I don’t want to spoil it for you. 

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Listen: Mass Effect Soundtrack: The Wards

The proof of a truly incredible game is not about what it does right, not at all. That honor is bestowed on a game once you start making sacrifices for it. It’s once you’re willing to lie, plan your schedule around it, and maneuver out of every conceivable social contract expected of you in the hopes of prolonging the hours spent tilling and terraforming its virtual space. A word to those who have yet to undertake Commander Shepard’s endeavors: you’re going to make a whole lot of people angry. I also recommend that you carry with you a small note pad, because you’re going to have to  keep all of your fabrications in line and consistent. Just a tip.

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Listen: Mass Effect Soundtrack – Illos Ride

My story with Mass Effect is one of sheer abandonment, tossing everyone aside no matter the ties we had. Rather than engage in any of the yearly post-Christmas holiday traditions with family and friends in 2007, I instead chose the N7. I went so far as to cancel my long-running annual Christmas party, seized the cache of funds set aside for itd production and funneled it into a Mass Effect lazy day bank account, so if I missed work, it would be fine: I paid myself to play Mass Effect.

If my alliances with my employer were tenuous, then imagine my siblings and parents – hanging out with them didn’t happen AT ALL. My sisters would beg and plead with me to go to a movie or to dinner, or anything: Nope. My friends, well let’s just say I let the phone ring, then played dumb more times than there were believable scenarios to create. Somebody had to have known.

Mass Effect 3

Listen: Mass Effect Soundtrack – Afterlife

What’s more, a few years later, as I was about to begin Mass Effect 3, my friend Frank was over to specifically diagnose the many problems I was having completing a perfect play through of Mass Effect 2. His findings were troubling. I would have to start over from scratch if I wanted to do it right. While playing through Mass Effect 2 again would have likely addressed and sufficed Frank’s concerns, it didn’t sit well with me, leaving something, anything undone. Plus you know, I may have left out that a good portion of my crew were also dead. So without even blinking, I erased my hard-won saves from Mass Effect 1 and 2 (those same saves built upon the shunning and repelling of blood relatives and long-time companions) and started over from the ground up. The cycle had begun anew. All this before I had even seen the title screen for Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect 4

Listen: Mass Effect Soundtrack: Noveria

If this list were based solely on the most cavalier and unending expulsion of man hours, Mass Effect would stand alone; it would be no contest. If it was based on a single criterion, like say the number of those spurned in my attempts to complete it, Mass Effect’s catapulting friend catcher would have no equal. I have no regrets, and when you sign on to Commander Shepard’s Normandy and Mass Effect’s colossal galaxy of play pretend, it may very well be the most illuminating experience you’ve ever had while playing with toys. It is also likely that this is the first time your G.I. Joe and He-Man figurines have ever undergone indoctrination.

This is serious business you know.

Don’t forget to pick up the spectacular Mass Effect Score right here.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Firstly, Happy Dragon Age: Inquisition Day (aka The End of My Social Life Forever).

Secondly, I attended Gamer’s Rhapsody over the weekend; the first of what we hope will be many conventions in the future celebrating video game music and media. Special guests included Dale North (Dragon Fantasy Book II), Jake Kaufman (Shovel Knight) and Rich “Disasterpeace” Vreeland (Fez).

Thomas Spargo organized the event. He’s a student at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, and made his Gamer’s Rhapsody dream a reality.

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I participated in one panel and hosted another, but the festivities Saturday night were my favorite part. The night was full of music, performed by the aforementioned guests, along with the trio Nerd Enhanced Sound and the eight-piece band, Do a Barrel Roll.

I’ve spoken about Nerd Enhanced Sound in the past – they’re fabulous and their set was fantastic. NES is a trio of piano (Mike Vasich), bass (Nick Gaudette) and violin (Zack Kline). The three met in music school and formed a different trio called Orange Mighty Trio. After OMT played together for a couple years, Mike and Nick discovered they both adore video game music, so OMT created their alter ego – Nerd Enhanced Sound. Saturday night, they played Metroid, Marble Madness, Dr. Mario and more. Two gamers battled it out on the big screen during Dr. Mario. It was pretty great.

Do A Barrel Roll… I mean… seriously. Do yourself a giant favor and listen to them IMMEDIATELY. The eight of them met and started playing covers together when they were students at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul. They’re incredible musicians… like sickly incredible. The lead guitarist, Austin, arranges all the music. Believe me when I tell you that what you hear in the recordings on Bandcamp is exactly what you hear when they play live. It’s incredible.

Dale North has a gorgeous voice, and although he didn’t want to perform original music, he did a great set of covers of JRPG ballads and such. Rich Vreeland also has a beautiful voice, and played an unplugged set at the piano singing original songs. Rich has a unique sense of melody and phrasing, bringing a wealth of variety to what might otherwise be a dude singing songs at a piano. I am a horrible person and went home to pass out before I could hear Jake Kaufman’s set.

Jake was a part of the panel I hosted, along with Rich. Jake and Rich are both beloved in the game music community for their chiptune music. However, they wrote such vastly different scores, it was delightful to hear them talk about their approaches and philosophies about their compositions.

My hope is that you will come next year. It’s cold and snowy here right now, yes, but it’s good for you. Plus, just like Minneapolis right across the river, St. Paul has a skyway system ensuring you never even need to leave the comfort of the indoors. All the more reason to spend a weekend jamming and hanging out with your fellow video game music lovers!

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

A little over a month ago, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed the last couple entries please: click here:

#2. Square-Enix, Eidos Montreal and Deus Ex: Human Revolution:

Have you ever been inside a bookstore and casually wondered WHAT exactly all the people around you might be reading? Kind of interesting, right? But it would be a fairly tedious and dangerous exercise to nudge each and every one on the shoulder to ask them about their favorite authors. Reading is a private exercise, not really meant to be done in public (but it is). Don’t worry, you’re in luck, because I know exactly what a significant portion of the mass literary audience prefers. Though my ad-libbed study is FAR from scientific, it’s part of what I do, and I see it everyday. I see it in the numbers. It has very little to do with the Fiction genre, History, Biographies, Nature, or Travel. It has everything to do with slogans and mantras.

DEHR1

Listen: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Pangu, City Above The City

Have you heard of Joel Osteen? I wish I were Joel Osteen. Every time I see another one of his books in hardcover, I want to kick myself, then have somebody, anybody in close proximity, kick me again! Why couldn’t I have come up with that? I mean… I have good ideas. Osteen, however, beat everyone to all of them, and has continuously, effortlessly slapped the hardcover straight into paperback with easily dialed clichés like“ You Can, You Will”, “I Declare”, “Break Out” and “It’s Your Time” into print – LOTS and lots of print. I have to give him credit though, because at least his books are complete, which is more than I can say for the author Don Miguel Ruiz, who published “The Four Agreements”, then had a suspect hand in letting loose the “The Fifth Agreement” as if to say, “Oh wait, I forgot one!” You would be wary of any scraggly man on the street yelling at you some ridiculous notion like “Ask and it is given” …wouldn’t you? I don’t see the difference here.

DEHR2

Listen: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Megan Intro

Actually, I have absolutely nothing against any of these authors at all. They provide a service for millions of people in that they illustrate ways to improve the self, barge past hurdles, renew hope etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So what are people reading? Self-help, self-medication, self-renewal, and I don’t blame them. It’s getting BAD out there.

DEHR3

Listen: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Penthouse

All this to get to my initial point: put those books down. Remember, I say this because I am concerned for you all. I LOVE my literature, but this sizable demographic, those afflicted with some form of depression, self-doubt, or a litany of disturbances… may I make a suggestion? Want something for the pain right now? Something immediate?  Play video games. More specifically, play Square Enix’s 2011 masterpiece Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Now, I will take that a step further and say, if you haven’t played Deus Ex: Human Revolution, then you can’t possibly be serious about getting help, and all these books you’ve purchased in the hopes of overcoming cycles of intermittent despair are actually serving as weights to hold you back. You’ve actually just created another rather large blockade on your path to sound and true wellness. So in this instance, I am advocating against the slower, more methodical burn of chapter upon chapter and workbook page upon role-playing activity, all of which were designed to take you out, layer by layer and bit by bit from your self-spun, self-initiated cocoon. This is not a time to mince words, nor a time to enable the behavior in question to continue. Deus Ex: HR will hold your hand in some manner, but realizes that things need to happen quickly, and that time is running out.

DEHR4

Listen: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Wayne Hass

Deus Ex; HR brings with it a precise economy and wisdom to its sessions with you, as it cuts all costs through no applicable medications. It’s seen through all of the unscrupulous do-make-say-think greed, through every fatted panel of charlatan and witch doctor, and through all of whom are eager to pounce voraciously on your clouded, unstable vulnerability with hollow two-word creeds. While they might briefly address your problem, more than likely, theirs is a Band-Aid with an already weakened adhesive. These results need to be lasting. Are you familiar with Adam Jensen‘s dedicated 24-hour crisis hotline? Let me connect you.

DEHR5

Listen: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Picus Funicular Combat

I will not rehash again what I’ve already told you about Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I’ve written tirelessly in this very space about and around the circumstances that encompassed some of my ongoing experiences with it, but if you want the short version, I will give it to you: It saved my life. While I can’t quite laugh about it now, I can speak genuinely to the merits of its attack/therapy/counseling mixture. A fragment of who I am today was shaped by this very title.

DEHR6

Listen: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Exploration (Hard Fight)

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of the greatest landmarks in the seventh generation of video games, but it should be looked upon as more than just a piece of software; it should be viewed as something much more precious, something spiritual. It becomes part of you. With Deus Ex: Human Revolution, there is no before, after, or during, and you will never speak of it in the past tense. In this sense it is the truest form of therapy: one in which the dialogue is constantly changing and evolving years after the initial ordeal has taken place. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is completely self-aware. It is keen to your person, your weaknesses, and your triggers. It is here to help. Once you’ve spent a few weeks with it, gone back and forth and hashed out all the ugly because that‘s what you need, you will be transformed. I declare.

A very personal and heartfelt thanks and congratulations goes out to Square Enix, Eidos Montreal, and composer Michael McCann .

Don’t forget to pick up the official Deus Ex: Human Revolution soundtrack here.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This weekend in the Twin Cities (in St. Paul, technically), there’s a new game media convention called Gamer’s Rhapsody. I’m participating in two panels, although I think I’m most excited for performances by Dale North, Nerd Enhanced Sound, Disasterpeace and Jake Kaufman. Here are some reasons you should come if you’re in the neighborhood:

Saturday at noon, I’m sitting on a panel called “Hey Listen! Linking video game music to its classical roots”. Coolest part is, this one wasn’t even my idea. Tim Turi of Game Informer, along with the three brothers (two of whom are pictured in the link) of the Super Marcato Bros., hatched that plan. We’ll be talking about how classical music inspired composers from all walks of video game life, 8-bit era through modern game scores.

gamersrhapsodylogo

Later the same day, I get to have a panel conversation with Disasterpeace (Rich Vreeland, who wrote the soundtrack to Fez), and Jake Kaufman (Shovel Knight). I’m looking forward to this – I’m fascinated by the workings of the 8-bit composer’s mind. Even though Rich and Jake wrote Fez and Shovel Knight using similar sounds, these are two completely different soundtracks. Like BioShock’s orchestral score vs. Dead Space 2. Similar tools, different results.

If you live in the vicinity and want to be connected to the gaming community, this is the place to be. The International Game Developers Association Twin Cities chapter will be there. Several Twin Cities developers and studios, like Yellow Chord Audio, Big John Games and Thought Shelter Games will have tables there.

If you’re into remixing video game tracks, there are a couple must-see options: Dale North has a panel about what makes a remix great, and (trying to contain my glee) OC Remix is coming!

Saturday night is all about the music. Dale North, who is Destructoid’s editor in chief, recently finished a score for Dragon Fantasy Book II. He’s also a singer/songwriter and is doing a set Saturday evening.

Nerd Enhanced Sound is a local trio that normally goes by the name Orange Mighty Trio. These three fellas play covers of video game soundtracks from the old days, like Contra, Metroid, Duck Tales and Marble Madness. There’s plenty of Mario in there too. Piano, bass and violin makes for a great alternative to the originals!

Disasterpeace is doing a set – he’s also a singer/songwriter and I’m looking forward to hearing a different side of Rich’s musical brain. His Fez score was so intelligent and thoughtful – well planned, well constructed – I imagine his other music will do the same.

fezsoundtrack

Purchase the Fez soundtrack right here!

Jake Kaufman is the only one I’ve never interviewed or met. That right there is reason enough to hear his set Saturday night at the end of a long day! I love his Shovel Knight score and can’t wait to hear more of his music.

If you’re in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I highly encourage you to come to Gamer’s Rhapsody. It’ll be an intimate group (it’s the first year, remember) so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to meet folks and ask questions, or show off your own creativity!

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

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