Thursday, May 23, 2013

Let's Listen: Beasts as Black as Night

at 10:42 AM
You're probably familiar with the old saying, "You can always judge an RPG soundtrack by its boss tune." Boss anthems are hardly ever the most emotive or interesting songs on a soundtrack, but there's something irresistible about their sense of dire emergency. I'm here today to talk about Beasts as Black as Night, the boss theme for Ys III.
What happens when you release the same RPG across multiple platforms? Ys III takes the route of using the same soundtrack on each console.

SNES


This is why that route is oft regrettable. In a Controversial Blogging Choice, I'm leading an article about one song with a bad example of that song.

Say what you will about the SNES, its synths hold up pretty well. The SNES version of Beasts as Black as Night, however, doesn't understand what to do with them. The lead instrument (0:12) is too contemplative to fit the urgent role of the lead melody. Equally puzzling is the pan flute used for the rapidly moving background instrument (0:00) which works more by chance than anything.

(Look to Nobuo Uematsu's SNES Final Fantasy soundtracks for songs that don't press the hardware but still pack in plenty of emotion and panache. For a soundtrack that tailors its sound to the console, check out Mortal Kombat SNES vs. Genesis.)

Genesis



The Genesis version finds siblings in the PC-88 and X68000 versions, but its production takes the lead by a nose. Just like the title, every instrument in here is dark and searing. Am I getting too flowery?

The fun of Beasts as Black as Night kicks off immediately (well, 0:05) with a guitar that spirals violently downward, marked spooky by a whistle in the distant background. Out of the soundtracks limited to hardware synths, the Genesis version is the best-produced not only for its synths but for its attention to mastering.

TurboGrafx-CD



But the TurboGrafx-CD version wasn't limited to hardware synths. It may be cheating, but the TG-CD version is my personal favorite. Most CD consoles back in the day (early 90s) had a penchant for overblown rock music, but Ys III does that one better and mixes in plenty of weird synths. I like to think that the lead synth is a bassoon!! The point is, this version--without going too far--has flakes of the unusual in its instrumentation.
Notable features of this version are the solo at 1:21 and the breakdown + solo at 2:52.

(For an overblown rock CD soundtrack, I think everyone's favorite example is Lords of Thunder.)

Unfortunately, there are some versions I couldn't find. I'd love to hear the MSX version, for instance. However, I would be remiss if I didn't at least link you to the Oath in Felghana version, which is overblown in a more orchestral and less weirdo synth way. Most of my talk was about instrument choice, but I guess that's what happens when you take a simple song and discuss it three times over.

2 comments:

  1. I have to go a totally different direction on this one. As usual, it's probably more to do with our backgrounds as listeners (myself primarily a rock fan and you a synth veteran) than the tracks themselves.

    Of the two instrumented versions, I strongly prefer Oath in Felghana for its sweeping dynamics and full mix. 90% of what I hear in the Turbo-CD track is too-loud percussion, letting the song easily disappear into the background. As for solos, they're both terrible in an enjoyably ridiculous way, but Felghana again wins by cranking it up to 11 with some fuckennnn shredding.

    That said, I prefer the more primitive synth versions. The spooky, mysterious flutes of the SNES track contrast nicely with the pumping beat. While it may not make for the most thrilling boss theme, it's the most enjoyable for a standalone listen. The Genesis song is hindered by some truly stupid sounding synths, but puts more emphasis on what you refer to as the "spiraling" guitar part, which really cranks up the insanity and plays a nice counter to the more methodically paced bassoon? segments. I don't think it's a bassoon though.

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  2. Also boss songs usually suck and are the worst way to judge a soundtrack because they all sound the same. Just sprayin'

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