I'm not one of those irritating video game nerds who wishes he lived in Japan, thinking it to be some kind of Nintendopolis where hot chicks strut around Shibuya dressed like Samus Aran from Metroid and you can get hired just by writing your World of Warcraft level on your CV.
Still, I love that the Japanese care about video game music. Like, care to the level where there are hundreds of video game soundtracks stacked in their HMVs, and the singles released from Final Fantasy games regularly hit number one. I still think VGM (as we enthusiasts call it) is incredibly underrated by the West. And that's totally sad.
Luckily, I found a friend in YouTube user SupraDarky. He's like the John Peel of VGM. He's spent the past three years on his Best Video Game Music Project, a virtual archive of what he considers the greatest video game music of all time. Currently he's at 700 plus entries, and over 16 million cool people have dipped into his archive.
Anyway, I hit him up and we nerded out about VGM for a while, then I asked him the best video game songs to have sex to. He's French-Canadian, and English isn't his first language. Still, he did his best.
Vice: I think my all-time favorite VGM is the Bubbleman stage from Mega Man 2.
SupraDarky: Bubbleman’s stage is actually my favorite theme of the series, it’s the first Mega Man song I added to the project. I love the darker feel during the first half and then the higher notes and faster pace coming in during the second half. The composer really has to be quite amazing to pull something like this in only 40 seconds—there’s not a single second wasted.
A few people out there think Mega Man's music is a bit overrated.
I think when it comes to Mega Man’s music in general, the quality is so high that pretty much half of the themes could be called fan favorites, most notable the Wily Stage from Mega Man 2. I don’t believe any of those are overrated at all.
So why'd you set up the Best Video Game project then?
What triggered it was basically me searching for VGM on YouTube and realizing that almost nothing game-related was there. Even by 2007, most of the classics weren’t up there. I really felt like VGM deserved to be more popular in general and shouldn’t be limited to the few classics all the gamers know about.
A rather controversial take on memorable game music would be that the songs we remember best tend to be the product of repetition within an awesome game.
Repetition within a game means that the song gets stuck in your head much easier and for a longer time. You end up instantly associating the theme with the game and that’s how nostalgia hits you. That’s the reason why it’s so easy to remember themes from RPGs since you end up hearing theme quite a lot. However, if a theme is great enough and plays during one single scene during the whole game, it can still be memorable even without the repetition factor—like "Dancing Mad" from Final Fantasy IV.
Who are your favorite composers? I could probably only name two.
My favorites keep changing, but some of them are Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda, Koji Kondo, Michiko Naruke, Michiru Yamane, Hitoshi Sakimoto, Koichi Sugiyama, David Wise, and Motoi Sakuraba.
It seems to me that often some of the greatest VGM soundtracks are composed by people who never see a similar level of acclaim again.
Most of the time, composers reach a high level of acclaim when the ingredients are right: an exceptional soundtrack for an exceptional game. Unfortunately, not a lot of composers have the privilege to write for more than one or two of those high quality games, like Uematsu or Mitsuda have. But, you know, if the classic Mario Bros theme that everybody knows and loves had been the theme of another average NES game instead, barely anyone would have noticed it.
Are their any major gaps in your VGM knowledge? I haven't seen Ken Griffey's Major League Baseball make your list so far. I loved the game-day music in that.
That’s probably one of the baseball games I’ve played the most as a kid!
Yeah, I loved it.
I rented it so many times. I guess I’ll have to take a listen to its soundtrack someday. But I think there are definitely some gaps, particularly when it comes to older consoles than the 8-bit era and indie games. However, sometimes what people will perceive as gaps actually aren’t. For example, I’ll get a message asking me why these games or series aren’t represented at all in the list, and the reason is that I simply don’t like any of the music from them. It’s important to keep in mind that this is all about personal taste and it can actually be quite challenging to let the project stay that way with the pressure of thousands of subscribers.
Obviously you're a massive fan of the medium. Do you listen to VGM, say, on your way to work?
I actually don’t have any means to listen to music outside of my house.
Yeah. Not because I can’t afford something like an iPod, but because I really like to be aware of my surroundings and hear what’s going on. Sitting at my computer, there’s almost always some music playing in my headphones so my ears really need to take a break. Even when I’m driving, I rarely turn the radio on.
Finally, because video game music is a total aphrodisiac, could you list some of your favorite tracks for fucking?
1. Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future – Dolphin’s Intrigue
Following the long, mysterious intro, the song kicks in at 2:37 with a great repetitive bass line that stays during the whole song. Relaxing masterpiece.
2. Legaia 2 - Lost Forest
Another masterpiece by Sakimoto, this one won't leave you after a couple listens. Incredible guitar work with the piano and the flute.
3. Xenosaga II - Omega System
A more modern entry backed with a great low string melody. Dark and beautiful.
4. Breath of Fire V - Electric Power Building
Sakimoto again with an amazing song. You'll fall in love as soon as you hear the part at 1:40, with the strings coming in later.
5. Xenosaga II - Old Miltia (Submerged City)
A very ambient song that gets even better once you start paying attention to all the subtleties it provides, like the bass melody and what sounds like whales singing.