Wednesday, February 07, 2007

VGM FTW

Following is a post I made in the Gamingforce Interactive Forums, my favourite online gathering place and the only forum community I find consistently tolerable. GFF, as its members call it, has its roots in trading, discussing, and appreciating video game music. Of course it's grown into something greater than that now, but VGM remains at the core of its members' interests and is arguably stil the chief element that unites the forum's user base. In a discussion thread titled How did you discover video game music existed outside of video games?, I made the following post:

(WARNING: This is a LOOOOONG post)





God, I fucking love these threads. Memory lane is in the middle of a damn fine neighbourhood.

I remember first really noticing VGM in the Commodore 64 version of "Aliens." The title screen theme and Level 1-Dropship Landing theme were what really caught my ear. I also remember listening to them years and years later (only a couple years ago in fact) and realizing that they were ancient, scratchy-as-fuck chiptunes. But hell, I didn't care. Still don't. That was some catchy shit.

After that came Phantasy Star 3. For some reason, the (overly simplistic now that I look back on it) dungeon theme really stuck with me, and I found myself humming it throughout the day in school, much to the chagrin of the girl sitting next to me. (Thinking back on that, I think she was kinda hot...for a 9 year old. And goddamn I hope the pervy police don't read that sentence out of context).

So anyway, pissing off the classmates by humming PS3 dungeon music later gave way to the brilliant idea of making mixtapes of VGM as it came on. This was, needless to say, an imperfect science at best considering that A. I needed to time my recordings exactly so that they would start with the in-game music and B. it consisted of putting a tape recorder up to the monaural TV speaker in my room. Still, kicked ass for the time. I remember recording a whole damn tape of nothing but "Thray" from Phantasy Star IV by leaving the game at the scene in Molcum where you first meet Rune.

After that it was...I admit it...Final Fantasy 7. Did the same thing with "One Winged Angel" as I did with "Thray" due to the sheer novelty factor of bombastic choir music in a game. (Side note: that wasn't the first time I'd heard it, as to this day "Consumite Furore" of Sierra's 1995 horror game Phantasmagoria remains among my favourite VGM tracks, and it used choirs singing Latin lyrics to much greater, more haunting, and more intelligible effect. MORE INTELLIGIBLE. GODAWFUL LYRICS OF O.W.A. I AM LOOKING AT YOU.) I still remember my vacation with my family up to House on the Rock in Wisconsin. Bored to tears by the car ride and still below driving age, I played my 2-sided OWA tape to myself over and over and over.

Hmm, and I wondered why I can't stand that song/boss/game/franchise anymore. GEE LET ME THINK.

After that I was officially hooked on VGM. I'd do anything in my power to get ahold of it in any way, shape, or form. For a good, solid few months this primarily meant downloading MIDI files from vgmusic.com, playing them on my old IBM PS/2 as it was way too slow to handle MP3 (which I didn't even know existed at the time). I still hit that site up once in while, as some people have done some truly impressive things with MIDI that I wouldn't have thought possible.

The year was 1999. The name of the place...was Babylon *ducks tomatoes*

...Five. *ducks more rotten vegetables*.

Seriously, though, the year was 1999. I was 16. Final Fantasy 8 was released and marked the pinnacle of my now-long-dead-and-buried Squaresoft fandom. I still hold that game's soundtrack in high regard, likely always will. I had just gotten a new computer from my dad. An HP Pavilion--not impressive by any objective means, especially considering the state of HP in the late 90s, but its 466MHz Pentium 2-based Celeron (I know, I know) was a huge step up from the 486 (I assume, I don't even know what that thing was running) and 8MB of RAM in the old PS/2. Best of all was the fact that it had a 10GB hard disk and could run Sonique, which meant...drum roll please...

*drum roll*

Thanks.

Which meant...MP3 TIME!

Conveniently, at just about the same time, I discovered ffnet.net and its then-still-intact MP3 archive replete with the entire FF8 soundtrack, samples from FF9, samples from other games, and more shit I can't even remember. I downloaded and blasted so much of that music while I was closing up shop at night at my first job. Of course, the office had a T1 line and I had shitty 56K at home, in a pre-flash-drive era and with no CD-RW on my work PC and no Zip drive or anything else on my home system. So I wound up sampling the whole OST at work and then downloading the "best of the best" at home when every last kilobyte had to count.

Somewhere around that time I also found this weird site that hosted a bunch of game soundtracks on this online storage service called IDrive. Dunno what that shit was all about.

Finally, the summer before my 4th, final, and most hellish year of high school, I lost my OST virginity. My mom's office was 4 doors down from a small mom-n-pop independent game store. I'd stopped in now and then but was always underwhelmed by their selection of "normal" games. See, my limited and youthful mind wasn't aware of the wide world of imports, boxsets, models, action figures, etc. based on video games. Yeah, I think it too nowadays: dumbass kid.

So anyway, I stopped in one day and what did I see? The tall, slender case of the "official" (Official Hong Kong Edition, that is) Final Fantasy 8 OST. Gold. Motherfucking GOLD. With every last penny I could scrounge up from what I'd earned at my degrading, thankless, soul sucking, but still-really-fucking-good-for-a-16-year-old library IT job I slapped $40 in cold, hard cash down on the counter and snapped that sucker right up. As an added bonus, I found out that it came packaged with a bootleg Samurai Shodown soundtrack and some J-pop singer's CD too. AND Disc 3 was conveniently missing the grating, screechy "Eyes On Me" which I despised at the time (I hadn't yet heard the nails-on-chalkboard Suteki Da Ne and so EOM was pretty horrid for lack of that updated basis of comparison). Bootlegs fucking rule.

I took it home and immediately popped it in the stereo. I giggled like a 13-year-old schoolbitch when Liberi Fatali rang like a carillon bell from my Dad's custom surround-sound speaker system. I was hooked in a whole new way.

From that point I'd go on something of a minor buying spree of soundtracks, all from the local retailer as my mom was seriously paranoid of online shopping at the time and I had no means of ordering online by myself. Of course, the vast majority of what I got from them were bootlegs, but they all had the tracklists intact, so what did I give a shit?

VGM would have a particularly profound impact on me over the course of a hellish 7 months of high school (thank $DEITY for early graduation). It became a refuge of sorts, something that was only mine and that nobody else could taint by association as they were all wrapped up in the latest teen-rock schlock of the era or in Sailor Moon soundtracks to really take an interest in VGM. It kept me sane through the worst parts of the ensuing months--instrumental pieces to form a soundtrack to life as I knew it, a kind of pseudo-escapist psychological defense mechanism by which I could view my circumstances as less than real--and stayed with me after I left my high-school hell and went on to a better job and a college where I was finally a stranger. At that point, it was no longer as necessary for its calming effects and psychological cushioning, but I'll be damned if it didn't make great background music for lonely, dull weekends in the office.

About 2 years later, after I had padded my collection more via online ordering, my good ol' local indie retailer (now closed and out of business, god damn you GameStop), and Gamingforce FTPs, I discovered Direct Connect.

The rest, as they say, is history. And so was the free space on my hard drive.


Those who knew me about 7 years ago will likely remember my esoteric listening interests. Searska is probably most likely of my associates to recall, as well as Lady J. Oh, no offense intended with the "Eyes On Me" bit. It's just that after having heard some of the vocal and other work that came after it ("Small of Two Pieces" of Xenogears, "Waiting For You" of Silent Hill 4, "Ozar Midrashim" of Legacy of Kain), "Eyes On Me" is kinda underwhelming. The associated feelings certainly weren't, though. Lady J is in a similar boat in the case of SoTP from Xenogears.

Yes, I'm a complete fucking nerd. I made couples songs out of game music when I was a teenager. But who else was I supposed to use, Bryan Adams? Fuck that.

...This reminds me. Journey, let me know when you have a few spare hours. There're some songs I want you to hear. I'll be asking you to pick one... Oh, god, not more tomatoes. *ducks, dodges, runs, hides*

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