Friday, September 4, 2009

Videogame OST Analysis #1 ~ Metal Gear (1986)

I enjoyed writing the ’musical gift basket’ for Resident Evil yesterday, so now I’m going to actually follow up on it with roughly the same thing, but encompassing a whole soundtrack. I thought it best to ease into this, so I chose an older game without the 50+ track list that most games are notorious for now (while also my least favorite title in my favorite game franchise). Given that I did fifteen tracks yesterday, I suppose this post will turn out to be much more compact in the end. ANYWAY….

Game Profile
Title: Metal Gear
Release: 1986
Composers: Iku Mizutani, Shigehiro Takenouchi,Motoaki Furukawa
Platform: MSX2
Type: Stealth/Ambience

Track #1 – “Operation Intrude N313” – 0:35
Most Prominent Appearance – Literally, the first 35 seconds of the game.

There are two things I consider important with this and that’s the sound the transceiver makes as lettering displays itself on transmission. The actual introduction tune is mere novelty in my eyes. What actually carries the nostalgia from this however, is The Theme of Tara which begins after the initial transmission ends…and it doesn’t let up until you beat the effing game.

Track #2 – “The Theme of Tara” – 2:09
Most Prominent Appearance – Any portion of the game the player is effectively hidden within.

There are so many themes I could say about the Theme of Tara, but as a summation, I honestly don’t like the tune. Given that it’s not nearly as catchy as oother pre-90 era games, it’s cursedly tagged to play mechanics that are often associated with a very frail anxiousness. Something I will commend however, is the first forty seconds of the track, which use two deep and prominent beats juxtaposed against a steady rhythm of softer tones. Those two beats are then followed by three lighter tones and this gives the track an impression of something peaking out amongst something slightly ominous and jarring. That is highly tied to the games whole stealth theme and it hasn’t been lost with the various remixes and orchestrals that have been churned out over the years. It’s good for nostalgia now no doubt, but its initial appearance is draining as hell, given the player will most likely hear this theme for well over five hours their first time through (assuming they’re not walking themselves through). It just doesn’t have the legs of say---Super Mario’s main theme, but I won’t fault it for that given it’s a wildly different game and context.

Track #3 – “-!- Red Alert!” – 1:44
Most Prominent Appearance – About the 50th that the player hears it.

The reason that Tara’s theme is not as sickening as I just made it sound is because it’s MEANT to be broken up by being caught. Ludologically speaking, that’s a playfully philosophical question since I’m essentially stating it’s wrong to not be caught in Metal Gear. This track does its job admirably by pressing the player forth with something that totally smashes Tara’s theme. The transition is something to be noted as well, as those three alert signals show a game reproducing ‘time-slouchy moments’; instances where time seems to stop and can be recalled in great detail despite being wildly out of context. I cited its MPA (Most Prominent Appearance) as any time after the player has already heard more than their fair share of it. This is because the track is constantly dancing with Tara’s Theme and it’s relative to what the player will experience, depending mostly on how much they’re discovered while playing through the title. Metal Gear in that respect scores a win for the entire game medium here (as do many subsequent stealth titles); this is one of the first appearances of something unique that even films will never be able to copy, ‘dancing tracks’.

Track #4 – “Sneaking Mission” – 1:52
Most Prominent Appearance – First entering the basement in search of Dr. Madnar

This one is almost tiring in the exact same way Tara’s Theme is, but it has a catch---there’s more to the melody and the rate at which it becomes annoying is much slower than ‘TT’. There’s almost a hint of subversive depth to it and it perfectly matches with the fact that it usually plays when Snake is underground in basement areas. The one detriment I will put on it however, is the interference it can make when the player is forced to use the plastic bombs to smash walls. It involves a tedious amount of wall-punching and searching; before the player can even recognize it, this song is in their head and its tone actually will actually negatively permeate their actions. I’d actually call this the most depressing track in the game.

Track #5 – “Mercenary” – 1:13
Most Prominent Appearance – Running into the Shotgunner in the basement

Every time I heard Mercenary, one word came to mind, ‘bouncy’. Given that every boss encounter in Metal Gear can be either ridiculously hard or ridiculously easy, the tune is aligned with the players own ability to land on that scale. It has a slightly shifty nature to it that matches up with all the battles Snake must take to in Outer Heaven. The only exception I’d contend with here is the Fire Trooper’s means of fighting Snake, as he is mainly stationary for the entire battle. The panning fire-sprite kind of throws off the music itself and it’s the only instance in the game to do so.

Track #6– “TX-55 Metal Gear” – 1:11
Most Prominent Appearance – The second between running across the electrified floor and entering the TX-55’s chamber.

This is probably my favorite track in the game, and is the one that will elicit the strongest nostalgia boner from me now. Despite the fact that Metal Gear never really becomes activated in this game it’s actually kind of imposing when the player first sees it. Why? Well they’re not allowed to look at it in the most traditional sense. The second after they’re forced to run across the electrified floor, they’re confronted with finally dispatching it. The zapping security camera keeps Snake on his toes though, so more attention is most likely focused on not only that, but the ridiculous means by which Snake has to destroy Metal Gear in this game. Metal Gear therefore becomes an ominous mythos through indirect means because they barely have any time to associate with it in anything other than a cursory visual glance. This is very much opposed to Metal Gear D's appearance in the next game, as they actually show that model being built in the opening scenes.

Track #7– “Escape –Beyond Big Boss-” – 1:52
Most Prominent Appearance – Climbing the ladders on the way out of Outer Heaven

I like that this track travels at a much faster pace than -Red Alert- does because it gives the game’s already meager soundtrack a bit more range in intensity. Opposed to countless other progenitor 80’s games, defeating the final boss doesn’t grant immediate reprieve; instead the player is immediately shoved into making their way out of the fortress before it explodes. Metal Gear moved on to become one of the most convoluted and pulpy game plots ever, so the events of Snake in Outer Heaven are often regarded as ‘messiah moments’. Metal Gear kind of capitalizes on that before it all became a reality since the player was not allowed reflection on the tiny little plot the game did have. This is deceptively tricky, as the plot’s own pretentious begins can be seen here as quite humble.

Track #8– “Return of Fox Hounder” – 1:16
Most Prominent Appearance – Completing the game

Usually, you’ll catch me doting on game credits, but I honestly don’t have much to say about Metal Gear’s closing theme. In fact, it’s one of the most unrewarding tracks I’ve ever heard in a game if anything. The actual closing scenes of Snake running away and listening to transmissions on his radio is worth more to me here. Even the actual credits themselves hide this music’s underwhelming sense of accomplishment. I guess you could say this is my least favorite track in the title, but I’m more indifferent to it than anything, which is the most horrible place for someone like me to be.

Track #9– “Just Another Dead Soldier” – 0:09
Most Prominent Appearance – Hearing the track remixed for the first time in other titles.

I consider this on the other end of the spectrum from track #08, as while I don’t care about it directly, I do care about its presence in the game. Before the characters starting screaming Snake’s name in the Metal Gear Solid, there was this brief amalgamation of tones that slap almost playfully slape the player in the face for dying. I can always respect that.

So yup, that’s my take on the original Metal Gear’s music. I’ll definitely be coming back to the series, but I want to break things up. That means the next title won’t be a Metal Gear game. I’m going to try my hand at something more recent if I can muster up the will to actually do it.

~sLs~