001 | Serenity

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It took until age 33, but I’ve finally reached the point in life where I’ve healthily adopted the practice of not finishing every game that’s mildly interesting to me at the expense of my actual enjoyment of it.

A lot of that is related to the sheer amount of free time actually I’m allowed to dedicate to anything now, but it’s not entirely due to that given I very rarely play games in a single sitting for more than 90 minutes now. I’m busier these days but not that busy. There are multiple factors driving this. For example, games are so aggressively marketed in some capacity as a service now, it’s hard not to feel manipulated by that at every turn. Games as a Service are just one manifestation of this, but the feedback loop caused by things like Twitch and smarter marketing initiatives by publishers feel like an outright assault on the one thing I’ve gotten incredibly defensive of with age, time.

The catalysts for this realization were recently playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice & Katana Zero, the former being the spiritual cousin to a series of games that have been guaranteed to occupy some mind-space with me for extended periods of time. What’s even more interesting is that Sekiro was probably specifically more aimed at me than From Software’s prior five games (being a stealth-based action-focused title more in line with Bloodborne), yet it still left me lukewarm at its conclusion.

It doesn’t seem to affect games that are still in my wheelhouse, as I was only just able to hop off the Devil May Cry 5 train about 95 hours (it also didn’t help poor Sekiro’s case by playing the two in conjunction). It was a enlightening process, as I was reminded how just how much I’ve tolerated the poor combat in From games due to the exchange of atmosphere and accomplishment which simply has diminishing returns now. Had I jumped off around the Guardian Ape¹, I might have a much higher opinion of it as a whole, but I stuck it out until the end and the whole thing just wounded up feeling like a waste of time as a result.

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Compare this to Katana Zero, which is a much shorter game that I spent less time with and might not ever complete, yet look back more fondly on. Mostly played in fits before falling asleep early in the morning, Zero’s package felt much less disparate. Of course that’s unfair given the scope and scale of both games—-but you know what? I don’t have to care anymore!

In closing, I’ve had Rouge the Bat’s fucking theme stuck in my head for the entirety of the day, so you can experience it too.

  1. The Guardian Ape might be the high point of the entire game for me? Surprising because I’ve never really held the “beast” battles in the Soulsbourne games as the high points, but that encounter goes places, both mechanically and narratively.

000 | My favorite piece of video game music

*** This was actually the final post on my old blog back in February, I think it will fit nicely as the first post here.***

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As an apology for not posting here for two years, I'm offering up a personal favorite of mine. I've been waiting since 2012 for something to upend this song for me and it just hasn't happened yet, so this remains my favorite piece of video game music.

I don't really care if you haven't played it. It's been seven years. You had your shot. This is as much of a spoiler consideration as you'll get from me.

Title: "The Ultimate Weapon"

Artist: Keiichi Okabe

AlbumNieR Gestalt & Replicant Original Soundtrack

Vocals: Emi Evans

Near the halfway point of the original game, you're shown the backstory of Emil, who has since become more or less the mascot for NieR as a series¹. In contrast to Kainé who is abrasive, foul-mouthed, and short-tempered, Emil is a kind-hearted, optimistic and cheerful young boy. You find him blindfolded in a mansion because he is unable to open his eyes without turning people to stone. As the story progresses, you're tasked with venturing below his house, which goes on to culminate in the party learning that he and his sister are engineered bioweapons with unimaginable power. The climax of this dungeon has catastrophic repercussions for him and his character. He merges with the deformed remnant of his sister and is in turn transformed into the strange creature most people recognize him as, and this is the music that ushers that in².

Not only was the music playing throughout this entire sequence aggressively haunting, it was also accompanying one of the most drastic shifts in style that the game pulls up until that point. This was of particular note to me because it was the first time one of the genre-shifts "clicked" on my initial playthrough. Before that point, I was mostly just finding them bizarre. The third person action-RPG shifts into an isometric dungeon crawler as you plunge through the floors of a laboratory. The music leads all of this, from the initial point you visit Emil's mansion to the later point in the game where you venture beneath it.

The direction of this theme also pulls a trick I'm always happy to hear games go in on and that's progressive layering. When you first visit the mansion he lives in (which I should note---is a strange homage to Resident Evil for some reason?), the game is playing a low-key vocal version of the song³. By the time you venture into the laboratory later in the game, it swells into the full piece, which is a whirlwind of melancholy and despair that the series has come to be known for.

Emil as a character is typically an archetype that irritates the hell out of me, but because of how this entire sequence plays out, and how his character progresses as a result of the event, I wound up loving him because of the things I usually hate. This music carried the bulk of the weight in making that happen. It goes on the synergize with moments later in the story such as his unintentional massacre of a village and how that comes to weigh on his character. It even goes beyond the game into its sequel Automata, in which his character is so fragmented and weary of existence, you wind up having to destroy him (or at least a key component of him) for his own good⁴. Both NieR and its sequel were masterclass in contextual harmonizing with their musical direction, and this theme remains the best example I've seen of that in a game⁵.

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1. Considering one of the primary themes of both NieR and Drakengard is the player's genuine recognition of violence, Emil is the best avatar NieR has on multiple levels.

2. Even though Emil does have his own iconic theme, this is why I've always considered "The Ultimate Weapon" his.

3. One of my favorite YouTube playlists is simply an unmixed upload of the first game's music in layers: https://youtu.be/OvcSEk9i4WQ?list=PL8169FDA13F26E706

4. You know---where he fought a losing battle against an entire alien race on his own offscreen and lost his mind because of it: https://youtu.be/EfGqL33Q1cg

5. My only major disappointment with Nier: Automata was that there was no rearrangement of this theme in the game. To be fair though, there really was no place to fit it in, as every song revisit from the first game had a specific reason to be playing in the sequel.