Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Shout Out to the Old Earth...!

I don't know if I've ever made it particularly clear, what with my several failed attempts to actually maintain this thing, but I generally love the music that has been produced for the franchise over the last 20 years. While I do think there are a few soundtracks that are either forgettable or don't really "sound" like a real Sonic soundtrack, I don't want to make that post right now... maybe in a year or so when the feeling to write again has possessed me. I kid, I kid. It might only be a few months. Maybe.

Right now, I want to focus on the positive for a bit and talk about one of my favorite soundtracks: Sonic Adventure. Now I'm usually the first to admit that Sonic Adventure is a game that the years have not been kind to, and I honestly think it's a bit overrated these days. Not quite as overrated as Sonic CD, but it's up there. I've found that it's certainly a more enjoyable experience by comparison at least, and the game is not without its merits, but all the same the game just hasn't aged well. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is a different story.

I think what stood out about Sonic Adventure's soundtrack to me is that it had what felt like a distinctly "Sonic sound". It definitely felt like a step up, a logical evolution, of the groundwork laid by musical talents like Masato Nakamura (Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2), Howard Drossin and Jun Senoue (among others, though according to Drossin the way the music was credited/attributed in Sonic 3 & Knuckles isn't actually accurate) on the Genesis trilogy. Pieces of this evolution after Sonic & Knuckles but before Sonic Adventure can be heard in games like Chaotix and Sonic 3D Blast (the latter of which was composed by Jun Senoue, Sonic Adventure's sound director). The advancements in gaming technology were certainly a big help, especially when SEGA jumped to optical media. The word "consistent" comes to mind. The various artists that worked on this game, most of whom worked on games like Chaotix and NiGHTS into Dreams, really brought their A-game for Sonic's first true 3D adventure.

Today, I only want to talk about one track from Sonic Adventure's soundtrack though. The track of my choice? Tikal's Theme composed and arranged by Fumie Kumatani. Sure, I can talk about how I thought Tony Harnell ripped it on "It Doesn't Matter" or how great I think Jun Senoue's guitar work is, but that seems easy and most people have talked endlessly about his contributions, I'm sure. In fact, I'm finding a lot of my favorite songs off this album were actually composed by Kumatani-sensei (OK, maybe not "Fakery Way," but that song's just freaky!). The theme of E-102 Gamma and "Crazy Robo", the theme of E-101 Beta, stand out to me as two of the strongest examples of her work on just this soundtrack. Individually they're great tracks and really complement one another in terms of tempo. But listen to those tracks back to back and I think you can hear how Kumatani-sensei used the two tracks to tell the story of the two robot brothers. I could go on, but I don't want to get too sidetracked (which is quite easy for me).

So, first off, take some time and listen to Tikal's Theme, embedded for your convenience.

Tikal was a character that was only around for one game. Two, technically, if you count her playable appearance in the VS. mode of Sonic Adventure 2. Though, for her brief story appearance, truly nothing more than a character of the day, she made for an interesting story. It was a mere peak into the history of the Sonic universe, one that didn't really clarify much of anything for the player as far as how Knuckles ended up in the position he was in, or how Angel Island came to be or anything of that sort. It did, however, provide an interesting one-off character who served as a guide for the player and the characters. Tikal was a ghost of the past; trapped in her own despair, she helped our heroes along on their own personal quests all the while cluing them in to the past, as if to warn them that history is doomed to repeat itself if Eggman and Chaos are not stopped. I believe part of the purpose of these flashbacks was to also make Sonic and friends actually try and understand that Chaos isn't all that bad either.

Personally, I think Sonic Team missed a golden opportunity to do something with her story, and maybe answer a few of the questions asked in the beginning and throughout Knuckles's story. Stopping Eggman and Chaos came first. Then again, when I first played Sonic Adventure I was 11. I didn't care. I didn't need much more than that. It was a Sonic game, and, at the time, it was a damned fine one at that (though I've found my opinion has changed significantly in these last 11 years, but that's a post for another time).

Tikal: Sonic's Schala? No comment...
So, yeah, Tikal: cool story, equally cool theme.

But what about it? I think for a game filled to brim with poppy, high energy, modern sounds that range across genres like rock, jazz, rap, pop, etc., her theme just stood out. The mystical, otherworldly qualities of this particular song, tied with the mystery of Tikal herself, is what makes it so memorable to me.

As I think more about Tikal and her story, I'm reminded of Schala from Chrono Trigger. In a weird way, Tikal seems like a Sonic series analog to Schala to me. From the tragic histories of the characters and the fates of their respective civilizations, the Knuckles Clan and the Enlightened Ones of Zeal, right down to the general sound of their respective themes (though let me stress they are totally unique). For those wondering just what the heck I'm talking about, you can check out Schala's Theme here. If you don't know me, I should stress that I'm a HUGE Chrono Trigger fan. While there are obvious differences in the characters' stories and their own motivations, there is still plenty to both characters that cause me to make the connection. None of this, of course, is to imply that such a connection was intentional on the part of the developers. It's just how my mind works. The only time I thought I'd ever speak "Chrono Trigger" and "Sonic" in the same breath would be on a top 10 list; I've played both Chrono Trigger and Sonic Adventure damn near to death, and I'm genuinely interested in this sort of thing so I might revisit this topic in the future, but in the meantime, let's get back to the music, shall we?

So why did I choose to talk about Tikal and her theme? I was inspired to re-listen and re-evaluate the track after listening to a remix on one of my favorite sites: Overclocked Remix. It also got me thinking a bit more about the actual story of Sonic Adventure and the character of Tikal herself. This particular remix was arranged by halc, who I think is primarily known for doing more chiptune based remixes. He's also the director of the soon to be released OCR project, "The Sound of Speed," a remix album for the original Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack! I'm quite looking forward to this one; I've generally loved a lot of OCR's albums projects (with the exception of "Hedgehog Heaven," the Sonic 2 remix album) and the previews I've heard of "The Sound of Speed" have already got me impatiently awaiting its release. Plus, hey, free music is always nice. You can expect me to drop a link to it on here when it's released.

But, anyway, I present to you (whoever's reading this...) halc's remix, "Peacemaker". It's a fine track, and it's largely familiar and faithful sounding to the source, but it's also got a great, jazzy vibe that I think fits the mood of the original perfectly. It's cool, sweet and catchy!

It's a shame post 16-bit Sonic remixes are so rare on Overclocked Remix; it's arrangements like this one that make me wish that there was more. OCR's stable of talented musicians have a ton of material to use for inspiration from the franchise's last 12 years alone. So hopefully this track will open the flood gates for more fan interpretations of later Sonic music! There are a few remixes of later Sonic music floating around OCR, but, like I said, they're rare (I can probably count them on one hand), and the number is practically microscopic when compared to the number of Ice Cap Zone remixes alone!

Hope ya'll enjoyed Tikal's theme and halc's remix, "Peacemaker", as much as I did writing about them!

You can download "Peacemaker" here.

You can also read the respective thread for Overclocked Remix's "The Sound of Speed" Project here.

1 comment:

  1. Very good article. It gets me thinking about a possible redux or remake SEGA could make out of Sonic Adventure. Y'know, recreating the Adventure Fields and Action stages to be larger and more substantially fun and immersive, rewriting the plot and dialogue to have more dramatic impact without patronizingly hammy acting or writing, and making Adventure the better connector between S3&K and modern 3D Sonic gaming that it should've been.

    As it stands, though? I thought most of the groundwork for a game better than the sum of its parts is all there. In Tikal's case, I think the flash backs and her mysterious presence as a pink pixie orbs were a great and effective way to tell the story. They didn't remove control from the player for too long and allowed them the same freedom and opportunity to explore the immediate scenario before or during it plays out.