Game Music Revisited – “First Step Towards Wars”

Icon - YsI’ve highlighted videogame music in the past. Usually it was in the context of an entire series, but I also used to focus on individual pieces via the “Gamer’s Playlist” series I contributed to my friend Wildcat’s old blog. However, recently I began thinking how interesting it was when a single piece of music was reiterated throughout an entire franchise (and sometimes beyond). It might have had humble beginnings as a simple chiptune, but later was rearranged and reinterpreted when it appeared in sequels, remakes, spin-offs, etc.

The way a tune can evolve over the years can be dependent on many factors. New technology allowed game music go from waveform audio to live orchestra, but context within a game or current trends can also send a composition in entirely new directions.

So, I thought it would be interesting to take a particular piece of game music and explore how it changed over the years.

We’ll start with a piece from a game series known for great music: “First Step Towards Wars” from the original Ys, released by Falcom in 1987 and composed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro.

From original PC-88 version (1987):

“First Step Towards Wars” is the main field, or overworld, theme from the game, and you hear it as you travel between towns and fight bad guys. This is from the original PC-88 version of the game, and so it has that FM synthesis sound. Interestingly, I’ve read that Koshiro still composes all of his music using a PC-88 emulator, so he must have been quite fond of the system. But it likely also influences his style, forcing him to keep things simple yet catchy.

The original Ys was ported to way too many platforms for me to cover all of them here, but we’ll focus on some of the more well-known versions. Perhaps the most famous of which is the TurboGrafx-CD port, Ys Book I & II.

From Ys Book I & II (1989):

The TurboGrafx-CD was the first home videogame system to use the CD format, and many of the games release for it took full advantage of the Red Book CD audio. Compared to the FM synthesis of the PC-88, this version, arranged by Ryo Yonemitsu and coming just two years later in 1989, is quite a big leap in a short time. With it’s full use of instrumentation and a rocking beat, many fans still consider this to be the definitive version of the track. Indeed, subsequent remakes seem to regress a little.

From Ys Eternal/Complete (1997):

This version comes from the Windows PC remake, Ys Eternal, arranged by Falcom Sound Team djk and released in 1997. It has a decidedly more synthesized sound to it, although I wonder if that was intentional being that the game came out on the 10th anniversary of the original. Perhaps Falcom wanted to pay homage to it with an ’80s-style sound.

Ys Eternal was later spruced up and compiled with Ys II Eternal in a package called Ys I & II Complete, released in 2001. That release was then further refined into a version called Ys I & II Chronicles, released in 2009. This version’s soundtrack received a full overhaul from jdk.

From Ys Chronicles (2009):

In my opinion, this is the first version since the TurboGrafx to really do the track justice. While it’s heavier in terms of its rock arrangement, you can’t fault jdk for leaving anything on the table. The guitar shredding eventually gives way to a piano section that I quite like, followed by a string arrangement. I’m not sure if I prefer this or the Turbo version, but I think I like them both about the same.

All of these versions of “First Step Towards Wars” came from remakes of the original game. I’m not aware of the track reappearing in any other games in the series, but I would consider it one of its more iconic music pieces. The evolution from Yuzo Koshiro’s PC-88 tune to the rock-oriented arrangements of the TurboGrafx and Chronicles versions really seem to represent the original intention. Definitely a great music piece all around, and certainly one of my favorites.

Arcade Mania Special – Namco

Icon - Pac-ManThe impact Pac-Man had on videogames in the early ’80s cannot be understated. It penetrated pop culture like no game had before, generating all manner of merchandise, a breakfast cereal, a cartoon series, and even a hit radio song. Needless to say, it was hard to walk into an arcade (or grocery store, or restaurant, or movie theater, or gas station, etc.) and not find a Pac-Man machine of some sort.

But actually, it wasn’t just Pac-Man. Namco games in general were extremely common anywhere you might have found videogames. Arcades were rife with the sounds of Galaga, Dig Dug and Pole Position, and every Atari home console released in the ’80s, from the 2600 to the 7800, carried ports of several Namco classics as part of its featured lineup. Namco games didn’t just set standards, they were standards.

Screenshot - Pac-Man
Pac-Man (image courtesy of

Of course, being so widespread is part of why they were so instantly recognizable, but there was something special about Namco. It’s hard to explain, but for me, Namco games defined the feeling of classic arcade games. Something about the graphics, the sounds, and the style just clicked and stuck with me. They’re like the quintessential classic arcade games.

I would play anything Pac-Man. My favorite was the American-developed follow-up Ms. Pac-Man, but I even like the generally unpopular Pac-Mania. The aforementioned Dig Dug and Pole Position were also go-to games for me, as well as the Galaga series, including the lesser-known Gaplus and Galaga ’88.

Screenshot - Dig Dug
Dig Dug (image courtesy of

Perhaps one of the reasons Namco’s classic arcade legacy has endured over the years was due to its preservation in the the form of Namco Museum. First appearing on the original PlayStation in the later ’90s, Namco Museum was a series of compilations featuring their classic arcade catalog. The games were often actual ports to whatever hardware they were running on, but sometime they were simple emulations of the original arcade games. Sometimes they were also accompanied by updated versions of some of the games. Various incarnations of Namco Museum have appeared on just about every game console of the last couple of decades, although in more recent years, they’ve taken the form of digital downloads.

One of the best things about Namco Museum was that it didn’t just focus on the hits, but they would often include some obscure or even Japan-only titles for good measure. I, myself, enjoyed discovering games like Mappy, Bosconian and Xevious, which I don’t recall ever seeing in arcades back in the day. (Although it’s very likely they were there and I just don’t remember.)

Screenshot - Pole Position
Pole Position (image courtesy of

I wish other companies took as much pride in their classic arcade catalog as Namco. I’m a sucker for classic arcade compilations.

Nonetheless, Namco was pretty much the king of the arcade back in the day, and I’ve got fond memories. But as the success of Namco Museum proves, the games still hold up today. In fact, I could go for some dot-munching action right now. I’ve got the Fever, and the only prescription is more Pac-Man.

Programming Note: Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within

In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, I’ll be streaming a little bit of the PC adventure game Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within tonight on my Twitch channel at around 7 pm PDT/10 pm EDT.

The Gabriel Knight games are a series of point-and-click adventures created by Jane Jensen. They play out like mystery novels, but with supernatural twists. In the case of The Beast Within, the plot centers around a series of killings apparently done by werewolves. For more info, check out this article at Hardcore Gaming 101.

I’ve chosen to play the second game specifically because it’s an FMV game, and I thought that might be more entertaining to watch, especially since I won’t be doing live commentary.

So get out your popcorn, and join me at 7 pm Pacific/10 pm Eastern for Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within!

Also, all future streaming notices will only be posted over at the Lagoon from now on so as to keep things from getting cluttered up over here.

Confessions of a Nintendo Fan IV

icon_miiverseThe term “fanboy” (or “fangirl,” as the case may be) applies to a lot of different areas of the videogame community: Xbox fanboys, Sonic fanboys, Dark Souls fanboys, shmup fanboys, PC master race, etc. But perhaps the most infamous and stereotyped fanboys of them all are the legendary Nintendo fanboys.

As a pejorative, “Nintendo fanboy” connotes blind fanaticism based on the assumption that the company is inherently superior. (Something I’ve ashamedly skirted myself in years past.) In a more casual, non-inflammatory sense, the term is simply used to describe someone who is just a really big Nintendo fan. But the existence of the term demonstrates just how large and passionate the Nintendo fan community can be.

The quality and style of Nintendo’s games are certainly capable of garnering a core fan base, whether it be in the late ’80s when they were revolutionizing the home console market, or today when they offer a distinctly different experience from more “mainstream” games seen on other platforms. But aside from the games, themselves, Nintendo does a remarkable job of creating a sense of community that has nurtured that fan base into something a little more.

It started in the late ’80s with the original Nintendo Fun Club newsletter that quickly evolved into the long-running Nintendo Power magazine. The “Player’s Pulse” section highlighted how Nintendo manifested itself into fans’ everyday lives, from the envelope artwork to pets being named after Nintendo characters. It created a sense of community in an era long before the internet became a household thing.

And when the internet did become a thing in the later ’90s, Nintendo was actually there pretty early on, beginning with the Nintendo Power Source on AOL. An official website soon followed with chat rooms and message boards dubbed with silly names based on whatever current marketing slogan they were using, like The Loudhouse (for “Play It Loud”) and Nsider (“Get N or Get Out”). It even had its own online summer camp known as Camp Hyrule.

Of course, the rise of the internet also allowed more fans to connect beyond Nintendo’s own official channels, with countless fan sites and fan forums coming and going over the years. Perhaps that’s why Nintendo ended up shutting down their own forums (aside from the tech support forum) in the mid 2000s, deciding that the fan community was sustaining itself.

The launch of their social network Miiverse, however, in late 2012 (alongside the release of the Wii U and the end of Nintendo Power) marked a new era for the official Nintendo community. More than just a message board, Miiverse plugs directly into the games, themselves, allowing users to post screenshots or use other integrated functionality that, at times, is actually quite clever. (Like the “message in a bottle” in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, or the graffiti in Splatoon.)

Nintendo has also experimented with video content over the years. In the ’90s, they mailed out VHS tapes promoting games like Donkey Kong Country and Star Fox 64. During the Wii generation, users could download the Nintendo Channel, which featured a weekly show called (appropriately) Nintendo Week. More recently, Nintendo has embraced standard streaming services like YouTube and Twitch, and along with them, presents new shows like Nintendo Direct, Nintendo Minute and Treehouse Live.

A sense of shared interests is the glue that holds together any fan community, and Nintendo has been providing this to its fans for nearly 30 years now. However, as a longtime fan myself, I admit I have mixed feeling about it. At times, being part of the Nintendo fan community is enjoyable and valuable, but as with any fan community, it has its darker side and stigmas that I’d prefer not to be associated with.

As a kid, I wasn’t always around other kids who were into Nintendo like I was. Reading about other fans in Nintendo Power was always one of my favorite parts of the magazine. By the time we got home internet access, I jumped right into the online community, and it was great to nerd out with other fans, but as mentioned previously, it didn’t necessarily have a positive effect. By the early 2000s, this actually led me to avoid the Nintendo fan community for a few years. In fact, I stayed off of nearly all internet forums for a time as I tried to get back to basics as a gamer.

When I did feel I was ready to chat with other gamers online again, I looked for general videogame forums. After all, I figured Nintendo was just another platform, and there was no reason I couldn’t chat about the games I loved in a place with other people who loved games that happened to be on other platforms. I really wasn’t interested in returning to the “fanboy’s” perspective. The perspective I wanted was Nintendo in the context of the greater gaming community.

And that’s what I got. Unfortunately, something really annoying came with it: other fanboys. It wasn’t always the kind that fawned over PlayStation or Xbox in the way that Nintendo fanboys were usually known for, but it was often a general anti-Nintendo sentiment. It was difficult to start a discussion about anything Nintendo-related without some random person jumping in to take a cheap dig at Nintendo and make sure I knew how much they sucked.

I was able to put up with it for a while, because certainly there were plenty of other “normal” gamers, but it kind of wore me down after a while. As reluctant as I was to rejoin the Nintendo fan community, it was really the best option for chatting with other people who shared the same appreciation for Nintendo that I did. The trick was in finding the right community. I wanted something that was neither full of blind fanboys, nor anti-Nintendo sentiment. I avoided the official forums, which were still up at that time, and looked into fan forums. Fortunately, I was able to find one that fit me.

I suppose that’s the value that the Nintendo fan community holds for me today. It’s more fun to connect with other fans when you don’t have to worry about anti-Nintendo fanboys trying to gang up you. And to be clear, it’s absolutely not about trying to avoid criticism of Nintendo. They certainly bring it upon themselves from time to time, and fans can be their harshest critics. But for me, it’s about sharing common interests while avoiding the fanboyism.

I guess what I’m really trying to say here is (once again), fanboys suck.