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.