Friday, August 21, 2020

JRPG Opening Wild Arms Theme

By Dia Lacina
August 6. 2020

It’s another month, and the beginning of the double digits for this column. Did I think we’d make it this long? Nope. But then I don’t know if I thought videogames would make it this long. I certainly never expected to be 37.

But here we are. Me, still old and nostalgic. Games, still going through some serious shit. And the world, still in the grip of a pandemic as government officials continuously display their regressive, selfish malice and abject incompetence, all to prop themselves and their rich buddies up in an increasingly failed and morally bankrupt economic and political system.

“Games are about feeling powerful, and you getting your way,” Leigh Alexander once remarked. She deployed it with the layered potency only a sharp, envenomed media critic could. But I’m borrowing from her so that we can talk about a genre where you can hang out with your cool friends and go slay fascists, zealots, and God.

I know Japanese role-playing games are often about reestablishing a monarchic status quo, or feature a problematic pastoralism, or indulge in deeply conservative ideology at times. But the tunes fucking rip.

Yes, we’re doing more JRPGs this week, because I say so. But not full soundtracks. This is a new month. A prelude to hope. Maybe August will be better. Probably not, but the tracks I’ve selected for you this week bring hopeful inspiration and an awareness of the grim determination you need to kick ass. Let’s start a new adventure.

Games are about being powerful, and this column is me getting my way.

I want to rock out and punch God with my overleveled anime friends and maybe save the world.
I never finished either of the first two RPGs that came out in America for the PlayStation. The first, Beyond the Beyond, was a fairly styleless, by-the-books “JRPG” (I know it’s a silly complicated term but it’s what we have) held over from the 16-bit era before it.

And then there was Wild Arms.

I don’t like Westerns. I don’t find the aesthetic compelling, and I generally hate the political underpinnings of the genre. And while Wild Arms had decent enough 2D artwork, the 3D battle sequences were neither visually nor mechanically compelling to me. It’s still pretty good though? And there sure are a lot of them now. While I might have fallen off, I have to tell you…
Damn did the opening hit! Still does!

Borrowing from the budget-constrained sound of Spaghetti Westerns, Michiko Naruke pulls musical ideas from Ennio Morriccone as much as she does Classical European composers. Minor keys shimmer over with major tonalities. Brass and strings course through moments of hand claps, harmonica, and reverb-heavy guitar. The resultant mix is one of dense high fantasy bombast and the echo-y expanse.

But it’s the opening that has always stuck with me. “Into the Wilderness” sets the stage for Naoki Takao’s plaintive frontier whistling with lone acoustic fingerpicking, then builds into a sweeping anime adventure where the intrusion of industry pierces a magical environmentalist urging.

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