8GR8 #03: I Am Woman, Hear Me Score

Welcome back to 8GR8, where we take eight video game songs that have something in common and we group them into a playlist. Despite the steps we’ve taken in our society to put women on equal footing with men, it’s still very much a man’s world. And few areas in the private sector are more inhospitable to women than the video game industry. GamerGate and its constituents have really made life grossly and unnecessarily difficult for the lady folk. So today, we’re celebrating video game music composed by women.

1. Mario & Luigi Dream Team, “Victory in the Dream World”
Composer: Yoko Shimomura
Platform/Year: 3DS, 2013

Can’t hardly have a list devoted to compositions by women without including the First Lady of VGM, now can we? Shimomura’s golden touch has given us a lot of incredible soundtracks—Street Fighter II, Legend of Mana, and the Japan-only RPG Live-a-Live, to name just a few—but I thought I’d go with one of her more recent works for this one. Nintendo loosens up and gets delightfully weird when they put their flagship characters in RPGS, and I’ve personally always found the Mario & Luigi flavor more appealing than the Paper variety. I have to say I was a bit surprised by this game’s difficulty; its bosses really start to show some fangs as one approaches the midgame. And there’s a hard mode on top of that! The dream world parts of the game allow the soundtrack to get a little more wobbly, but this track blends a suspenseful edge with a spirited battle-readiness to great effect.

2. SimCity 2000, “Subway Song”
Composer: Sue Kasper
Platforms/Year: PC/Mac/Amiga, 1994

This game has come out on more platforms than you can count on both hands, but because I mostly played it in grade-school computer labs that were stocked with Macintosh Classics and PowerPCs, I’ve always largely considered SimCity 2000 to be kind of a Mac “thing”. I think the track I used above approximates pretty closely how it sounded on a Mac of the time, but I can’t say with much certainty. The sleekness and modernity of SimCity 2000‘s structures definitely adds to that Mac feeling; I would be lying if I said I still don’t daydream from time to time about living in an arcology.

3. Snailiad: A Snaily Game, “Area 2 (Spiralis Silere)”
Composer: Crystal Jacobs
Platform/Year: Browser, 2011

Even though snails move at a glacial pace, this one probably managed to crawl across your radar without leaving any slime trails. It’s a cute, enjoyable game, a compact Metroidvania that doesn’t take very long to beat and fully explore. As Snaily, a snaily snail, you set out to figure out where all your townmates have disappeared off to. You get to crawl up walls and eat plants and fire projectiles and basically have a pleasant time. It’s not going to set your world on fire like, say, Axiom Verge, but you’ll have fun. You can play it here.

4. Donkey Kong Land III, “Mill Fever”
Composer: Eveline Fischer[1]
Platform/Year: Game Boy, 1997

In their day, the Donkey Kong Country games were widely considered astounding graphical achievements, but the aesthetic didn’t translate so well to the Game Boy, where they mostly just looked like the toner cartridge exploded while they were making Xerox copies of the Super Nintendo graphics. Both versions of this song heavily tease “Can’t Buy Me Love”[2], but on the SNES, the melody is muted somewhat by the jungle echo of the xylophone it’s played on, whereas on the Game Boy, the piano sound leads the way with gusto, with a strong square-wave bass backing underneath, making it the more enjoyable variant.

5. Breath of Fire III, “Even the Sun’s Happy”
Composers: Yoshino Aoki, Akari Kaida
Platform/Year: PlayStation, 1998

Two ladies for the price of one song! This track plays during a fishing minigame, but it sounds like the kind of thing you’d hear in a super-cartoony 40s-style Toontown type of place. Everything bouncing up and down to the beat, even the buildings, and you look up and there’s Mr. Sun, smiling down at you, giving you two scoops of Raisin Bran! Yeah! Fiber! All right! It’s a rare thing when this song won’t lift my mood at least a little bit. That toe-tappin’ honkin’ horn that barges in after the breakdown is the epitome of a smile in music form. Wipe away that frown! Even the sun is happy!

6. Legendary Wings, “Stage 3”
Composers: Tamayo Kawamoto, Manami Matsumae
Platform/Year: NES, 1988

Another track with four X chromosomes behind it. The former is an erstwhile member of Taito house band Zuntata, and the latter is probably best known as the composer for the very first Mega Man game and, more recently, contributor to a few tracks on the Shovel Knight soundtrack. If you’re a fan of that proto-Man sound (see what I did there?), you’ll get it in spades here. Both the NES port of Legendary Wings and Mega Man 2 came out in 1988, but the sound of Legendary Wings hews more closely to the military-industrial vibe of the series originator’s soundtrack.

7. Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, “Frozen in Time”
Composer: Mieko Ishikawa
Platform/Year: PC-Engine, 1991

Ishikawa was one of the more renowned members of the legendary Falcom Sound Team, second only to Yuzo Koshiro. I’ve unfortunately never gotten around to playing an Ys game, but the music I’ve heard from them has been uniformly excellent. There were several versions of this soundtrack, but you know what a sucker for CD-ROM and Redbook audio I am; this one far and away takes the cake. I especially enjoy the way more and more staccato keyboard stabs are gradually added to the main riff in the second “verse”.

8. Plants vs. Zombies, “Graze the Roof”
Composer: Laura Shigihara
Platforms/Year: Various, 2009

Laura Shigihara has ascended to fame as an indie darling of sorts on the strength of a handful of Minecraft-related compositions and tracks like “Everything’s Alright” and “Jump”. These are good, but “VGM with lyrics” isn’t a flavor country I’m terribly fond of visiting. In my estimation, this is her highest-profile work to date—this game was flippin’ everywhere for a while on every console and platform imaginable, and even had a Game of the Year edition. The song starts off stellar, but it’s when the DJ scratches and fat bass start in that the song kicks into another gear altogether.

[1] Fischer was her surname at the time she composed this soundtrack; she is now Eveline Novakovic.

[2] “I don’t care too much for Kiddy / Kiddy was the lamest Kong”

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