I love video game music, especially Nintendo music. As far back as I can remember, my passion for games has always been matched by a passion for the music accompanying them. Rather than being something I merely listen to when I have nothing else to enjoy, or only listening when playing a game (ie listening to the music in its 'natural state'), gaming music has, over time, become my primary choice for listening satisfaction. Although I was never a musician (taking violin lessons as a kid doesn't count), I always felt strongly attached to video game music, especially for games that I am passionate about.
(I will say that I truly believe the music is much more enjoyable when listened to in the context of the game itself. As a result, I usually only listen to game soundtracks outside that context ONLY after having played and familiarized myself with the game).
As a kid in the 80s, I had too much fun using an audio cassette recorder to just go around and record whatever the heck I wanted. One of my earliest memories of capturing game music to call my own was placing the tape recorder next to the TV speakers and recording the music for the NES Dr. Mario. That game had a very catchy beat for both Chill and Fever.
Not exactly the one I had, but you get the idea.
With the next wave of Nintendo consoles following the NES, at some point I was able to upgrade my sound system to a nice little stereo system, which incredibly had TWO cassette decks, one of which allowed recording! In addition, this stereo system had audio inputs, so I found a way to put those Nintendo A/V cables to good use, and started recording my own game soundtrack cassettes. The quality wasn't terribly great, but that mattered not. I remember riding the bus home from school, with a walkman in my backpack, completely relaxed by the soothing Koopa Troopa Beach from the SNES Super Mario Kart. Some other games I fondly remember recording the music in this fashion were Kirby 64 and The New Tetris (N64), though I have no idea where those tapes are now.
And even if I didn't record all the music I wanted to, how can I forget the many times I would just go to the sound test menu of games like Super Castlevania IV and just savor the music? This was especially true for Donkey Kong Country; it had a soundtrack like no other Nintendo game I had played up to that point. Listening to the underwater stage music while doing stuff around the house was amazing, it was completely soothing and otherworldly, and it was this game that Nintendo chose to begin a new era of official game music soundtracks... through the Super Power Supplies Catalog.
Unfortunately this is not mine. Where did I put my cassette at??
At that time I was studying the visual arts in high school and, at the same time, being exposed to the merit of music as an art form. I remember my desire to take the DKC soundtrack to school so that non-gamers could listen and appreciate the advances being made in game music: it was becoming a deeper, richer, and a more complex listening experience. (It was common in many art classes to listen to some kind of classical music or something inspirational). Such was the power of the Super Nintendo audio CPU!
With the introduction of DK Jamz, I found myself saving as much of my spare change as I could; even though most of my cash was allocated for games in general, I now had the goal of getting the soundtracks offered through the Catalog! Long-time Nintendo Power subscribers should remember the catalogs; you could use Super Power Stamps to get discounts on the stuff they offered! DK Jamz would get very many repeat listens in my room: Life in the Mines (always brings a tear to my eye) , the now classic Jungle Theme, and several others. The DKC2 soundtrack followed soon after, and I remember my great desire for Nintendo to publish a Yoshi's Island soundtrack. In fact, there have been many games since that time that would ultimately never get an official soundtrack, but I'll get to that later.
Eventually our family was able to afford a CD player, and with that I was ecstatic that I could now listen to Nintendo music in digital, 'crystal-clear' quality. Almost as amazing as Crystal Pepsi. One of the first CDs I bought was 'Play it Loud vol. 1' (1996). Finally, some Yoshi's Island music (other SNES games on there are F-Zero, A Link to the Past, and Star Fox)! But the selection per game is pretty small. In fact, there are very few memorable tracks on this CD, and they never even released the promised 'vol. 2' that I had been hoping for. Eventually, the N64 came along, and with that, I would amass a large N64 soundtrack CD library. Rareware, how I loved thee!
My NP Catalog CDs
There were even these two specially shaped CDs!
There were also rare instances where Nintendo Power gave away free CDs, the most memorable being the 'Super Smash Bros. Melee: Smashing Live' orchestra recording performed in Japan. This is still one of my favorite albums of all time. I think my Wave Race Blue Storm and Twilight Princess CDs fall into this 'NP freebie' category as well. The Twilight Princess CD is one of the biggest let-downs, as it only contains a tiny number of tracks from the game.
Buying import CDs
At some point I began to realize how far behind the U.S. was, compared to Japan, in making game music readily available to the masses. Game music has not reached the point of being popular enough that you can just walk down to the store and buy it. The scene has improved slightly over time, but I still think there's a lot more that could be done, and a lot of catching up to do before game music becomes as mainstream as any other form of music. But I digress. In any case, I found myself looking for music CDs already available in Japan for some of my favorite games! The down side to this is the relatively high cost of buying import CDs. One favorite in this collection is the Metroid Prime/ Metroid Fusion combo. Phendrana Drifts is such a beautiful song; every time I listen to it, I clearly remember the first time I gazed upon the serene white scenery surrounding Samus, amazed at what Retro Studios managed to pull off and completely immerse me in this beautiful yet dangerous world.
My import CDs
Another downside to this period of my game music collectathon came about when I went to sites like ebay in an effort to save money, and ended up getting bootleg copies, though I was not aware of it until later. I ended up getting pirated copies of Final Fantasy IV, VI, and Chrono Trigger OST's (Original Soundtracks), and once I realized what had happened, suffice it to say I was... not happy. I should have been able to discern these upon closer inspection, not just from the quality in packaging but also how the music sounded. Lesson learned.
I couldn't tell these were bootlegs when I first got them...
Other music formats
There's no way I can talk about my favorite game music without bringing up OC Remix, a site I was initially turned off to years ago due to the fact most of their remixes take great liberty with the source material and greatly expand upon the basic melodies. But once I discovered the enormous musical talent that flourishes on that site, I was listening to hundreds of songs from my favorite games, all of them re-arranged in a multitude of different ways. I might have to list out some of my favorites at a later point, maybe even a top 10, but songs like Chekan Winter (DKC), 'Awakened Fears of the Gerudo' (Ocarina of Time), 'Crystalline Caverns' (Yoshi's Island), are a few favorites. I started out creating a variety of OC Remix CDs before I had the luxury of simply importing them to my mp3 player. Just recently I've been listening a lot to the albums 'Harmony of a Hunter' (Metroid arrangements) and 'Threshold of a Dream' (Link's Awakening arrangements).
When official soundtracks become available for purchase, I will purchase them, even as downloadable purchases. Case in point: All the BIT.TRIP games (at cdbaby.com), Dark Void Zero (DSiWare). But when they're not available, I take solace in the fact that a lot of music nowadays gets ripped and available for download if you know where to look.
As I mentioned before, there a lot of games I would like to purchase OSTs for if they were available. When that is not an option, I come to the last resort of finding the music to download online, which is not too hard to find, amazingly enough. A lot of sites out there rip the music and place it out there for your downloading pleasure. It's not the ideal method of acquiring the music (the sound quality can suffer a bit depending on where you get it from), but many times there are no other options (I think there's an option to convert youtube sound to mp3s as well?). I remember back when the internet was still new to me, Rareware actually posted music track downloads on their site for both Jet Force Gemini and Conker's Bad Fur Day. Those games have excellent soundtracks.
Oh, and I did purchase the CD 'The One-Ups vol. 1', one of the first game music cover bands I really listened to. This jazzy album is very pleasant!
To this day, I'm happy to see the continuing trend of packing in game soundtracks when you buy a game. One of the earliest games I remember that did this was Killer Instinct for the SNES, which came with Killer Cuts, featuring arranged tracks based on characters' theme songs as well as stages (the CD opens up with Orchid's K.I. Feeling, awesome stuff).
Super Mario All-Stars for Wii came with a Mario sampler CD, BIT.TRIP Complete came with a soundtrack sampler CD and included music from each game in the series, while Skyward Sword includes the 25th anniversary concert CD. Another notable game with a great pack-in was the Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin pre-order bundle commemorating the series' 20th anniversary (including the CD with music from various Castlevania games).
Continuing to listen every day..
The beautiful thing is having all this music in one place, which is now more convenient than ever with portable mp3 players, ipods, 3DS'es, and such. My ipod is game music heaven, and I have to mention the Radio Trivia podcast as well, a place to listen to music from Nintendo systems where you try to guess the game while enjoying the music (or not enjoying it, depending if particularly bad music was selected).
Oh, roykoopa64, how much your thoughts echo mine. I listen to video game music more than almost any other genre, save for maybe classical. Video game music makes up the majority my hard drive (where music is concerned), it fills my portable music player to nearly the brim, and I have game music CDs in my car. When I'm driving and it rains? I listen, almost always, to Ecco the Dolphin (Sega CD (example track)). When I need to get ready to leave for some kind of engagement and I need motivation to get moving? It's No More Heroes' Cashmere Cannonball, or Mega Man 2 BubbleMan (wantstoget) FunkedUp via OCReMix, with Mega Man 3 Ravaging Reptile via OCReMix to usually follow. It almost never fails that these three songs are blasting away as I get myself together. When I found the soundtrack to Super Mario Hop, Step, Jump! several years ago... Oh my. I literally had a rare smile plastered upon my face for the full fifteen minutes of the first track. It was sheer nostalgic bliss through and through. I have, as well, paid a premium for import soundtracks for games, as I just had to have them! Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger (Brink of Time, too (example track)), the Zeldas, Mario Galaxy, and so on. If I'm not listing to classical, or silence, I'm listening to video game soundtracks and remixes! Just last night I listened to a near endless loop of the Hulahoop PSI Mix from EarthBound. What that song does to me... And before that, and many times before that... The GCN Animal Crossing soundtrack (example track). And before that, well, you get the picture!
Before the age of being able to buy or download gaming music as easily as one can now, I would play games just to listen to the music. Music, more than any other factor, is what keeps me going in a game. If a game is fun, but features stinky music, I seriously struggle to continue on. If a game has a stellar soundtrack, I am hooked almost instantly. Jet Force Gemini? Amazing soundtrack, that despite the game's flaws, kept me going, and listening, and listening. Same with the semi recent WiiWare release, Rotozoa. The moment I started that game, I was blown away by the game's sound, and played for hours. Hours! Sadly, many games have lost their way and no longer feature the catchy, awesome tunes of old. They go the mood music route. The Zelda series is guilty of this, sadly. Thankfully, though, mood music isn't always bad, and can sustain my interest. It's just a shame coming from the SNES days of super rad game soundtracks, with GB/N64/GCN having more than their fair share of memorable musical melodies to behold. I can tell you that I beat Perfect Dark over and over just to hear the credits' music. Same is true for many a game. EarthBound is another (and one that I should be placing more emphasis upon!). So is Super Mario Bros. 2 (example track). And Mario 64, Super Mario World, and so on. Not to mention all of the times I have played, as I noted earlier, just to have an excuse to listen to the music. Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, and all of the games and more that I listed above. I would start a game, and wander around just for the sake of taking in the tunes. F-Zero GX's Aeropolis stage, is one of random to note. That level's music was so captivating that I would play the level over and over and over again. It's my best level to play, and I can say that it is due to the music's hold on me. It moves me to excel. Kirby games are another often played bunch. They're super easy, so there's no reason to play them over and over, but when the music is as good as it is, I just can't help myself! Save for Epic Yarn. But I digress. So many games, so many memorable melodies that I could continue my blabbering ways for paragraphs on end.
So, yes, my love for Nintendo music (I'm practically a Nintendo only gamer after all) is rooted in the past, still hot and heavy in the present, and a definite constant to be sure in the future.
I've only ever bought the Ocarina of Time soundtrack (and then I got it again free with Zelda 3DS). My brother in law has that FF7 CD and my brother has some Shin Megami Tensei stuff, but in general not a lot of video game music in our collections.
Ah, a fellow game music 'connoisseur,' heh. No, but seriously, I'm glad to see others who are just as passionate as the music as I am, or even more so.
I love your post, it almost serves as a companion piece to the OP. Thanks for mentioning specific songs as examples of music you listen to depending on the situation you're in; I'm very intrigued and will have to check them out (especially 'Super Mario Hop, Step, Jump!' Never heard of it). My only fault is not keeping up with all the new stuff on my own, usually someone finds something cool and brings it to my attention (like you just did).
I'm glad my post wasn't taken as an infringement upon yours. I was worried I went overboard, as my enthusiasm got the best of me at the late hour in which I found cause to type away. Also, I am ashamed that I didn't link you/whomever to any of the songs I made mention of/eluded to. So, I have edited my post as a means of rectification. Many probably didn't need linking to, but I linked anyway for the sake of being somewhat consistent.