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Spelling VGM Without RPG

Editorial Written by Bryan Nuss

Even though video games can span any genre, there seems to be a strong focus on the music from RPGs from us VGM fans. There certainly isn't a shortage of websites devoted to RPG music, specifically Square Enix soundtracks. When I first got into VGM, I was hard pressed to find any information for any soundtrack that wasn't composed by Nobuo Uematsu or Yasunori Mitsuda. Within the last few years though, this trend has fallen as several websites have sprung up detailing just about every type of game music. With the help of the internet, VGM is easily obtained by anyone, helping increase awareness. Concerts are being played around the world, showcasing every type of VGM out there. But with all this said, RPG music still seems to be the favorite for fans. At the very least, it is usually the starting point, the gateway drug, for music enthusiast.

I had a huge bias for RPG music up until recently and even now I still greatly prefer them. I can look back on the last few years and clearly see what turned me off about non-RPG soundtracks. For me personally, I typically only play RPGs. I think people can appreciate VGM better if they've played the game that accompanies it as part of the beauty of music is how it is applied. A battle theme that plays during a random fight may pump the listener up, but knowing that the piece was used in the fight with your best friend turned archenemy can really raise your adrenaline. I don't know how many gamers primarily play RPGs as I do, but I imagine most enjoy other genres. I would think that if a fan primarily plays shooting games, then they would prefer those respectable soundtracks. RPGs are certainly not the most popular type of games, so why do their soundtracks stand out?

Well, RPG music also tends to have a large variety in one soundtrack. Many different types and styles of music can be heard in a single CD, while non-RPGs seem to focus more specifically on one or two. RPGs also tend to have a large and detailed plot, so their soundtracks have music that emits many emotions ranging from happiness to sadness to even jealousy. Again, non-RPGs seem to focus on just a few emotions, such as rage and pain, like in God of War. Of course this doesn't apply to every one, but if a game is going for a creepy atmosphere, then the soundtrack is probably going to be primarily creepy music. If it's a Mario or Rockman game, it probably has some upbeat music to keep you pumped up while you play. RPGs can certainly focus on one or two emotions, but as time goes on the stories in games tend to get more complex. We can see this just by comparing the soundtracks for Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII.

So if you are someone who's focused on RPG music and want to expand your library, where do you start? VGM is expensive and plentiful, so trying new types can certainly be daunting. The good news is that other fans have done most of the work for you. Many sites offer reviews; in fact the site you're on is filled with them ranging from Nintendo to Konami soundtracks. Spend a few minutes reading reviews you're interested in. If you don't know where to start, feel free to ask in the forums for suggestions. Samples of music are easy to come by, so you don't have to buy blind (or deaf, in this case). Even watching a YouTube video can help identify something you like.

From my experience, the most common way fans experience new types of VGM is by following their favorite composers. This can work to our advantage, though, as I can't think of a single composer who has never collaborated with at least another one. Following someone popular like Yasunori Mitsuda can quickly lead to other great artists such as Kenji Ito, Yoshitaka Hirota, Masashi Hamauzu, Yoko Shimomura, and Miki Higashino, to name a few. To be fair, most of these will lead to other RPG soundtracks, but you'll be slowly expanding your listening choices. By experiencing different artist's styles, I find that fans start to realize that what they love isn't RPG music, but music in general, which is the first step to getting rid of your RPG bias.

Collaborative albums are an easy way to hear multiple composers' styles. Some great choices to start with would be the Dark Chronicle and Rogue Galaxy Premium Arrange albums. Both of these are full of RPG arrangements from fan favorite artists as well as lesser known ones who work all over the place. If you find yourself enjoying certain tracks, look up the composer responsible and track some music from him/her. Another great soundtrack to experience is the Super Smash Bros. Brawl through a game rip. The music is composed by a huge list of VGM royalty which will give your auditory sense a one way ticket to awesome town. OK, so that was a lame analogy, but you get the point. Fan arranged albums can also lead you to some new VGM, but these seem to be hit or miss to me. These albums are usually done by multiple fans, so you might find you only like a few pieces, but that could be said about any album. OneUp Studios puts out great arrange CDs, so you could certainly start there.

No matter which type of game music you prefer, I strongly recommend that you try out something new when you can. As much as I hate to admit it, my non-RPG purchases have been the most educational to my musical taste, if sometimes for the reason they showed me what I didn't like. There was actually a time when I thought I was a huge fan of VGM just because I knew the composer's name from Final Fantasy and Xenogears. My ignorance ended when I put in The Very Best of Sega by OneUp Studios. That's when I realized that VGM was bigger than RPGs, and it's more than Square Enix. That's when I realized I should spend less time putting a label on the music I listen to, and just enjoy it. And that was the day I truly became a video game music fan.