This is an article by Jet, one of our new authors. He is going to be doing a couple of new series for us here on the site, starting with this one. The title may be changed later on, it’s a working title right now. Don’t forget to review and comment, let us know what you think. Hope you like it!
Happy Monday. I want to take a step back from new games for a few minutes and talk about what makes a game “good”. Today, I want to discuss music in video games. Everyone knows the Mario theme, “Megalovania” is a meme, music in gaming is as much part of the game’s story as the plot itself, and in some cases can even redeem an otherwise mediocre experience.
It is in this regard I want to talk about P.N.03 for the Game Cube. After a recent play through I was reminded of all that the game could have been and why I and many others still enjoy the game despite the extensive list of development sins. The concept was brilliant, the execution was fundamentally flawed, and while the game mechanics reward you greatly for mastering them, almost every aspect of the game – save the music – ranks at maybe a 5/10 and a “You Tried” badge. The music, however, is unbelievable and I find myself returning to the game at least once a year for the soundtrack alone.
The entire soundtrack is a take on late 90’s techno with influences of early DnB, industrial and acid house. Every track is extremely well written and arguably the most unifying aspect of the game. With the game taking place mostly indoors in a sci-fi robot facility…? I think its supposed to take place on a colonized planet filled with robots that have gone haywire, but I’m going to be honest, the story is flimsy at best and borders on incomplete. But, anyways, the game’s environment is primarily inside a facility of (mostly) brightly lit, white, sterile rooms and featuring exclusively laser- or plasma-firing robots. Additionally, the main character, Vanessa, is a mercenary who enjoys sunglasses, money, shades, fashion, eye wear, and dancing. Did I mention she likes her glasses? Because its pretty much the only spoiler-free character development I remember from the game. With all that combined and condensed into a single concept, the music makes more sense than any individual aspect.
With every track being excellent, it becomes hard to pick out specific greats; instead, it becomes a task of pulling out the tracks that do things drastically different and for reason. Mission 4 is the only mission that takes place entirely in a sand-blown outdoor environment. “Mission Four” brings in bongos and strings, focusing on a beat that takes inspiration from industrial or early jungle. The more industrial-like rhythms reminisce of the dirty iron technology of the zone, while the use of naturally existing instruments (even if they are just a patch) echoes of the natural, non-sterile, environment. As a composer myself, I find great pleasure in being able to distill a level’s design into a piece, and in a game where the only constant to work with is technology – and therefore the EDM – finding something tangible to musically write about and show this well is commendable.
I would like to mention “Mission Six” and “Mission Eight” as personal favorites before moving along to “Last Mission”. “Mission Six” is an ethereal and funky piece that’s just downright fun, and “Mission Eight” has aspects of liquid DnB mixed in with acid house and good ol’ techno. Both are outstanding works and deserve an honorable mention, but do little more than the rest of the OST for the game. “Last Mission” however, absolutely nails the design of the level. The final mission is absolutely enormous, and not just in the number of rooms. Every room is huge. There’s a lot of low lighting and open space, and while they don’t appear in overwhelming numbers, the enemies can be downright brutal. The music captures a lot of this amazingly well. The melody sounds like something straight out of Infected Mushroom. In a minor key and using quarter tones, the melody captures the dark foreboding texture of the level, then amplifies it with spacious reverb and soft echoes. The use of high soft pads and choral ahh’s help to build and release tension throughout the piece accenting the feeling of this being the final push.
Even without the game the soundtrack is solid. After a play through, however, the tracks individually reminisce of the mission they come from. That is something that doesn’t sound important at first, and may be taken for granted. A piece of music is a piece of the puzzle that defines a good level design, both must call upon each other to be successful. A completed level design capable of doing this outside the context of the other portions is an extraordinary design. For all its faults and its many flaws, P.N.03 did do one thing amazingly well and made a soundtrack worth a listen.