A Series of Series: Pokemon

My next string of articles will be reviewing music for games that  are in a series. I’ll start with the pokemon series and go on from there. It’s interesting to watch a series progress from game to game and platform to platform because the composers often change hands, or styles in many cases.

Junichi Masuda

Pokemon

For no reason in particular (other than I think gold & silver is one of the top OSTs) I’ll go over the Pokemon series first. From the get go, the music of Pokemon was dominated by one man: Junichi Masuda. This man has single-handedly carved out so many of the anthemic Pokemon themes that would be adapted to the TV show by Shinji Miyazaki.

One trend that I’ve noticed with the music in the series is that it is consistent. In an interview with Masuda from Gamasutra, Masuda states that he focuses on keeping pokemon simple and consistent. I definitely think that the music from each of the games reflects that decision.

One of the most common things I’ve noticed each time I listen to the music from the original onward is that the music is very thin. It reall is impressive how Masuda manages to get polyphonic melodies with a NES thickness of tracks. Not to mention that these melodies are also very different and generally memorable.

Let’s start from the beginning and take a look at the opening of Red/Blue v. Gold/Silver. The two of them are two very different, awesome intros, but at the same time they have many similarities. For starters percussion plays a key role. It pounds up the intro and then peppers the rest of the theme as it slows down again. In the silver version, the song starts slow and finishes faster and percussion is most definitely an essential element of the theme.
Another thing to note is that both of the themes are about 3 tracks, with both having a standout bassline in many parts.

Of course I have to talk about home town themes. Every home town for pokemon has had a catchy, slightly sad home town theme. Going from Pallet to New Bark, to Littleroot, and now to Twinleaf. They all have a similar tone to them, and the fact that they can be associated with trees… If I had a to pick a standout in this series though, it would have to be new bark town. The song has every quality, but it just a more wistful melody.

Next up I want to take a look at popular cave/forest themes, and one should of course come right to mind: Viridian forest/(Diglett’s Cave). Listening to much of the Pokemon Red/Blue soundtrack, I’ve noticed an eerie space/echo within the music that is prevalent on many of the tracks, but it’s particularly noticeable on the ‘scary’ ones. This space meshes so well with the two layers (in a spot 3) and percussion that the song is strongly immersive.

For the Gold & Silver series Slowpoke well/( Dark Cave/ Ice)  is the matching track. This track has 3 continuous layers and percussion, and it makes good use of space – particularly at the end of the B section of the song. One especially ingenious device I enjoy in the song is the ‘breakdown’ that occurs as a C section where it is the drums and bassline, and one layer that goes over it.

Of course what would a Pokemon game be without routes? Pokemon always guarantees you about 5-10 route themes, and with the addition of Day and Night music in Diamond and Pearl. (Kind of weird that Pokemon Gold and Silver started the day and night trend and didn’t change the music, and then  it was left out altogether in ruby/sapphire..)

From the original we have “The road to Lavender Town – From Vermillion” which is one of the stronger, driving road ballads. As opposed to from Pallet to Viridian which is a bright, cheerful tune. Note that this song has some light percussion very similar to the style in the next song.

From Gold and Silver I offer “Routes 46, 36, 32, 34, 35, 37” This song is another driving, percussion layered song that really stands out from the other routes.

On Ruby and Sapphire we have “Route 119”, which is a massive song that blends the high and lows of a marching tune.

For the latest series: I’d pick “Route 205” for being the music catchy and upbeat tune; But I must say that D/P definitely has the most diverse route themes of any of the games yet. Jumping from a march to a jazzy beat, or even bordering on techno.

Finally, I can’t leave out battle themes! Every single Pokemon game has had a smashing battle theme or two.

For the original, I’d say that “Battle (VS Gymleader) is easily the best one. I think it has the most epic and heartening melody to it. It also starts the classic Pokemon battle theme of doing two notes and then jumping up and repeating for a few times.

Next up it Gold and Silver, and it sounds like it would succed the last theme two. The tones and key have changed a bit, but it keeps true to original with lots of sections of fast jumps.

Ruby & Sapphire offer us two solid battle themes: “Aqua & Magma Leader Battle!” which has a scary intro with a Spanish edge to the whole song, and “Battle! Elite Four” which definitely sticks closest to the Pokemon battle theme tradition (it’s about the only one that does it too) but it’s also a standout, unique song for the series with high crystal drops to clapping transitions.

Credit goes to the Bad guys in Pokemon Diamond/Pearl with the song “Battle! Galaxy Gang Boss” One thing I’ve noticed about D/P is that it has battle themes that are fitting but boring overall (With One LARGE exception) but I think this particular song breaks the mold and connects to its roots.

(No youtube sorry) Battle! Galaxy Gang Boss

!!!

I almost forgot to talk about Surf themes! Definitely another highlight of every Pokemon game is the surf theme. It’s a track you’re most likely going to be hearing a lot as at least two routes are all water in every game.

“Ocean” is the Surf theme for red/blue and it is a very gay, cheerful tune that could brighten up anyones day.

Next up is “Surf Theme” from Pokemon Gold & Silver which I think is an improvement on the original in this case. This sound is very cheerful and catchy, but I think overall it is a better melody and it has more transitions.

“Surf Theme” from Ruby and Sapphire is another solid surf theme, keeping with the trend, but definitely going in it’s own direction by taking full advantage of the new sound system and samples.

Here’s a trend-breaker, ” Surf” from Diamond and Pearl is a very unique theme for the series. It has, of course, much better samples, but it chooses to use a minimal amount of instruments to get such a relaxed environment, and I’d say it does an excellent job.

Differences

Pokemon Red & Blue – Junichi Masuda

It’s difficult to talk negatively or positively about this soundtrack at points just because it is THE soundtrack. Masuda set the base for all future games from here on, but in any event, there are a few things I can point out – qualities that this OST has that later games really don’t.

Pokemon B/R definitely posses an Aura to it. I’ve heard it commented about many older games that they have this unique presence to them, not to say that some *well made AND thought out* games today do not, but there’s just something about the music to Pokemon Red & Blue that instantly lets you know what game it’s from. A good example of that for me is Vermillion’s theme, it’s very strident and defined, you might even say it’s overly simple, but there’s something magical at the core.

Another quality that Pokemon B/R has in it’s music is creepiness. I can honestly say that no other Pokemon soundtrack nearly as chilling. Viridian forest starts the descension and Pokemon Mansion gets even creepier until you arrive at Lavander town: your last stop.



Pokemon Gold & Silver – Junichi Masuda, Go Ichinose

The successor to the throne, the inheritor of a legacy: Pokemon Gold & SIlver really had alot to live up to after the boom that was pokemon; And without a doubt, G/S had no trouble going above and beyond the grade. Pokemon G/S offered us not one game/world but two! Once finished with the Johto region, you could venture back to your old stomping ground in Kanto, which was something that just blew my mind. Not to mention that the soundtrack expanded to fit the bill, and I wouldn’t say it cut back on quality to do so. I would definitely say that it did not have as much presence as the original, but it made up for it by making its own stand as a game.

Tracks like Slowpoke Well and Lance’s Battle theme really gave Gold & Silver it’s own identity. I would that cycling music really placed Gold & Silver at the top, “Bicycle Theme” & “Cyling Road” are definitely top tracks for the series as a whole. Bike theme is a rollercoaster ride of fun and the cyling road is surprisingly epic. I guess kind of what they were going for with the latest yu-gi-oh by putting them on motorbikes… (wtf..)


One thing I always forget about, which is definitely the problem in this case, is the radio. Pokemon Gold & Silver has the cool idea of giving you a radio to listen to. This radio not only allowed you to play different stations with different songs on them – a VERY nice brake in rpgs when grinding starts making the music tedious – but it also gave you advice on Pokemon and where they could be found (and later helped you wake Snorlax!).

“Radio – Places & People” has always been one of my favorite songs from the whole Soundtrack and you need the radio to hear it. I really wish they would have brought it back.

Pokemon Gold & Silver also introduced Day & Night – and Pokemon that can be caught specifically in – but it wasn’t until Diamon & Pearl that Day/Night music was capitalized on.

Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire – Junichi Masuda, Go Ichinose

Upgrades, upgrades, upgrades… The working title for the music of Ruby & Sapphire. The Gameboy Advance gave Masuda and Go Ichinose a whole new sound setup to work with and they did. My biggest fear with the OST of Ruby & Sapphire is that the advanced samples acted as a crutch to compensate for less work on the composing end, but I would say that the contrary is true.

A nice town theme like “Rustboro City” helps to prove that R/S can hold its own.

I would also say that R/S gets the Epic award out of the series, tracks like “Route 113”, “Cave of Origin – Meteor Falls”, and “Mount Pyre (Outer Wall)” take the proverbial epic cake.

Pokemon Diamond & Pearl – Junichi Masuda, Tsuyoshi Ichinse, Hitomi Sato

Pokemon Diamond & Pearl mark a jump to easily the best hand held sound card Nintendo has ever had. If you don’t believe me, listen to Castlevania ~ Aria of Sorrow, and then listen to Castlevania ~ Portrait of Ruin – the difference is absurd. Anyway, not only are all the samples better for Diamond and Pearl, but they also explore many more genres. This exploration does create a bunch of unique, lackluster tracks, but there are also many successes.

“Lake” is a very cool track that blends hip-hop beats in a very Maplestoryesque fashion. This is track is a standout for the whole series.

For a nice bluesy, western styled track there is “Eterna City”

For my final pick I’ll go back to Eterna to check out “Eterna Forest”, here is another killer hip hop ambient blend.

But wait! There’s more! One track that I must add in is Arceus’ battle theme. This track is probably the most bizarre and freaky of any Pokemon track, and there is no other battle theme like it. This song is almost entirely percussion with some synth and string touches.

All in all, Pokemon is one hell of a series that has captivated and addicted countless numbers of people; spawned numerous videos; and of course has its own trading card game. Without the music of Masuda and the composers to follow, I don’t think Pokemon would have been quite the same.

Of course I didn’t forget the classic theme, so I’ll end with: “Pokemon Center”

~Dan

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