When Things Shouldn’t Change: Pokemon GS

Well I’ll be talking about music as usual, of course this time my complaint is with one of the big sellers of this year: Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver. Now of course I will openly say that I was initially wary of this game because it was, in fact, my favorite out of the series, and I really did not want to be disappointed, nor to pay $40.  So naturally I did not buy it, but of course I checked out the music, and I was dismayed to find something that stopped far short of it’s potential.


To clear the air of any immediate aggression. I will say that as a physical game, I do enjoy the enhancements to Pokemon GS. The graphics are nice, running shoes come into the game early – which are always a godsend even if it is an anachronism, but of course so is the enhanced pokedex and the lack of surprise discovering pokemon eggs from Prof Elm, but still: The poke walker is a fun and addicting app, and the touch interface more than makes up for the cost of buying the same game over again. And of course, don’t get me wrong, there are many elements of the music that I enjoy, especially the diverse instrumentation and creative retakes on the songs.

Now to begin my review, I will say that I enjoy chiptunes very much, and I believe that they hold a certain magical power that is not found in the fully orchestrated games of today – though I love them also and I think they are very pretty. Pokemon GS was one of my favorite OSTs of bitunes, of course I couldn’t listen to them for more than an hour straight because they were bitunes, but I still hold that the melodies have this powerful grasp on your heartstrings.

To make things simple, I’ll start with the basics: One of the first tracks you hear is “New Bark Town”. This has always been one of my top picks from the OST, and I feel that it loses all of its presence in the DS version.

Original:

The song we have here is very friendly and bouncy in the A section, but it still has a hint of home and regularity in it, and as the B section hits, the song gets slower and almost reminiscent.

New:

Right from the intro, I dislike this song. It has cheesy strings and as it gathers layers, there’s some lazy sort of bass steel drum combo. Then, for reasons I cannot understand, a xylophone slides in there, and after the B section: a jazzy piano. What is this mess? The only good section of this ruined classic is when all the other instruments die in the B section, and even then, I prefer the isolated Piano notes used in Snowpeak and Lake themes in Pokemon D&P. I just don’t see how they thought this worked.

But this soundtrack is too big to go on a case by case basis so I’ll just give my theory: I think the biggest problem with this OST is that they got too creative. They wanted the same diversity that they had when they wrote the Diamond and Pearl OST, which was brilliant and could shift from hip hop to traditional japanese smoothly – and the samples sounded good, I might add – but here we have a stew of sloppy-quality junk. Nintendo does not have the liberty here to write new and fitting songs, and it has to work with melodies that were configured with a different soundcard, and it simply does not translate.

The samples on the DS may not sound perfect, but when you look at the theme for Lake Acuity/… you would hardly notice that this theme has as many layers as New Bark Town because they are used so effectively and they make sense.

Now don’t think that I hate this entire soundtrack and believe that it is irredeemable. There are definitely some very cool songs that hit the mark and then some. Such as: Lavender Town, and many of the battle themes.

Lavender Town:

This song does loose a bit of the chiptunes original feel, but it adds its own by being able to use so many different instruments, and I think the B section sounds nicer than the original because the soundcard enables it to be much softer than the original chiptunes.

Vs Kanto Gym Leader:

The instrumentation on this track just feels so fresh and hip. I definitely feel that the original has as much power and tension, but this track more of a fun flow to it.

Ultimately, I’d like to leave this soundtrack with hope. Pokemon Music has come a LONG way in terms of sound quality and composition. The original soundtrack was very basic – of course not without its own powerful melodies – but it set the standard for improvement. Then Gold and Silver came along and blew me away with tracks like “Champion Battle” and “Dark Cave”; But, then I was introduced to Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, which I didn’t enjoy the OST overall, yet there were some tracks that showed me that pokemon had the ability to really move on musically – such as in the “Ending Theme” – and then Pokemon D&P showed me how fresh pokemon could be as it added new layers and modern genres to its collection. Finally this leaves us at HG&SS – a soundtrack that allowed composers and arrangers to take a look back. No, this soundtrack wont be on my hall of fame, but it’s still a good effort and another benchmark for the excellent composition and arrangement of Go Ichinose & Junichi Masuda, and also of what the DS soundcard can really achieve.

~Dan

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