Wit isn’t the only part of communication—just the most important one.
Wittiness means no downtime.
I haven’t played Final Fantasy XIII. I haven’t played Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. If my sources are trustworthy, I’d beat the latter before finding fun in the former.
I have played Dragon Quest VI. Love it! It dominates other DQs, like Dairy Queen and disqualification. Still took longer to ramp up than Mega Man X took to wrap up. (No, I didn’t mistype Dragon Quest VII.)
Repeat: Wittiness means no downtime. It doesn’t mean front-loading your best stuff; it means not-loading your best fluff. Start great; end better. It’s not proposing one-hour game; it’s opposing one-minute lame. No Boredom Ever!
Whether it’s 5’1″ or 6’10”, a witty game drops the waits and hits the weights. A witty game turns into heavy stuff for its length, but it’s all muscle.
The phrase “video game music” means something to most people—and something different from the phrase “movie music,” for example. The question is what it means and why. The skeptic might say there’s no such thing as video game music, only music that happens to be in video games, but even if that was true, it wouldn’t change the way people think and feel. This is a matter of word association, but also prototype theory and a pinch of Plato’s Theory of Forms.
The question is what the term brings to mind and why. In order to say “Yes, Virginia, there is video game music,” games must have carved out their own musical genre with unique characteristics.
I chose a sampling of twelve pieces of game music with these criteria:
* I consider the theme excellent in its own right.
* No 8-bit music. While chiptunes are a recognizable invention of the industry, there must be more to video game music than its instrumentation.
* No more than four well-known themes. I want most listeners to be unfamiliar with at least a few compositions so that they won’t already have mental associations with gameplay and can judge on their own merits whether the tunes sound like “video game music.” Only four pieces come from franchises that have sold five million or more copies.
First up is a trio of intro music. We begin with the Monster Hunter Main Theme and I can’t imagine any better illustration of what doesn’t come to my mind when I think of video game music. The gradual build and drawn-out notes remind me of the majesty of Jurassic Park or the grand scale of Star Wars. It reminds me of something that makes me stare in awe, not jump in and participate.
Wild Arms delivers an amazing intro scene on animation alone, but runs stronger still with Into the Wilderness backing it up. Inspired and classic music. Specific to video games? Not a bit. Unlike the Monster Hunter theme, this theme does make me want to pick up a controller and start killing enemies, but this could have been seamlessly slotted into any Western movie.
After four games stuck in Japan, Sakura Wars V made it overseas in the seventeenth hour. It’s apparent within ten seconds of its opening theme, Warriors of the Earth, that we’re in for a big band jazz piece. Sakura Wars has always drawn from all music genres even from an in-universe perspective, so this isn’t the series to turn to for dedicated game music.
Gamers occasionally cry foul on non-interactive cutscenes, saying that developers are emulating movies instead of synthesizing stories with the unique qualities of games. Whether a player likes non-interactivity is a matter of taste. I’m here to question a matter of fact: whether movies are the closest comparison point. I could weigh this out for most game genres—even first-person shooters borrow ideas from cinematography—but I’ll stick to RPGs because they use the same easy-to-reference measure of length that screenplays and novels do: word count.
Movies usually have to fit into two and a half hours, so they need to make the best of every minute. Dialogue stays brief; action moves quickly; camera shots linger long enough but not a moment longer. This is part of the reason that directors typically cut novel content when translating written words onto the big screen. Novels have a certain leeway for wordiness because people have varying reading speeds, but quality movies, like poems, waste no motion. With that in mind, I pasted ten RPG scripts into Microsoft Word for length comparisons and here’s what I found:
The World Ends With You (2008): ~69,000 words (not counting Another Day but counting other optional party dialogue)
Some fairly recent RPGs double or triple the amount of spoken dialogue over the RPGs of yesteryear. The limited amount of space on Super Nintendo cartridges served the same role as run time does for movies, forcing the story to stay snappy, but discs buried that issue so that RPG stories could let it all hang out. This isn’t a guaranteed positive and can allow for the bad kind of fluff and filler to settle in, but it also allows for worlds where not every character is a quick-witted, cut-to-the-chase speaker who delivers lightning-paced lines in high tempo. Less isn’t always more.
Recent RPG stories have longer build, allowing themselves time for more scenes in which “nothing happens” in the sense that characters have subtle emotional shifts but don’t take physical actions to advance the story. Old-school RPGs use swifter action-oriented structures that don’t tolerate delays between plot points. Neither is inherently better nor worse, but the approaches remain different—and as counterintuitive as it may sound, old-school RPGs might have more in common with movies than modern RPGs do.