Welcome to Jukebox Heroes, a new biweekly column in which we jam an 8-track cassette into the deck and rock out to the best of MMO scores. I've been a huge soundtrack fan since about forever, and I collect both movie and video game scores like crazy. You may have seen this fanaticism peek through in a few of my Perfect Ten columns, and we thought it was time to give the sounds of MMOs their own dedicated space on Massively.
Before we go into today's featured soundtrack, I want to establish two ground rules for this column and the discussion that may follow. The first rule is that even though many players turn off MMO music due to repetition, that doesn't mean that the score itself is forgettable. It's just that no music is good enough to listen to 1,047 times in a row. The second rule is that we're going to focus on the music itself without a larger commentary on its MMO. Good games can have terrible music and vice-versa, so it's important to divorce game opinions from musical analysis.
Without further ado, I'm going to kick off this series by examining the latest MMO soundtrack I've acquired, Aion's. Aion is a gorgeous game to look at, and its music is just as -- if not more -- beautiful (and if you're not reading MJ's excellent Wings Over Atreia column, shame on you). Let's give it a listen.
So far as I can ascertain, Aion's released a whopping four soundtracks so far. It's a wealth of songs to go through, and for the purposes of today's column, I'm going to limit the scope to just the first: the original official game soundtrack. This works out thematically because it's the only one of Aion's scores composed by Ryo Kunihiko.
Kunihiko is a Korean composer who's been active since 1988. He's done music for a wide range of projects, from kids TV shows to anime to a Jackie Chan film. Aion was his first game soundtrack. NCsoft hired him at the beginning of Aion's development to compose what the execs deemed "real music," and not just for a mere soundtrack. By his own admission, he can't even place his music into a genre, as it reflects everything from classical to Nine Inch Nails.
What was his favorite track from Aion? "All of them are like my children," Kunihiko said in an interview. "It's really hard to choose only one among them. I have more affection for The Wings of Knight. It was the main title song for the game, at first. However, this changed as the game development progressed. I spent a long time working with this particular piece, and personally, I like it."
I've chosen five out of 22 tracks to highlight today. I have a very simple litmus test for music: If it makes me want to listen to it again, it deserves to be remembered, so I flag it as a favorite. These five are flagged in my folder.
Song of Moonlight
Instead of kicking this off with a thumping beat, I'm going to put Song of Moonlight at the head of the pack. It's a soft piece that uses a gentle piano and a lady doing her "oohs" and "ahhs" and "laaas." The effect is magical. It's hard to imagine this in a video game instead of, say, a Nicholas Sparks movie. But I can't make fun; it's very relaxing.
I didn't really know what to expect from a song with the name of "death waltz," but the product is... death waltzian. It's a little bit Harry Potter and a little bit Disney's Haunted Mansion put to a waltz. The piano that's at the center of so many of Aion's tracks is present here, but the full orchestra kicks in as well, from flutes to strings. It's spooky-lite and another track I wouldn't expect to hear in an MMO. That's kind of a compliment.
Solid State Battle
Now that I've almost lulled you to sleep with the previous two songs, it's time to wake up with a pulse-pounding track. I can imagine pulling off any number of capers to this song (real men don't do crime; we pull capers). I like the juxtaposition of the orchestra with modern-sounding instruments. It really does feel like the soundtrack to the climactic part of a movie.
Step to the Next World
If you're looking for the penultimate "happy village" piece, this is it. There's nothing sad or somber here; it's rainbows and pan flutes all the way to the horizon. You just come out of this track feeling upbeat and peppy, and that's why it gets a thumbs up from me.
Around the two-minute mark, some bagpipes kick in, which is interesting, but fortunately they don't last for long. I'm not a big bagpipe fan.
Forgotten Sorrow (English version)
Both this and the Korean version are on the official soundtrack, but I generally prefer songs whose lyrics I can understand. It's a bittersweet song, perfect for that breakup mix tape. Even with the themes of loss and regret, it's a sweeping song.
So that's it for Aion... for now! We won't be getting back to this MMO for a while, but a day will come where we'll cover the other three scores. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your suggestions as to what MMO soundtracks deserve the royal treatment in this column.
MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Every other Tuesday, Jukebox Heroes will check out a game's soundtrack and feature the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!