The music of the first level; In the retro world


In the retro world, the first melody was the one that defined the tone of video games. We remember great startup topics.

As a musician becomes a professional and the theory classes begin to get interesting, one of the most crucial notions in the history of music begins to show itself in all its various nuances. The concepts of musical form and genre are beginning to hover over our heads, and they won’t stop for a few years. If we reduce it to the absurd, the first would refer to the internal distribution of a musical work: melodies, themes, sections and how they are interrelated with each other. On the other hand, the second is a much larger container that helps us to create higher categories, which in turn can contain those Russian dolls that everyone knows: chamber music, symphonic music, popular music or, why not, music composed for video games.

Admitting video game music as a musical genre, even within other more accepted categories such as music composed for audiovisual media, is being accepted as something natural among musicians. Different is the case of those matrioshkas in which we could decompose it if we wanted. When we fantasize, we could treat the music of the J-RPG as a subgenre, taking into account its own characteristics in terms of its relationship with the narrative of these games (a subject, by the way, that interests American ludomusicology a lot). Tuning a little more, we could also think about arcade music, composed knowing that it would not be heard well in the middle of the din in the halls (at least in noisy Europe). Finally, within the universe of retro music, we could also speak of a subgenre that has bequeathed us some of the most timeless melodies in the entire history of our medium: that of top-level music.

Looking for immediate impact.

Those who have more or less followed the evolution of the medium from some of the melodies that we are going to remember today, will know very well that the “level” or “screen” is a concept that is very little like what it was years ago. The genre of the first level had its best moment in a time of games of immediate enjoyment, but especially of short games. A world in which the first impact of a video game on the person at the controls had to have a series of characteristics – intense, long-lasting and sufficiently varied in each game – that put the composer of his music above all a problem to when facing the matter. Thinking about it from this prism, anyone who examines his memories will realize that a significant part of our musical memories of old video games are of melodies that were placed right there: on the first level. As much as all this may have been diluted over time, it is a fact that a playlist with many of these melodies is something of enormous appeal for those who like video game music, whether or not it includes the greatest hits of this that today we we dare to call it musical genre.

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Capcom: a master class

More than impossible, it would be pretentious to try to trace what was the first top-level music that impacted each of us. Many will focus on Koji Kondo with the Overworld from Super Mario Bros in 1985, but from that same year it is another classic that has also caused a trend, as we will see later. Established since 1988 on the CPS1 board from which it changed the course of video games, Capcom is possibly the first historical company that dealt with this issue in a conscious way, since it took care of it with a care rarely seen before and after. In any case, we must accept that his first great melody of this type came from before (it is the same that we heard in Ghosts’n Goblins in 1985), but the theme of the cemetery that the immortal Ghouls’n Ghosts opened is without a doubt one of the great moments in the middle. Never before had an orchestral introduction been so well suggested to us in which we could almost recognize the instruments that would sound in a real orchestra, but neither had everything that came after sounded so good until then, in one of those musical themes of which you never get tired.

Capcom never disappointed with the music of the first moments of the game in its arcades. Some have been remembered more and others less, but all have something that makes them reference pieces. For example, Magic Sword was the watchword of a heroism that its initial melody captured as very few times we have seen since then in a video game, although it is a subject that was harmed by its –relative– little success. Final Fight and Knights of the Round also deserve us to listen to their first chords again, one for how well it placed us in a lawless city that no longer believes in anything and the other for a low ostinato that carried us with great quality to its era of sword and witch It was both two of the plot pretexts in which Capcom was simply unbeatable at the time (as we can also see in the first melody of The King of Dragons). It is difficult to highlight any other title, but it is because they all have melodies to remember, pieces in which names such as Yoko Shimomura or Manami Matsumae, began to forge their legend. Capcom later specialized in fighting games; in them, the music was – let’s say it in a way – much more layered, without focusing this urge to capture the listener in a single melody. But in the other Capcom arcades we enjoy today some fascinating themes to which only the excess of enthusiasm for percussion takes away, in our opinion, some prominence from some really beautiful melodies, which could perfectly have been used in any other medium or in those great genres that we discussed at the beginning.


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