Don’t you just LOVE the pretentious titles?:-P
Love of story rarely begins later in life. I’m sure most of us can recall a story that really began our love of epic narrative storytelling—or even some not-so-epic ones.
For some people it was old “Wuxia” films made by the immortal Shaw Bros studios (whose films not only inspired directors like Quentin Tarantino, but also rappers—namely, the Wu Tang Clan, who took their name directly from an antagonist entity in many of the Shaw Bros martial arts films). For others, it was seeing Bruce Lee for the first time, or watching George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead for the first time and being scared shitless (it was an effective horror movie for its time). Star Wars was another film that inspired a generation to think outside the box, to embrace sentimentality and emotive storytelling in an alien environment that could only exist “in a galaxy far far away.”
Whatever the film, actor, book, what have you, everyone who loves story can usually point to something as the beginning of their passion for effective storytelling.
In my case, I have a dark knight named “Cecil” to thank for, both my love of storytelling, and also my love of role playing games.
That name may not mean much to everyone, but I’m sure most gamers know exactly of whom I am speaking. That would be Cecil, dark knight of the kingdom of Baron, commander of the strongest and most feared military in the world.
Nobuo Uematsu – Red Wings (Final Fantasy IV)
If only you knew what the opening scene of that game did to a 10-year-old’s mind…
My love of story may have become more sophisticated over time, but there will always be a special place in my heart for Final Fantasy IV.
Never had I really witnessed a story like it before. I had seen many television shows, watched movies, read some books, and they all began and ended pretty much the same way: villains were villains, heroes were heroes. The roles were always easy to identify, and the archetypes never—or rarely ever—varied.
With this understanding of how “proper” narrative storytelling worked, I loaded Final Fantasy IV into the Super Nintendo and expected another hero’s journey… But wait… What is this?! I’M the villain?! That can’t be right…
I see a character on screen standing on the deck of an “airship”, and he’s giving orders to his men. “Why are we robbing innocent people,” one of his men says. “Do we really have to keep doing this?”
That’s when I realized this must be the villain, and they’re showing me his backstory. That had to be it. So I continue to watch, entranced as the character and his henchman storm into a crystalline room with a glowing crystal atop a pedestal, and four men on either side. The dark knight’s men even go so far as to kill three of the four people directly onscreen (the character models merely disappear, but even at that age I understood everything that was happening). Then, as the dark knight is leaving with the crystal, one of the survivors turns to him and asks why the bloodshed was needed. As he leaves, Cecil hangs his head in what I can only imagine is shame for the violence he has just brought down on these innocent people.
My heart was pounding, no lies. It only became more and more real when I realized this WAS my character. My thoughts were almost an exact mirror of his crew’s thoughts as they pondered what they had just done. Them: “Captain, we can’t stand doing this anymore!” Me: “Did you really have to kill all those people?!” But Cecil merely quiets them, reassuring his men that it is what had to be done for the safety and prosperity of the Kingdom of Baron. Even as he later confessed his own doubts about what his king was asking him to do, he never waivered, because he was loyal to his king, and his country.
I had never seen the normal hero/villain narrative roles flipped so drastically before…Certainly not in a video game.
From that moment on, I was hooked. That scene above constituted about 3-to-5 minutes of game time, but that is all it took for me to become enthralled with the nuances of narrative structures. It also began my love of rpgs—and video games, in general.
That song, composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, played all throughout the opening intro of the game, and it only enhanced the drama of the moment.
Nobuo Uematsu, whose work I would only grow to love more with time, is one of the great masters of epic storytelling through music. I liken him to the John Williams of role playing games. There have been imitators, but never have I seen one person so affect a genre as Nobuo Uematsu affected role playing games in the 90’s. Just like John Williams composed the very emotional backbone of Star Wars through his music, Nobuo Uematsu did the same with his scores for the Final Fantasy series. Those games would only have been half what they were without his music. In fact, there was only one other composer in the rpg genre of the 90’s that I felt was on par with him, and that leads into the next step of this musical journey.
Yasunori Mitsuda – the themes of Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger —another game that left a heavy footprint in my growing rpg-loving soul.
Much like Final Fantasy IV, Chrono Trigger was far more than just the music. While CT built off of a familiar hero/villain archetype with defined roles, the execution of those elements was what made the game so excellent (and also the ability to fry an entire screen full of enemies with “Luminaire”, a nuclear bomb in a magic spell). For one, you could actually recruit the guy you had been trying to kill for a good portion of the game (Magus)—and you could do it with the one guy who had the most reason to hate him (Frog, whose best friend was murdered by Magus and his bitch-ass henchman, Ozzie). There was, admittedly, a slightly sappy love story in the mix, but even that was dealt with very well. It wasn’t thrown in your face as much as it could have been, but it came up in very subtle, well-timed ways.
Yasunori Mitsuda succeeded in creating a musical blueprint for Chrono Trigger that was as effective as the ones Nobuo Uematsu wrote for the Final Fantasy series. He would go on to write scores for a number of excellent rpg games, like Xenogears & Xenosaga, as well as the Shadow Hearts series. (He even followed up Chrono Trigger by composing the score for its sequel, Chrono Cross—a game that I didn’t particularly like all that much, but whose soundtrack was absolutely on par with the original CT.)
While Yasunori Mitsuda may not have the library of video game scores under his belt that Nobuo Uematsu has, I still have to bow to him—mostly for giving me one of the most epic themes for a boss fight in rpg history.
Bask in the 16-bit awesomeness:
Yasunori Mitsuda – Battle with Magus
Are you basking?;)
Anyway, I can tell this is going to take a bit, so I think I’ll cut off here and make this a two parter (hopefully it won’t take more than that). That may be a bit long, but since I’m sure my reader base is pretty solitaire right now, I don’t see why I should give a fuck.lol