Game music has the power to earworm its way into your heart long after you put the controller down. Each week in Game That Tune, we highlight a great tune from a great game (or a great tune from a just-okay game).
Every early review I read for Dragon’s Dogma last spring included some variation on the “Japanese game maker Capcom tries to make a western-style, open world role-playing game” angle. Obviously, America and Japan both have their own cultural cues and styles, from weapons to color palette to expressions of emotion to gravity’s effect on hair. Japanese role-playing games even have their own jargon-y designation—“JRPG”—which, on a basic level anyway, signifies a distinctly manga-influenced gaming experience. For Capcom to cross the streams, as it were, is a pretty ballsy move—one that might yet cause every molecule in our bodies to explode at the speed of light.
If you’re Capcom, how do you ape the west in an authentic way? You start with the basics. Swords and magic? Check. Lots of grays and browns? Check. Stunning high-fantasy vistas? Check. Dyspeptic goblin hordes? Check. All Capcom would need to make the transition complete is an appropriate score—gothic, yet rousing—fit for a brooding hero. Maybe Capcom could do something akin to what composer Jeremy Soule created for Skyrim—those monkish chanting that greet you on that game’s title screen really get you in the mood for smiting, and first impressions are important.
The Dragon’s Dogma title screen arrives unremarkably enough—a dragon perched on a rock in the distance accompanied by dulcet piano tones. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a ripping guitar drops in, and some guy from the Cheap Trick school of WAAAAAAAAA starts singing about flying free and letting go and iodine and seriously what the hell is this, Capcom? I’ve never been to Japan, but this is how I picture the elevator music in Tokyo. It’s as though I’m being subjected to a variation on the Clockwork Orange Ludovico technique, except with my ears. Instead of developing an aversion to violence, though, I fear I’ll never be able to watch an episode of Dragon Ball Z ever again. But I’m physically unable to stop listening the whole way through. There’s even a solo. It’s just all so incredibly incongruous to the mood and style of the game. The song is in English, but I can’t help but feel something was lost in translation. I love it.
Illustration by Derrick Sanskrit.