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Old 11-30-2011, 03:20 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Skyward Sword's Secret Monkey Island 2 Musical Connection

Out of all the Zelda soundtracks, I like Wind Waker's the best, mostly because its collection of tunes did such a fantastic job of giving the game and its cast of oddballs a real sense of character. No soundtrack from the series has truly grabbed me since then, and I'd be at a loss if you asked me to hum any song found in a post-Wind Waker Zelda game. Skyward Sword hasn't changed this unfortunate trend, aside from one major exception, which may stand as the most innovative tune in all of Zelda's history: Skyloft's Bazaar theme. (And I'd be willing to entertain arguments to the contrary.)

The bazaar theme isn't crazily complex, nor does it wheel out obscure instruments a la Secret of Mana's gamelan; rather, the location's melody seamlessly blends and shifts to reflect the characters nearest to Link. It's a neat little piece of tech that's been used in past Zelda games, though never at this level of effectiveness, and it's especially impressive given the fact that Nintendo didn't have to sink so much work into what most folks would usually consider a throwaway piece. I do have to wonder how this song will be arranged on the game's inevitable multi-disc soundtrack; even industrious Internet people weren't able to replicate a satisfactory version of the bazaar theme -- but really, it's a piece of music completely dictated by the player's actions. That said, here's a brief video showing this dynamic piece in motion.

So, just how does Skyward Sword connect to a vastly unrelated game released 20 years prior? Well, Monkey Island 2: Lechuck's Revenge features a very similar (and perhaps more advanced) piece of musical tech, which produced the same interesting effects. The iMuse system, created to synchronize music to actions and smoothly switch from one piece to another, would be used to provide the rich and vibrant soundtracks considered a standard for LucasArts adventure games. And while later, cartoonier adventures like Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max Hit the Road would take better advantage of iMuse's synchronization features, Monkey Island 2 uses iMuse's seamless track-switching ability far better than any LucasArts adventure that would follow -- a feat which isn't nearly as boring as it sounds.

From its very beginning, Monkey Island 2 isn't shy about its musical prowess; as Guybrush wanders through different areas of the dock-built village of Woodtick, the background music -- catchy enough as it is -- wanders in and out of different variations on its theme. And it's not as simple as Super Mario World, where Mario + Yoshi = bongos; as Guybrush leaves locations, the variants on these themes don't simply fade into Woodtick's main tune; rather each has its own closing flourishes that join nicely into the overlying music of the village. And when Guybrush wakes up a group of sleeping pirates, a jaunty accordion enters the mix, giving us a variant of a variant on a theme. Sadly, you won't be able to fully experience the effect without playing the original 1991 release; due to the pre-recorded nature of MI2's remade music, the fluid nature of Woodtick's soundtrack had to be faked in the Special Edition. It's still a brilliant and stirring arrangement that really evokes the character of the town and its collection of lovable weirdos, but you can't truly experience this piece without first jumping backwards two decades -- technologically speaking.

Thanks to the advent of CD-ROM technology (and the formats that would follow), seeing developers innovate with their music toolbox has been a real rarity; after all, who needs clever sound design when pre-recorded music can just be streamed from a disc? For all the ways I feel Skyward Sword has dialed back on what I consider Zelda essentials, experiencing little moments like Skyloft's bazaar gives me hope that the series still likes to experiment -- albeit in ways that aren't immediately obvious.
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