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Old Dec 6, 2013, 05:36 PM
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Megavolt Megavolt is offline
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Default Differences between western RPG music and Japanese RPG music

I thought this topic which splintered off of Jormungand's recent thread should get its own focus. It's something that, as an RPGer since the early nineties, I've always noticed. I don't know if it has to do with cultural differences, the visual style of the games themselves, the differences between PC and console games, or some western notion of respectability, but as GoldfishX has mentioned in the past, it's true that western composers often go for a film-like sound, i.e. an orchestral ambience of sorts that makes things seem more real-life and moody. Japanese composers, on the other hand, have always seemed to be more interested in the emotional punch of the moment. Their music has, for the most part, tended to be very melodic by comparison.

Now, I'm not going to hide my opinion... I think JRPG music has generally been much better than western RPG music. That's because I think it's been more various and more creative. I can't imagine a western composer equivalent of Tenpei Sato. But if you're looking for orchestral music (and I actually like orchestral music; Hitoshi Sakimoto is my all time favorite VGM composer), JRPGs have had that too. For me, going outside of RPGs a bit, my favorite western music has always come from the Rareware guys. Guys like David Wise, Graeme Norgate, Grant Kirkhope, and Robin Beanland. Their music just seems to have an energy and vibrance that is lacking when I think of a mainstream western composer like Jeremy Soule. Makes me wonder if I should consider Europe as separate from America in terms of general musical style. European composers tend to put more of a techno or electronic style in their music that I like.

Talking Soule and the Skyrim score, I wonder why there can't be more music in the vein of his main theme for that one. The only time that I feel like the game really comes alive is when I'm fighting a dragon and hearing "One they fear". It's great music. In many JRPGs of the past, I got that feeling all the time (even in older games despite the often static visuals in comparison to the living 3D worlds of today), and I know that gameplay and story aside (because I do like the actual game experience of many western RPGs), it's the music. Every castle theme, dungeon theme, character theme etc had the potential to be uniquely memorable, and for the most part, that's just not the case with western style game scores. I'm interested in why, because the western RPG scores that I do like demonstrate to me that there need not be such a dichotomy here despite the interests of mood. Deus Ex had memorable music. Planescape Torment had memorable music. Divine Divinity had really good music that to me is like traditional western style music the way it should be done (you know, for the high fantasy style environs it has).

Anyway, I've been going on for a while, and I'm interested in what you guys think about this. What's your preference? Do you think that one group should draw more inspiration from the other? (for example, the dynamic music in Kingdom Hearts struck me as something of a western-inspired approach that worked well, and though that's an implementation thing, it did affect the need to compose that sort of music) And what do you think are the key reasons for why Japanese and Western RPG and/or game music have taken such different approaches the years?
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