Amazing VGM: Satellite (Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom)

God Phantasy Star III was such a weird game. Its setting seemed to be this weird cross between medieval and futuristic yet never was really set on one, the plot was barely prevalent but what little prevalence it did have was of the “WTF” variety, the poor testing and rushed design ended up with a lot of exploitable bugs or just odd occurrences such as a random enemy that was given that absolute highest possible stats and was stronger than the final boss… but could still be beaten relatively quickly cause it has the same amount of health. The game is an absolute mess and I cannot help but find it fascinating even if the game itself is ungodly tedious.

The music is something that also contributes to the surreal nature of the game. The soundtrack obviously tried to go for a more orchestral approach but trying for symphonic on the Genesis sound chip ends similarly to trying to tell Razorfist he’s wrong; they both just kind of implode on themselves at the mere thought of the possibility.

The resulting soundtrack is one full of tracks that are in the realm of “sometimes work but sometimes don’t.” Some tracks such as “Laya’s World” are actually very well arranged and make good use of the Genesis sound chip in a way that is actually harmonic and pleasant to listen to, vast majority are overly clangy and grating in a way that is very hard on the ears, yet are oddly entrancing and soothing once you learn to tune out the harsh percussion. Still, turn down that volume a bit before listening.

It does not make sense how something this harsh on the ears can sound so serene, but in a way, that’s what makes it so effective. Considering that this track plays on a giant satellite (by which it means something that orbits the planet and not the type of satellite most of us are familiar with) and it captures that otherworldly spacey vibe excellently.

That repeating four note pattern with the bells is of course rather harsh, but the genesis sound chip actually helps with the alien vibe they go on since the bells sound more robotic. And that single extended lower pitch note used for harmony is what really makes this track for me.

A common technique used in composition is to intentionally build up tension and dissonance for the purposes of resolving it with harmony, or the inverse. Usually this is done by extended sections that slowly transition into each other over time or that just suddenly shift, but this track seems to instead be in a constant state of both harmony AND Dissonance.

To be more exact, the resolution comes from that bell tower note in the background. It serves as a contrast to the harsh noise to the bells which puts the mind at ease despite the fact that it can become grating on the ears. When one adds the space like sound that the instruments seem to give off, you end up with a track that is almost constantly building up dissonance AND resolving it.

I always found the tracks that are the most soothing to be ones that have at least a slight bit of force to them. The first half of Chrono Trigger’s ending theme or the Coffee Break theme from Earthbound for instance. This track is a bit too harsh for me to put it in the same category as those two or for me to be as comfortable listening to, yet it still gives off a similar feeling. Despite how harsh this track is, I could probably fall asleep to it.

And most impressive of all is that I can’t even tell if this was intentional or not. This could have just been something that all fell into place by accident, or I could have just made a bunch of shit up to explain why I think this piece is so entrancing. I legitimately don’t know if re arranging this track to be less abrasive would make it better or worse? Regardless, I’m always the one to value uniqueness, even if it doesn’t turn out 100% perfect, or even 50% perfect in this game’s case. Anyway, that has been this week’s VGM, see ya’ll next week.

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