Tangledeep Original Soundtrack
Tangledeep Original Soundtrack
February 1, 2018
Buy on Bandcamp
During the “golden age” of Japanese Role-Playing Games – that magical time when soon-to-be classics like Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana were making waves on Super Nintendo systems – composers like Yasonuri Mitsuda and Hiroki Kikuta left their resounding marks on the world of video game music. The textures and timbres explored in their lo-fi soundtracks were fresh to the ear at the time, but they quickly became defining elements for some of the most iconic soundtracks in video game history.
It’s no wonder, then, that indie games composers often cite the golden age of JRPGs as a major influence. Yet replicating the magic of these classic soundtracks is easier said than done, and it takes a truly special composer to not only resurrect this style of music but liven it up with some modern pizzazz.
Take note: Andrew Aversa proves himself to be one such composer with his original soundtrack to an indie RPG called Tangledeep.
As with its inspirations, the vast majority of Tangledeep’s tracks are rendered in a 16-bit-sample style to evoke the feel of a golden age soundtrack. However, not all tracks on the album play by this rule. “Theme of Tangledeep” opens the album with a gentle kalimba melody over a soft bed of piano and strings, before ascending to a glorious texture of synthesized bells and choral warmth. The aptly named tracks from Tangledeep’s launch trailer and early access trailer both feature the talents of violinist Jeff Ball. The former of these starts with heavy percussion and a string staccato chord progression reminiscent of the works of Kenji Kawai, before seeing Jeff Ball sail smoothly over a rich dance beat. The latter, on the other hand, soothes the soul with wandering harp and glistening flute, until a zesty violin solo kicks in with the full backing of tambourines and a military marching drum beat. Last but not least are two “original versions” of tracks contributed by special guest composers to the album. More on them in a moment.
Even when the audio quality “drops,” the magic inspired by the opening theme survives thanks to the sheer variety of musical material packed into each track. This is most noticeable in the album’s numerous dungeon themes, which frequently shift moods in ways that are surprising yet never disruptive. To illustrate the point, “Earthen Labyrinth” begins with a spooky, circus-like waltz motif, but transitions after a mere half a minute into something epic, with a blaring trumpet and a bouncing timpani. That’s not the last of this track’s surprises, either: “Earthen Labyrinth” experiences several more mutations as Mr. Aversa masterfully plays with his arrangement and leitmotifs.
Each dungeon track on the album plays out in a similar fashion, and describing them all in detail would take an eternity. As for particular highlights, suffice it to say that the opening to “Lost Relics of the Ancients” calls to mind the depressive yet comforting save room themes of Resident Evil – an unexpected twist for a JRPG soundtrack. “Mysteries of Time” seems to be playing in the same sound world as “Corridors of Time” from Chrono Trigger. Lastly, “Mirai the Heroine” – the source of the aforementioned early access trailer music – boasts the most impassioned melody on the album, fluttering across a sonic forest implied by harps and strings, yet always coming to rest on the most resonant notes.
Every track in Tangledeep seems to have received the same love and care. Some are more overtly traditional than others: “Bandit Boss Battle” and “Clash With a Mighty Foe” sport classic SNES-style fantasy rock vibes, and while town themes like “Down by the Corral” and “The Great Sand Villa” call on stereotypical ranch and desert music tropes, respectively, to get their jobs done. Yet even these tracks are so well arranged and so texturally rich that they readily assume identities of their own. In this sense, Tangledeep is a uniformly complete-sounding album, made more so by Mr. Aversa’s affinity for recurring melodic motifs. Even the seven-second “Time to Rest” fanfare is cut from the same thematic cloth as moments in “Earthen Labyrinth” and “Clash With a Mighty Foe.”
Tangledeep’s uniformity is impressive considering the guest composers Mr. Aversa has to contend with. Three game music legends -Hiroki Kikuta, Norihiko Hibino, and Grant Kirkhope – have each contributed a track of their own making to Tangledeep. Of the three, Hiroki Kikuta’s contribution is most in character for the album – which, given his trend-setting work for Secret of Mana, should come as no surprise. Kikuta-san’s “Land of Blooming Mushrooms” is unassuming yet mesmerizing, creating a hypnotic ambience with soft electric bass, harp, flutes and strings. Meanwhile, Hibino-san’s “Child of the Forest” is a precious mix of sorrow, resolve, and mystery perfectly suited for a Dragon Quest game. Both of these tracks come with welcomed higher-definition arrangements at the end of the album. Finally, “Step Right Up!” by Grant Kirkhope is a jazzy tune with all of the punchy brass, swing bass and piano riffs you would expect form a casino theme. It’s not a breakout hit, but “Step Right Up!” both fits its intended theme and offers some nice stylistic contrast to the rest of the album.
Tangledeep’s music is a love letter to the era of game music that inspired it – but so are a number of other modern takes on this niche in game music. What sets Tangledeep apart from its contemporaries is its compositional density, versatility, and agility. Andrew Aversa’s music is both polished and imaginative, matching the sound of a bygone age while bringing its best elements into the present. What’s more, his music manages to shine bright alongside contributions from notable industry veterans. These factors culminate in a Super Nintendo-esque JRPG album that no fan of the genre should miss out on.
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Posted on March 6, 2018 by Reilly Farrell. Last modified on March 6, 2018.