Monday, May 27, 2013

TOP Track #5 - "Chaosium Sword"

There is something special about the original Ninja Gaiden trilogy for the NES. The only game I owned was Ninja Gaiden II. I either rented or borrowed the other two, but they were all great games. One thing this series was doing that other series were not is paying attention to a continuous story. Between stages (Acts) of the game, you were often treated to comic-book like still shots of quirky dialogue as a narrative was being told about Ryu Hayabusa and his legacy as a Dragon Ninja. All the great NES platform games I love really didn't focus much on story at all within the game, and each game in a series (Mario, Mega Man) really didn't sync up much at all with the previous game. It just told a brand new story. Not so with the Ninja Gaiden games. 

Ninja Gaiden II picks up right where Ninja Gaiden ends. As Ryu Hayabusa, the player defeats the final villain, Jaquio, an evil warlord in the Realm of Darkness, Ashtar, is made aware of Ryu's actions and sets his plan into motion. The opening scenes of the game detail this moment with "Chaosium Sword" playing in the background. The song definitely captures a sense of "the plot thickens" in its build up. Though somewhere in the world, Ryu must be celebrating his victory, dark forces are working behind the scenes to awaken and unleash their power on Earth. This song really captures that build up of a shadow army biding its time and preparing to strike. 

It's an amazing song, and shows that even back on the NES, some of these composers were really taking it seriously. The Ninja Gaiden series, much like the Mega Man series, is really full of wonderful 8-bit tracks waiting to jam out in contemporary rock or metal. 


"Come watch this. You'll like it." That's what TOP said to me many, many years ago, right before popping in a copy of Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos into our NES. I was expecting gameplay but instead watched this outstanding introductory scene. My mind was blown! I think know this was what bore my love of video game cutscenes. The narravite, the graphics, the music! It was all so well-done, and so cinematic. Back before 3D games took over the industry, cutscenes were a treat to be savored. If someone in the room was talking, you'd snap at them to shut up. If your mom called you donw for dinner, you'd starve before missing a cutscene. Important things were happening! These cinematic interludes seem to be on the decline. I can think of a few exceptions (Xenoblade Chronicles, Uncharted 2) but for the most part, game developers waste their opportunities with modern cutscenes. 

Despite having jaw-dropping graphics and professional voice actors, they can't seem to capture the heart, emotion and imagination that old game cinematics used to have. Compare Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI to current titles and you see a stark difference. Both their cutscenes and endings (as TOP mentioned) go above and beyond, like a reward for making it as far as you did. This goes along with the shift from plot-driven gaming to a bigger focus on gameplay; instead of savoring a cinematic moment, I'm constantly looking for the skip button. 

Like other songs on this list, "Chaosium Sword" has great pacing. It starts off slow and ominous. There are cracks of thunder (a clear sign that something evil is taking place!) followed by a great theme. I think this is clearly the best track of the Ninja Gaiden games (and the NES trilogy had some great songs), and I'm sad it wasn't revisited in the new generation of Ninja Gaiden games. "Chaosium Sword" will always be one of my favorites, and I can't wait to do a cover version when TOP and I finally get our band together.

- Deez

Derivative Tracks

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