Assaulting the castle

What an extraordinary experience.

*Spoilers follow for Breath of the Wild*

I finally finished Breath of the Wild over the weekend. With all Divine Beasts freed, all memories unlocked, and the Master Sword in hand, the only thing left for me was a full-on assault against Ganon. Earlier, I had explored the rear entrance of Hyrule Castle briefly (based on the advice of one of the NPCs), and accidentally found myself the Hylian Shield, but upon realizing how badass the music was – infused with Zelda’s Lullaby and the main theme as it was – I felt morally obliged to take on the castle in a single sitting.

And that was a great idea. Hitting the castle from the front, taking the obvious path outlined on the map, fighting Ganon, and watching the credits and cutscenes took about an hour. The music invoked a sense of inevitability and duty, and taking on the Guardians one by one let me feel a real sense of progress as I made my way up the structure. The ending itself was more emotional than I was expecting; seeing the four Divine Beasts unleash their power against Ganon made me realize the enormity of Link’s task, and fighting the multi-limbed creature in the castle’s sanctum was exciting for the battle’s entirety, despite its simplicity and reliance on skill more than abilities.

But little did I know, that was not the boss battle. No, the real boss battle – the final battle – took place outdoors, in as beautiful of a setting I could ever imagine. The soundtrack called back to the main theme revealed in last year’s E3, sprinkled with almost senseless and grating piano lines, and yet had an overarching sense of elegance that was at times both harmonious and conflicting with the Bow of Light and the battle’s location in Hyrule Field. Taking on Ganon astride my trusty blue steed Thunder (I actually underused the horse mechanic in this game, preferring to do my travelling by foot; I am curious as to how this final battle would have panned out if I had never domesticated a horse) with Zelda’s voice in my mind, I was finally struck by the game’s duality of giant scale and great, intense focus. Through looking things up after the endgame, I realized I had achieved the true ending through completing all of the main quests, and that ending really made me feel empty once I realized the game was over. I only wish there was a playable epilogue that detailed Link and Zelda’s journey to restore Hyrule; perhaps in one of the planned DLCs.

In conclusion to an amazing game and extraordinary experience, Breath of the Wild left a lasting impression on me. Everything was possible; I just had to have the right mindset and the right strategy. The story, if weak and a little simple, was fulfilling. Maybe I didn’t finish all of the side quests – and it’s entirely possible I haven’t even found all of the side quests – but Breath of the Wild has already taken its place as my favorite game of all time.

Crypt of the Necrodancer

An innovative experience with a kickass soundtrack

Crypt of the Necrodancer may be one of the best games I’ve played in a long time.

It’s a fairly simple concept. It’s a roguelike dungeon crawler, except all game mechanics are rhythm-based: movement, combat, item usage, etc. You’re rewarded for continuous movement and staying on the beat, and you’re punished for being off-tempo or off-time.

It is through this singular gameplay mechanic that the game’s charm comes through. Right off the bat, it teaches you to identify and memorize enemies’ patterns; you have to, because the turn-based real time (for lack of a better phrase) is not conducive to random enemies like one might find in Call of Duty or any other sort of reaction-based game.

However, these patterns don’t necessarily slow down the game’s pacing; rather, in a way it actually intensifies the experience. Theoretically, you could clear a room of enemies, find a safe corner, and take your hands off the keyboard. The track continues regardless of your actions, and though enemies will still take their actions not many are actually able to break through walls. When the track ends, you’re dropped to the next level, albeit without your coin multiplier. In other words, you don’t actually need to take the risks to find the stairs; staying still is a surefire way of getting to the next level without really making any mistakes.

That being said, the game rewards you greatly for taking risks. There are secret shops on every floor (as far as I remember), and you receive many benefits for going out and exploring the unmapped areas: potentially beneficial shrines, item chests, or good stock in the shop. Killing enemies without taking damage and travelling without missing a beat continues your coin multiplier, which can help you buy the more powerful items from the shops. Considering that every zone ends in a boss, it’s not a bad idea to spend the three sub-levels stocking up and gearing up.

Those who know me know my fascination with music – particularly when part of a video game (though I’m certainly not limited to such). Previously, I’ve looked at soundtracks to a visual novel and two anime productions, but in all cases the music served as an enhancement of the experience; that is to say, while it made its respective media better it was in no way the foreground. In Crypt, that is obviously not the case. The music is not only the driving force; it also simultaneously guides and follows the story. Every zone’s music has some sort of rough theme to it, and every subsequent track increases slightly in tempo, adhering to the story while making the game progressively harder. I particularly like the Necrodancer’s battle and how the music switches for his second phase, adding a sense of desperation and chaos in the last fight.

In summary, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a refreshing dungeon crawling title. The music, while catchy on its own, is also effective in driving the pace and forcing the player to think quickly even in a turn-based setting. It’s an easy game to pick up, but a fairly difficult game to master. Its pattern-based enemies means that the game is mostly skill-based, with randomness appearing only in enemy and floor composition.

I am far from done with this game; at the time of writing, I have only finished Cadence’s and Melody’s lines, and I am kicking my own ass at trying to beat Zone 4 with Aria. If you’re looking for an enjoyable challenge, I highly recommend this game.

“Watashi no Uso” analysis

How the music reflects the character

As per request, this is an analysis of “Watashi no Uso” from the anime Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, otherwise known as Your Lie in April and henceforth referred to as Shigatsu. Now as I’ve covered before, Shigatsu is quite sad. If you were to take the story sans writing – that is, consider only the plot without the slapstick comedy – it becomes a fairly depressing – if fulfilling – story about a boy trying to discover what it means to play music from the heart rather than from the brain. As one character remarks, Kousei appears to only make musical progress through personal loss; at the same time, Kaori has her own personal struggles of her illness and impending death, as well as her own admiration and affection of Kousei and the knowledge or premonition that she may never be able to explore that bond properly.

This track, then, represents all that. Its title translates to “My Lie”, but the “I” used is feminine. In other words, this is effectively Kaori’s personal track. It’s delicate, sensitive, and ultimately unfulfilling yet resolute. In a way, it acts as a sort of melancholic waltz – in fact, one character (I don’t remember which) said to the other something along the lines of “I want to waltz with you”. Now yes, I realize that not everything in ¾ time is a waltz, but there is still something floaty and active about the way the piece plays. That being said, it’s also not a piece that two people would dance to; rather, it is something for Kaori and Kaori alone.

With that, let’s move into the analysis itself.

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*I realize that I mix syntax a little bit in my scores, but hopefully it all makes sense.

The first thing we have is a setup of the main theme, accompanied with chords moving ever so slightly down from F to Em. The circled note in the melody is the main chord tone, while the turn in the right hand emphasizes it, briefly tonicizing it by going down to the C#.

In the next section, we move up from Dm7 diatonically through to the chord in measure 7. Now I wasn’t really sure what this chord was. As you can see in my writing, on paper it can be either an F function or a C function. Listening to this composition did not yield any definitive results; I could hear it as both, especially because the next chord sits on an F in the bass until the end of the section. That, and there aren’t really any other chord tones apart from F and C; this is a main feature of this piece, where the function of the chords is more heard than it is seen on paper. As a result, all the chord written on the score are what I think they function as based on my own personal interpretation. You’ll notice I circled the C in the right hand. This note I determined to be the main focus of the repeated descending line, though I’ve also circled some melody notes later on. The repeated descending line is also not consistent; it makes three different variations, breaking expectations and making the timing feel uncertain. In fact, some piano scores I’ve seen have this part written in a different time signature. At the end of the section we play on the tonic and dominant scale degrees of G while sitting on an F in the bass, making this section feel open and inconclusive.

The next section goes until measure 25. This quieter section is introspective and reflective, the large intervals between the bass and melody creating beautifully resonant harmonies. It provides a break from the musical themes thus far, letting the next section be far more impactful.

Which it does, centering on an Em chord with moving lines and massive leaps. The shift from quarter notes and dotted half notes in the previous section to eighth notes here creates a sense of urgency and movement, and we finish the section outlining an Em7, harkening back to the end of the previous section.

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From here, we repeat the main theme. It’s busier and more passionate, the momentum driven by the quarter note pattern in the left hand. The chords are fleshed out more, adding an additional layer of fullness and intensity. The descending line seen at the beginning of the piece is hinted at with a new, similar three-note descending line, but instead of fading away from this section we dig into it anew, as the inverted E7 tonicizes Am, the ascending chords taking us higher and higher as the music seems to scream louder and louder, until we hit one final, cathartic repetition of the theme, with even fuller chords and in a higher octave. From here, we pull back a little, as the additional voices drop out and the rhythm becomes similar, until we end on a lone C in the melody. This is the first time we actually find the tonic of the piece; all throughout, the chords seem to dance around it, yet every time the melody goes to the C it seems to be voiced with an Am that never seems fulfilling. This C, in measure 64, is the first, true tonic chord. It represents a sense of acceptance of the turmoil that this piece represented up until now, and as the embers die down we finish on variants of Bb major.

As stated above, this piece is entirely Kaori’s. In the final episode, it is revealed that Kaori was aware of her limited time left, that her lifelong wish was to have Kousei accompany her, and that she faked liking Watari to get closer to him. In a way, “Watashi no Uso” is a summary of her life. The main theme becomes more agonized each time through additional voicings and use of a higher register, while the sections in between move from retrospective to desperate and pained. In fact, though the show focuses on Kousei’s own struggles with loss and what it means to play music, it may have been Kaori in a comparable amount of pain: knowing of her early death, being so close to Kousei yet too shy to approach him, and even after getting close to him discovering his inability to play piano. Kaori’s wish, unfortunately, never fully comes true; she is only able to play a partial duet on top of Kousei’s final Chopin performance, and even then did not truly perform to a full audience. Despite this, her dream self appears to be happy with this arrangement, apparently content with Kousei’s rediscovery of himself. This is perhaps reflected in “Watashi no Uso”, as the piece concludes with an open and reconciled Bb.

“Watashi no Uso”, then, is a reflection of Kaori’s turmoil that is never quite in the limelight. We see hints of her troubles throughout the second half of the show as Kousei is slowly made aware of her growing despair, but we see very little of her life before middle school. It is only through inferences and the letter in the last episode that we realize how Kaori felt all throughout her life. “Watashi no Uso” may refer to the lie that sets the entire show into motion, but the track is a representation of her entire life. On the surface, it’s quaint and melancholic if fairly simplistic, but a little more reading into it reveals a level of hidden complexity – and really, that’s what music is.

Your Lie in April

Music is emotion. Emotion is human.

What a beautifully done show. As I write this I finished the last episode some ten, fifteen minutes ago, and I watched the first episode little over 24 hours ago. My eyes are killing me, staring at a computer screen now without bias lighting, but I’d like to finish this while the memories are still fresh.

*SPOILERS AHEAD.*

Your Lie in April was recommended to me by a friend about a year and a half ago; in fact, it may have been one of our first conversation topics ever. She calls it Shigatsu, which is how I will refer to it here on out. Its premise is sweet, poignant, and…sad. It is entirely an emotional show, using music as a way to enhance its story and ways of conveying different feelings. In fact, it’s emotional on both sides of the spectrum; there are many uses of slapstick, physical comedy, likely as a foil to the dark and deep themes explored by the show and to prevent everything from becoming too depressing.

For the show is quite depressing. It is, at its core, a love story. Specifically, two love stories. The overarching tale of Kousei and Kaori exploring their love/hate, uniquely close, pestering relationship with each other is present throughout the entire series, but I believe the familial love through loss and suffering present throughout the first half of the series to be more powerful. I will admit, Kousei’s farewell performance to his mother moved me to tears, exacerbated and immensely supported by the masterful matching of poignant scenes to climaxes in the music. Every single performance in the show meant something, and every single performance was – at its core – a love letter. The gorgeous art style, reminiscent to me of the beauty in your name. (I saw your name. before Shigatsu; sue me), was instrumental in really evoking those feelings of pain, suffering, love, and resolution, and the brilliant color pallet allowed the audience to see the world in color.

Shigatsu‘s strongest part, though, in my opinion, must be the entire Kousei-Kaori dynamic developed throughout the show’s runtime, even past the love story and even when the characters are separated. We hear from multiple characters how Kousei’s first performance onstage inspired them to start music, creating friends/rivals for life, yet for much of the 22 episodes we see Kaori being a leader figure to Kousei, drawing him out from his self-loathing and out from his mother’s shadow, allowing him to feel the music instead of merely playing it. We see Kaori’s outward strength hiding an inner desire of being remembered, and of Kousei’s development into an emotional musician, drawing on his memories – good and bad – to perform sincerely straight from the heart. We see how both characters rely on each other for support – sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally – and how both develop into strong individuals, yet with parts of each other permanently inside them. The development is painful, but at the end of the show both shine brightly, as Chopin’s Ballad no. 1 plays while Kousei performs one final, farewell duet with an apparition of Kaori. I believe this is the real moment the show truly ends, even though Kousei converses with Kaori’s memory in the second half of the final episode. I think this dream-like performance is Kousei’s true goodbye to Kaori, acknowledging the growth they shared together.

Of course, in being emotional such a show needs to take things at the right pace. Sometimes that means getting down and specific with details, allowing the character to grow and flourish. Unfortunately, this sometimes has the somewhat negative effect of bogging down the pacing. Shigatsu, in trying to drive home Kousei’s self-tormenting in reliving the worst memories with his mother – and later finding support in repeating all of Kaori’s good ones – is fairly heavy-handed with recaps and memories, even jumping all over the timeline if it means expanding on a character’s backstory. Perhaps such an effect was intended, allowing us to stand in Kousei’s shoes as his story went on, but there were times where I felt the emotional impact was marred slightly by this redundancy.

Ultimately, though, such times were short-lived (though the ~5-episode long piano competition in the middle really could have been shorter), and the show ended gorgeously, as Kousei and Kaori perform their first – and last – proper duet together, in a scene of great beauty, resolved to the pain of death and loss even as all that emotion is poured into one final, soulful performance. I notice how the show effectively ends there, despite having ten more minutes or so, with Kousei freely crying at the end of his farewell onstage. Emi and Takeshi do not make a final appearance, the competition results are not revealed, and nothing is mentioned of the middle schoolers’ futures. We don’t even get to see the audience’s reaction. I take this to mean that such trivial things are unimportant; the lifeblood of Shigatsu is emotion, and Kousei’s final performance was cathartic as he processed his own, performing for the people that mean everything to him.

For music is emotion. Music is the universal language, for it does not need to be translated to be understood. Music transcends human speech, connecting two human hearts directly through the instinctive understanding of emotion conveyed through melody and harmony. Music is emotion.

And emotion is human.

The Music of Your Name.

How RADWIMPS’ soundtrack was a pivotal part in the film’s success and resonance.

One of the vital parts of this film is how music plays an enormous role in evoking emotion. Earlier this week, I mention how one such moment is the entire segment set to RADWIMPS’ “Sparkle”. In fact, somewhere I read that your name. was directed and produced in tandem with RADWIMPS’ soundtrack; the entire epilogue section wasn’t even storyboarded until “Nandemonaiya” was finished.

At any rate, I don’t believe this film would have done nearly as well without the music. RADWIMPS managed to create a soundtrack that is so masterfully done both in its subtlety and its bold statements, and the following are just some things that I really appreciated. I won’t be going in-depth into all of the soundtrack, as many tracks are more inconsequential background music (like “Itomori High School” or “Library”) and don’t stand out nearly as much as others.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

The tracks we’ll be looking at today are (in their English-listed names, found here) “Dream Lantern”; “Zenzenzense”; “Date”, “Date 2”, and “Theme Of Mitsuha”; “Katawaredoki”; “Sparkle”; and “Nandemonaiya”. The last time I did a soundtrack analysis I went pretty far into music theory, but this time it’s more of a conceptual discussion. In most cases these tracks will be paired with their respective scenes.

First up is “Dream Lantern”, or “Yume Tourou” in Romaji. This song serves as the opening, and is played against a fairly typical anime-style montage, taking some scenes from the film itself and some others that only appear here. What’s interesting here is how the song and its visuals catch the audience slightly off-guard; all sorts of marketing at this point really push towards the body switching as a central issue or conflict, yet so far up to this point all we’ve seen are two people separately expressing the emptiness and pain they feel on a daily basis. The song itself is somewhat vague in its tonality, neither joyous or depressing, giving off a sort of melancholic vibe. It’s not enough to completely fake out the viewers, especially because the real meat of the film starts off quite comedic and more in the vein of the trailers, but it serves as a hint of the emotional roller coaster to come.

Next up we have “Zenzenzense”, which plays as Taki and Mitsuha try to get a grip on the situation (and explain it to us, the audience). The fast tempo and definitively major key makes us all but forget about any sort of heartache (if any) produced by the beginning of the film, though if you were to pay attention to the lyrics you’d find them to be surprisingly mournful and yearning. It’s a good fit, as we’re introduced to the funny parts of Your Name. in preparation for the emotional gutting that would come later, while the song’s theme and lyrics fit the vision of the film.

Now here we have “Date”, “Date 2”, and “Theme Of Mitsuha”. These three tracks are masterfully done, in my opinion. Note how all three share the same melodic line. Further note how while “Date” and “Date 2” technically play during Taki’s meetups with Okudera, yet they share the same melodic line as “Theme Of Mitsuha”. I really like the subtlety here. First of all, I see it as Taki finally being aware of his interest shifting away from Okudera and towards Mitsuha. Second of all, both “Date” and “Date 2” have subtle differences between each other. “Date 2” has an extra major seventh thrown in (music theory), creating a little bit more tension and representing Okudera’s engagement and Taki’s emptiness. On first view through the film, you may not really notice these subtleties since their similarities make them seem as normal background tracks, but the minute differences that become apparent through subsequent views and listens make the film all the more magical.

“Katawaredoki” is in a similar vein to the previous discussion, where its melodic line and chord progression are very close to “Dream Lantern”. The eponymous scene is perhaps the most tender in the entire film, as Taki and Mitsuha meet for the first and only time (with their memories intact). The stripped down, sensitive soundtrack is perfect despite its “four chords” progression (Am – F – C – G), and the way it throws back to the beginning of the movie and ties the prologue to the events of the film brings on a sense of closure, even as there are still 20-30 minutes left in the film.

Finally, we’ve reached “Sparkle”, which I consider to be one of the most masterfully crafted pieces of film music I’ve ever heard. This song has four sections: 1) the opening, melancholic, running line; 2) the triumphant march-like section; 3) the more retrospective and glorious section; and 4) the quiet bridge. I would love to get into this song more theoretically and technically, but for now let’s talk about how it perfectly matches the climax of the film. First of all, the running piano line and the rising bass line contribute to a sense of simultaneous desperation and heartache, matching both Taki and Mitsuha’s respective situations as kataware-doki ends. The subsequent triumphant marches add to this desperation with their thickening of texture, and the way it keeps its lonely and minor tonality reminds us of how both Taki and Mitsuha will eventually go on their lives in pain for years. The sudden shift to the 4th section (matching Mitsuha’s heartfelt “I can’t remember your name with this”) is tender and heartbreaking, yet Mitsuha somehow finds her resolve and the song transitions back into the 3rd section and finishes out. This song always wrings my heart, no matter how many times I listen to it and no matter how much I try to intellectually decompose it.

The last song on our agenda is “Nandemonaiya”, which serves as our closing song. As I mentioned above, the epilogue was storyboarded after “Nandemonaiya” was written; it’s more like the visuals were written for the song than the other way around. It’s especially evident if you watch this scene again, noting how faster sections correspond to Taki and Mitsuha racing to find each other while the more introspective sections correspond to the “What am I doing” scene on the stairs. I’m personally not an enormous fan of this track as a standalone song, but I cannot deny its effectiveness as a film soundtrack.

In closure, Your Name. is perhaps one of my all-time favorite films, even among creations like Fury or Star Wars. I strongly think that a large part of this is due to its music, especially in relation with its visuals. RADWIMPS did a spectacular job in scoring the film, bringing out laughs and tears alike, and though there will always be a hole in my heart from watching this film I thank them for their contribution in creating an unforgettable experience.