What Makes Metroid Music Sound Like Metroid Music?

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“First thing you hear when booting up a metroid game any metroid game is going going to be cold and daunting all the way back to the original nes game. Title screen theme set the tone immediately one closer to sci fi. Horror than the typical space. Action.

Game of the day. This is one of those rare pieces that i would consider perfect every note is placed exactly. Where it needs to be to create one of the most potent and memorable themes of all time despite its simplicity and one that exactly captures the unique feeling of metroid. There s literally nothing you could remove from this piece without damaging its effect.

Which could explain its use in the title screens of almost every metroid game released to date everything from the ominous low fifths. The echo effect on the top line and the emphasized flat sixth scale degree in a minor key give off this aura that is distinctly metroid. No it defines the feeling of metroid in a way that we see carried through the series soundtracks to this day in 1986. Two games were released for the nes kicking off series.

That would become two of the cornerstones of nintendo s library up until the present day. I m of course talking about metroid and the legend of zelda. Both of these nes classics introduced a handful of musical themes that would become series staples. But more importantly.

They established the philosophy behind all of the music for each series going forward. It wasn t until both series super nintendo debut a link to the past and super metroid respectively. That each s musical identity was set in stone with each game producing some of the most iconic pieces of music in videogame history to this day. Most of the themes associated with these two videogame legacies originated in their 16.

Bit forms. That s not to say that the two series had similar approaches while koji kondo was crafting triumphant melodies to accompany link on his quest to save. Zelda hero. Kazu hipped.

Tanaka was taking the score for the original metroid in a completely different direction game music was beginning to garner some attention by japanese media at the time as a respectable new form of music and many composers tried to take advantage of the spotlight with poppy melodies that appealed to a mass audience irritated by the game industry s obsession. With upbeat mulatto sysm tanaka tried to create the antithesis to this trend with the soundtrack to metroid saying in an interview in 2002. I had a concept that the music for metroid should be created not as game music. But as music the players feel as if they were encountering a living creature.

I wanted to create the sound without any distinctions between music and sound effects. The image. I had was anything that comes out of the game is the sound that game makes tanaka goes on to say that he intentionally wrote. Only one melodic and upbeat tune for the game for after the player defeats mother brain.

Saying that s because i wanted only a winner to have a catharsis at the maximum level for this reason. I decided that melodies should be eliminated during the gameplay basically tanaka was telling players to get good long before he to taka miyazaki arrived on the scene while tanaka. Never scored another metroid game his philosophy behind the game s music is still influencing the series to this day the line between environmental sounds and music is frequently blurred from the rain and thunder noises and super metroids planet zeebee to the drums imitating volcanic rumbling underneath metroid primes make more caverns the focus in these and other pieces scoring a specific environment is a dark ambience. Tanaka s alternative to upbeat mulatto sysm.


Musically this kind of ambience is almost always achieved using a low synth bass pedal that swells and fades like the breathing of a living creature with layers of pads fading in and out on top in dissonant clusters metroid fusion sector. 3 theme is a great example of this as synth and choral pads shift over top of a c sharp bass pedal. The approach is to take notes that don t fit cleanly into the same key and place them right next to each other for instance. Alternating a c.

Sharp minor triad against a g or b flat major triad juxtaposing. These dissonant pairs overtop of a constant pedal tone creates a potent unwavering sense of unease an effective musical depiction of looming dread. We see the same thing in one of metroid. Prime.

3 zambian themes. Where a c power. Chord. Underscores synth pads that weave in and out freely.

Using notes from both c. Major and c. Minor. Sometimes simultaneously refusing to stick to one consistent tonality.

Again this injects. The music with a quiet anxiety. A terrific backdrop to the harsh lonely worlds. That you find yourself exploring in these games.

For less ambient. And more tonal pieces. We find an edge added to the music via chromaticism usually meant to make minor key pieces feel even more minor kraid s lair theme from the original metroid makes use of a tonic pedal tone in the key of e minor with the flat sixth used to imply. A dark natural.

Minor sound and a quick flat fifth used for an ominous color building up to a climax. We see the tune make use of a flat 2 chord. As part of a dark. Yet colorful.

A minor f sharp. 7. Fb progression with these quick sixteenth note. Trills and wide base.

Leaps generating a lot of intensity. The flat 2 cord. Also appears in slightly more ambient contexts with brin stars red soil wetland area from super metroid basic. It s themed entirely off of this 2 cord vamp from the flats us to f flat major.


13. While never made explicit in the accompaniment. The melody betrays. The pieces a flat minor tonality.

This piece was reworked for metroid prime to store vez boggs submerged level as well as samus returns lower brinstar theme. I love the way these tunes builds such a colorful beautiful chord off of such a dissonant root note. Rather than sounding. Just sinister or brooding.

The major 7th and 13th give this flat to chord some melancholy. A more sinister and brooding variation of this musical idea can be found in super metroids norfair. Ancient ruins theme. This piece is largely driven by the same half step bass motions.

Though harmonized this time for the most part as a major 1 chord and an inverted minor flat. 7 chord. The oppressive atmosphere provided by this vamp. Along with the heavy use of the flat.

2 in the melody is augmented by transposing the whole piece up in minor thirds every eight bars throughout this helps to keep stability to a minimum you may recognize this theme. As it s become kind of the series staple for extremely hot areas. Notably from metroid prime smeg. More caverns samus returns various hot rooms.

And it even appears in nintendo land if there s one last element that i think gives metroid its truly unique musical character it s the way that these games use heroic musical conventions intertwined with the brooding ambient techniques that we ve covered so far the ambience in these games. Make sense. The metroid series is known for its themes of isolation and exploration of labyrinthine environments. The darkness and the music augments the elements of horror that have always been present in the series.

There has always been grotesque visual design. As well as an attempt to make the player feel. Powerless. Stranded all alone on an alien world having just lost all of the high tech space.

Tools that you need to survive. But at the end of the day samus does always triumph and there s a drive behind all the ambience. An optimism underneath the dissonance that puts the last piece of the puzzle into place look at brinstar from the original metroid. The driving triplet baseline set against these sixteenth note flourishes and the melody as well as these major chords.

Borrowed from the tunes. Parallel minor key. These are text books. Zelda music tropes.


That s not to say this piece is without a unique metroid tinge pay attention to how this borrowed chord. Feels in this 2 chord vamp the b flat sus. 2. First of all if this were a more generically adventurous game like zelda or a pokemon.

This would be a major flat seventh court rather than a flat three sus they re both borrowed from the parallel minor key. But the flat seven sounds just a shade less dark here listen to how ocarina of times hyrule field theme would sound with this chord progression rather than its original one two flat. Seven vamp. It just has a little bit more of an edge doesn t it keeping the harmony.

Two simple triads generally sounds more straightforward. But using a sus 2 chord. Here rather than a straight b flat. Major.

Lends a little bit of depth to the progression while the brinstar theme hasn t been explicitly carried on throughout the series scores. Its attitude has the same marched based rhythm. The dissonance between triplet and sixteenth note subdivisions stable chord tone focused melodies and the kind of mode mixture. I outlined earlier these are all elements that you find permeating zelda and other heroic music especially from nintendo s first party games.

These elements show up again and again in metroid soundtracks cutting through the thick sound escapes the same way samus cuts through these alien planets going back to norfair ancient ruins or its younger brother make more caverns we see these rhythmic elements incorporated alongside the ominous chromatic harmony. I mentioned before with galloping 16th and straight eighth note figures clashing with driving triplet rhythms in the base. It s the combination of all of these elements that give the piece that metroid feel. And i think it contributes to why this theme is one of the more popular and emblematic of the series as a whole the theme of super metroid is another example of everything we ve laid out so far.

A minor key base vamp with the flat sixth. Putting a squarely and a natural minor sound playing out underneath. The soaring semitone cluster. In the high choral synth.

Before a melody comes in that could not be described as anything. But heroic. The brass since the heavy emphasis on the root and fifth the dotted eighth to sixteenth note. Rhythms sprinkled in divorced from the surrounding.

Accompaniment. This melody. Just screams heroism metroid primes. Talent for theme.

Incorporates brinstar theme more directly taking the exact same one to flattery suss to vamp. But it amplifies both the heroic nature of that piece as well as some of the ambient techniques. We ve mentioned previously the theme opens up with a continuous peddled g. In the base before a synth line floats in overtop that moves from the major third to the minor third confusing our sense of key unlike.


The previous examples of the same technique. However this time the line is foreshadowing. The harmonic motion to come our much talked about g b. Flats.

Us to vamp this time placed over a continuous base pedal. This moves into a new melody over the same progression. One that makes even more deliberate use of heroic tropes. The sixteenth note run up to the fifth of our b flat chord and these quarter note triplets feel like they were ripped straight from a hyrule field or the main theme from pokemon.

The theme continues to balance between more explicitly upbeat and heroic sounding. Sections and darker more ambient sections treading the line carefully to create the tone that we all associate with the metroid series. I like to think that this approach is representative of the tone of the series as a whole. While these games do frequently deal with themes of isolation powerlessness and horror.

That s not all there is to them. When you re first dropped into one of these alien worlds. Even figuring out where to go next can seem incredibly daunting. But by the end of each game.

The player has learned how to navigate these areas samus has regained her abilities and after a bad ass display of shooting. Some ungodly monster in the face each of these games all end in triumph. The dark atmosphere that cloaks these games make the victories seem all the sweeter. Giving players who make it to the end.

The maximum level of catharsis. Just as hirokazu tanaka intended way back in 1986. I hope this could provide some insight into just what makes metroid music sound. The way that it does i want to thank.

Patron patrick baker milou for the suggestion. If you d like to join pat here and supporting this channel feel free to go check out my patreon. Here. There are lots of rewards for being a patron like getting these videos.

A couple days early having access to all of the transcriptions for music that i made for this video and the ability to request topics like good old pat here. If you want to follow me on twitter. You can find me at 8. Bit music theory.

Thank you so much for watching. And i ll see you all next time ” ..

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