It feels strange to call something that premiered 17 years ago ‘retro’. Yet, video game music, and the whole industry, is evolving at logarithmic pace. In comparison to today’s premieres, this soundtrack hits the listener with shockingly strong faith in synthesizers and samples. Let’s take a look at one of the most Japanese-sounding soundtracks you’ll ever hear.
Ever 17: The Out of Infinity is a visual novel about seven characters trapped in an underwater marine theme park LeMU located in Japan. Two of them are playable characters, and based on the decisions made by the player, they control one or the other. As the story unfolds and the other trapped persons reveal trivia about themselves, one thing remains: the sense of mystery is always present. What is interesting, though, is that it’s hard to hear it in Takeshi Abo’s music.
The poster child of the synthesizer era in Japanese VGM.
The composer, at that time with a lot of experience already, put together a soundtrack that could very well be the poster child of the synthesizer era in Japanese VGM. The sounds we hear are as unhuman and synthetic as possible; as if this was to be the definition of a live-music theatre antonym. Picking up any other video game soundtrack from that time and place, it would be hard to find a different approach, though. Ever 17’s soundtrack could work as proof that every creation is a slave of it’s time.
That is not to say that there isn’t any charm in it. But of course, differences mean conflicts. For Westerners who are accustomed to less straightforward approach in scoring media, such strong idea of musical presence (both from a game design’s and music’s perspective) leads to polarization. Our perspective seems to dictate a ‘love it or hate it’ fashion in which there isn’t much grey area, like with Western soundtracks.
Ever 17’s penchant for German language – one of the game’s more curious design ideas – can be noticed in the soundtrack and brings a curious flavor to it. Titles like Kopfsprung (‘Headfirst jump’) or Heilmittel (‘Remedy’), ambiguous and seemingly meaningless for those that don’t speak German, create yet more mystery in an already mysterious visual novel. And even after we translate those, the certain ambiguity between seemingly upbeat mood and unnerving title in some of the tracks, combined with the game’s plot, leaves the listener wondering how it’s ever possible to score such a mysterious story with such happiness in melodies.
Although video game music has evolved out of control.
It’s not always happy or synthetic, though. Listening through dramatic Drittes Auge, Jamiroquai-esque Aqua Stripe or nostalgic in texture Der Mond Das Meer, Ever 17 presents the listener with an array of, even if limited due to the fabric, textiles, all with different colors yet with one and the same hand sewing them. The journey through underwater theme park, sometimes with jazz hip-hop, sometimes hand to hand with tunes straight out of Final Fantasy, should certainly not be a forgotten one. Although video game music has evolved out of control, it’s sometimes nice to watch and see where the beast grew up.