Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Album Review: The Earthen Scar

I spend a lot of time on the internet, and as of late one of my favorite websites is Bandcamp. It's a user-friendly website for both hosting and purchasing music, and one of my favorite features is the ability to write up a little blurb for each purchase you make, about why you bought it and why you enjoy listening to it. That is to say, I've made a point to type up something for every purchase I make on the site. If you know me, you know I love giving feedback.

Bandcamp is where I purchase a lot of my soundtracks that aren't available in physical form. In addition, this website has exposed me to a multitude of fantastic original music. One such instance is the transmedia concept album The Earthen Scar, by composer Thomas Ferkol.

The Earthen Scar is a 12-track instrumental album that tells a story. I don't mean the story is told through the music—at least, not entirely. When you visit the individual pages on Bandcamp for each track of the album, you're given story snippets to read for that particular track. The album tells a story through both these snippets and the music itself.

Far away in a fantasy universe, a plague is spreading through the world that seems to be able to twist and scar the Earth itself. It was intended as spell that was to make humankind immortal, but instead it turned men and women into twisted, undead creatures. It did allow people to live forever, but in a way that was not truly living. A young mage and her guardian set out on a journey through a dying world, but there is little hope for mankind.

The Earthen Scar is a fantastic album. Not only is it beautiful and imaginative instrumental music, but it also has a fairly cool story to go along with it. In fact, some details made me think about how well this story would work as a video game or an anime. It's also interesting to note that, more or less, this story is its own soundtrack. It's a peculiar thought.

One of the features of Bandcamp is the option to select a favorite song from each album you've purchased. For The Earthen Scar, I spent two weeks trying to decide what I wanted to select, because they're all so very good. Every time I thought I knew for sure, I'd listen to a different track and change my mind. They're all equally amazing and unique in their own way. In the end, I chose the track titled "Dear Wasteland"; not because it was greater than the rest, but because it has an exceptionally cool name.

The album also includes a ten-minute bonus track titled "The Bitter Suite". It is not related to the story of The Earthen Scar, but it's of the same style of music, and it is a very good song.

If you like instrumental music, I definitely recommend checking out this album. You can listen to it for free on Bandcamp, or just use the player below. You can also view the story snippets for free as well. Thomas Ferkol has since released two further albums in the saga, The Liminal Descent and The Divine Deception, and is currently working on the final entry in the series.

I'd just like to note that I've finally broken my curse and actually finished an album review that's not a Soundtrack of the Month. Thanks, and have a great day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Soundtrack of the Month: April 2015

Caution: Do not check the date before reading this article. Just don't. Okay?

When I think of inspiring soundtracks, whose amazing music can help anyone through the hardest of times, there's one particular soundtrack that never comes to mind. It's the soundtrack to a little game called LIMBO, composed by Martin Stig Andersen.

LIMBO is a fairly short game, but it will make a large impact on anyone who plays it. If you hate spiders, you will love this game. I'm also never sarcastic. Ever! You can even ask my friends. (Which in itself is a joke, because my friends don't talk to me. We're not on speaking terms until I watch the movie Up.)

If you've never listened to Anderson's dramatic, undeniably existent LIMBO score in all of its continually ambient glory, you've clearly never played the game. Nerd.

Featured Tracks

Track 1: Menu – This song really shows off LIMBO's gorgeous melodies and sweeping themes. Actually, I'm not sure that the themes sweep. I mean, how does music sweep? Certainly not with a broom. Music doesn't have hands.

Track 4: Rotating Room – This game is not creepy at all. Whatsoever. This song is proof.

Track 5: Sister – Funny thing, you learn more about the plot from the title of this track than you do from playing the game itself.

Purchase Limbo (Original Videogame Soundtrack) on Bandcamp, iTunes, or Amazon.
Or listen to it for free on Spotify or YouTube.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Game Review: Sinister

"And then I died."

The other day I came across a little game called Sinister. It was made in 48 hours as part of the Ludum Dare competition. When I say a little game, I mean a game that you can literally beat in two minutes. That little. Yet, for some reason I keep playing it. I wonder why that is.

Sinister is as mysterious as it is short. You are a man, and you have died. Yet, somehow, a world is able to come back together around you, bred from your memories. Where are you? What is this world? You explore this world of memory, and after a short time you come across a girl standing over a grave. As she turns to look at you, the words appear.

"I said that you would never be alone."

And then the game ends, bringing you back to the title screen, leaving you to wonder what the heck just happened. However, the "ending" is not where the game ends, because the game actually works as an endless loop. The opening and ending lines go together, hand-in-hand. The girl is standing over your grave, because you have died.

"I said that you would never be alone...
...And then I died."

Could it be that your character is stuck in some sort of purgatory? The same dream of a partial world of memories playing itself over and over again? Or is there something more going on here? I played the game numerous times, trying everything I could think to try, just trying to find some answers. But no matter how much I've looked, I've found nothing more than what I already know.

What is it about this game that keeps drawing me back? Is it the mystery of it all? Is it the brilliantly haunting music? Is it the fact that no matter how many times I play it, I can't find the closure I'm searching for? It's probably all of these things combined.

The developer has in fact stated that he intends to expand on the story sometime in the future, and has stated on Twitter, "This is not the end of Sinister." This makes me both excited and cautious. Someday I may finally find the closure I need, but at the same time the game is brilliant as it is, because of the unanswered mystery of it all.

Regardless, you should consider spending two minutes of your time to play the game. Be warned, it may keep drawing you back, as it did me. That will probably not be the case—I'm just an oddball—but who knows.

Play the game online here.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Soundtrack of the Month: March 2015

When attempting to plan future editions of this Soundtrack of the Month series, there is one soundtrack that kept coming up again and again, that I kept getting very close to rejecting. I kept considering it because it's great music, and I kept rejecting it because it was made by an amateur—somebody who had never composed before, and has even stated he can hardly play a musical instrument. However, eventually I came to the conclusion that I don't care that the composer was new when he created this soundtrack, because it's honestly one of my favorite soundtracks... ever.

Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages is a video game mainly developed by two brothers (and a wife/sister-in-law), over the course of five years. Enrique and Paul Dryere were in college and decided to make a game; simple as that. Over the years their project would grow and grow, becoming more and more ambitious, but they didn't stop work until it was everything they wanted it to be, and the result was staggering. The game that came out was an extremely well-polished product, with an incredible 20-hour story, and numerous game modes and features. This game looks and functions like it was made by a large team of people, but it wasn't. It was mainly two.

Ring Runner is very much a game for intellectuals. If you're not a quick learner, you are going to be very lost. The Dryeres packed in so much science and technical details—a lot of it their own science fiction; a lot of it actual theoretical science—that sometimes it's difficult to understand everything that's happening and being said. It most certainly made my head hurt a number of times, and sometimes I had to replay certain sections just so I could be sure of what the characters said. Even the controls are difficult to master, as they're more complicated than the average space shooter.

The game's soundtrack is composed by Enrique "E.C." Dryere, and as I said before, it was his first time composing music. The first track he ever composed is even included on the soundtrack as a bonus track (Track 20: The First Sage). At first the soundtrack might seem to have a slight sort of amateur feel to it, but for me that has long worn off. Instead, I have a strong appreciation for how unusual and unique the style of music is. In fact, it's one of the most unique soundtracks I've heard.

The Ring Runner soundtrack is a piece of art. It's an integral part of the game. Not only is it beautiful, but it perfectly reflects both the vastness of space and the universe in which the game takes place. The score that accompanies the Nameless Sage on their adventure is incredible. It might be a little unorthodox, but that doesn't make it any less amazing. I would say that there is only one track in the entire soundtrack (Track 19: A Promise to Keep) that doesn't fit perfectly with the segment of the game in which it is used, and that single track is still a great piece of music on its own.

Featured Tracks

Track 15: Ring Runner – This is the music that greets a player when they load up the game. It's rare that a piece of music can invoke such a feeling of nostalgia before one has even been through the journey. The title music of Ring Runner is somehow able to accomplish this. It expresses the vastness of space, and at the same time lets the player know that they're in for a long, incredible journey.

Track 1: StarEater – This music helps craft the first level of the game. An amnesiac pilot and a mysterious A.I. fly their way out of an exploding space station. In short, the story begins with the destruction of the only location that could ever tell the characters who they are.

Track 7: The Name Solipso – A recurring character, with a recurring theme, is the legendary Sage named Solipso. The first ever Sage free of CIR rule, Solipso has been on the run for hundreds of years, showing up at various locations for only brief amounts of time. One day he crosses paths with the Nameless Sage, and that simple meeting would set in motion events that would change the universe, so to speak.

Purchase the Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages soundtrack on Bandcamp.
Or listen to it for free on Bandcamp or YouTube.

Monday, February 16, 2015

20 Random Facts About Me #7

Once upon a time I started a blog series. Five times upon five other times, I added sequential entries to that series. This is the seventh entry. Here are another 20 facts that you may or may not have known about me.

  1. I took Latin all four years of high school, but I still haven't completed Latin 4.
  2. I used to absolutely hate the Halo game series.
  3. Now, I very much enjoy the Halo game series.
  4. My favorite YouTuber is PeanutButterGamer.
  5. The only manga I have read all the way through is Fullmetal Alchemist.
  6. Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the most incredible stories I have ever read or watched.
  7. I'm not sure how noticeable it is, but I use the word "incredible" a lot.
  8. I have recently acquired a rather strong appreciation of the cello.
  9. My driver's permit expired well over a year ago.
  10. As of late I've been watching a lot of superhero-oriented TV series.
  11. I very much love the Legend of Zelda video game series.
  12. My favorite animated movie (and film soundtrack) is How To Train Your Dragon.
  13. My all-time favorite TV series is Stargate SG-1.
  14. I used to review books.
  15. The most money I have spent on a single soundtrack is $60.
  16. I own a Latin translation of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
  17. I actually, genuinely like the Star Wars prequels.
  18. I own a Wii U, and I am not ashamed of this fact.
  19. I have used the same email address since I was 9 years old.
  20. Reading my emails from 2005 is the most hilarious thing ever.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Soundtrack of the Month: February 2015

When it comes to soundtrack composers, there is one who is revered as one of the greatest composers in the history of the world. I am speaking, of course, of the legend Hans Zimmer. For some reason, I have always thought of this man as rather overrated. While he's just as great a composer as everyone says he is, that doesn't make him shine above the rest. There are many other far less-known composers who are just as good, and some who are even better. To tell the truth, while I've always enjoyed Zimmer's scores, I've never found that they particularly stand out. He has a specific style to his music that doesn't always strike my fancy.

However, recently a film came out which he had scored, and the music blew me away. I speak, of course, of Interstellar.

The film was a masterpiece. Coming from Christopher Nolan, who was known for such blockbusters as Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy, was a science fiction film about Earth's final days and the survival of mankind in the universe. I didn't know what to expect going into it. His previous films that I had seen were very dark, and focused heavily on moral ambiguity, but the previews of Interstellar made it look more like a science fiction drama than an intense action film. As it turned out, it was a little of both.

It's hard to fit Interstellar into a box. It's a longer story, but at no time does it feel like a long story. It just feels like a more fully realized and complete story than a regular-length film would be able to tell. I feel that in this way it's comparable to The Lord of the Rings films. The film focuses heavily on story, but also has some sci-fi action sequences and whatnot. It's a brilliantly crafted story, and the score only adds to that.

After the movie released (to critical success), there were a lot of complaints about sound design. In some parts of the film the score plays at very loud volume, and makes the dialogue somewhat difficult to hear. Having imperfect hearing myself, I didn't think it was much different from other films I've seen. Besides, the score being extra loud doesn't make the music itself any less good.

This was the film that redeemed Zimmer for me. I have a bad habit of not thinking too fondly about his works, for the simple reason that people give him too much credit. However, for this film at least, he is just as great as everyone says he is.

Featured Tracks

Track 4: Day One – This song is a rendition of the film's main theme. Interstellar is a very emotional movie, and the music helps nail that point. It's beautiful.

Track 8: Mountains – This segment of the movie is very time-sensitive, and we are constantly reminded of this because Zimmer incorporates an actual ticking clock into the score. It's one of the more creative things I've heard in music composition, and it's both effective and really cool.

Track 13: Coward – This is what I like to call the "Theme of Betrayal". You really can't have a Christopher Nolan movie without some sort of twist (or few) thrown it.

Note: The digital version of this soundtrack includes eight extra tracks. This deluxe edition is also on Spotify.

Purchase Interstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack on Amazon or iTunes.
Or listen to it for free on Spotify or YouTube.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Game Review: Sneaky Sneaky

Here's a little game I came across recently. It's called Sneaky Sneaky, and in it you do a lot of sneaking.

A while ago I was going through my old Thursday Impressions posts on this blog and I realized that I kind of missed doing it. However, I don't have nearly enough time to write up a first impressions piece every week anymore, so I decided to compromise and do one every month. So then I played the first game on my list, wrote up an impressions piece, and then went and beat the rest of the game long before the post was scheduled to be published. So, screw impressions pieces. Here's a review.

Sneaky Sneaky is a grid-based strategy game controlled only by the mouse, in which you sneakily defeat your enemies and grab treasure on your way to completing each level. When an enemy discovers you (or when you sneakily get the first strike) the game switches into a turn-based mode until you or your enemy has been defeated, or until they've lost track of you (because you like to sneak away).

The gameplay is fairly unique. If at any time an enemy sees you before you attack them, they are able to move before you, and you're not allowed to move out of the way (or attack back) until it's your turn. Additionally, if you're able to sneak up behind your enemy without them seeing you, you can deal a much more powerful blow, which may take them out completely. Thus, stealth is a heavily encouraged strategy. Hiding in bushes for the right time to strike is a technique that works very well, along with sniping your enemy with arrows while you're out of their sight range.

The game isn't very long, and can be completed in just a few hours, but it's most definitely worth the low price. Not only is the art style really cool (and rather adorable), with great music that fits well, but also the game is pretty flipping fun. The difficulty curve is somewhat sharp if you're not prepared, and you might have to replay some already-completed levels in order to get enough money to buy an upgrade or two, but overall it's a brilliant gem of a game.

Sneaky Sneaky is awesome, and I'd love for the developers to make a sequel someday. I'd play the heck out of it.

The game is available on Steam and iOS.