Recently I have gone a bit of a Dragon Ball Z fueled nostalgia kick, which all got started when I listened to Faulconer Productions’ Dragon Ball Z OST’s. Following that was replaying the Dragon Ball Z: Legacy of Goku series, which I have been reviewing and analyzing. These two paths intersect in many places: whenever a song from the original series is translated into the games. This is no more powerful for me than the translation of one of my favorite DBZ anime tracks “Gohan and Icarus” into one of my favorite DBZ Legacy of Goku tracks “East District 439”. So let’s compare the aspects of these two awesome tracks.
Disclaimer: I am in no way knowledgeable concerning music theory, or anything of that sort, but I just wanted to discuss two awesome songs. 🙂
Original: Gohan & Icarus
First is the original track: Gohan & Icarus. This track has one of my favorite intros of any song ever. The slow build up of a small loop of notes into something that becomes so fast that it forms a completely different sound is so satisfying to me. At around the :30 mark the track takes a darker turn, albeit temporarily. Amidst this section is some of the hallmark heavily synthesized electric guitar, which is featured in many of the tracks, including the opening theme. Personally, I feel this section is a little jarring, although it is by far not one of the more oddly juxtaposed arrangements in the DBZ OST (I present “Droids vs. Bikers”). This then loops back into the build up from the beginning of the song. The next large transition is around the 1:25 mark, where a feeling of playfulness and merriment is elicited through the sprinkling of a few notes, which slowly fades into the background. If I had one complaint about this song, it would be that it ends so abruptly.
Video Game: East District 439
And now East District 439, repurposed for the GBA. Most likely the first thing you’ll notice is that the song is notably simpler. That is to say that there are not as many overlaid tracks or instruments vying for your attention. This is mostly because of the constraints of the GBA itself and is most likely less of a choice of the music director and more of a constraint. That being said, I have always felt that more simple, catchy tracks in video games are the way to go. I grew up playing GBA games, and humming the tones through the day even when I was nowhere near the game itself. But once I graduated to more complex consoles with their greater musical capabilities, I noticed that the catchiness was usually nowhere to be found. Nowadays I often feel that many games are dominated by generic orchestral tracks instead of finding their own sonic identity. The problem with more complex tracks is that human brain can only process so much information. When you are playing a game you can often get tasked with many fast-paced, complex tasks. It is much easier for your brain to process the less complex “East District 439” than the more complex “Gohan & Icarus” while battling an onslaught of foes.
The track is also notably missing the buildup that I love so much from the original track. This is probably due to the nature of the song being looped, and the fact that the song is started immediately once you enter a new sound trigger zone. In a game with larger areas, this would probably have been less of a problem. However, it does retain the fast looping of this small sequence of notes, which forms the backbone of the song, while making it so recognizable.
All that being said, a more deliberate change was made concerning the tone. While “Gohan & Icarus” goes very dark mid-track– as if to warn of an impending storm, or even declare a small confrontation– “East District 439” only makes a much smaller change. At around the :45 mark you can hear the fast, looping track slowly fade out only for another track to come in ~6 seconds later that mimics a more orchestral sound, almost like a violin. In fact, although the song is recognizable for the fast, repeating loop, the song is more than half composed of this orchestral section. I think this tonal change is what made the soundtrack for the “Legacy of Goku” series so strong. While the anime’s OST could be a little wacky and all over the place at times– which is probably at least partially reflective of having to score to a show– the video games’ OST’s were much more focused on a track by track basis, both tonally and based off of the song’s time structure/transitions, which I think made them resonate more strongly with the listener.
But what do I know? I’m just a guy that knows things about games and likes listening to their OST’s! So you tell me, which do you like better? And if you could provide more in-depth insight into what made these tracks so compelling, either for me or for yourself, then I’d love to hear that in the comments below! And don’t forget to click on the poll to show me which version of the song you prefer!