Game music: SanctuaryRPG

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Mechanized dragon.

Sometimes it’s the little things that pique your interest, tickle your funny bone or prompt a sudden perception test. In the case of SanctuaryRPG the little thing was the phrase “Mechanized dragon”. Any game that has that as a boss fight gets two automatic thumbs up in my book. Or talons as the case may be.

SanctuaryRPG is part Nethack, part Final Fantasy, all text. The website is immediately arresting, probably the slickest, most advanced-looking text-based site I’ve ever seen. The soundtrack by Rafael Langoni Smith matches perfectly, a wonderful throwback to the best of the NES. Worth a listen and worth some of your gold pieces and/or credits.

Confession: work and family are conspiring to eat up most of my free time right now and I haven’t actually had chance to play the game itself. Initially – and with a measure of guilt, feeling like I was short-changing both composer and developers – I was just going to throw up one of my little “Hey! Look at this!” posts that have become all too common these days.

But the soundtrack is just too good and too interesting, and Rafael is too nice of a guy for that.

In many ways the music is a nostalgic throwback to the NES – “Underworld, Part 3” wouldn’t be out of place in the endgame of an early Metroid instalment, while the wonderfully named “Dragon You Down” battle music would feel right at home with a Megaman robot master. It’s not above being shamelessly catchy either – I defy you to listen to “Questing” and not have it stuck in your head all day.

Taken by itself the SanctuaryRPG score is a great piece of console nostalgia, but I’m actually reminded of something a little more modern – Robert Ellis’ Treasure Adventure Game soundtrack. There’s the same attention to detail and love of the 8-bit era, but like TAG SanctuaryRPG builds on it rather than resting on it. It’s NES music, but at the same time the NES simply couldn’t create these sounds, the hardware literally wasn’t up to it. Rafael takes our memory of the NES era, plays up to it, enhances it, and then brings modern hardware to the table. The music typically stays within our nostalgic memory of how the NES used to sound but the album isn’t afraid to break out into the 21st century on occasion. “You May Be Experiencing Some Discomfort”, for example, but me more in mind of the melancholic exploration of Portal 2 than anything else, and “Mecha City, Part 5” has the ebullience, rhythm and electronic chops to be perfect for a scrolling shooter in the vein of Gradius or Radiant Silvergun.

No mean feat, especially when you consider the conditions the score was created under:

I made all the music and sound of the game 102% alone, in the dead of night, mostly during a very busy time working with TV musical production. The music for this game was a huge escape from real life, so to say. The producers of the game originally wanted a more chiptuney soundtrack; from the start I insisted on more creative freedom with timbres to look for a particular “sound” for sRPG, and I think we definitely made it.

And where did that sound come from?

The first track I wrote for this soundtrack was Talis Creatura, which should have been the mold for the rest. It was and it wasn’t at the same time. My original idea was to make “emptier” music but I couldn’t resist being hyperactive in this soundtrack since there was so much space on those black screens.

I’m glad he did. It would have been all too easy to go with a simple, understated score that fit the dark, empty theme of the game, but then we’d have been deprived of “Questing”, “Mecha City, Part 5” and, well, the rest of the album.

And a SanctuaryRPG trailer for your delectation:

Mechanized dragon. Sold.

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