On a steel horse I ride

Good game music is still being produced today.

If that statement shocked you, I’m sorry. Take in a deep breath, hold for 10 seconds, and listen to “The Moon” from Ducktales for the millionth time to help ease the pressure. But to any gamer with sense and ears, it’s pretty obvious that game music is still good –it’s just different. The film score accentuations that have risen since the death of the cartridge may not be for all tastes, which is fair enough.

But too often modern game music is dismissed entirely, or merely overlooked in favor of the chiptune set. If you are one of these mopers, I have one thing to say: you aren’t looking hard enough. There’s a wealth of good music that lives up to the past legacy, even though it might not sound like you remember. Here’s one of them.

“We Are Finally Cowboys”
Composed by: Masafumi Takada
Appeared in: No More Heroes

Masafumi Takada is the little-known renaissance man of the contemporary game music scene, whom you’ve probably heard in games like Killer7, God Hand, and No More Heroes. “Eclectic” is one way to describe the man, if “extremely talented” is too pedestrian a descriptor for you. He produces some pretty swell melodies within varying shells, from surf rock to uh, this, all with seemingly little effort. Takada’s quirky talents are half of what make an already irreverent and self-pandering trio of games so effective.

As his most recent work, No More Heroes features “more of the same” from Takada where that particular phrase can be construed to mean “some of the best game music of the year.” There are a number of strong contenders on the soundtrack, but one in particular wouldn’t let me stop listening to it: “We Are Finally Cowboys.” So why is it such a standout?

This 5-minute track starts by adding layers with a solid backbeat and strumming guitar riff at around 40 seconds before building up the main melody at about a minute later. This is normally the place where game music loops over from the beginning. “We Are Finally Cowboys” does too, only in a more forceful manner before delivering the melody again at around 3:19 into the piece. This explosion of aural delight is truly one of the most intense moments of audio in video gaming. How it deconstructs itself and slowly sheds its layers after that amazing crescendo will have you replaying it before it has a chance to fully fade away.

Though NMH rarely takes itself seriously, “We Are Finally Cowboys” is dramatic scoring at its absolute best. It serves as the theme to Travis Touchdown’s final battle with [SPOILER] as he learns that [SPOILER] was merely just trying to [SPOILER]. It’s ironic then that the piece provides some unexpected gravity to offset the constant barrage of intentional clichés at the game’s end, before its motif is used again seconds later during the true credits theme, “NO MORE NO MORE HEROES.” “We Are Finally Cowboys” also appeared on the remix album No More Heroes Sound Tracks Dark Side as “We Are Finally Cowboys [golden brown mix]” but not so ironically, it sounds more burnt and overcooked than deliciously golden brown.

I feel that No More Heroes score relies too much on its catchy yet repetitive main theme and is weaker overall than the unpredictable soundtrack to God Hand. However, that doesn’t stop “We Are Finally Cowboys” from being one of best examples of game music now or then. When you’re tired of your Uematsus and Sakimotos, give Mr. Takada a call; you won’t regret it.

Requests are still being noted, so keep them coming! I promise to do one next week!

13 thoughts on “On a steel horse I ride

  1. The Duck Tales “Moon Theme” would probably be on my iPod list from hell. It just sounds so depressing.

  2. What I’d be more interested is when we’re going to get more awesome ORIGINAL (as opposed to awesome licensed music, which is in abundance) in Western games. I mean yeah, the Halo theme and Still Alive are great but that’s like TWO. I wish people would stop trying to sound like either John Williams score X or the Lord of the Rings soundtrack already.

  3. I love the main recurring theme in No More Heroes that played every time you turned on your katana. I never got tired of it. Same with most of the music in Killer7. It’s just too damn catchy.

  4. Onimaru: It’s out there if you know where to look. Quick suggestion – “Power of the Horde” from WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne is quite catchy.

    I need to listen to the NMH OST again. I bought it awhile ago, but found it merely “okay” on first listen.

  5. I didn’t see this coming, but I agree completely that this is one of the best tracks to come out of the last year of games.

  6. Oh hell yes, Dr. Ion’s theme was amazing, even if he was one of the easier bosses in God Hand.

  7. While I agree with that, my absolute favorite song in God Hand is when you fight Elvis as a human, though that’s mostly because of the funny Elvis Presley imitation vocals.

  8. nun: I’ve only played KOTOR out of that guy’s games, in which he was (understandably) doing a John Williams impression. That and the fact that he worked on the Harry Potter games makes me inclined to think that he’s not exactly king fancy original beats.

    Someone should get Jim Venable to make a game soundtrack. There’s a guy with a keen ear for mimicry AND the ability to cook up awesomely fitting music to suit an original project.

  9. I completely agree with this post. I enjoyed NMH quite a bit more than I thought I would, and the music was a big part of that; Pleather for Breakfast is my personal favorite.

  10. I still can’t believe that the same person (Kow Otani) did the score for Shadow of the Colossus and…Gundam Wing. Wow. Other than the fact that they’re both epic, I can’t think of two soundtracks that are so vastly different yet are composed by the same person.

  11. No More Heroes is definitely great. Some other recent great ones have been Bladestorm and Sigma Harmonics, showing that pompous orchestral stuff and traditional RPG music are still kicking. But the real downfall of game music is in the arrangement albums such as that NMH Dark Side – seems like Japan has run out of the arrangement ideas that brought us Brink of Time or Suikoden III Music Collection. Or perhaps there just weren’t enough buyers.

  12. Anyone who pays attention to me knows that I can’t comment for very long without saying how awsome GOD HAND truly is! Thanks for helping the cause! ;)

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