January 27, 2009
This post contains a Mother 3 plot spoiler, believe it or not.
With a good handle on the functional aspects of Mother 3’s music, let’s move into more nebulous territory: where some of these tunes come from.
As it turns out, the game is chock full of winking musical references. Some are quite obvious; others are tenuous and quite possibly imagined. Let’s check out a few of them.
One of the earliest enemies in the game, Mr. Batty, has a battle theme called “Mr. Batty Twist”:
This is an easy one. That chromatic ostinato is the characteristic feature of the old Batman theme, composed by Neal Hefti. Here’s a clip:
Amusingly, “Mr. Batty Twist” is more harmonically complex than the song it alludes to.
Here’s one of the more unusual battle themes, “Etude for Ghosts”:
It’s strange having a piano as a backdrop for a fight among all of these hard-rocking pieces, isn’t it? While I can’t peg this to a particular extant piece, I’d put my money on a Beethoven or Chopin influence here. [Update: Trilby, in the comments, suggests Rachmaninov or Shostakovich.] [Further update: I've reviewed everyone's suggestions for what this piece might be, and I think we have a winner: it appears to be based on the third movement of Piano Concerto No. 2 by Saint-Saëns. Thanks, anonymous emailer!]
In fact, Mother 3 contains several references to Western classical music (I use “classical” in the broad record-store definition). “Family Matters: 2nd Movement,” a boss battle theme, is an ambitious medley: It co-opts the famous opening to Beethoven’s 5th, interpolates some of “Etude for Ghosts,” and wraps things up with a bit of Mozart’s 40th. [Update: As some commenters have pointed out, there is also a quote from the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, and a very brief excerpt of Beethoven's 6th. Thanks, everyone!]
If you thought that was odd, “Ode to Ancestors: 8th Movement” takes the classical medley concept and does it one better. This piece includes parts of Beethoven’s 5th, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah, and “Spring” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
It’s such an absurd juxtaposition that I can’t help but laugh at it every time I listen.
“Leder’s Gymnopedie,” meanwhile, is not a pastiche — rather, it’s an excerpt of the lovely Gymnopédie No. 1 by Erik Satie:
In addition to popular classical motifs and kitschy TV themes, Mother 3 also makes musical references to other video games. This is especially true for songs related to Porky — who, as a spoiled brat in a former life, was presumably a big gamer.
“Blip-Blip High Score,” the background music for Porky’s arcade, is mostly a collage of beeps and bloops. If you listen closely to the left channel, though, you’ll hear the infamous descending riff from Space Invaders:
Here’s a reference that I may be imagining, but which I’ll propose nonetheless. “Natural Killer Cyborg,” the boss battle theme for Porky’s eponymous robot, has a particular guitar riff that kicks in at about twelve seconds:
Does it ring a bell for you? It’s very similar, harmonically and rhythmically, to the Dr. Wily Stage 1 theme from Mega Man 2:
That’s a bit of a stretch, of course, and the reference may not have been intentional — but I like to think it was.
Finally, here’s “Porky’s Porkies,” a chiptune-style battle theme:
This piece takes the Pigmask Army leitmotif, which appears dozens of times throughout the game, and gives it the old-school 8-bit treatment. Listen to that vibrato!
I haven’t played many GBA games, but I suspect that very few pull a trick like this. The sound capabilities of the machine are limited; a retro low-fidelity aesthetic could be mistaken for a failed attempt at verisimilitude.
More on music in Mother 3 to come. For now, though, I’m planning to dive into Beyond Good & Evil with the Vintage Game Club.