Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Kick-Ass Music of "Chaos Rings"

By Kirk Hamilton

So, maybe y'all have heard of this new iPhone RPG called Chaos Rings. If you haven't, well, now you have. It's a turn-based JRPG by Square Enix, and it was actually designed specifically for the iPhone. Is it good? Yes, it is very good. I've been playing nonstop for the last few days, and it actually continues to get better and better.

The game controls really well - the nonfixed joystick interface is so good that I can't quite believe I haven't seen it in any other iPhone games. The graphics are PSP quality, if not better, and the story is really interesting, reminiscent in many ways of Square's other recent portable gem, The World Ends With You.

And without question, the best part of the game is the music. Composed by Noriyasu Agematsu, Chaos Rings's score is just hilariously awesome, an over-the-top melange of power metal riffs, jazz fusion, piano space jams, and Gregorian chant. Yeah.

About five minutes into the game, this evil-ish dude shows up and tells you about the chaos rings, the tournament, etc. This is also when the game's main theme kicks in.  It starts out just fine - has a good melody, and it's cool to hear the return of the chiptune-ish tones and sampled MIDI brass and strings. And then, about thirty seconds (actually, 0:25) into the tune, it goes from zero to completely bonkers.  I went ahead and recorded it:

Hell. Yes. Dude, the bass fill at 0:47?  The stuttering synth snare-rolls? And don't even get me started on the B section at 1:06.

The rest of the game's music is just as good. It's actually got me thinking about how before every game had voice acting, designers relied on the music of the game to do much more emotional heavy lifting. Most of the time, that was enough! I hope that game-makers can keep in mind that just because we can have voice-acting in a game, doesn't mean it'll actually make the game better. (I direct you to Scott Juster's excellent post at Experience Points detailing his much more well-thought-out take on the same question.)

Chaos Rings absolutely soars on the strength of Agematsu's kick-ass score. For real, check this game out.

(Update, 5/11/10: Woah, horsey, ease it back a bit there. My socks remain utterly rocked by the awesomeness of the game's musical score, but after sinking in some quality hours I've found that the game itself ain't quite as awesome as I thought it was when I wrote this post. I still think it's good, but I no longer would describe it as "absolutely soaring," mainly because I have begun to compare the game to some of Square Enix's previous portable offerings (specifically the fantastic The World Ends With You) and have found it a bit wanting. I offer my apologies for that - hazards of enthusiastic blogging, I suppose. I did a critical analysis that's worth a read. All things considered, if you like JRPGs and have an iPhone, you'll totally dig Chaos Rings.  ~Kirk)