The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 14
has been counting down the days, and we've finally reached that inevitable
moment: the Reapers are on the horizon, and will invade the planet Earth this
March. Mass Effect 3 will be upon us, and all of the galaxy's Shepards - both
male and female- will begin their journey to conclude the current gen's most
definitive RPG franchise. This blog series will pay tribute to the franchise as
we brace ourselves for the upcoming finale by chronicling my own journey and
experiences with the Mass Effect series. We'll continue this series with a look
at my own personal observation of the wonderful music of the first Mass Effect, the game that started it all. DUE TO THE NATURE OF THE REVIEW, SPOILERS MAY BE PRESENT.
Critical to every game, especially ones that depend on immersion, is a score that compliments it. When it comes to complex themes and ideas, music is one of the most common and widely accessible outlets for nondiscursive expression. In the case of Mass Effect, Jack Wall, lead composer of the score along with Sam Hulick and other composers, has claimed that Blade Runner was one of his inspirations, and the influence shows.
A strong mixture of synthetic and overlapping notes create energetic or moody pieces where rhythm and melody in some cases is emphasized through the use of orchestral instruments, namely brass, strings, piano, flutes, and percussive. The inclusion of a choir in some pieces gives these already textured scores an almost exultant sensibility; the motif of the Citadel is a prime example. The character motifs created also tell an enthralling story through their notes, especially Saren's, being one of my primary favorites. However, the score also explores slowed, overlapping beats that perfectly contrast with its frantic counterparts. The effective use of electronic themes with dark and sullen tonalities lend the music a distinctly dystopian and futuristic sensibility, with the addition of ambient and audibly overwhelming scores that epitomize the wonder, danger, and mysterious allure of the Mass Effect Universe. Since I had one blog devoted entirely to the second Mass Effect, I decided to devote this one to the first. So here are my favorites:
This piece really emphasized the wonder I felt when I first saw the enormous Citadel during my first playthrough. It already felt surreal with the choir complementing the piece, but the addition of flutes at the right moment really sealed the deal. It's powerful, and evocative, and I knew once I heard it that this game was not going to be the standard fare space opera. Thankfully, I was right.
One of the exciting features of Mass Effect was the ability to travel to different solar systems and visit planets, scanning some for elements, while discovering new missions at others. There were also planets that Shepard could explore for various resources and items, as well as investigate different bases or ships in orbit. There were tons of possibilities in space; something this adventurous and multi-layered piece suggests effectively.
There's no villain as intriguing and complex as Saren. While the narrative clearly establishes him as a villain in Shepard's first mission on Eden Prime, much of his motives and reasoning remain unclear, even when players learn that he's searching for a Prothean artifact known as the Conduit. Like us, Saren seemed to be racing against time himself, trapped underneath the grip of the Reaper Sovereign, only to redeem himself by refusing to submit to the Reaper's influence. Either way, Saren was a powerful villain and elicited an incredible sense of foreboding, and this instrumental piece complements that.
This played during your first encounter with Saren, on the planet of Virmire, where the Krogan Facility was located. The strong and powerful brass instruments provided pace and emotional context to the piece, reflecting the conflict Shepard and his squad faced in the wake of their discovery regarding Sovereign.
This minimalist piano piece is surprisingly mournful in comparison to what you'd imagine for a theme reflecting Mass Effect's more notorious forays into the subject. Another interesting thing to note is how this piece is initially played during the sequence following the death of the squadmate you sacrificed on Virmire, instilling the feeling of sacrifice and elevating this theme above the sexual.
Ilos (synth version):
I remember when I finally stole the Normandy back from the Citadel and took the inevitable trip to Ilos, to find a fascinating world of long forgotten relics. The attention to detail, with flora covering much of the ancient site was nothing but a picture perfect rendition of the mysterious society once believed to have made the Mass Relays. Hearing the synth-heavy mid-tempo beat established the impending risks that lay ahead as we drew closer to the trail of Saren.
This calm, relatively short track is an excellent motif that offers the rest of the embattled music reprieve as players got a chance to glimpse another side of the Prothean society. The hope Vigil gave Shepard in spite of the overwhelming doom foreshadowed by the Prothean's demise provided players with a chance to reflect on another sacrifice and appreciate the light that was given to them. There's a somber, contemplative peace invoked that suits this one-of-a-kind experience well.
So, I was already excited by the alarming new twist in the story once Sovereign revealed itself. Seeing the fearsome monstrosity at work, mowing effortlessly through the Citadel fleet, was a thrill. When players finally saw the Reaper connect with the Citadel, the already complicated situation became even more desperate. What's best about this instrumental is the poetic and abjectly alluring environment it creates while players watch the events unfold.
There's nothing like an epic final boss battle, and Mass Effect delivered when players faced off against Sovereign's avatar - channeled through Saren's indoctrinated corpse. The music lets loose, with chaotic and booming orchestral music - complete with another wonderful choir - that I simply can't get enough of, and echoed the sheer power that this limber boss had as it fired powerful beams of energy at Shepard. What especially helped to sell this climactic event were the scenes of the Alliance fiercely battling the nearly invincible colossus as it tore ships apart with its fierce laser beams. You knew Shepard had to win, and this struggle was something this piece accomplished easily.
M4 pt 2:
So, there's nothing more satisfying to a good ending so much as a good ending score. This song by Faunts, clocking in at more than eight minutes, was definitely the capstone to a superior gaming experience, and highlighted the struggles Shepard faced in the battle to save the galaxy from the Reapers. Shepard, after all, couldn't do this alone, and the exceptional cast of characters were the perfect support. With this playing, the credits were over before you knew it.
If there's one thing that players can be certain about, it's this: the first Mass Effect introduced us to a world that was exceptional in myriad ways and audibly, one that enticed our imagination with sound. With Clint Mansell helming Mass Effect 3, we can expect the series to take another fascinating new direction that will hopefully build on the material and themes we already adore so much. The journey will end tomorrow, with my final blog ending this series as we prepare to fight the Reapers and settle things once and for all. Thankfully, we've got more than enough tunes to inspire us in the meantime.