Game Music Revue: Pia-Com 1

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  • Credited Composer: Various
    Released November 25, 2009
    Label: Dog Ear Records/Sony Music Distribution
    VGMdb Information Page

There are three different kinds of game music albums, for the most part.

The first is the complete soundtrack that feature all, or at least most, of the music from a game. These are pretty common now, but back in the 80s and early 90s, they were quite rare, as games rarely had enough music to fill a full LP, let alone a CD.

As such, the most common game music release at the time was the compilation, which assembled choice cuts from various games in a company’s catalog. Many of these albums would usually feature remixed or “arranged” versions as well. Now, as I’ve mentioned previously, these alternate versions are usually the reasons why I buy such albums.

Which leads me to the third type of game music release, the arranged album – an entire album of re-interpreted game music, completely original reworkings of game music, either as a remix or cover. Many of the early arranged albums were orchestral versions. I suspect the first such album was probably the soundtrack to Dragon Quest II, although I could be mistaken.

Nowadays, you get arranged albums of all types. Orchestral versions, live band covers, or drastically different remixes that radically diverge from the source material. Every once in a while though you get one that focuses on remaking game music entirely on a single instrument. Pia-Com 1 is one such album, re-imagining songs from several classic Famicom games entirely as piano solos.

It works remarkably well.

Only seven tracks are included on Pia-Com 1, but most would probably be recognizable to any Famicom/NES-era gamer, including themes to Elevator Action; Yie Ar Kung-Fu; Final Fantasy II, Salamander (Lifeforce in the US) and Mappy. There album also includes slightly more obscure selections from Mother (the first game in the Earthbound series, which was just now released in America), and Hokkaido Rensa Sastujim aka The Portopia Serial Murder Incident, an adventure game by Enix that has never been released outside of Japan officially.

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The album is performed by Keita Egusa, who I believe is an accomplished pianist in Japan. I don’t know if he chose these songs himself, but whoever did sure did a hell of good job making sure they would work well on piano. The theme to Elevator Action opens the album, and might be the best tune on the collection, as its simple melody is beautifully transformed into a jazzy up-tempo number that wouldn’t feel out of place being performed in a late night jazz bar or as the theme music of a playful spy thriller. His take on the theme to Mappy is also a treat, played with an intensity and tempo that reminds me of ragtime tunes or the kind of piano accompaniment that you hear with a silent film.

I was more surprised with the reworked version of the theme to Final Fantasy II. That’s a big piece (nearly all Final Fantasy themes are) so I didn’t think it would translate well to the piano. And while it doesn’t carry the same emotional weight as the original (or orchestral version), the melody translates well and it still packs quite a punch. The same goes for the theme to Salamander, it might not be as manic and fast-paced as the classic original, but it still managed to get my blood pumping.

Truth be told, there isn’t a weak track on this one. I even enjoyed the music to games that I have yet to play. If you’re interested in hearing classic game music in ways you might not be expecting, I really suggest picking this one up. Pia Com 1 came out in 2009 and is still in print as far as I know. I picked it up at retail price in a Tokyo bookstore. You can probably find it for a fair price online if you look hard enough.

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