These Videogame Soundtracks Are the Jams of the Summer
Audio Logs #7: All Summer in a JamGames Features game soundtracks
You can’t touch it, but you can feel it. The meaning changes with time, in drastic life shifts. Some are better than others. And as much as you try to hold on to it every time, it’s fleeting, transient. It has to be. What else would WASP novelists do if they couldn’t reflect on their boyhoods?
Summer is one of those things that we load with meaning and symbolism. We pack it with our nostalgia, our hopes, our need for freedom and relaxation. The sound of cicadas and the smell of hot rain steaming from sidewalk. Cookouts. Childhood is meted out one summer at a time. Some burn, others tan. Some take vacations to distant places. “Fathers” want to go “camping.” The wealthy build and buy homes specifically to retreat to during summer. Ones they already fled to this spring in a desperate attempt to dodge pandemic (it didn’t work).
Summer is also the time of grooves, slightly transformed. It’s bestselling paperbacks and blockbuster movies. There are camps and reading lists. Frisbee. Friendships born, nurtured, and tested. That’s the promise of summer.
The light beer branding of it.
The transcendence of reason and memory into co-opted consumptive meaning.
Of course, like most things, that promise is unequally distributed. The reality of summer for many people is a nightmare of work, childcare, hunger, heat, and the same old bullshit from other seasons.
Summer, it turns out, is complicated by capitalism and social access.
Does summer suck? Shit. It might.
But at least we still have the jams to fall back on…
I had a friend in college whose rich parents owned a hideous beach house. It was one of those tacky beachfront monstrosities in Hurricane Alley with big, glass French doors that only the wealthy could find aesthetically (or geographically) reasonable. It had an outdoor sound system. An expensive one. A loud one. One you could control from inside if you were to, say, hook a Playstation 2 up to it while everyone is asleep (read: passed out from drinking all day) and decide that 4 a.m. is the perfect time to blast the full effervescence of the totality of Shibuya Kei all at once.
I think they’ve mostly forgiven me now.
But can you blame me? Katamari Damacy is a soundtrack that needs to be played as loud and as big as the planetary collections of societal detritus one rolls up and sends spinning into the void to appease an unyielding father figure. I wanted all the marine life in the Atlantic to share in that joy.
Bombastic and feverishly irreverent, with choo-choo-choos, the occasional sprightly piano, and breakneck percussion, Sound Director Yuu Miyake pulls together a team of eclectic composers and musicians to create an absurd and friendly soundtrack. It gestures wildly at consumption and collection, remixing artifacts and cultural output into a fat, juicy cluster of STUFF. It’s joyful and infectious. A half-melted Jolly Rancher (that’s still good) in a neon Ocean Pacific fanny pack. All while hinting at the intense darkness tucked into the game by its conspicuous absence.
A soundtrack simultaneously entrenched in its time and yet eternal.
Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale
Normally, I’m reluctant to indulge in nostalgia for mythic childhoods. Being forced to read Dandelion Wine and listen to my parents with their Boomer tales of how incredible and fun their lives were. Everyone always omits abuse and adversity. They paper over nannying their parents through alcoholism and failing to handle their own adolescent strife. God forbid they ever contend with the political realities of their “memories.”
Friday Monsters! is probably the only sweet fantasy of summers past that I’ll allow. And it is sweet. Roll up every tender feeling from a Miyazaki film and set it to flourishing strings and twinkling bells. Underscore it with childlike wonder and a sense of adventure. As gentle and breezy as it can be, it does not forget the swelling of raw glee or the magnitude of feelings from your first Toho film. Wanting to live out your own tokusatsu fantasy is fully realized in orchestral pulses. Throughout this soundtrack Hideki Sakamoto distills the essence of an exuberant youthful summer into each of these orchestrations from the jazzy to the bucolic to the heroic. Even at my most acidic, it’s hard not to give myself over to the delightful impulse of this fantasy.
Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball
It might be cheating to put a soundtrack made up largely of licensed music in this column, but summer is about acknowledging the ridiculousness of imaginary rules, and making new ones. Also, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball is the ultimate summer vacation (well, until Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio gives the formula the Yakuza touch).
Who doesn’t want to escape to a beach resort with their girlfriends, gamble away fake money, take sexy selfies of each other, buy gifts at the overpriced resort shops, and occasionally get rowdy to Christina Aguilera, B*Witched, or the Spice Girls?
Mellow out. Poolside. With a ridiculous fruit-laden cocktail. To Bob Marley?
Capitalist consumption and the issues with the colonialism of the tourism industry aside…
This is a game about big tity lesbians who love pop music, sugary treats, and ridiculous bathing suits taking a free tropical vacation to a private island owned by Team Ninja’s understanding of Dennis Rodman (who actually voices Zack in DOAX).
It’s a game where Aswad is pumped over unseen all-weather speakers while you play friendly competitive volleyball on a pristine beach—in strappy stiletto heels if you want! And it’s good! The volleyball is good!
That all speaks to me on a spiritual level.
And while the original Xbox let players edit the game soundtrack, including their own choice of songs, why would you? It’s silly. And fun. They actually put two Reel Big Fish songs in the game. Come on. Who does that? Team Fucking Ninja. That’s who.
Let us all pray they return to their senses and call me to make the next installment.
I promise to put the ska cover of “Snow Halation” in it (don’t you dare @ me).
Dia Lacina is a queer indigenous writer and photographer. She tweets too much at @dialacina.