By James “GS Edgeman” Riser Music is an important variable in the equation of a good game, almost as important as graphics and game play, and the wrong type of music can easily break the immersion of a title. For example, Mega Man's frantic, fast paced music sets the appropriate tone for its levels. The player gains a sense of urgency as he guides The Blue Bomber on an adventure to save the world.
Communities are constantly reminding us of music's importance in the ways of remixes, songs, and even bands dedicated to certain video game characters and series. If one was to check on YouTube and OverClocked Remix, they would find plenty of remixes and interpretations of various video game themes.
More recently, remix artists from OverClocked collaborated on an album entirely dedicated to the music of Mega Man 9. Tracks like these show how much fans value the music of their favorite games, just as they value any other aspect.
Bands whose themes revolve around video game music (or something similar) are not uncommon these days; The Minibosses, HORSE the band, and The Black Mages are a few examples, while some dedicated musicians devote their efforts to a specific game or series.
The Protomen are a concept band and their music tells a darker version of the classic Mega Man series's storyline. Founded in 2003, The Protomen met at the Middle Tennessee State Institute and were enrolled in the recording program. The creation of the band came by the way of recording material needed for their classes. Eventually, the band moved to Nashville and integrated into the city's independent music scene.
Reflecting on their entrance into the scene in a 2009 interview, lead vocalist, Panther said, “At the time, we noticed a void in rock and roll. A hole that could only really be filled with grown men and women painting up like robots and playing some fierce and furious rock music based on a 1980's video game. We were fairly certain no one else was going to fill that hole. But, by God, it's filled now. You can thank us later."
As you can tell, the band is no stranger to humor when it comes to their interviews, but they take the story line weaved throughout their tracks seriously.
The Protomen's version of the classic Mega Man storyline is just as epic as the source material. Imagine Mega Man with a darker, Orwellian twist on it. While they do keep in most of the staple story elements, some liberties were taken.
In their first album, Dr. Wily has already taken over the world, turning it into a miserable place were he has total control. The human race doesn't see it in themselves to take the fight to Wily, so they sit complacently while their rights are taken away. Dr. Light creates Proto Man and sends him off to take the city back for mankind.
Sadly, Proto Man is overwhelmed by Wily's forces and is destroyed. Although Dr. Light creates a second robot, he discourages him from taking up the fight in Proto Man's place.
The third track on the self-titled album, “Unrest in the House of Light,” is performed from the point of view of Dr. Light as he urges his son not to fight. He tells the story of Proto Man: “And he fought bravely, and he died bravely/But he was forsaken by the ones he wished to save/And when he died he died in vain/You need to know/You are not him.” The song itself is played in a classic rock, story telling vein.
The rest of the album details Mega Man defying his father's wishes as he continues the fight of Proto Man. “The Will of One” is a powerful track that portrays the events of Mega Man walking through the ruined city. He observes the humans as they stand around passively, afraid to stand up for themselves: “There is an evil that holds them here/ yet they won't try breaking its grasp.” One doesn't have to try hard to draw out the darker elements of the classic Mega Man story line.
Similarly, Archie Comics' Mega Man uses the concept that fighting and violence can change even the most passive person as a theme. It illustrates the idea that even if fighting is done in the name of good and peace, it is still fighting and it is still ugly and disheartening.
The Protomen's second album, "Act II: Father of Death,” is a prequel to their first title and details the relationship and falling out of Dr. Light and Dr. Wily, even going so far as to create a love interest for Dr. Light. While the concept of the two albums is interesting enough, the musical style sets them apart as well.
The Protomen employ various musical styles in their works. When recording their first album, the group strove to break all the rules they have learned in college. Synth player Commander B. Hawkins reflects on their decision, “[Act I] was made specifically to go against everything our recording teachers and fellow students were trying to feed us about making everything sound pristine and 'perfect.'"
This mindset very much fits the tone of the album. The city is in disarray and lies in ruins. The lo-fi sound reflects that perfectly. Their second album was produced by Alan Shacklock, who is known for working with Meat Loaf. Since it's a prequel, the songs carry a type of production that reflects a world where mankind hasn't been crushed under the iron fist rule of Dr. Wily and nothing has gone wrong as of yet.
Another interesting thing to point out is that, aside from Proto Man's whistle on “Unrest in the House of Light,” there is no direct musical references to the Mega Man series: Each song is unique and stands on its own. Someone who isn't entirely familiar with Mega Man can enjoy the tracks, which range from hard rock and rockabilly to synthesized rock hailing from the 1980s.
The Protomen use the Mega Man series to create an epic rock opera, and that's what makes them unique. The Megas, on the other hand, is a slightly more traditional video game themed band.
At first glance, The Megas would seem like just another remix band, but like The Protomen, what makes them stand out is the lyrics they add to the songs. Josh Breeding, founding member of the group, started making remixes early on, and his first song was “I Want to be the One,” a remix of Mega Man 2's Dr. Wily's stage theme.
He performed this song at a school talent show, eventually gathering together other musicians. Similar to The Protomen, The Megas are willing to build on the already established story line and flesh it out a bit. The difference between the two, however, is that The Megas seem to stick a bit closer to the original source material.
Their first album, "Get Equipped," focuses on the music of Mega Man 2. The majority of tracks are re-interpretations of the boss's stage themes, and the added lyrics give each boss a story to tell. There's even a reference to Mosteropolis, the name of the city in the U.S. version of the Mega Man game manual in their remix of Air Man's stage. Titled “The Annihilation of Monsteropolis,” Air Man declares, “I will fly high above Monsteropolis, and I'll rain terror down on the general populace.”
As one can tell, their lyrics border on the humorous side. For example, in an interpretation of Metal Man's stage called "Metal Dance," it opens up with, “Welcome to my level, my name is Metal Man/ I throw metal blades from my metal hands!”
The last song on the album, however touches on a constant theme that permeates other interpretations of the Mega Man story as well. “Lamentations of a War Machine” finds Mega Man questioning his actions in the aftermath of Dr. Wily's defeat: “If I’ve a heart made of steel/Then does that mean I cannot feel/ Remorse for everything I’ve done/ My hand’s a smoking gun!”
Their musical style also helps them to stand apart. The Megas is a fully equipped (pun intended) band that includes vocals, guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards. Each track shows that every member of the group is an accomplished musician. The guitar work perfectly captures the sound of the 8-bit originals, but gives it an edge. This is what ties both bands together.
What makes The Protomen and The Megas unique isn't the fact that they're bands that center around the Mega Man series, but that their music can stand on its own. The idea has been stated before that someone who has never played a Mega Man game before can enjoy the work of The Protomen, and that can also be applied to The Megas.
Both of these groups are comprised of accomplished musicians who can easily make great music and lyrics that don't have anything to do with video games. It's their love for the series that transcends their work and show how much love fans have for the media.
While Capcom seems to have put The Blue Bomber on the back burner for the time being, it's The Protomen, The Megas, and the myriad of high quality remix artists on OverClocked Remix that will keep the interest alive. Musical tributes are only one example of high quality fan made content; there's fan art, games, videos and much more. I am sure that Capcom sees this, and will eventually give us something to look forward to in the near future.