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Darinian

What Makes Sonic Music "Sonic Music"?

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We all have the mixed opinion about what sonic songs have been good or bad, but with Forces' Green Hill Zone(Classic) there has been a mixed bag of saying that the music sounds like it was ripped right out of the cat-tastrophy that is Sonic 4's music, to saying that it doesn't sound like it fits in with a sonic game. This genuinely surprised me as I thought it actually did sonic like it could be from a sonic game (that game being Sonic 4). I have even heard this claim on Windy Hill Zone Act 1 and although it sounds more like some vocal song without the vocals it does sound like sonic music if listen to it not thinking that. So this makes the topic and the question of said topic: What makes a song a "Sonic Song"? Is there a certain flow to be met? Might there be a rhythm to fit the tune?

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I think it varies based on series?  I get a more feel-good vibe with Sonic music, Starfox is more suspenseful, Mario music sounds like it's more for concentration. Pokemon and Kirby have uppity vibes. F-Zero makes me want to fight someone. Oblivion had better music than Skyrim. Speaking of, if you'll excuse me I'm running away from vampires at the moment 

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This is a difficult question, my initial response is that "9 times out of 10, it's pretty damn good" or "it's the most consistently good thing about the franchise" - as to the reasons why Sonic music has proved so successful, that's probably for someone who knows more about music than I do to answer.

The common factor may have something to do with the upbeat, fast-tempo tracks that frequent the games. I feel the Genesis series had extremely catchy and memorable tracks, with the right amount of repetition to make the song catchy but not boring. I think, for me, Sonic music has always had the ability to brilliantly echo, accentuate and evoke the atmosphere of the zone or stage its played in. It's done this with a rich variety of different sounds, instruments and tempos, particularly post Sonic Adventure.

I'd answer that "Sonic music is Sonic music because it successfully fits the mood of the relevant zone". Some notable examples would be;

  • Ice Cap: Snowy Mountain in SA - the track is slow paced, ethereal with echoes of sleigh bells. Mixed with the wind sound effects, it does a great job of cementing your place in a winter wonderland
  • Frog Forest in Sonic Heroes - I don't even know WHY this track works so well with the lush jungle backdrop, but it does. It adds to it and the zone overall wouldn't be the same without that music.
  • Lost Impact in Shadow the Hedgehog - A sombre, melancholy track to echo the story and context in which the stage takes place
  • Boss: Egg Wyvern in Sonic 06 - A vicious, fast-paced, high-stakes track that rightly takes place on a collapsing platform underneath a disintegrating Egg Carrier. If you manage to drive the Egg Wyvern into a bit of debris as the chorus ramps up it's perfect.

Either way, unless you get into specifics, it's hard to say. I think Sonic music is very evocative of the context its played in, and that helps a lot. Also, lets not forget that generally the technical quality of it is pretty damn high and consistently varied.

There are exceptions though. Sonic 4 is a definite low point and I'm not relishing listening to the Sonic Forces soundtrack any time soon.

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To answer shortly, it's dependent on the game. Sonic music will aim to fit the atmosphere and level just right, and have a very memorable melody most of the time. They tend to be interesting songs in terms of arrangement and composition.

Sonic 1 and 2's music had the direction of being like a "movie score" and fitting to the levels. Sonic CD takes that idea and goes even more modern J-pop and funk influenced with it. Sonic 3&K however takes Sonic 1 and 2's idea and adds the upbeat, funky nature that we remember Marble Garden or Mushroom Hill for. Sonic Mania continues on with the idea from 3&K and CD as far as we can tell.

Sonic Adventure 1 takes influences from all the popular genres at the time, and takes the idea that the classics had already laid out. It even goes more atmospheric at certain instances (Ice Cap, Lost World, Mystic Ruins). Sonic Adventure 2, kinda changes things up, with the whole character based genre idea - and to be perfectly honest, I do not find it one of the better OSTs in the series. It kinda moves away from the ideas laid out so far, but most tracks still are really good and do still convey the mood necessary.

Heroes is a wonderful return back to the ideas of the classics, with a really strong melodic focus but now instead of funk, the main influences are techno rock. Sonic 06 goes back to what Sonic Adventure 1 did with more orchestral and electronic influences. 

Unleashed takes the idea that the classics laid out and REALLY flesh it out. The culture of every stage is bursting out in the music and it works so well. The upbeat nature of most of the level tracks and the more relaxed tempos of the hub worlds really reflect the pace well too. Sonic Colors carries on with the ideas laid out by Heroes, Unleashed, Adventure 1 and the Classics. Generations, needless to say, goes on with this.

However, Lost World and Runners break this trend to me. Lost World's melodies are not as memorable imo and opt for more Mario elements - Tropical Coast 1 is the biggest offender I can think of immediately in Lost World. The track still do carry the atmosphere but they lose the genres that Sonic has always been known for too much in my opinion. Runners on the other hand uses the same style for every track. Yes, it's good running music I guess but the atmosphere isn't captured as well across the different level tropes for me. 

Scary enough, Forces could be falling for this trend, but I hope not. 

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If someone asked me to describe Sonic music, my first thought would be "it's cool".  But the thing is, HOW it is cool isn't always the same.

 

More often than not though, it has some form of attachment to what is currently popular commercial music.  In the classics, the soundtrack had strong ties to what was popular in the pop music scene.  The Dreamcast titles went for a rock bent, obviously, but also dabbled in other popular genres for Sonic Adventure 2.  Spin-off titles tried out other genres.  The "Ohtani era" of 2006, Unleashed and Colours went back to varying up the instruments on a stage by stage basis, but always keeping some underlying "cool" factor to tie it to Sonic - such as the percussion in Windmill Isle, or the rock in Rooftop Run.

Generally though Sonic was keen to use high quality music as much as possible, with instruments related to rock and pop where most platformers were happy, eager-even, to use more cutesy, plinkity-plonk cartooney music, or strictly use instruments related to the level theme without any typically "cool" instrumentation layered on top (i.e., compare Arid Sands' intense beats accompanying the traditional "deserty" instruments to the very straightforward "desert level" music of Mario Galaxy's Sand Dune Galaxy).

 

Lost World however did lose this a bit.  While you have your tracks like Sea Bottom Segue or Windy Hill Act 1 that keep that "Sonic" energy and cool factor, you also have tracks like Tropical Coast Act 1 and Sky Road Bonus Stage that handle their tropes in a VERY straightforward manner without any coolness flair at all.

I think the reason Runners is a point of contention too is that the songs are VERY melodic, they have an incredibly clear, structured A B A B C B format with "verses" and "choruses", which was rarely done in this kind of rock-focused soundtrack before.  Sonic Adventure 2's Sonic stages were all rock and had melodies too of course but they were much less twisty-turny and "singable" in style, if that makes sense.  I love Runners' music though.

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