Alundra, My Big Beautiful Elven Son, Play Us Some Songs

Alundra, My Big Beautiful Elven Son, Play Us Some Songs
Image: Matrix Software / Kotaku

Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-arse sounds they make. Today we’re listening to the soundtrack from Alundra, a 1998 PlayStation game in which you invade people’s nightmares and solve Zelda-like dungeons to help them wake up.

Alundra’s a weird one (playlist / longplay / VGMdb). It was the first game by Matrix Software, since responsible for a number of off-the-beaten path JRPGs, and mixed a sprawling top-down overworld with claustrophobic dream sequences full of challenging puzzles. Each of these elements, from its silent protagonist to its bustling town full of richly drawn non-player characters, also had the benefit of a particularly varied and delicately assembled soundtrack by composer Kohei Tanaka, who had previously worked on Sakura Wars and went on to create the memorable scores of the Gravity Rush games.

Every action-adventure game needs a soaring theme with enough unexpected twists to stop it from getting repetitive and Alundra’s overworld music, “The Wind That Crosses The Earth,” is one of the best. Take a listen:

Matrix Software / Vloud Leonhart (YouTube)

First it breaks out the horns, then the harps drop in, followed by a swell of strings, with each virtual instrument given its own mini-solo until halfway through (1:45) it repeats, but bigger, and better, and different, before eventually breaking down into something more sinister. Tanaka’s music has distinct beginnings, middles, and ends that make them odd specimens for the endless looping required by an action-adventure game, but they also suffuse Alundra with a level of energy and personality few other PS1-era games can match.

Here’s the theme for “The Village of Inoa” where you spend most of your downtime:

Matrix Software / Vloud Leonhart (YouTube)

It’s a little tropical, a little jazzy, the type of smooth muzak you might hear while taking the escalator up to the carpeting section in a 1980s Macy’s. Where did those marimbas come from? Why do a group of men occasionally shout “uh”? Is that a keytar? Yes, yes I think it is, and it makes stocking up on bombs and herbs at the shop feel like a night out at a weird resort where a Sting cover band is playing all the hits from Nothing Like the Sun.

But some of Alundra’s best music is in its dream sequences. There’s the stock dream dungeon music, “Dream a Dream,” which hits with a tinge of melancholy and some beautiful xylophoning that eventually gives way to a searing trumpet solo. Even better than that though is “Kline’s Dream.” Try not to feel it in your soul:

Matrix Software / Vloud Leonhart

Kline is the village’s strongest hunter, only one day he falls into a nightmare he can’t escape. You ultimately can’t save him, and he eventually turns into a werewolf. Alundra’s arcs are dark and twisted and Kline’s story earns every second of Tanaka’s fitting harmonica send-off at the end of the track. I could go on. We haven’t even talked about the epic closer “Tears.” But I think Kline deserves the last word.

Alundra’s soundtrack is perfect for a rainy day or whenever you’re holed up inside. I can’t transport into people’s dreams but sitting in front of a computer all day staring down our culture’s collective death drive is close enough. I’d ask what’s on y’all’s minds but I think I already know. Feel free to join me in the chat below and share with me your hopes, dreams, or just whatever delicious lunch you’re planning to help get you through this little bit of history we’re currently experiencing.

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