Music Review: Shadow Spirits, Volume 1 (Chiptune)

by Jason Parker (Ragachak)

Shadow Spirits Volume 1

It’s no big secret that I love JRPGs. They are one of my favorite form of RPG, and there’s just something about them that draws me in. From the art style to the music that helps build the mood, JRPGs are a fantastic medium to tell a tale of a hero/heroes going forth to save the world from certain doom. I actually had a few albums on my plate to pick from when I decided to do a music review today. One of them was a Legend of Zelda album from Rozen, which to be frank, is amazing. Ballads of Hyrule is remarkable, but I’ve covered Zelda music at least once here. Then I remembered “Shadow Spirits, Volume 1”, which is a chiptune album done by the son of famed musician/producer/director/all-around-genius, John Carpenter. Cody Carpenter created this marvelous chiptune album of original music, inspired by some of my favorite composers/things from the 80s. Cody Carpenter and Mark Day truly created something spectacular here.

“Shadow Spirits, Volume 1” is inspired by composers Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy), Hiroki Kikuta (Secret of Mana) and Vince DiCola (Rocky IV/Transformers: The Movie) and I definitely feel it while listening to this album. Shadow Spirits follows the travels of a young samurai as he goes through great battle, despair, and ultimately triumph in this full-length album. It began as a four-track NES EP and grew into something much more. Cody Carpenter used the Commodore SID chip and extra electronic sounds to give it a little extra emotion. They noted that if there’s interest, the four tracks that inspired this creation would be released, and I sincerely hope that happens. This has all of the tropes and moments I expect from a JRPG, and now I’m only disappointed it’s not attached to a real game I can play. Because I can see these moments in my head, and I want it to be real. To anyone who loves electronic music/JRPGs, you owe it to yourself to add this to your collection. It is not tied to any particular game, but there is some serious potential here. I’d love to see an indie company or even an AAA company pick this up and use it for an OST.

Lament (Track 6): Though it is not mentioned above, I feel like he was also inspired by Lufia 2 and The 7th Saga because that’s what Lament feels like more than anything. 7th Saga had a host of towns that had very sad-sounding music, and though very brief, I could feel the overwhelming sadness in this particular piece. Lament felt like the hero had lost someone very dear to them, probably a comrade in arms from the beginning. It could be a childhood friend that stepped into the mists with them to fight or even fight against him. Few things are worth lamenting like being forced to kill a friend if these JRPGs are anything to go by. Slow, somber and deliberate, Lament’s easily one of my favorites. But it leads directly into. . .

Enemy Within (Track 7): I feel like these tracks could swap places in order of appearance and a more dire tale could be told. Place “Enemy Within” before “Lament” and suddenly that dear childhood friend is a traitor, or thinks you are. This is a faster, more pulse-pounding song and has with it a sense of urgency. When dealing with an enemy on the inside, confusion is high, and the hero may not be 100% sure what to do. I feel like this could be a track where the samurai is chasing down his foe, and it cuts directly into a fight. It has a peppy, urban sound and could very well be in a crowded town, blocky 8-bit characters being jostled out of the way so a boss fight could occur in a dark, dimly lit alleyway. There’s simply so much on offer in this album, it’s very hard to pick favorites. I love them all, and I won’t lie about it.

Beyond Reason (Track 12): This is it. All the grinding, all the sweat, tears, blood, sorrow – it all leads up to this dramatic moment. The steady drum tap at the start is a march, towards victory or defeat. Your final encounter is at the end of this path, and the march takes up a good half of the track. There’s a nice, slow transition into a more techno, electronic sound, the drumbeat also now having a pulse attached to it, the boss theme beginning slowly, but still very earnest. It’s not as dramatic and not filled with pomp and circumstance, but not all of these final moments need it. It’s been a long, draining journey, and both the hero and villain are exhausted. This is not the first time they have met, and if history is anything to go by, it won’t be the last. But for now, the hero can relax, and walk down Victory Road.

I cannot possibly pick out favorites for this album, so these are just some of the key tracks that I think tell something special. Every track is important, and I absolutely love this chip-tune RPG soundtrack. Again, I lament that it is not really an OST somewhere, and I sincerely hope some developer out there is reading this and decides to put an offer down for it. This album is available on Bandcamp and iTunes and you sincerely owe it to yourself to go and pick it up right now. Fans of retro RPGs and electronic music will not in any manner be disappointed. As long as I have permission, you’ll probably hear it in my Smite, Paladins, and MTG streams whenever the opportunity arises.

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