Warriors of Might and Magic Soundtrack (GBC), Matthew Simmonds, 2000
By the late 1990s, the Might & Magic franchise was going strong, with a number of successful main line games and the recent establishment of the Heroes of Might & Magic series. Not surprisingly, publisher The 3DO Company were keen to branch out further, making the most of the valued brand name. Its first attempt to do so in 1999 via 3d-action RPG Crusaders of Might and Magic didn’t cause much excitement. Interestingly enough, The 3DO Company tried again with a similar game concept a year later – however, Warriors of Might and Magic didn’t meet with much more enthusiasm amongst gamers and critics than its predecessor.
While the PS1 and PS2 versions of Warriors of Might and Magic didn’t cause much of a stir, the same goes doubly for the Game Boy Colour conversion – not necessarily a surprise, given the game’s poor reviews and the sheer number of games being published for the platform in 2000. However, the one positive thing to come out of this run-of-the-mill 2d-action RPG was an outstanding soundtrack by Matthew Simmonds (maybe better known under his demo scene handle 4mat). At the time the in-house composer for developer Climax Group, Simmonds had started out in 1989 as part of Amiga demo scene group Slipstream, before transitioning into a professional game music career in the early 1990s. Interestingly enough, Simmonds is one of the few game music composers who remained active in both the game industry and the demo scene decades after first starting out.
Despite his prolific output during the 1990s on various platforms, Simmonds hadn’t written music for a Game Boy title before 2000, when he scored four of them in a single year for Climax Group. However, his demo scene experience of pushing hardware boundaries prepared him well for writing music on a technologically limited platform like the Game Boy Colour. Like other outstanding GBC scores of the same period, the Warriors of Might and Magic soundtrack is an impressive display of both technical and compositional mastery.
Simmonds’ approach to scoring a fantasy game quickly gives the Warriors of Might and Magic soundtrack its particular character. There’s no abundance of easily recognisable, recurring themes or swashbuckling melodies here, while tempi are fairly placid – no frantic battle themes or sombre theatrics in sight. Instead, Simmonds creates drama and gravitas through a dense, grand sound befitting the game’s fantasy stylings. His ubiquitous – but always perfectly-judged – use of arpeggios for both melodic and textural purposes marks this score as a successor to many European chiptunes classics.
What’s particularly interesting is how Simmonds uses the programmable wave table to create (by GBC standards) massive bass sounds. He then often uses the bass not to drive rhythms, but instead more like an orchestral instrument to add textural heft and sheer force. At times, the droning bass notes can become a bit intrusive (for example on “Track 03”), but most of the time they help give the music its surprising scope and sonic impact. Simmonds often combines this more than rock-solid foundation with substantial melodies that once more betray his demo scene background, offering lengthy tunes that again fit the game’s fantasy setting – particularly when combined with swirling, lush arpeggios. At the same time, the Warriors of Might and Magic soundtrack frequently mixes catchy pop elements into these stoidly anthemic melodies, getting the balance between expansiveness and immediacy just right.
“Track 06” is the best example of the fetching contrast between heavy, powerful rhythms and measured melodies, sometimes coming across like an outtake from Alberto Jose González’s classic Smurfs soundtrack. “Track 01” right away establishes the soundtrack’s fantasy credentials, with its adventurous lead melody that has just the right amount of stateliness and heroism, again contrasting beautifully with the forceful percussion. And throughout the score, Simmonds’ keeps his melodic inventions optimistic and uplifting – even on a cue like “Track 08”, whose emotive lead melody has a touch of loneliness. Surrounded by churning rhythms, the initially particularly pop-influenced melody doggedly carries on in the face of adversity, giving the music more emotional subtlety than expected (without turning too serious).
Towards the latter half of the Warriors of Might and Magic soundtrack, Simmonds starts to build his towering sounds higher and higher, taking the score’s stadium-sized melodies to their logical conclusion. “Track 07” heralds Simmonds’ ambitions, with massive timpani strikes that underline the cue’s stark, dramatic atmosphere. “Track 10” and “Track 12” highlight the soundtrack’s connection to rock rather than classic game music. They start out quietly with slowly building, extensive intros that set the scene for some spectacular outbursts of stomping beats and head-nodding, fists-raised-to-the-sky melodies that couldn’t get any bigger. Such grandstanding doesn’t preclude nuanced approaches, as “Track 12” patiently builds its momentum throughout the lengthy composition.
On the remaining compositions, the Warriors of Might and Magic soundtrack adds a few more shades to its depiction of a fantasy realm, turning richer and more rewarding still. “Track 02” and “Track 09” benefit from some seamlessly integrated prog rock influences. On “Track 02”, constantly off-beat arpeggios keep the mood tense and unpredictable while providing sparse, maniacally focused melodic material. “Track 09”’s syncopated rhythms and odd metres further the cue’s mysterious mood, created by an elusive melody and some virtuoso, exquisitely atmospheric echo effects applied to its tune. “Track 05”’s opening successfully replicates the sound of an acoustic guitar riff that gives the music an unexpectedly forlorn character.
Best of all is “Track 13”, whose melodies subtly change from gloomy to hopeful during the course of what is the Warriors of Might and Magic soundtrack’s most varied and complex track. Few would have expected a low-profile, licensed game like this to sport one of the Game Boy’s best fantasy scores, but thanks to Simmonds’ talent and dedication, that’s precisely what we are getting.
- 01 - Track 01 Simmonds, Matthew 2:25
- 02 - Track 02 Simmonds, Matthew 2:01
- 03 - Track 03 Simmonds, Matthew 2:56
- 04 - Track 04 Simmonds, Matthew 1:41
- 05 - Track 05 Simmonds, Matthew 2:51
- 06 - Track 06 Simmonds, Matthew 2:27
- 07 - Track 07 Simmonds, Matthew 1:40
- 08 - Track 08 Simmonds, Matthew 2:55
- 09 - Track 09 Simmonds, Matthew 2:21
- 10 - Track 10 Simmonds, Matthew 3:32
- 11 - Track 11 Simmonds, Matthew 2:31
- 12 - Track 12 Simmonds, Matthew 4:49
- 13 - Track 13 Simmonds, Matthew 3:21