Which Way Forward For The “Batman” Movie Franchise? Take Six : Should It Stay Or Should It Go? Part Two

I’ll be honest — I’ve never played the apparently-insanely-popular Batman : Arkham City video game — or any Batman-related video game, for that matter  As far as I understand it, though, the idea behind it is that there’s been a jailbreak of some sort at Arkham Asylum and all the “lunatic” criminals — uhhhmmmm — “housed” there are now loose on the streets of Gotham.

Neat idea, and it seems to be catching, as there’s an Arkham City comic book mini-series being published by DC as we speak. Wonder where they got it the concept from in the first place? Oh yeah — it was the central plot conceit in the third act of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, although the video game, apparently, ups the ante quite considerably.

All of which leads us, in an admittedly rather roundabout way, to the subject of today’s “What I’d Do Next With The Who ‘Batman’ Movie Franchise” thing, namely — which specific plot points and/or characters from Nolan’s trilogy would I keep in the franchise’s inevitable relaunch (which, if you’ll recall, is going to be of the “soft” variety)? Well, let’s take a look at precisely that —

As preamble, let me state that I need, once again, to beg your indulgence, dear reader, for a day or so here because all I’m going to do here today is give you a laundry list of the specific items I’d keep, but not go so far as to explain why. Fear not, though, the why is coming — and in detail! — over the next several days as I lay out in detail the specific plotline I have in mind for the new hypothetical trilogy we’re planning here (we did, in fact, decide it was going to be another trilogy a few weeks back, remember? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t). So here’s what I’d keep, and tomorrow I’ll start in on why I’m keeping this stuff — or rather, my plot outline should, if its communicated even semi-coherently (always a gamble with me) demonstrate on its face this “why” factor I’m harping on about.

Needless to say, the “Arkham jailbreak” idea makes the cut. I have no desire to have it be on as grand a scale as the video game probably depicts, or even as grand as Nolan’s original iteration of the event, but it’s gonna be in there, as is the guy who was behind it in the movie, Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow, although in somewhat reduced form. I like The Scarecrow. I like the whole “fear gas” thing. I think it worked, and can work again, albeit with a different spin, I think, on things. And speaking of villains —

My hypothetical new trilogy will, indeed, feature many of the same principal baddies as Nolan’s films. I’m thinking, specifically, that in addition to The Scarecrow, we’ll be looking at Harve “Two-Face” Dent again, in a dramatically expanded role, Ra’s Al Ghul in a somewhat reduced role (and not until the second film), The Joker is an essentially similar role (lead villain in the second film), and Catwoman in, like Two-Face, a very much expanded role. In fact, as I’m looking at things right now, but Harvey Dent and Selina Kyle will feature prominently in all three imaginary (sigh) films of our imaginary (sigh again) trilogy.

As for what else I’d keep from the Nolan flicks, I’m thinking the idea of a somewhat younger Bruce Wayne (at least to start with) is a keeper, as are supporting cast members Lucius Fox, corrupt cop Lieutenant Flass, and, of course, Alfred Pennyworth and Jim Gordon. There will be differences in how they’re depicted, though, that range from the subtle to the radically different.

I guess that’s what we call a bit of a “teaser” for the next installment in this series of posts, isn’t it? Well, rest assured, friends, I’m on a definite roll here (even if it’s only in my own mind), and part seven of this ever-evolving thang will go up at some point tomorrow, barring unforeseen calamity of some sort, knock wood.I hope to see you back here then as I begin to take these pieces, add in some others (naturally), and then show you just how I think this whole unwieldy jigsaw should be put together.

VGM Entry 53: Soul Blazer

VGM Entry 53: Soul Blazer
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

A personal SNES favorite of mine is Soul Blader (Soul Blazer in North America), composed by Yukihide Takekawa and released by Enix in January 1992. Takekawa is not a big name in the video game music industry, but he’s composed a number of other soundtracks for film and anime. I gather his main profession is as a vocalist. Whatever influences he brought to the table, Soul Blader is a much more diverse soundtrack than your standard orchestral-centric fantasy fair.

Quintet made a lot of amazing games for the Super Nintendo, but this one was probably their best. Like ActRaiser, the game revolves around a heaven and hell scenario, where The Master faces off against The King of Evil, in this case named Deathtoll. Basically, a powerful king corrupted by greed forces a scientist, Dr. Leo, to invent a portal to hell so that the king can strike a deal with the devil. Deathtoll agrees to give him all the riches in the world in exchange for all of the souls in his empire, and King Magridd promptly goes about replicating these hell portals all over the place and trapping pretty much all life and material connected to it within them. The Master sends you, his messenger, to earth to destroy the portals and set the Freil Empire free.

That’s the entire plot, really. There aren’t any major twists or turns. You just make your way across a fantasy realm freeing souls until you finally confront and defeat Deathtoll. As far as an actual story is concerned, yeah, it’s pretty bland, but Quintet manage to really turn it into something wonderful.

You may have heard of the “Soul Blazer” series, consisting of Soul Blader, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma. I never played Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma was never released in North America, but I gather the unofficial series attribution is derived from subtle commonalities and returning side-characters rather than any overt consistency in plot or gameplay. If that is the case, then I think we can safely regard ActRaiser as an equal shareholder in the collection. But before I get into that, let’s look at this initial track compilation. It consists of:

(0:00) Intro Theme
(1:27) Lonely Town
(2:14) World of Soul Blader
(3:32) Solitary Island
(4:34) The Mines
(6:01) Into the Dream
(6:40) Dr. Leo’s Lab
(7:37) The Marshland of Lost Sight
(8:24) Lisa’s Song

Solitary Island, The Mines, Dr. Leo’s Lab, and The Marshland of Lost Sight are all combat zone themes, and perhaps the most obvious examples of what an amazing job Yukihide Takekawa did here. If you’re struggling to really define his style, I think the appropriate term is “video game music”. I mean, Takekawa transcends all style standards in precisely that way Super Nintendo music ought to. If you check out Solitary Island especially, you’re going to here an amalgamation of folk, orchestral, and rock elements so thoroughly intertwined that any attempt to distinguish between them would be simply misguided. The effect produced in the listener is what really counts at this point. Takekawa’s combat music, aside from the final boss theme, is never really intimidating. It’s adventurous and, as a consequence of the bass and drums, a little bit grimy, precisely as it ought to be. I mean, you’re God’s avatar here. You can’t ‘die’. There’s no serious danger, just work to be done. This is music for getting down to business, and your business is killing demons. If the regular boss battle music (“The Battle for Liberation”) is utterly generic and “Dr. Leo’s Lab” gets old quickly, I would still say Takekawa did an outstanding job over all.

And besides that, the combat music is all extraordinarily relevant. The sort of creatures you’ll be fighting in Dr. Leo’s lab is obvious enough through the music, and likewise “Solitary Island” has a sort of pirate vibe going on. “Icefield of Laynole” (or “The Icy Fields of Leinore”, or “Ice Field of Lanoyle”, depending on your source) is one of the best at this. Without ever devorcing the drum and bass style that ties the whole soundtrack together, it nails a snow and ice-themed zone sound. It doesn’t bend to any stereotypes of what a winter zone ought to sound like, but the jazzy overtones lend some real credence to the expression “smooth as ice”.

Isn’t this just gorgeous? I think so. Takekawa let his imagination run wild with some of these, and you can hear the whole game in action even if you’ve never actually seen it. “Seabed of Saint Elle’s” (or “The Depths of the Sea of Saint Elle’s”) is obviously the water level. Like “Icefield of Laynole”, it doesn’t feel nearly as dirty as the other combat zone tracks, and it’s no coincidence that these are the two most fanciful zones in the game, inhabited by dolphins on the one end and gnomes on the other.

Dolphins? Really? Well, Quintet were a bit more creative about that than you might think. One of the big reoccurring themes throughout Soul Blazer is reincarnation, and as God you can communicate with anything that has a soul. So you’re not dealing with some weird anthropomorphic society here. They’re certainly a bit more, well, technologically advanced than real dolphins, but so are plenty of fictional human societies. The souls you encounter everywhere are all capable of more or less the same level of intelligence and are only restricted by their physical bodies. The gnomes, for instance, have an incredibly short lifespan, and their souls often reflect on how much they’d taken for granted in past lives as humans. You get used to this pretty quick; the first character you meet in the game is a tulip.

I’m not sure why these track titles are so screwy. I have this song as “Temple of Light”. RPGFan, who I consider reputable, have it as “A Temple in Ruins”, and the youtube video says “Rotting Temple”. Your guess is as good as mine. Anyway, here is one of the few combat zone tracks that sets aside the drum and bass drive. Aside from the simple fact that this made for a great song, the change of pace fits its situation in the game as a dungeon within a dungeon; you enter the temple from the “Marshland of Lost Sight” combat zone.

Anyway, the biggest parallel between Soul Blazer and ActRaiser is really in the whole city-building simulation appeal. Quintet didn’t give Soul Blazer an actual city simulation side, but each town does grow as a direct consequence of your actions. Each town zone starts out as an empty map, and it’s only as you release souls within the combat zones that their bodies reappear and their homes are rebuilt. You certainly don’t have to save every soul to beat the game, and a number of them are hidden, so you do retain a modest degree of control over how each town will ultimately appear. Any possibility of boredom with the game’s fairly basic combat mechanics is nullified by it; you essentially build cities by killing monsters, which is a perfect amalgamation of ActRaiser‘s two different modes.

Did I mention Yukihide Takekawa was a vocalist? He might be the only video game composer to sing on his own score. This rendition of Lisa’s Song (also credited as A Night Without Lovers /Koibito no Inaiyoru) appeared on the official soundtrack released about a month after the game, and I think it’s safe to assume that it would have appeared in the game’s ending credits had the technology of the day allowed for it.

And now if you’ll go excuse me, I have a date with ZSNES. And I’d been so good about not wasting time on replays up to this point…