Key Signatures Of Old School Video Games

Now this is an interesting one…

I know music theory and play guitar(quite well), however, I just can’t seem to figure out what key many of my favorite video games are in.

Namely, Mega Man and Gunstar Heroes.

They have this epic feel(melodies)…majoresque but not, minoresque but not.

So I tried Lydian, Mixolydian and Dorian…I am sure most are not in Ionian(Major) and some may be in Aeolian(minor).

I just can’t seem to get it…using the computer keyboard probably doesn’t help…may give it crack on my guitar.

I have searched extensively on the net b4 posting to no avail. Funny how little musical info there is on these tunes, being as they are some of the best musical compositions I have ever heard.

Being as this is a very chiptune friendly community, I figured asking for advice here surely would not hurt.

Tarek :)

Edit: Btw, it goes w/o saying I did not even bother trying Locrian or Phrygian as I quite sure the tunes I like are not in these modes.

Can you be more specific which tracks you’re trying to analyze? Both those games have multiple good musics to choose from.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a stab at “Dr. Wily’s Castle Stage 1-2” from Mega Man 2, since it’s a pretty popular tune. It’s in C sharp minor. The basic chord progression is i - VI - VII. The “bridge” or “chorus” or whatever you want to call it switches between i and the Neapolitan, which is a D major chord in this case. The C sharp stays on top creating a lovely major seventh chord. (I love this part, I’m a sucker for major sevenths.) This part transitions into the next with VII then V, then the second part of the chorus is VI - VII - i. Hope this all makes sense, if you want I can get more specific.

edit: I originally said D flat minor, but most people would think of it as C sharp minor…same thing, but it’s an easier key signature to understand.

Cheers man for response :)

My video game system is being repaired atm, so I can’t figure out what songs they are.

However, to save time(yours primarily). I have found 2 equivalents on the net.

Amiga 500 Power Funk

Demon Core

If for whatever reason you cannot play music on the internet(busted speakers or something). The song that plays in the main(select) screen for gunstar heroes is a killer. Cheers again :walkman:

edit: Got a quick fix and downloaded .vgm player, two favorite gunstar heroes tracks are Legend of the Gunstars(select screen)and Empire the Final Assualt, if u r so inclined.

btw: curious where r u from actually? aragara is an interesting choice for a name, i noticed an iichan in your web addy as well… oriental roots possibly…forgive me if i m way off base…just curious :)

Ode to alistair!!!


Can alistair see now? I hope she feels better… =P


Thanks Ninja, unfortunately Alistair is completely blind. I decided it wasn’t worth replacing the video card since he’s 5 years old now and has a plethora of other problems…so I broke down and ordered a new laptop. :(

Tarek, Agargara is actually Sumerian for fish. (Or it can also mean sheep droppings, apparently.) It doesn’t have anything to do with my nationality though, I’m from the US. (I did live in Japan for a few years as a kid though.)

Anyway, here’s my take on Legend of the Gunstars:
It’s D major, but borrows the lowered sixth and seventh degree from D minor. (Hence the “minoresque but not” feel as you say.) The whole step motion between all these B flat and C major chords contributes to its “epic” sound. It also sometimes uses a minor subdominant (g minor), also borrowed from D minor. While there are some 1-4-5 suspended chords, there aren’t any traditional dominant chords. Instead of a normal dominant (A major) you get the lowered seventh degree (C major) acting as a sort of dominant. From my experience, this is pretty common in movie and game music that’s meant to sound epic.

In the first part, there’s a pedal point on D (as the harmonies change above, there’s always a D in the bass.) After the pedal point section, a little less than a minute in, there’s a brief interesting bridge kind of thing. It starts off with the same chords we’ve been hearing before, but he raises and lowers the sixth degree for a little switch up, throwing in in a a minor vi chord. The resulting bridge chord progression is something like this: I - iv - VI - VII - vi - iv - VI - VII

The rest of it is the same as the first part with the pedal point on D and lots of VI and VII chords. The final climax has some nice chromatic movement, with major triads starting with F major going down by half steps back to D major.

Empire - The Final Assault has the same deal going on. It’s D flat major, but once again borrows a lowered sixth and seventh degree from the parallel minor, hence all the A major and B major chords. The lowered seventh degree once again acts as dominant. I won’t go into detailed analysis unless you want me to – almost all of the track is I - VI - VII, like Legend of the Gunstars.

I’m not saying these are the only possible interpretations, by the way – theoretical analysis is somewhat subjective.

U R A LEGEND!! :drummer:

I knew there was something funny going on.

You see I haven’t really stepped out of the seven modes, so scales like Melodic Major(major w flattened 6 + 7th) didn’t cross my mind as I just found out about it now!! I knew it was some scale I haven’t heard of!!

I will ask you to explain further if I need, but for now I have whipped my guitar out to have a crack.

If you don’t mind, as I m assuming you enjoy this as u r studying music…could u breakdown the songs in the two links for me?

Thats obviously if u r willing as u have been more than helpful :walkman:

You know your theories quite well, i don’t have this kind of knowledge at all, but the nice thing about having an absolute hearing is that reproductability is pretty peanuts even for chords.
But if some sounds dwell in sub frequencies, i admit, this is harder to distinguish.
I just wanted to add to the advise, if you can’t figure out the exact chords, letting go of the theory and simply start striking around the area you think stuff is, can get you quite far. Usually you can already pick two or three correct notes. From there, finding the others don’t take too much time perse.

You’re right Tarek, I do love my music theory. I’ll take a look at those other two tunes when I have time.

vV, I definitely agree with you. Theory exists to describe music, music isn’t created just to follow theory…analysis can be a useful tool to wrap your head around a piece of music, but in the end the music comes first. Rely on your ears and you can’t go wrong.

sure man, no problem…u have been very kind…don’t worry i haven’t wasted ur time by choosing rubbish songs, pretty sure u will dig them :)

definitely agree with the above statements…

this thing is a: boy did i try to use my ears b: there is a reason why things work the way they do musically, i personally rather understand why they happen that way as opposed to stumbling upon it… makes it easier to duplicate the feel in other keys… not to mention making it easier to modulate to other keys within the same song.

for me at least, others may have more success solely relying on their ears :walkman:

Tumble Run (Amiga 500 Power-funk):
For the most part, everything fits into the D natural minor scale. He often throws in an F sharp though, so I wouldn’t call it strictly minor. Like the Gunstar Heroes tracks, there are plenty of VI and VII chords to go around. Also like Gunstar Heroes, there’s often a pedal point on D.

The intro alternates between i and VII. At 0:37 he throws in a D major chord, making the progression I - VII - i - VII. This progression continues as the melody comes in. At 1:21 it gets a little more harmonically complicated. The underlying structure shares a lot of notes in common with the previous progression. My rough approximation of the chords here, not counting inversions and extra notes: i - VII - iv - iv - II (Neapolitan) - i.

At the bridge he returns to I - VII - i - VII, and also throws in a few measures that are the same as the intro. At 2:06 we get more I - VII - VI - VII. There’s a sequential breakdown at 2:20: VI[sub]6[/sub] - VII[sub]6[/sub] - I[sub]6[/sub] - VII (6 indicates a first inversion chord.) After that he uses the same complicated harmonies we heard at 1:21: i - VII - iv - iv - II (Neapolitan). He then chromatically modulates up a whole step and uses the exact same chord progression, except in E minor instead. Nifty, huh? After the Neapolitan chord in E minor (F major) he jumps straight back down to D for the outro.

Demon Core:
C minor, with lots of chromaticism. The intro alternates between i and II (Neapolitan.) He uses the seventh degree, but minorizes it so that it shares the D flat in common with the Neapolitan chord. So starting at 00:16 the chord progression is vii - i - II - V/vii - vii - i (the dominant of B flat minor). The second time he repeats this, he ends on F major (V/vii) instead of on i. At 0:33 it’s just i - II - VII - II. At the end, the VII chord acts as the subdominant to F minor, which he ends on.

Because of all the ambiguous chromaticism, and since he ends on an F minor chord, you could also analyze this in F minor. To do that, all the C minor chords would be considered a minor dominant of F (v), all the Neapolitan chords would be VI chords, and all the vii chords would be iv.

Thanks a ton bro…so you would say the melody/lead in tumble run is mostly in d minor?

Just to make sure as it has been ages since i took music theory seriously(a decision i m re-thinking) i=minor first degree…vi=minor sixth,VI=major sixth etc?

I was thinking the intro of Demon Core had something to with Neopolitan, all this exploration prompte me to mess around the scale the other day!!

cheers…Aragara=LEGEND :yeah: :drummer: :guitar: :walkman:

Haha, thanks! Yeah, most of the notes in the melody of Tumble Run fit the d minor scale, except for the occasional F sharp.

Yeah, I use lower case to indicate minor triads and upper case to indicate major triads…so in C minor for example, VII would be a B flat major chord.