Welcome to Timed Hits List; a monthly exploration of music from the world of video games. That may mean a song from a game’s soundtrack, it may mean an arrangement of a song that originally appeared in a game, it may mean a song inspired by a game, or it may mean something entirely different altogether! We play it pretty fast and loose here.
Featuring a song on Timed Hits List doesn’t necessarily mean I think it’s a ‘Top Whatever Song in Video Game History’ — in fact we’re going to try to stay away from some of the obvious picks — but each song will be something that has resonated with me in a way that made me feel like sharing and exploring it to the best of my ability. Keep in mind that that ability is limited — I’m certainly no music expert. If you have any corrections or further insight into the music I showcase feel free to let me know in the comments or on Twitter: @victorehunter. 90% of the reason I started Galuade is to talk to other people about the things I love so don’t ever hesitate to share your experiences as well.
Now let’s get started with something upbeat, light, a little odd, and with a hint of adventure to it…
This month’s song is the infectiously charming and surprisingly anthemic “Route 209” from Pokemon Diamond & Pearl.
Geographically speaking, Route 209 isn’t the most remarkable stretch of land in Sinnoh. It’s a short, L-shaped road with a few small points of interest, a smattering of trainers, and the requisite patches of tall grass. However, it ends up being a place that trainers will visit quite a few times if they’re interested in Pokemon breeding.
Beginning with Ruby & Sapphire, Pokemon Day Cares were regularly placed near long stretches of uninterrupted land to provide easier egg hatching routes. Sinnoh’s version consists of a dirt road stretching from Route 209’s elbow in the south, up through Solaceon Town (where Day Care Man can be seen by the side of the road), and north onto Route 210. Players can collect an egg from the Day Care, hop on their bike, and ride along this unbroken path back and forth until either their egg has hatched or they’ve seen that the Day Care has another fresh ovum to offer them; then it’s rinse, lather, repeat, repeatedly. The breeding/hatching cycle is a little grotesque when you think about it too hard — in which case I would recommend not thinking about it too hard.
“Route 209” is composed by longtime Game Freak staff member Hitomi Sato. Credited as a Planner and Scenario Writer from Pokemon Crystal (2001) onward, Sato’s first Composer credit would be for Diamond & Pearl. According to Sato herself in an interview on PocketMonsters.net, a position had opened on Game Freak’s sound team after a member had left. She says, “I had told them once that I could play the piano and when I was asked if I wanted to give it a try, I said yes.” It’s fair to say that ‘I could play the piano’ might be a bit of an understatement. Sato’s Diamond & Pearl compositions are quintessentially ‘Pokemon’-sounding while adding a flair and nuance that wouldn’t have been possible in prior generations due to hardware limitations. With Sato’s help the transition from GBA to DS was a sonically positive one for the Pokemon series and “Route 209” exemplifies this.
The song opens immediately with a snare drum straight out of a marching band and leads into the cymbals-crashing bombast of our first melodic line. Whether it’s a deliberate homage or not to ELO’s Telephone Line remains to be seen – the two songs go through tonal shifts that aren’t entirely dissimilar after all. Then almost as quickly, things de-escalate until around the 0:25 mark where we get a more laid back drum beat and piano line. Totally different melody from what we had before in our march. It has an inspirational “setting out on a journey” feel that Pokemon tunes so often nail – but if you listen closely there are some really killer drums fills going on in the background around the 0:40 mark. I can’t help but imagine the tiny drummer in my DS loving the hell out of this song. But don’t get lulled into thinking that “Route 209” has played all of its cards yet…
0:58 transitions into another melody, again with a completely different feel. Piano is traded out for flute, the cello has been replaced by bass guitar, and our little drummer boy has opted for a syncopated hi-hat. Swap the flute out for a horn section and you’d have a ska song from Hoenn.
And that’s it. The entire loop is roughly 1:14 with the track on the Pokemon Diamond & Pearl: Super Music Collection running 1:22.
Let’s be real here; “Route 209” isn’t setting the world on fire. It’s not going to go down in history as a classic. But it really represents a shift in Pokemon music. The leap from the GBA to the DS gave the sound team a lot more freedom to experiment – both with the complexity and number of samples as well as the range of emotion that can be conveyed in any given area. “Route 209” has 3 different musical sections complete with different instruments and a couple bars that segue into those sections with a unifying sound. It’s kind of magical if you can buy into the DS’s sound.
Hitomi Sato’s first composition for Diamond & Pearl was “Route 206”. It’s a piece that feels like it could have been from an earlier Pokemon generation yet doesn’t feel out of place next to the songs that set Diamond & Pearl apart like “Route 209”.
“Route 209″‘s life didn’t end with Diamond & Pearl; an arrangement has appeared in the Smash Bros. series as background music for Pokemon-themed stages. The Smash Bros. Wii U sound test – being frustratingly opaque with its credits – lists Shogo Sakai (Composer for Mother 3) as ‘Arrangement Supervisor’, whatever that means. I’ll include links to the Smash Bros. version, the Nighttime version from Diamond & Pearl, and a jazz arrangement by Youtube channel ‘insaneintherainmusic’ (which I beg you to check out) below.
And that’s about it for the first installment of Timed Hits List. Hopefully something in here either piqued your interest, gave you a bit of insight, or at the very least sent you down a musical rabbit-hole that took you to something you DO find interesting. If you have any further information about this month’s song or composer, or just want to say ‘hi’ don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter @victorehunter. See you next month!