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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Shaw

New Arrangement: "Boss Battle Theme" from Golden Sun (2001)

An absolutely insane track from Sakuraba, pushing the GameBoy Advance to its limits. Here's an attempt to throw it all together for orchestra.

Feel free to check out the landing page with links to the recording, sheet music and more!

If you are one of my Patrons, you can now find the MIDI, XML and SIB files I created for this arrangement now available to download from your Patreon Google Drive folder!


Arranger's Note:

"The standard boss battle theme from the original Golden Sun, what does Sakuraba do to instil the fearful presence of a boss?

During our brief introductory "anacrusis" ("before measure 1"), we are thrust into combat with an ascending diminished 7th chord (D-F-Ab-B). Diminished 7ths are fragile by nature, wanting to quickly resolve to a more stable harmony. And so it does, resolving to a loose E Dorian modality (E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D). I say "loose" as there is a fair chunk of chromaticism going on (note the melody ascending D-D#-E, and then descending G-Gb-F-E).

This chromaticism and unstable harmony are fitting techniques for a villainous boss encounter. To enhance this further, the chromatic melody is doubled in 4ths/5ths, creating an exposed sound that historically would have been met with shock and distaste (parallel 5ths yo!). And additionally, various chromatic glissandi are sprinkled within to destabilize the harmony even further.

After the opening chromatic passages, we shift to something more stable in A Dorian (A-B-C-D-E-F#-G; 0:10). Here, the rhythmic syncopation is chopped into a 3-3-2-2-2 pattern, further exacerbated by a shift into a 5/8 meter (0:13), squashing this pattern to a mere 3-3-2-2 division. This shortening of the meter invokes an impending sense of doom, as if time is running out.

As we conclude another 4-measure phrase, this opening material repeats in full at 0:16. To add a touch of development, I sprinkled in a flickering of winds and trumpets (0:19), and doubled the melody another 5th above in the 1st violins.

At 0:29, we get new material, highlighting an interval that has made quite an impression already - the "tritone" (sharpened 4th / flattened 5th, e.g. F-B). This "diabolus in musica" ("devil in music") is fully exposed in the strings and trombones through an eerie passage of glissandi tritones. By this point, any semblance of tonal harmony is all but extinguished, outside of some form of tonal centre surrounding E.

The theme floats chromatically until we get some familiar-sounding material at 0:37. Indeed, it is a brief respite with our good friend, A Dorian. But this lasts a mere 4 seconds, and by 0:41, we are once more thrust into new territory.

Here, at least, the tonality is moreso anchored to E - perhaps some sort of E Phrygian Dominant/ Hijaz tetrachord through the presence of the F-G# interval (E-F-G#-A-B-C-D). The piano has completely run amok, being one of the only instruments that could more easily perform such a rapid passage (I would not want to be so cruel to flutes & violins... maybe next time ;) )

And as we reach 0:48, we receive the icing on the cake: an acoustic Shephard tone (an illusion of infinite ascent). Sakuraba's original saw a continuously, chromatically ascending passage, which was incredibly difficult to pull off with the limitations of the GameBoy Advance. Now for orchestra, we can more seamlessly create the illusion of a Shephard tone by spreading this material to many different instruments that reset at different intervals. The result: a passage that is seemingly rising forever. All the while the harmonic anchor also ascends chromatically (low winds, brass, contrabass).

Very dark and impressive stuff - one of the most advanced and dissonant tracks of Golden Sun, or indeed of the GameBoy Advance era!"

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