Editor’s Note: Note that the original mobile release of Grinsia has a different score than the 3DS and PC versions. This release is only heard in the latter two versions.
The popularity of chiptune and indie faux-retro game audio in the past few years suggests to me that it isn’t just nostalgia that draws us to classic soundtracks from the NES, SNES, and Genesis eras. Perhaps it’s some intangible quality of the sound hardware that taps into some foggily-remembered memory of childhood; or, likelier, it’s the technical limitations placed on composers by these primitive instruments. Within these constraints, there are no orchestras or live instrumentation or Latin choirs to lend a song emotional heft: clever audio programming tricks to emulate these tones and pure melody win the day when it comes to old-school game music, and that’s where Shannon Mason’s work on Grinsia comes in.
Mason notes right on the Bandcamp page for this soundtrack that it draws its inspiration from the SNES greats, and indeed you’ll hear the echoes of Chrono Trigger, Breath of Fire, and Terranigma in here. The music has an innocent, nostalgic quality to it that will strum the same heartstrings as the SNES games you grew up with (or maybe you didn’t). There’s a spark of creativity here, though, that keeps the music from feeling tired even while it treads on weathered musical trails. “Forests/Caves” has a great piano component in the foreground, one that creates an almost-tangible mood of creeping about a wooded area. On that same token of tone-building, “Pyramid/Dungeons”is as evocative as A Link to the Past ever was, stirring up a foreboding, thick atmosphere with deep, gurgly bass underscoring it all.
On the battle side of things, “Random Battle” is an energetic, if somewhat familiar tune that nonetheless suits the aesthetic well, with a boopy-beepy main melody serving as an effective focal point around which Mason plays with a number of other tension-building phrases. “Boss Battle,” though, steals the show with a punchy bassline that feels like it could rattle bones as well as any of the foes it complements. A battle march in true SNES style, this track seems influenced by Chrono Trigger’s major boss battle theme while still maintaining a vibe of its own.
If you’re looking for something experimental or vastly different from what the Super Nintendo’s sound hardware could have done in its heyday, Shannon Mason’s Grinsia OST is probably not going to do it for you. However, the playful atmosphere and strong melodies absolutely make it worth hearing, and you can easily do so on the composer’s Bandcamp page.