Indie darling MidBoss came out of left field with their sleeper hit Read Only Memories, a cyberpunk point and click adventure that paid tribute to its primary predecessor: Snatcher. It also starred a fantastic ensemble cast of characters with varying identities: transhumanism in the form of AI sentience and human-animal hybrids; LGBT characters whose existence is normalized rather than made into a big deal; ethnic minorities blending into society, and blending with one another to the point where “whiteness” is starting to fade (though not completely). Our full review of the game can be found here. We gave it an editor’s choice award, and we meant it.
The game’s 90 minute soundtrack was written entirely by one man: Matthew “2 Mello” Hopkins. Hopkins got his start in music as an amateur hip-hop producer (i.e. – generating beats and loops), as well as doing fan remixes of classic game music. As far as I can tell, this is his first official game soundtrack, and my goodness, did he prove himself worthy. This is akin to what Isaac Schankler did with Analogue and Hate Plus, but to a whole new level, if only because of the sheer quantity of music.
First, let’s acknowledge the familiar soundscapes. While the game pays homage to Snatcher, and there are songs on here akin to the music in that game, I actually find this soundtrack more listenable than Snatcher. Granted, I may be harboring bias since I recently played ROM and have not finished Snatcher, the Konami / Kojima classic. But I have listened to Snatcher’s music in many forms, and as great as it is, it does not have the appeal of this soundtrack. ROM’s music, rather, reminds me of a few more recent titles. Most prominent among them is the Ace Attorney series. As I mentioned earlier, ROM features an ensemble cast of characters, and most of them have their own character themes. Sentient AI and co-protagonist Turing has an upbeat, quirky little theme. Superhacker TOMCAT has a theme song that closely resembles the “Gumshoe” theme from the aforementioned Ace Attorney series. Lexi, your sister’s ex-girlfriend and a member of the police force, has a more pensive and moody theme despite the relatively fast tempo. And 2 Mello’s silly side comes out for more than one character theme…
“Troublemakers” is the theme song for Chad and Oliver, the game’s teen gay couple who love all things punk, anarchy, and graffiti. And then there’s “4 Moolah,” the hip-hop artist with his own dialogue-based puzzle, obviously a spoof of the composer himself. His theme song is as catchy as it is silly: the “and you don’t stop!” voice sample really makes the piece. It’s icing on the cake.
As great as the character themes are, though, I find the environment and event themes are even better. “Scrubbing For Clues” is used often throughout the game, and it sticks with the player over time. This piece, too, is very Ace Attorney-esque. The bass line is catchy, and the synth keys are right on.
As an aside, I should mention that part of what makes this soundtrack great is its intentional use of a limited sound palette. It’s almost entirely keyboard-based. We hear a lot of electric and acoustic piano, drum pads, synth leads, various wave forms, and great sound effects. However, real instruments are recorded as the game calls for it. Track 17, “Distant Scenery,” includes a very real saxophone solo. Not only is it real, but it’s really very good. For a cyberpunk mystery game, this song offers a brief reprieve, a “catch your breath” moment after all the insanity that ensues during the game’s six-day marathon of events.
Now, on to other themes worth noting. Some of them sound less like Ace Attorney and more like, say, Shinji Hosoe’s soundtracks for 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. “Strange Developments” is a beautifully eerie theme. Track 27, “Tension,” sounds almost exactly like one of the puzzle/escape room themes from 999, but pared down for one specific room in ROM. Great work!
The game’s “Main Theme” appears in a variety of ways. Its best form, in my opinion, is “There Would Be Thousands (Main Theme Higher Mix).” The game sequence accompanying this music is so powerful, so meaningful, and somewhat frightening; 2 Mello made a great choice by muting the melody for 20 seconds and then breaking out harmonic guitar work with a power ballad sound for the rest of the song. Great choice!
There are many more individual songs I could speak to. I’ll leave you with my thoughts on the end credits vocal track, “Love Me Better.” The lyrics include a lot of platitudes, and the vocalists are not top-notch: they sound like regular folk, amateurs making their statement. And that statement, despite the platitudes in the verses, is expressed perfectly in the chorus:
“Love me better / treat me better / see me better / we can make this city better!”
That last line is so revealing. This song isn’t an individual’s plea for love and acceptance. The vocalist is representing all of the oppressed minorities, the underprivileged, and the social outcasts. If the apathetic middle class and the power brokers of the city can choose to love them, know them, and see them, it can and will make 2064 Neo-San Francisco a better place. That’s beautiful. And while it is not the direct goal of the characters in the plot, their work is part of what it would take to achieve such a feat. For this reason, I love the chorus to this song.
The Read Only Memories OST is available for purchase on Bandcamp for $8. If you already own the game on Steam, the soundtrack can be purchased as a DLC add-on for $5. Do not miss out. This is a shockingly solid, memorable soundtrack from a relative newcomer. I am crossing my fingers for a full ROM sequel with more 2 Mello music. I also hope this breakout soundtrack will help 2 Mello land more work in the games industry.