The Opera You Already Love
Video games — in this case, the Persona series — have arguably re-popularized classical music
Video game soundtracks are quite a blessing. The best game soundtracks are able to contribute to world-building in ways that a film score could never dream of. Though there are exceptions, a movie’s soundtrack typically serves the purpose of capturing moments, whereas the music found in games often corresponds to certain places, characters, and interactions. Since 1995, composer Shoji Meguro has done double duty creating melodies that both immerse players into a fantastical game world and capitalize on quiet, emotional beats. Many astounding game soundtracks often dedicate each individual track to a single purpose, so it is quite magical when one track manages to take on several. In the Persona series, that one track is “The Poem of Everyone’s Souls.”
The Foundation of the Velvet Room
Originally composed by Meguro to serve as the ending theme for Megami Ibunroku Persona, the tune became a series staple as the anthem for the Velvet Room. The Velvet Room appears in every game as a place between dream and reality where the player can improve the strength of their Personas.
From a technical standpoint, it is not much more than a user interface. Being a singular, enclosed room, it is a place you might equate to the Pokémon Center as a safe haven you can revisit and rely on throughout your journey. Narratively speaking, however, the Velvet Room offers far more depth and even in-game lore related to its theme music.
“The Poem of Everyone’s Souls” is a piece jointly performed by two characters who act as the attendants to Igor, the Velvet Room’s master. These two characters are Belladonna, a singer who covers her ears, and Nameless, a blindfolded pianist. Despite only appearing until Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, it is implied that they still perform their music somewhere off-screen from Persona 3 onwards. The song acts as a conduit for Personas to be summoned to the Velvet Room, meaning that the location would be practically useless without it.
Vocals in video games have become increasingly common, but when was the last time you heard opera in a video game? Often enough, games will use opera to accompany a grand orchestral piece, such as for a final boss fight or climactic cutscene.
“The Poem of Everyone’s Souls” is not orchestral however, it is classical and instead utilizes opera to create a feeling of calmness. The type of composition this falls into is an aria, which is why the alternate name for the track is “Aria of the Soul.” An aria is defined as “an accompanied, elaborate melody sung (as in an opera) by a single voice.”
The elaborate bit most certainly rings true, as the singer’s voice wavers through different volumes and dynamics. Whether you interpret her voice to sound sad, concerned, or wistful, it almost feels as though the singer still wants the listener to feel at peace.
A Classical Song for Everyone
In the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I took it upon myself to learn “The Poem of Everyone’s Souls” on piano since I found it comforted me during a time of great anxiety. I’ve been known in my family to normally learn fast-paced battle music, so learning a classical aria was a new experience.
By the time I had learned it fully, several of my family members had asked me the song’s name, as though they were trying to remember it from somewhere. Without any knowledge of gaming or music, some of them described it as “soothing” while others described it as “tragic.” My dad was particularly convinced that the piece did not originate from a video game and that it was a cover of some other classical song.
He’s not entirely wrong. Meguro has openly admitted to being influenced by the works of Ludwig van Beethoven. In fact, the Velvet Room featured in the Persona 2 duology even features an arrangement of “Pathetique” (one of Beethoven’s most famous sonatas) as an alternative to “The Poem of Everyone’s Souls.”
Other works such as Bach’s “Two Part Invention №13” and Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” are also potential variations for the Velvet Room music. By design, all of these tunes are easy to listen to, as they come from a time when musical genres were less saturated. This classical element allows “The Poem of Everyone’s Souls” to be flexible enough to be re-imagined into the climactic “Battle Hymn of the Soul” and the cheeky “Dance Hymn of the Soul.” The flexibility of the song is actually so prevalent that it can be thrown into any Persona game and feel like it belongs there.
I have never been particularly interested in the history of classical music. What made me pay attention to “The Poem for Everyone’s Souls” is the word ‘for.’ Rather than being a reflection of some character’s feelings, the song is meant for everyone that enters. As the title suggests, this aria is intended to nurture your soul, just like it has done to mine.
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