Music and sound design have always been a major driving force behind how I perceive video games and/or the film genre. We’ve all experienced the moments where the music swells up and makes you feel so many (are) emotions conveyed through just a few notes. It’s a magical experience that is very hard to put into words and helps amplify the emotions felt during the moment. Furthermore, in the face of so many game developers, not a lot can live up to the perfection that is the Genshin Impact soundtrack, composed by the illustrious Yu-Peng Chen.
Yes, I’m talking about Genshin Impact again, and yes, I have a severe addiction to this game that I’m never going to get rid of. Because despite everything, despite the predatory Gacha, the shitty endgame, the resin system, the lack of things to do after 3 weeks and a story that basically force feeds you information, Genshin still shines in its breathtaking environment, exploration, and, of course, music.
When Nando made his first video on Guardians of the Galaxy, setting up a video essay trend that would shake the scene up, I racked my brain for music — based scenes that affected me the hardest. Originally, I was going to do the “Someone In the Crowd” musical number in La La Land, but that felt like cheating. Sure, I still think it’s an underrated scene, but considering that La La Land is a literal musical film and people would probably be scrambling to do a video about it, I opted to rack my brains further for any ideas. In a stroke of genius(or idiocracy, depends on your perspective) I remembered Genshin Impact
Genshin has become a bit of a meme in pop culture, namely the joke that all Genshin players are fat and are pedophiles, and that the fanbase is severely toxic. Whether those stereotypes are true is not up for me to decide, but the point is that Genshin has quite a reputation, especially when you consider the gacha system.
Despite these complaints, stereotypes, and a line of people telling the official Genshin Impact twitter account to “Make a better game,” I still find myself being attracted to just how much passion is poured into the game. With recent attempts to copy Genshin Impact like Tower Of Fantasy mostly falling short, it’s shown us time and time again that Genshin Impact is a one of a kind game.
And I don’t think anything comes close to representing this more than the one musical scene I’ll be talking about today, the Dance of Sabzeruz.
Warning, spoilers lie ahead. Do not watch if you have not finished Genshin Impact 3.0 archon quest, or if you care about spoilers.
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Act 2 of Sumeru’s first archon quest gets very insane. You’re thrust into what you assume is a time loop but instead is actually a memory wipe that surrounds the entire city after each day. The cinematography changes to give a much more sinister and horror-y feel and they introduce a new word association detective mystery feature. It all contributes to the viewer’s increasing intrigue and engagement in the story, especially with the reveal of Dunyarzard’s condition. It’s here where two arcs are formed: solving the mystery of the supposed time loop, and the emotional stakes of Dunyarzard’s terminal illness.
The rundown is, stuff happens, emotional intensity and new questions are raised, we meet the new Dendro Archon, and it’s revealed that this entire time the entire city, including us, has been in a dream. We attempt to find the person who is dreaming, much like the plot of inception, which brings us to Nilou. We initiate a shutdown of the grand sage and his assistant’s puppet who always comes to stop Nilou from dancing, finally realize that it’s Nilou’s dream after all, and then the scene begins.
I’ll be the first to admit this. I’m not really the best person to talk to regarding story structure. While I think that I have a decent grasp at them, I also have to emphasize that I have never been the best at writing a coherent story with a beginning, middle and end. But if there is something that you can trust me on, it’s music. My love for it extends far and wide, and like I stated before, my perception of stories has always been heavily influenced by sound design and music. And for me, it’s cutscenes like this which validate my love for this kind of music based storytelling.
The Dance Of Sabzeruz’s first notes features the Sumeru theme, a middle-eastern fantastical style piano that is a staple of the musical style of Genshin Impact. It gives off a mysterious style arabian nights feel that spells the intrigue and mystery of the nation of Sumeru. Up to this point, it’s been standard Genshin music. It’s good, but also nothing we haven’t seen before.
At around the 20 second mark, we hear the music crescendo up for around 4 measures with a textbook Genshin buildup.
As the crescendo ends, the flute starts playing five notes in quick succession while the keyboard also starts up. Everything mixes together to form something that sounds eerily similar to…
On paper this choice is not only weird but also might be considered offensive to middle eastern culture. In essence, it may be misinterpreted
that you are defiling the traditional music of the middle east with music you would listen to in an elevator, or that it’s just a strange musical choice.
But the more you listen to it, the more it grows on you. They introduce the flute, then the orchestra, even adding some bits that are reminiscent of La La Land, all while the rhythmic humming of the elevator music still plays in the background. The aspects of the main Sumeru theme are maintained, but the addition of the “elevator music” instruments create something that is not only unique but also beautiful to listen to.
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I’ve been going on and on about the music, but there’s also an emotional aspect to this story that makes it pop out so well. In a similar scene from the 2.0 update, Ayaka also performs a dance as a thank you to the traveler, but because the story was mostly dull and did not invest the audience as much as it could have, we are able to notice a vast difference in emotional stakes.
This scene is made so much more special not only because of the music that attempts to be more than just a video game score, but also because of those emotional stakes. Not only is the story of Durynazard’s condition stellar, but the execution was near perfection. In order to truly build it up to the dance of Sabzeruz, Genshub took several risks with the game engine, and used different camera angles and cinematography techniques, all to immerse the player more into their story. The creepy aspects were on point, the game allows you to make revelations on your own, hell, there’s even a separation between the consciousness of you and the traveler. Using these techniques and experimenting with the different ways of telling Durnayzard ends up leading us into this beautiful scene, the emotional peak that rewards us for sticking with the story.
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Conclusion and rant about video game originality:
Nowadays, there’s been a big trend of attempting to “fix” games. In 2020, Valorant was hailed as the game that “fixed” Counter Strike’s numerous issues. Tower of Fantasy, which came out 2020, also attempts to fix Genshin Impact, promising a better Gacha system, customizable characters, and more. Even a game I heavily played a while back named Realm Of The God had copies that try to improve communication between players and companies.
Even Genshin Impact itself started off as the “Mobile Breath of the Wild.” The director literally stated that in an interview. However, given time and so much effort, it’s grown out of the shell of BOTW, becoming not only a global phenomenon but also a game that people truly love with its storytelling, exploration and lore.
And I think “Dance of Sabzeruz” represents this perfectly. Although Genshin still has so many issues, I genuinely believe no gaming company trying to replicate it will ever reach the same heights that it has. It’s a game that started as a copy, but with time built its own identity, and honestly, I would love it if more companies stopped hailing their game as the next Genshin Impact.
This is Josh, and this has been my musical scene. Thank you for reading.