Bird World Flies You Through the Melodies of a Video Game That Doesn't Exist

Leon Chang's debut album is a video game soundtrack, without the video game part.

Analysis by Caty McCarthy, .

The tropical paradise of the "game" Bird World seems nice. Or at least, what I gather about it from the soundtrack New York-based musician and Professional Twitter Jokester (@leyawn) Leon Chang has dreamed up for it. Bird World isn’t a real game. But rather, an amalgamation of sounds and memories from other games.

Bird World guides the listener through what a journey with a bird like Yoshi’s Island’s adorable chubby penguin Huffin Puffin might be like if the overweight bird, named after Leon himself, were the hero for a change. The album’s nostalgia-laden to its core: listening to it brings you back to leaving a game paused as you accidentally started doing something else, its calming sunny loops becoming ingrained in your psyche.

Bird World premiered over the weekend at VICE’s Waypoint, with an exclusive interview and stream debuting the album. There, Chang detailed the album’s core concept. In the fictional tale, the puffy bird Leon lives in a small house with his mother, when one day a strange bird stricken with amnesia washes ashore. Together, they go on a journey to uncover help uncover her memories and discover what happened far away on the mysterious Mantou Mountain.

It’s easy to imagine the moment to moment action of Bird World as a number of things. A RPG for the SNES age. Maybe a quieter life simulator of sorts for a mega-low-poly Playstation game, similar to something like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon. Just like a video game, the album relishes in the big moments and the simpler ones, as Bird World’s score swells with excitement and whispers with quiet intent. When asked by Waypoint if Bird World would ever become a real game, Chang said he had no serious plans. But if he acquired the resources and knowledge, it might end up “like Breath of Fire II meets Yume Nikki. With birds.” (Sounds solid to me.)

To name every sample in Bird World would take meticulous listening (and note-taking). But at an eavesdrop, you’ll hear samples drifting from modern games and technology. Breath of the Wild, iMessages, and Final Fantasy XIV among them, while wrangling sounds seemingly dropped right out of Banjo-Kazooie and Metal Gear Solid. My personal favorite track is “Hazelnut Harbor,” which I imagine would be the pleasant melody soundtracking a local port-side town in a too-good-to-be-true RPG. Every song in Bird World tells a similar story, whether one that ties to its central concept that Leon intended, or one the listener can imagine on their very own.

Everyone has that one game soundtrack they cherish near and dear. (For me, it’s Sonic Adventure 2 baby.) It’s rare though, to see an artist so wholeheartedly embrace that particular spectrum of soundtracks without a heavy reliance on nostalgia-curbed chiptune beats, instead imbuing their music with a unique world of its own for those very memories to live in. Bird World is a warm celebration of all video games and their music’s integral part in transporting the player into cheerful worlds. Because so often, we accidentally forget music's part in it all.

Most know Chang from his Twitter chirping, from his jokes to his twisty-turny Twitter-bound choose-your-own-adventure games. Before Bird World, Chang regularly shared miscellaneous tracks on SoundCloud. Some of his older tunes sound right at home within Bird World, others couldn’t be more different. In the future, as Chang told Waypoint, Leon hopes he gets the opportunity to score an actual video game, play more live shows, and string together the leftover, lo-fi hip-hop tracks that didn’t make it onto the album.

You can stream Bird World in its entirety below from Bandcamp, or purchase it for $7. A limited physical edition for $15 also nets you a USB stick with the album in high-quality wav format, in addition to a glossy printed guide for the album.

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