May 22, 2014

The Elite Four: Effective Songs

So here's a fun fact for you: like so many others, music is an absolutely huge factor in my life. In my troubled childhood, music was often what kept me sane; in my tedious teenage years, music propelled me through school; and in my adult life I've studied music and audio extensively and incorporated it into my career. That said, it should come as no surprise to you that soundtracks are one of the first things I notice in a video game, or anywhere really. A well composed soundtrack can add so much to a game, and over the years I've added countless soundtracks to my music collection, and dumped them onto every iPod I own. While I insist that there are many, many worthy soundtracks and several amazing composers who work largely in the video games industry, over the years I've noticed a few tracks from some of my favorite games that just... stand out. Every time they pop up I'm immediately filled with memories and a very strong desire to play the game from which they originate. Not only are they catchy, they're memorable and very descriptive of the levels and moments they accompany. So with the quick disclaimer that this was a very, very, very difficult list for me compile, I present you what I think are my Top 5 Most Effective Songs from Video Games.
Secondary disclaimer: These YouTube videos are not mine. I simply searched the titles to share the songs with you in some format. Click at your own risk.

Third disclaimer: I've realized in hindsight that this list is quite shallow, and while I apologize for the lack of ground covered here, I maintain these songs are the shit.

5. Someday the Dream Will End (Final Fantasy X)
The entire soundtrack for FFX is pretty tremendous, but this is the track that I find myself humming along to every time I play the game. It sounds exactly like the title. It's sad, but beautiful, and makes the horrific trek through a ruined Zanarkand so much more enjoyable and reflective. It really adds to the climax of the game and the sweet bonus: it doesn't cease in favor of the battle theme. This beautiful melody continues even through battles, adding to the intense feeling that, "this is the end. I have to save the world now. Someone is going to die." Simple and effective.

4. Final Zone (Sonic the Hedgehog)
I'm going to make a very bold statement now: Masato Nakamura is probably the best thing to ever happen to Sonic the Hedgehog. After he left the party, the games seemed to begin their downward spiral. The soundtracks to the first two games are nearly flawless, but I don't think there's a tune quite as true to its title as 'Final Zone' from Sonic 1. In spite of the restraints of 16 bits, this song is very powerful and conveys a strong sense of finality. It has a very, "if I don't defeat this guy, we're all screwed" feel to it. In spite of my colloquialism, the song is much stronger than I make it out be. Also it's catchy as hell.

3. Wilderness (Golden Axe)
I know I never shut up about Golden Axe, but this is largely why. 'Wilderness' is the first level in GA and the tune that accompanies it is just impossible to forget. It's fairly primitive, repetitive and 16-bit, but the song never fails to both entertain me and convince me to play GA again. It succeeds in presenting the medieval theme of the game, the desperation of the characters beginning their journey and the setting of the level. The loop makes it almost annoyingly memorable, but I think this could play endlessly in my head and I may never tire of it.

2. Eternity (Blue Dragon)
This is the very unique song that accompanies boss battles in BD. One of the things I love about Nobuo Uematsu is how he tries to incorporate a little metal into his video game compositions. The soundtrack to BD is particularly diverse, but 'Eternity' is in a league of its own. The first few times I heard it, I really couldn't decide if I liked the choice of this tune for boss battles, but after a while it grew on me. After I put the soundtrack on my music players, I found myself actually missing this game every time I heard 'Eternity.' While it's short and little repetitive, it packs one helluva punch, really adds to the feeling of haste in boss battles, and somehow suits the presence of the shadows. It mixes "oh shit" and "bring it on!" It's also one of the very few successful songs found during a video game (not in the intro or end credits) that has lyrics. These days, it's impossible not sing along…

1. Main Theme (Shining Force 2)
sometimes called "Wandering Warriors" or "Battle 2"
This song is basically stuck in my head 24/7. Every time I even hear the words "shining" or "force," this pops into my head. When I consider playing SF2, this song implants itself in my brain and never leaves. When I play Shining Force 1, this song replaces the theme from that game. It just sounds like the theme to a shining force! It starts with this amazing fanfare and progresses into this jaunty tune that perfectly describes a group of heroes journeying to save the world, without depressing you or encouraging loss of hope. There's a diversity of the instruments used that sort of represents the diversity of the crew itself and it's just… powerful. It's disparate and catchy and just happens to be attached to one of my favorite games of all time. Now I wanna play it again...

Honorable mention:
Terra (Final Fantasy VI) - this song missed the list by the skin of the cartridge's teeth. It's definitely up there with the greatest of all time. Impossibly beautiful and I never tire of it; it fits the theme and feel of the game perfectly, as well as the hidden complexity of the lovely lady it was written for. It's not uncommon for me to just leave the game running while on the over world, just to hear this tune while I'm distracted by other things.
A Vow of Unity (Tales of Vesperia) - excuse me while I pop a Vesperia tune in here. Of all the songs on the Vesperia OST, this one - heard while in Dahngrest - really stands out as an anthem. Dahngrest is where the people who've renounced the ways of the empire gather, and form guilds to provide the necessities of life. It's a very temperamental city but feels like home to those who belong there, and this song captures that flawlessly.
Everything 'de Chocobo' (Final Fantasy, various) - because I haven't already praised Nobu Uematsu enough... the chocobo theme is one of the most cheery and dependable sounds the FF games have to offer, and each installment has its own unique version of the tune. It's amazing that a song that has evolved from 8-bit simplicity to a modern day production can be equally as memorable and effective across the decades. Chocobos usually have a fleeting but happy disposition and this tune always demonstrates that perfectly! I always look forward to hearing the chocobo theme.
A couple of cheats - Super Mario and Mega Man - the problem with these games is that EVERY track is iconic and unforgettable. I really couldn't choose just one so we're just gonna have to accept that the entire soundtrack is amazing.
Speaking of amazing entire soundtracks, I'd be a traitor if I didn't point you in the direction of the Ni no Kuni OST. This compilation was not only composed by one of the world's greatest living composers, but it practically spells out the entire story and all the themes from NNK for you. You could probably figure the game out without ever playing it, if you'd just pay mind to the soundtrack. Also it's stunning, and it actually makes me forget to breath sometimes.

Yes, I'm fully aware that I'm missing so many incredible tunes, but for now, there are a few to consider. What video game tunes just eat you alive?


  1. Ah, that FFX tune got me right in the feels! I haven't played that game since it first came out, but hearing a few bars of that song reminded me of that title instantly.

    That Blue Dragon song was... interesting. I can't imagine actually fighting a boss to that, haha. I feel like Uematsu was trying to channel his inner Dio.

    1. I felt the same way the first 80 times I heard Eternity, but I'm tellin' ya man, that song grows on you.

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