Aaron’s Top 20 Videogame Themes- Part One

Posted: December 8, 2013 in Uncategorized
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What makes a game truly great?  Realistic graphics?  Challenge and replayability?  A good story?  Memorable characters?  For me, truly great games combine a little from all of these aspects, but In truth, even a Game of the Year can drop one of those and still be excellent.  But what unites all titles that are as memorable as they are enjoyable, is a great soundtrack.  Don’t get me wrong; I’ve played good games with bad music and vice versa but if you look back at the legendary games from the past few years, each one has had a unique, atmospheric and thematic soundtrack to back it up.  Gaming is truly a media that indulges the senses and what you’re hearing could almost be described as being just as important as what you see on the screen.

So with that thought, I decided to list my favourite videogame theme tunes of all time.  At first, I wanted to go with just five so I could really break them down.  Then, realizing that was impossible, just 10 to keep the list concise.  But even then, I couldn’t stop adding more.  So here it is; my top 20 videogame tracks!  They’re not in any particular order, as I found picking a favourite to be all but impossible, and I’ve decided to keep it to one track per franchise, as to be fair (otherwise I might as well just make a top 20 Final Fantasy tracks list!)

Mass Effect 2: Suicide Mission

Most people will agree that ME2 was the best in a superb sci-fi trilogy, with some great characters and scenarios, and a backstory that successfully builds on the original game’s story.  So, to go along with this, I picked Suicide Mission.  This track truly encompasses the nature of your party’s task:  to strike at any enemy no-one’s ever beaten, in a place no-one’s ever returned from with only a motley crew of misfit renegades united by the willpower of one woman (or man, I guess).

And you know what?  With this epic marching procession of strings and spacey synth behind you, you might just pull it off.

Fez: Home

Fez is an incredible game, with a perfect retro feel built around an original mechanic.  The game itself is very bright and colourful, with the world being a decidedly un-menacing one with no enemies, unlimited lives and few dangers outside of gravity.  That said, the more the story progresses, the more you get an idea of just what the world comprises of, which is a little more shady.  Home is the theme that plays in your home village, and at first it’s just a sweet and bright ditty that goes well with the safe and populous environs.  But without spoiling it, by the end of the game it becomes more of a nostalgic, bittersweet song.  That this track goes perfectly with both feelings marks it out as something special.

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-Final Fantasy VII: Main Theme

It’s not easy to pick one song from the Final Fantasy series to stand above all others.  Uematsu’s work is so iconic and works so well with the games that one could easily sit down and write this list just for FF games.  So what to pick out of the series?  The main theme of Final Fantasy VII isn’t actually my favourite theme in the series, nor even the game, but it does such a great job of encompassing the feel of the game.  Used as the world map music, as well as during some important story cutscenes, the various tones of the music have a good mix of unsettling, calming, courageous and threatening tones that it easily makes it onto this list as the most thematic.

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance: Rules of Nature

MGR:R’s music is just about the best collection of action themes you’ll find since Devil May Cry, and for a game where you spend most of your time running up walls and literally cutting things into slivers, that’s important.  Of all of the tracks, Rules of Nature, the theme which plays as you fight the upgraded version of Metal Gear Ray, really stands out.  During the beginning of the fight, the purely instrumental version plays, which is itself a mix of fast-paced rock and electronic that gets the heart pumping.  Then, as Ray tries to crush you with a building-sized sword… ‘RULES OF NATURE!’ and the lyrics kick in.  If you don’t start rocking out right then and there, you are probably medically dead.

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-Sonic & Knuckles: Lava Reef Zone (Act 2)

Ever had a theme song that is so good, you play through the entire game just to get to where it’s played?  During my childhood, a time long before things like Youtube, file-sharing, and enough spending money to buy soundtracks, this is exactly what I used to do.  In my memory, this theme sticks out as one I’d fight hard to get to again and again.

So, you’re running around the inside of an active volcano, fighting all kinds of robots, drilling machines, devious traps and the environment itself.  And finally, you get to the mid-boss, a device made of tendrils that spew laser bolts and a gigantic hand that rears from the lava to try and crush you.  You beat it, then mysteriously, the volcano around you seems to dim.  The lava beds dry into volcanic rock and the only light comes from the machinery scattered around… and the looming face of the Death Egg above.  It’s a perfect mix of layered threat and mystery that mirrors the strange beauty of the level itself.

Dragon’s Dogma: Imminent Triumph

Another game with an excellent soundtrack all-round (Capcom does this alot, huh?), it was difficult to pick just one.  But there could only ever be a single, truly outstanding piece of music from this game, though it owes a lot to the circumstances it’s played in.

Much of the game sees you facing down opponents many times your size, and each time you do, the backing music is suitably ponderous, overwhelming and laced with threat.  Especially when you fight a true dragon for the first time:  Your teammates’ magic and weapons barely mark it, and it can down any one of them with a single swipe or bite.  It even grabs your loyal pawns and bends them to its will, so you have to fight your own at the same time as the monster!  And then it starts breathing flame…  But you fight on, and eventually through sheer grit send it plummeting to the ground.  It’s not dead, but its weakness is exposed.  Filled with renewed vigor, you and your team descend upon it, and Imminent Triumph plays in the background.

Just… perfect.

-Onimusha 2: Encounter with the Lady

There’s been a lot of high-strung, epic action themes on this list, so my next entry is for something infinitely softer and yet just as awe-inspiring.  The perfect combination of synth string, oriental melody and atmospheric drone is soothing, yet tense.  The cherry blossomed beauty of the scene forms in the mind’s eye as you hear this track, even as the underlying sadness in it takes root.  A little melancholy perhaps, but really beautiful nonetheless.

-Age of Mythology: If You Can Use a Doorknob

The Age of Mythology soundtrack is famous for oddly-named themes that seem to have nothing to do with the circumstance around which they are played.  This is no different, but it’s a mighty theme regardless.  Played upon your victory, when reviewing the game’s statistics, one cannot help but imagine themselves being paraded through your victorious city, garlanded and cheered by the adoring masses.  Final Fantasy victory theme, move aside; this is what triumph sounds like!

-Persona 4: The Almighty

Anyone who’s read my top 10 games list knows how much I love Persona 4, and a lot of that is down to the soundtrack.  Even though some of the ‘school days’ type themes can get tiresome, pretty much anything that plays while you’re in the TV world is pure gold.  Especially when the characters confront their shadows, the creepy and tense Border of Insanity slipping into I’ll Face Myself when battle is joined.  Yet above these, The Almighty gets my vote.  Without spoiling the story, it plays during a very important battle, against a seemingly-unassailable enemy.  And the track has that great plodding pace to bring across the idea of immense scale and desperation, which builds up into a faster-paced, almost flighty midsection.  You are above the clouds, fighting for all mankind with your friends by your side… and this piece conveys it perfectly.

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-Zone of the Enders 2: Leo! Leo!

In comparison to the more famous Metal Gear series, Kojima’s excellent mech-battler was overlooked for the most part.  However, it is an excellent pair of games that makes interesting use of cell-shading to create a stylistic, anime-esque atmosphere, with fast-paced action to match.  The soundtrack was equally excellent with a movie-like combination of sweeping orchestral and futuristic synthesized beats.  For this track, you’re hurled into a battle with returning first game protagonist, Leo Steinbuck, in a very familiar-looking mech.  It’s a great fight that pits your admittedly superior machine against someone who knows its strengths and weaknesses and pushes his own craft to the limit as an expert pilot.  The fast tempo of the song and urgent background wail/chant combo press the aggressive and relentless nature of Leo’s attack.

So there it is; part 1 of my favourite videogame themes list.  It only gets better from here, so stick around for part 2!

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