I really like a lot of the music from Final Fantasy IX and feel that its unique soundtrack often gets overshadowed by the other giants from the franchise. One of my favorite songs is Freya’s Theme.
I’ve also heard this song called Gizamaluke’s Grotto, as that’s the area of the game where it plays. For unknown reasons, Alexandria has invaded Burmecia, and you pass through this grotto as you head towards Burmecia in hopes of discovering some answers. As such, there is a fair amount of tension in the air- there’s a lot of uncertainty that makes the entire situation uncomfortable. What kind of shape is Burmecia in? Did Alexandria really attack another friendly nation? Why would they do such a thing? The song plays up these feelings, and doesn’t have much resolution in its threads. The notes are hollow, failing to offer up any kind of easy transition- this is not a forward moving song in the slightest. Its motifs seem confused and aimless, which does a fantastic job at expressing the overall tone at this stage in the game.
And yet, for as much as Freya’s Theme seems to represent uncertainty, it also represents possibility. While the majority of the song struggles to go anywhere, there is a single, subtle segment (starting around 1:50 in the above video) that manages to turn the song on its head. For a few seconds, the instrumentation and pitch of the notes change ever so slightly, becoming brighter and more upbeat. This seems to suggest that just because you don’t know what lies ahead doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. It’s entirely feasible that Burmecia is just fine after all. Perhaps uncertainty and possibility are opposite sides of the same coin- equally viable yet totally contradictory ways of looking at the same situation. Freya’s Theme seems to take this idea and run with it. The entire time you’re in Gizamaluke’s Grotto your characters are wondering about Alexandria and Burmecia, simultaneously fearing the worst and hoping for the best.
Freya’s Theme does something that a lot of the best songs in the Final Fantasy series do- it highlights what would otherwise be a fairly subtle plot device in an entertaining way that also guides my thoughts and emotions. I absolutely love it when a cool, well written song that’s already fun to listen to manages to be something memorable in its own right. Freya’s Theme does just that.
Sometimes you want music that isn’t deep, epic, or emotionally heavy. Sometimes you just want something light and fun, and that’s exactly what you get from Yoshi’s Island.
I chose to do a double feature simply because these two songs are awesome in similar ways. They evoke the exact same vibe, so what I have to say about one applies to the other. And I couldn’t live with myself if I only chose one of them! At any rate, both Athletic and Flower Garden are wonderful, upbeat tunes whose primary goal is to brighten your day. That’s a noble a goal as any, and is a lot of what Yoshi’s Island is all about in the first place. It’s a charming game that prioritizes lighthearted fun above all else, which it delivers in spades. The soundtrack follows suit, and in my mind Athletic and Flower Garden are the standard bearers. These songs just bring a lot of positive energy and personality to the table, in a way that a lot of games seem to have a hard time doing. I’ll never forget running through the titular Flower Garden as the song plays, listening to that hilarious, long winded high-pitched note as smiling, whistling flowers are skipping across the screen. Yoshi’s Island is game that’s simply ecstatic about the fact that you’re playing it, and it’s going to do whatever it can to make sure you have as good of a time as possible. Its soundtrack is one of the main contributors to this, as Athletic and Flower Garden are just too much fun.
There’s really nothing else to say about Athletic and Flower Garden, but there also doesn’t need to be. For songs that are as simple and delightful as this, all you need to do is sit back, hit “play”, and let your mood drastically improve. It’s rare for me to find songs that put a smile on my face so easily, which is why I love Athletic and Flower Garden as much as I do.
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Valkyria Chronicles is a great game that I highly recommend to any PS3 owner, and its soundtrack was one of the many aspects that made it such a memorable experience for me. The Main Theme is perhaps my favorite track.
The central theme in Valkyria Chronicles is war, and it covers just about every aspect of that heavy topic by the time all is said and done. It's an epic tale that does a great job at simultaneously keeping the big picture in mind (people are dying everywhere for horrible reasons), and focusing on the more personal struggles of the main characters (trying to save others, prove themselves, etc.). The Main Theme follows this route as well. It opens with a strong drum rift, which I have always loved in wartime settings. It just makes me think of an army marching in unison as an unstoppable force. It's a very rigid, forceful sound, and works perfectly here. Trumpets are the other instrument I always associate with war, as they have that "for king and country" vibe to them. Like in most war stories, there are plenty of moments in Valkyria Chronicles where characters claim to be fighting "for their country". Needless to say, a trumpet does kick in after a few drum beats, and the combination of the two is fantastic. It offers a purity of sound that drives home the notion of "war" splendidly.
About halfway through, the song changes pace to a slower, more inward looking tone. To me, this is the section that reflects on the individual characters and their personal journeys. It doesn't last very long, but I find it to be a strong interlude nonetheless. Otherwise, the entire song is fueled by its central motif defined by a series of sweeping, beautiful chords. This is the heart of this song, and has a grandness to it that seems to be all encompassing. It links all of the song's many pieces together incredibly well, meaning it also ties together the game's many themes. It sounds epic and personal all at once, and when the vocals chime in to back it up in the second half it becomes incredibly powerful. This is the kind of heart warming, inspiring music most games wish they could have, and it never once comes off as being cheesy or forced. This is some genuine, high quality stuff that's simply a pleasure to listen to.
Valkyria Chronicles' Main Theme wraps up just as it began, with trumpets and drums providing a powerful closure to a wonderful song about war and all it represents. In fact, a lot about this song reminds me of the main theme from Saving Private Ryan, which is meant as a huge compliment in every way. That a game's soundtrack can match that of a high budget war film's composed by the great John Williams is no small feat, but that only begins to describe how amazing Valkyria Chronicles' soundtrack really is, and the Main Theme is among the best it has to offer.
Shadow of the Colossus is a very unique game, and has a very unique soundtrack to match. It constantly toggles back and forth between quiet, mellow songs and exciting, action packed ones. One of my favorites among the action oriented songs is Revived Power.
Your fights with the titular colossi in Shadow of the Colossus are some of the most intense, epic encounters I've ever come across, and songs like Revived Power go a long way towards making those fights so memorable. Seriously, these colossi are huge, and I love that songs like Revived Power match their size with a "big band" style and instrumentation- in fact, the instrumentation is one of my favorite aspects of the entire soundtrack. Right off the bat it delivers a blaring intro and follows it up with a lot of horns and drums, all of it constantly marching in unison with the highest levels of intensity. It really lends a lot of weight to the encounters, and fighting these creatures with this kind of music in the background makes them feel even bigger. That it's able to inflate one of the game's central themes (size) is a highly impressive feat, and the game itself is all the better for it.
Otherwise, I love the way Revived Power feels like it's always moving. There's this constant beat that drives the entire thing, adding a certain edge to what is otherwise a pretty adventurous song. The main rifts definitely boast of high adventure, which is another one of the game's central themes. You spend the entirety of the game exploring a huge world and fighting gargantuan creatures, and songs like this do an amazing job at capturing the pure excitement that can come from such a setting. Revived Power never lets up on the gas either, as each rift transitions flawlessly from one to the next. It's just a thrilling song that's used to great effect throughout, and the way it's able to expand Shadow of the Colossus' themes is fantastic. Revived Power shows how to make an epic game even more so, which is downright awesome.
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of Metroid games is their fantastic music. This is certainly the case with Metroid Prime, one of my favorite tracks being Phendrana Drifts.
I’ve always thought there’s a certain ambiance to Metroid music. To me, the best songs in the franchise are often ones that don’t initially jump out at me. They blend in with the surrounding environment perfectly, helping to set the tone and mood that’s such a defining aspect of the series. Metroid Prime’s soundtrack does this as well as any, and Phendrana Drifts is a great example of it. The level itself is a snowy, mountainous area, and there’s a certain serenity to it that can be pretty relaxing. At the same time, it all feels kind of cold- and that’s not just because of the snow. It can come across as a lifeless place, and yet there’s a palpable energy to it that seems to suggest that there’s more than meets the eye. That notion adds a sense of adventure and mystique to the level that’s pretty exciting. As you explore, you find all sorts of awe-inspiring ruins and ferocious monsters that reveal a lot of life in an initially lifeless place.
I’ve talked a lot about the Phendrana Drifts level itself, but only because the song does such an amazing job at representing the same traits. When the song begins it’s very serene, and the short, punctual notes feel cold and lifeless. I simply can’t listen to this song without thinking of snow, and there are even wind and chime-like sounds in the background which only further the notion that you’re alone in a cold, desolate world. But as the song continues on, it starts adding new rhythms and complexities. The pacing picks up, making it more adventurous and almost playful in some cases, and there’s this subtext of awe and wonder that’s pretty cool. All of these traits are ones that I feel best define the level (as well as the game) itself, and it’s so great that its music harbors the exact same traits. In fact, I often feel that the music in games like Metroid Prime do as much as anything to create their awesome atmosphere. I just love it when great music plays such a large role in creating great games, making Phendrana Drifts another wonderful showcase for the medium.
One of my favorite things about Modern Warfare 2’s campaign is the action packed soundtrack, but the musical moment that sticks with me the most is when Going Loud rears its head in multiplayer.
Every time you start a multiplayer match it opens with a few seconds of music and a short voice clip before reverting entirely to in-game sound effects. The purpose of those initial seconds is to get you pumped up, and nothing gets me pumped quite like the opening of Going Loud. That beat- that incessant, driving beat is incredibly effective at getting the adrenaline going. No matter how I feel going into a match, hearing the opening beats of Going Loud always gets me primed and ready to go. There’s something powerful about simple, focused themes when done well (think about the main theme from the movie Jaws for example). Going Loud is a shining example of this idea, and is fantastic in its application to Modern Warfare 2. Multiplayer in Modern Warfare 2 is a simple, focused, adrenaline fueled experience, and Going Loud supports it perfectly.
Even though you only hear the first few seconds of Going Loud in multiplayer, listening to the rest of the track shows that its quality remains high throughout. Like the rest of the soundtrack, there’s a blockbuster movie feel to it that goes hand in hand with the tone of the entire game. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the soundtrack for the action movie The Rock, which was also composed by Hans Zimmer. He brings that experience to bear in Modern Warfare 2, creating a soundtrack that’s consistently awesome. Going Loud is certainly no exception, and even if you don’t get to hear the entire song in multiplayer it still makes a bold impression that's as effective as it is memorable.
There are a ton of great, memorable songs from Final Fantasy VII, one of my favorites being the main theme that plays primarily on the overworld (I’m also providing an orchestrated version for better sound quality).
This has always been the theme of Final Fantasy VII in my mind. It’s easy to get caught up in some of the game’s flashier tracks (such as Aeris’ Theme or One-Winged Angel), but this is the one that best defines the game part of Final Fantasy VII to me. You initially hear it when you first leave Midgar and set foot into this game’s gigantic overworld, and it was this moment where I realized Final Fantasy VII has a sense of scale that's rarely matched. After spending a few busy hours in a single city, it’s breathtaking to see just how big and expansive the rest of the world really is. There’s something mystical and intriguing about every aspect of it, and the explorer in me was immediately dying to learn everything about it. Seeing every inch of this varied, finely crafted world turned out to be one of my favorite parts of playing Final Fantasy VII, and the main theme fuels that notion beautifully. This song is grand and epic in a way that boasts of high adventure, of seeing new sights and visiting great places. It’s a sweeping, worldly melody that does justice to the scope of the game itself, and is equally fitting no matter what area of the world you happen to be in.
In addition to the high fantasy of the song’s central motif, there's another section of this theme that makes a fairly drastic shift towards a quieter, almost menacing tone. It seems to suggest that among all the excitement, there’s something drastically wrong with the world. Which, of course, there is- between Shinra’s and Sephiroth’s actions there’s plenty of wrong going on. Yet that shift is but a small diversion from the core theme. It exists to give direction and add texture (which it does well), but the central theme is never lost. It slowly reasserts itself as the driving force of this song, and of the game as a whole. Last but not least, I think this is just a beautiful song from top to bottom. The higher sound quality of the orchestrated version allows this aspect to stand out more, but I find it to be a great piece no matter the version. I simply can’t sing enough praises for well written music that’s enjoyable to listen to, which this song most certainly is.
The Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII is a song of adventure, of wonder, and of possibility, and it goes to great lengths to highlight those very virtues in the game itself. One of the main reasons I play video games at all is to experience such qualities, and it’s so great that music like this exists to accommodate these aspects. The Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII promotes everything I like about video game music, making it a wonderful showcase for the medium.
For anyone not in the know, Freedoms Fighters was a fantastic game, and had an even better soundtrack. I love all of the songs from this game, one of my favorites being Leader of the Resistance.
Freedom Fighters takes place in an alternate history where Soviet Russia straight up invades the US, and the entire tone of the game aims to capture the fear and paranoia one typically associates with the Cold War. Nowhere is that more apparent than in its soundtrack, including this fantastic song. While a lot of the other songs are awesomely epic and terrifying, Leader of the Resistance takes on a more subtle tone. If the other songs represent blatant, unrestrained communist oppression and terror, this song represents the more intricate fight that’s constantly going on behind the scenes. One of the game’s major themes is how even your average Joe can make a difference in wartime situations, and this song plays when you first join up with a resistance group formed entirely of “average” people. It’s a ragtag bunch that seems entirely ill-equipped to mount any kind of offensive. Instead, they more or less operate in the shadows (at least to start with), making precise, calculated blows that can have some pretty meaningful ramifications down the road.
That’s what I think about when I hear this song- it’s precise and calculated. It seems to know exactly where it’s going, and it’s confident that it will know what to do when it gets there. At the same time, it’s kind of on edge, like everything else associated with the Cold War. The minimal instrumentation does a great job at making the core themes stick out, while also making it feel like there’s a certain lack of support holding the whole thing together. It feels like it could all fall apart at any second, but never does- it keeps a steady hand from start to finish. If it’s possible to be both nervous and confident at the same time, this song is it. That fits incredibly well with the tense missions at this point in the game, as they are about planning, getting into position, and waiting for the right moment to strike. And the song eventually does strike- the latter part is a noticeable step up in intensity, and without changing the basic themes it sounds more determined than ever. Then, with its task complete, it quickly reels itself back in, not wanting to be exposed for too long. This matches the mission design it accompanies wonderfully, making Leader of the Resistance a great song that simulates how I think I would feel if I were in the shoes of the game’s protagonists. That it can take direct advantage of the interactive nature of the medium without sacrificing the thematic undercurrent that defines the entire experience is fantastic.
Like most Rare games, Banjo-Kazooie has a fantastic soundtrack. On of my favorites is Click Clock Wood, and I especially love that it has its own variation for each season.
The actual Click Clock Wood level has four different versions, one for each season. While it's the same basic level each time, there are plenty of subtle, thematic changes that not only make each version look different, but play different as well. Different areas can be accessed, there are different enemies to fight, and different environmental interactions are available. And of course, there's a different version of the same basic song. That's what's great about this song- it's the same core melody each time, but there are a ton of small changes made to each one that really make them unique, and fit each season extremely well. First of all, the winter version just feels cold. It makes great use of stereotypical winter instrumentation via chimes and bells, and the pacing is slow and torpid, almost as if the song itself is frozen in a winter wonderland. The blowing wind in the background is another cool touch, and the whole thing fits really well with the bright white snow covering the level. The summer version is similarly slow, but rather than feeling frozen, it just feels lazy. It's as if the brutal heat that summer can bring has bogged this song down, and it's having trouble mustering up the energy to make it to the finish line. The use of animals such as birds, crickets, and bees as instrumentation is also fantastic. Where I'm from, these are certainly the sounds of summer.
The spring and fall versions are more upbeat, and I feel like the song's predominant melodies shine brightest here- especially in the spring version, which is my personal favorite. It's just has a fun, snappy beat that will brighten anyone's day. It's something that Rare has consistently been able to do in their games, and the spring version of Click Clock Wood is among their best. And yet, just because the core themes come out a little more doesn't mean these two versions lose any of their thematic flair. There are still great touches from birds and crickets in the spring, to frogs and woodpeckers in the fall, and the rest of the instrumentation is equally brilliant- everything feels just right. Ultimately, that's what I love most about each version of Click Clock Wood. It all falls into place wonderfully to represent each season incredibly well, which aligns perfectly with the nature of the level itself. I'll never get tired of seeing great music so accurately represent a great game, and Click Clock Wood does that as well as any.
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If you know anything about my video game music tastes, you know that Chrono Cross’ soundtrack is one of my personal favorites. And if you know anything about said soundtrack, you know that Time’s Scar is its pinnacle track, and is completely amazing.
Time’s Scar is the opening song in Chrono Cross, and does a great job at setting up what the game is all about. It’s major theme focuses on how making choices in the present can create and/or destroy any number of futures. As such, the song’s title itself is perfect. Many of the game’s big moments wreak all sorts of havoc on various time-lines, ripping them apart to create or destroy futures- “scarring” time, if you will. These kinds of events keep the many dimensions of the world in tumultuous states, and this is represented wonderfully in the song’s progression. The beginning of the song is relaxed, and seems to be at peace with the world. But it doesn’t take long for things to take a sharp left turn. About halfway through the song ramps up noticeably, and seems to represent the chaos and confusion that might come with such profound distortions in time. It’s a rambunctious, action-oriented segment that does a fantastic job at simulating how one might feel when their world as they know it is quickly unraveling, while remaining consistent with the musical motifs and instrumentation of the rest of the soundtrack.
In fact, those motifs and instrumentation are some of my favorite things about the Chrono Cross soundtrack as a whole, and that’s particularly true in Time’s Scar. Simply put, this is absolutely beautiful music that’s a pleasure to listen to. It’s technically proficient and artistically brilliant, and does a great job at guiding your emotions. I also really like the melancholy tone of it all. It matches the general vibe of the game generated through the the story, characters, and world extremely well. Sure, Chrono Cross’ narrative certainly has its grandiose moments that could lend themselves to an epic musical score, but the majority of the soundtrack, including Time’s Scar (you know, the pinnacle track), manages to remain relatively low key. This goes a long way towards emphasizing the more intricate, personal characteristic that I feel is Chrono Cross’ biggest strength. Amidst all the high impact time distorting craziness, a lot of focus seems to be placed on the individual characters, and how their personal decisions shape their own futures. It makes for a pretty compelling game that’s surprisingly mature, and the soundtrack is just as much so. I think Time’s Scar represents these ideas as well as any song could hope to do.
One of the main things that stands out to me whenever I think about Chrono Cross is how it’s a mature game that has a lot of heart, and in no aspect is that more clear than its soundtrack, the pinnacle of which is Time’s Scar. Someone with a lot of talent put a ton of time and effort into making a beautiful song that expertly buoys the game’s central themes. I couldn’t ask for more in a video game soundtrack, which is why I adore Time’s Scar so much.