By Mento 12 Comments
Now, I'm no expert on video game music. I can't tell a crescendo from an allegretto, except that they were both characters in Eternal Sonata. But I do like listening to it and that's exactly what I did with this recently compiled top 700 list as voted for by the many users of Nico Nico Douga and 2ch, as part of an apparently yearly feature on Japan's favorite VGM. Now, I'll save you (and myself) from posting the entire list of all the songs and games they came from - those interested can find the YouTube playlist here courtesy of a very dedicated user named Gestriden, if you have 28 hours spare to listen to the whole thing. This is just a quick appraisal of the games that featured on the list of 700 most frequently.
Highest Placing: #30 ("Chasing Shirley")
Other Placings: #158, #296, #414, #441, =#466, #508, #590.
Tales of Legendia isn't perhaps the most prolific of Namco's long-spanning Tales series (now catching up to Final Fantasy in sheer numbers), but it apparently has the best music by quite a margin. While a few other Tales games are represented, they only manage to put in one or two tracks each. I can't say for certain what makes Legendia's soundtrack stand out, since no-one bothered to release it in Europe, but it clearly has a lot of fans.
Highest Placing: #2 ("Ancient Disputation (Final Boss Theme)")
Other Placings: #3, #48, #130, #360, =#466, =#570.
Two chief reasons push Falcom's PSP Action RPG to its near-ubiquitous presence on this list: A suspected heavy influence on the voting from Falcom fans, and a relatively recent release. That isn't to say the music isn't great fun too: Full of frantic tunes that mirror the real-time chaos of the standard gameplay, and boss fights in particular. The PSP has become something of a sanctuary for a great number of decent and bizarre JRPGs of late, which is why that console is represented here more than perhaps it should be.
Highest Placing: #37 ("Final Decisive Battle")
Other Placings: #75, #227, #400, =#466, =#570, =#637.
Now this is surprising. For those unaware of the SaGa franchise, it's essentially a bizarro version of the Final Fantasy series led by one Akitoshi Kawazu (who was actually in charge of FF2, perhaps best remembered for its self-flagellating level-up system and not much else.) He was given the SaGa series soon after in a manner like, as Pitchfork so eloquently puts it, "that Simpsons gag where Marge bakes a separate birthday cake for Homer to ruin." As such, the SaGa games have been met with mixed success in their native land, and with something approaching total confusion over here. Despite this, it seems to do well with music fans, as all the major SaGa games got at least two tracks on this list somewhere. As someone who bought Unlimited SaGa and SaGa Frontier 2, I'd advise those curious to simply track down the music instead and give the games themselves a wide berth...
Highest Placing: #8 ("Mechanical Rhythm")
Other Placings: #44, #274, #283, #454, #521.
A lot of atmospheric tracks from this recently released Wii epic. Though it has yet to see a Western release, I'm told one is forthcoming. It definitely looks like a major time-sink, as it appears to be a mix of FFXII and Monster Hunter with the same philosophies of strategic real-time combat and exploration of vast areas. It may well be one of the Wii's swansongs, as that fancy new Super Wii quickly approaches our collective gaming radars.
Highest Placing: #91 ("Feldschlacht IV")
Other Placings: #219, #250, #311, #508, #637.
I wasn't kidding about SaGa. My few memories of SaGa Frontier 2 included jarring time skips every few dungeons and a plot I couldn't make heads or tails of. It might well be the sort of game that clicks for the right sort of person, but leaves everyone else slightly bewildered and agitated. It was the first time I realized Squaresoft games weren't always masterpieces; a notion strongly hammered home several times since then.
Highest Placing: #102 ("The End of the Raging Waves")
Other Placings: #103, #156, #193, #247, #360.
The old-school (or should that be "retro"?) dungeon crawler series Etrian Odyssey is one of those things that genuinely surprises me with its popularity. That the video game industry is now successfully exploiting nostalgia for the days of the cruel and arbitrary D&D-based RPGs of old is way more intriguing than the re-emergence of the fighters and story-driven adventure games. I get the impression that the reason Etrian Odyssey 3's functional ambient tunes score so highly is because people spend a lot of time listening to them as they fall over and over to the many unaccountable deathtraps the game throws at them. Or maybe I'm just being cynical.
Highest Placing: #106 ("The New Galactic Empire")
Other Placings: #186, #283, #492, #590, #637.
I don't think it's a shock to imagine Mario's newest adventure as being one of the most highly played video games by Japanese gamers in 2010. But the soundtrack still easily stands on its own, as the bombastic orchestral music just screams adventure on a massive scale. It's something that hasn't wavered since the first game, I was glad to see.
Highest Placing: #41 ("Song of the Ancients")
Other Placings: #211, #466, #547, #649.
GB sort-of-favorite and 2010 newcomer Nier makes a promising appearance with five of its tracks on this list, though one of them is actually an in-game sung version of another (Devola's version of the Song of the Ancients, if you were wondering). With everyone from S-Rank fanatic vidiot, image maestro buzz_clik and some guy making blogs about Nier, it's a game that at least deserves a mention for its insane design choices, if not perhaps a place in the pantheon of greats.
Highest Placing: #54 ("The Departure")
Other Placings: #244, #303, #570, #666.
I love Terranigma. Hell, I love all of Quintet's confusingly-not-a-quintet Soul Blazer series. While the first was a dungeon crawler with a neat gimmick - and the second a lightweight but well-told action RPG - Terranigma was a grown-up game full of weird symbolism and mindbending puzzles. The music is as good as the SNES often got, with plenty of highs and lows as the plot went to all sorts of bizarre places.
Highest Placing: #67 ("Prophecy (Flight #2)")
Other Placings: #86, #139, #164, #205.
Though if we're talking true SNES classics, Secret of Mana is right up there with FF6 and Chrono Trigger. The music was the standout, with the ominously atmospheric music towards the end of the game being the highlight. Who can forget the creepy lullaby music of Thanatos or the wind instrument-heavy Mana Beast music, both while flying on Flammie and during the kind-of-tragic final boss fight? I think I'll go play it again..
Highest Placing: #81("Mt. Fuji Path"... maybe)
Other Placings: #454, #466, #570, #680.
So I wasn't really able to decipher the track names of this one, since they were all in kanji and I'm no Pepsiman. But this picturesque Wii RPG brawler scored highly with the same kind of traditional song stylings as Okami (though I haven't mentioned Okami here, it did acquire the #1 spot on the list.) From what I'm hearing, it has some awesome demonic boss fight music too.
Highest Placing: #95 ("Battle With Exdeath")
Other Placings: #98, #167, #321, #649.
Of all the Final Fantasies I expected to get the highest number of tracks on this list, FF5 was perhaps last on that short list. Nothing against the game: it was a decent enough merging of the "two worlds outsider" plot and job system of FF3 with some of the story-telling sophistication of FF4, but overall it was just kind of "there", like FF9. I just don't recall it doing much for me musically, with the exception of GIlgamesh's epic [editor's note: need a better word than "epic" here] theme "Fight on the Big Bridge".
Highest Placing: #231 ("Green Greens")
Other Placings: #283, #414, #570, #628.
Weren't expecting that, were you? Everyone loves Kirby. Whether it's due to the recent bells-and-whistles enhanced DS port, or the songs receiving orchestral remixes for the more recent Smash Bros games (there are actually Kirby tracks from those games on this list too), Japanese gamers seem to be fondly recalling the jaunty tunes of everyone's cute pink eldritch space horror. My favorite's always been King Dedede's theme, as heard in the Grand Gourmet Race mini-game of Super Star.
I think that's more than enough reminiscing for now. Remember, you can find the YouTube playlist for this massive musical showdown at the top of this blog post. Plus, I just wrote about a whole bunch more on a new blog if you wanted more words to read. They just won't stop pouring out of me, and I can only apologize so many times.