Japan's Favorite Soundtracks. Apparently.

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.

Tales of Legendia

# of Instances on List: 8
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.
 

Ys Seven

# of Instances on List: 7
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.
 

Romancing SaGa

# of Instances on List: 7
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...

Xenoblade Chronicles

# of Instances on List: 6
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.
 

SaGa Frontier 2

# of Instances on List: 6
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. 
 

Etrian Odyssey 3: The Drowned City

# of Instances on List: 6
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.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

# of Instances on List: 6
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.

 

Nier

# of Instances on List: 5
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.
 

Terranigma

# of Instances on List: 5
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.

Secret of Mana

# of Instances on List: 5
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..  

Muramasa: The Demon's Blade

# of Instances on List: 5
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.


Final Fantasy V

# of Instances on List: 5
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".
 

Kirby Super Star

# of Instances on List: 5
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.
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Posted by Mento

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.

Tales of Legendia

# of Instances on List: 8
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.
 

Ys Seven

# of Instances on List: 7
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.
 

Romancing SaGa

# of Instances on List: 7
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...

Xenoblade Chronicles

# of Instances on List: 6
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.
 

SaGa Frontier 2

# of Instances on List: 6
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. 
 

Etrian Odyssey 3: The Drowned City

# of Instances on List: 6
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.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

# of Instances on List: 6
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.

 

Nier

# of Instances on List: 5
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.
 

Terranigma

# of Instances on List: 5
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.

Secret of Mana

# of Instances on List: 5
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..  

Muramasa: The Demon's Blade

# of Instances on List: 5
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.


Final Fantasy V

# of Instances on List: 5
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".
 

Kirby Super Star

# of Instances on List: 5
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.
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Posted by Video_Game_King

As an expert on video game music....hold on, let me set the mood. There we are. Anyway, as an expert on video game music, yea, people only play SaGa games because Kenji Ito rocks so hard. Nobody cares about the potential death of Galahad unless it's in musical form ( it is).

Posted by Mento
@Video_Game_King: So do people actually buy the SaGa games in the hope that somewhere in the confusing mess will be another awesome boss track, or a beautiful flighty piano piece when a character who never got enough backstory and therefore little investment from the player snuffs it? Or do they skip the middleman and buy up the OSTs when they become available?
Moderator
Posted by Video_Game_King
@Mento:

From what I can gather, Japan actually likes it quite a bit. I'm not sure why, but I've seen enough videos on YouTube to confirm this. As for me, I just play the games because I forget that good music doesn't make a good game.
Posted by Video_Game_King

Now that you updated the blog, I can say that I was expecting Kirby Super Star. Here's why:

  

Posted by Mento
@Video_Game_King: Well I do know they like mouse-on-cat violence, especially if they've played as much Chu Chu Rocket as I have. You should peruse that list if you find the time, I know there's a couple of tracks from Seisen no Keifu on there. And, uh, a lot of Rance for some reason.
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Posted by Video_Game_King
@Mento:

I tried, but I couldn't find a straight-up list of the songs, even in the individual videos. That should be the first thing you see, but it isn't, and I don't know why.
Posted by ArbitraryWater

Even as someone who is a fan (one might go as far as to say "defender", depending on your general view) of Final Fantasy V, the soundtrack in that game is kind of bland in comparison to the youtube playlist-topping tunes of IV and VI. Of course, one could use that comparison for the story as well. (pretty much, the thing that makes that game worthwhile is the job system) Even the victory fanfare kind of falls flat.   

  Now.... compare with VI.   
Posted by Pepsiman

You can always message me on here if you need some kanji read and translated into English. I don't bite and now that summer is in full swing, I have a lot of free time on my hands for even more Japanese work.

That being said, I'm pleasantly surprised to see that Space Invaders 2 made the cut. Techno, electronica, and house all have their followings in Japan, but aren't nearly as popular overall there as they are in Europe and the US, so I wasn't expecting that game to show up. But the stuff in that game is really good if you enjoy those genres and it's definitely one of my favorite game soundtracks from the last decade. Also nice to see Shoji Meguro's work appear, but that's more or less to be expected on a Japanese list.

Posted by Mento
@Pepsiman: The guy who created the playlist did a great job transliterating the names of the tracks and games, but it's clear he's not a native English speaker. While some were obvious enough from context (mostly all engrish that wasn't too far from the actual engrish names the official OSTs gave them), several - including the Muramasa tracks especially - seem to have just been left untranslated. Then you have all those obscure older Famicom, PC88/98/MSX and random PC Eroge games and I'm completely lost.

But then part of the fun was in figuring out what all these games were, and why the music of Gokinjo Boukentai or Hello, Goodbye was so fondly remembered (neither of which are known well enough to have GB pages it seems). It's not all just popular stuff and recent releases, which was heartening to see.
Moderator
Posted by Brackynews

Some nice selections there.
God, SaGa Frontier... that is a franchise on my list of Never Need To Play Again Ever.
I would rather play every Star Ocean twice. Every one.

Posted by Nasar7

I know I'm a bit late to the party here but I'm surprised by all the SaGa Frontier hate. I absolutely love SF II. Of course, I was annoyed every time the plot switched to someone that wasn't Gustav (bc everyone else sucked) but as the game went on and I saw the descendants of these characters get on I grew to enjoy their B-plots. And yeah, the music was great, if not whistle-that-tune memorable. Man 90s Square rocked so damn hard.