Awesome Video Game Music: Tali

One of the best things about the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack is that it has a great, thematic song for each party member, and perhaps my favorite such song is the one for Tali.

Not only it this an action packed song that's just a ton of fun to listen to, but its nature walks hand in hand with Tali’s character (as seen primarily through her loyalty mission, the details of which I won't elaborate on for spoiler reasons). The song starts out quiet, yet alert. Quarians (Tali’s race) in general seem more passive than other races, but there is a certain awareness to their nature. Tali is no different, and constantly seems attentive to everything going on around her. So even when the song starts out peaceful, it seems to know that nothing stays that way forever. Sure enough, it turns on a dime into a very bold, forward moving action theme. Similarly, whenever a crisis emerges, Tali always hits the ground running. She’s never caught off guard when things escalate, and this snappy transition seems to represent just how quick she is to respond to the situation at hand.

This first action segment has a decisive, steady beat that seems to know exactly where it’s going. Tali is an incredibly smart character, and when she sets her mind to it she can tackle any problem. This segment seems to represent that fact. However, almost as quickly as the song explodes it loses traction, slowly turning to a dark, brooding tone. Tali has her doubts just like the rest of us (she has some big ones during her loyalty mission), and this portion of the song seems to represent this contemplative, self-examining nature. But that moment of doubt only seems to be a source of strength in the long run- a momentary pause that serves to reinforce her resolve. Immediately after its lowest point, the song executes a rift that quickly ramps it all the way back up. The resulting final action bit is even more bold and determined than before. It seems to give Tali a proper send off, with the knowledge that while she may occasionally second guess herself, she always trusts herself to get the job done in the end.

Is it a coincidence that my favorite “character song” on the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack is the one for my favorite character? I don’t think so. Each of these songs does an amazing job at representing its character, and it only makes sense that liking one implies liking the other. It’s a wonderful thing that we can have music in video games that is so representative of its source material, and Tali is as good an example as any.
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Awesome Video Game Music: Fisherman's Horizon

A staple theme in Japanese RPGs is the "town" theme. You know the extremely chill, peaceful music that always plays when you're visiting a small, uneventful town off the beaten path? Yeah, that song. I like that theme in most JRPGs. It's subdued nature is a nice contrast, and a nice break, from the otherwise constant barrage of overly epic melodrama that defines the genre. One of my favorite examples of this practice is Fisherman's Horizon from Final Fantasy VIII. 


The town of Fisherman's Horizon (which is a great town name by the way) is about as isolated as towns get. It's basically a city floating on the water out in the middle of the ocean. Getting there is extremely difficult, and once you do get there you realize that was the intended effect. It's pretty clear that the town's inhabitants enjoy being separated from the rest of the world and its complications, though they're generally nice people who are receptive to visitors as long as you don't cause any trouble. As such, Fisherman's Horizon ends up being a restful pit stop during your adventure. It's a time to relax and reflect on what's transpired thus far, and the song does a great job at fueling that notion. It also has a very "human" quality to it. The people of the town are low-key, simple folk, and the tone of the song represents that perfectly. These are the kind of people that draw great pleasure from the simple things in life, and it's nice to see that idea supplemented so well with great music. 

The other thing I like about Fisherman's Horizon is the simple fact that it's a beautiful song. It may be harder to appreciate in its original format, but if you listen to the orchestrated version I posted above, I think you'll agree. With the correct instrumentation and sound quality, it's a treat for the ears. And that's really the secret to a song like Fisherman's Horizon. More than anything else, it's just a great, relaxing song that's a pleasure to listen to.
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Awesome Video Game Music: Stickerbrush Symphony

Alright then, let's start this show with a show stopper. Stickerbrush Symphony (or Bramble Blast, if you prefer) from Donkey Kong Country 2 is without a doubt one of my absolute favorites. First thing's first- if you haven't heard it before, have a listen.

I think the setting of the level itself is the primary key to appreciating Stickerbrush Symphony. The entirety of Bramble Blast takes place in a dense forest of deadly, thorny vines that is far removed from civilization of any kind. It has more of an isolated feel as a result, and the beginning of the song does a great job at capturing this feel. It consists of few simple rifts that seem to stand all on their own, which is a stark contrast to the rest of the game's highly populated levels and busy songs. Also, your main foe in Bramble Blast is nature itself. Rather than battling K. Rool's minions, you're fighting for survival within one of nature's most oppressive environments. The giant vines that seem to bear down on you throughout the level take on an almost majestic quality, and the song's ambient background chords do a great job at emphasizing nature's wonder. In addition, the song's central rifts are composed of short, punctuated notes (staccato if you will), which seem to characterize the sharp, pointed thorns that you're constantly trying so hard to avoid impaling yourself on.

I also like the way that Stickerbrush Symphony always seems to be moving. Its constant beat propels it forward at all times, slowly adding layers of complexity on top of an initially simple tune. This mirrors the way you experience the level, where the simple task of avoiding thorns quickly evolves into one of the most devilishly complicated levels in the entire game. In fact, like most levels Bramble Blast turns out to be a pretty action-packed affair, and the song has a compelling undercurrent that suggests as much. What I really love about Stickerbrush Symphony is how it manages to combine all of these aspects as it moves along. It ends up being a pretty busy, complicated song that seems fitting for an action game, yet never loses its melancholy vibe that set the tone to begin with. It's peaceful and frantic all at the same time, which is amazing. Or if you're looking to bring out the action side a little more, there's always the Super Smash Bros. Brawl remix.

In some ways, I like this version even better than the original. It contains all the same basic parts, but really ramps up the action component (and in general has better instrumentation and higher sound quality). This is a song that's going places, and the ride it takes to get there is a blast. It's a super fun, energetic song that feels just as appropriate in Super Smash Bros. Brawl as the original felt in Donkey Kong Country 2. That's a testament to Stickerbrush Symphony's staying power and versatility, and goes a long way towards summing up why this song remains one of my favorites to this day.
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Awesome Video Game Music

I've always felt that one of the most overlooked, under-appreciated qualities of video games is their audio. Video games are meant to transport us to an alternate world, and they do so by engaging our various senses. Touch (controller interface) and sight (graphics) seem to receive the majority of the attention, though sound can play an equally important, if more subtle role. Take a moment to think about some of the most vivid, most memorable moments from your video game experiences. How many of them are driven by the poignant voice of a character delivering an iconic line? Engulfed in the crisp sound effects of raining bullets and glorious explosions? Accompanied by a pulsating, majestic, or beautiful song?

Odds are high that the majority of those memories have an audio component to them, and I'd like to focus on one in particular- music. If you know me in any capacity, then you know I love a good video game song as much as anyone. Not only is a lot of video game music of exceptionally high quality on its own merits, but when used in the proper context it can be one of the biggest driving forces behind a game. A good song can guide your emotional investment in a game better than anything, and I'd like to comment on the music that's affected me over the years. I think this blog space is the perfect venue for that.

Each entry will focus on either a single game, or more likely a single song, providing a write-up as to why I like the selection so much. I'll also include embedded Youtube videos containing the music in question for you to listen to while you read, provided I can find them of course. For the sake of being consistent, I'll preface the title of each entry with "Awesome Video Game Music". I'll also link each entry back to this introductory one, where I will include a full list of every entry I've ever written. Kind of like an archive.

Last but not least, this is meant to be fun, and is something I get pretty into. I feel like there is a lot of potential for music in games, and hope anyone reading this comes away with a better appreciation of the medium. I'd like to hear your comments, experiences, and thoughts pertaining to video game music as well, and look forward to engaging in some conversations via the comments. That's pretty much it- enjoy!

EDIT: As of July 17, 2012, I have discontinued this blog series. See the final entry, "Finale", for more details. Thanks for reading!


EntryTitleGame(s)Date Posted
01Stickerbrush SymphonyDonkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong QuestSeptember 23, 2010
02Fisherman's HorizonFinal Fantasy VIIIOctober 3, 2010
03TaliMass Effect 2October 9, 2010
04Hyrule CastleThe Legend of Zelda franchiseOctober 26, 2010
05Minotaur Boss BattleGod of WarNovember 5, 2010
06Time's ScarChrono CrossNovember 10, 2010
07Click Clock WoodBanjo-KazooieNovember 21, 2010
08Leader of the ResistanceFreedom FightersNovember 30, 2010
09Main Theme of Final Fantasy VIIFinal Fantasy VIIDecember 13, 2010
10Going LoudModern Warfare 2December 31, 2010
11Phendrana DriftsMetroid PrimeJanuary 8, 2011
12Revived PowerShadow of the ColossusJanuary 23, 2011
13Valkyria Chronicles Main ThemeValkyria ChroniclesFebruary 13, 2011
14Athletic and Flower GardenSuper Mario World 2: Yoshi's IslandMarch 2, 2011
15Freya's ThemeFinal Fantasy IXMarch 22, 2011
16Terran 1StarCraftApril 9, 2011
17Sunken SuiteSuper Mario 64 (Remix)April 18, 2011
18Morrowind Main ThemeThe Elder Scrolls III: MorrowindApril 24, 2011
19Cave Story Main ThemeCave StoryMay 15, 2011
20Terra's ThemeFinal Fantasy VIMay 22, 2011
21Mass Effect ThemeMass EffectJune 18, 2011
22Aquatic AmbianceDonkey Kong CountryJuly 5, 2011
23Movin'Final Fantasy VIIIJuly 12, 2011
24Katamari on the RocksKatamari DamacyAugust 1, 2011
25Best of TimesWorld of GooAugust 12, 2011
26Hyrule FieldThe Legend of Zelda franchiseAugust 25, 2011
27Rose Town and Nimbus LandSuper Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven StarsSeptember 15, 2011
28Aeris' ThemeFinal Fantasy VIISeptember 27, 2011
29BanjolandBanjo-Kazooie: Nuts & BoltsOctober 16, 2011
30Setting Sail, Coming HomeBastionOctober 25, 2011
31The Path You'll TravelMeteosNovember 7, 2011
32Field of ExpelStar Ocean: The Second StoryNovember 17, 2011
33Typhon MountainGod of War IIDecember 5, 2011
34Blinded by LightFinal Fantasy XIIIDecember 20, 2011
35In the BeginningMetroid (Remix)January 2, 2012
36Hyllian SuiteBeyond Good & EvilJanuary 23, 2012
37Jet Force Gemini Main ThemeJet Force GeminiFebruary 4, 2012
38Home/Another WorldChrono CrossFebruary 21, 2012
39Gusty Garden GalaxySuper Mario GalaxyFebruary 29, 2012
40Quickies 1Freedom Fighters, Rhythm Heaven, Final Fantasy VIMarch 22, 2012
41Quickies 2Gears of War, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Chrono TriggerApril 4, 2012
42Quickies 3StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, The World Ends With You, Super MetroidApril 17, 2012
43Quickies 4BioShock, Bastion, Final Fantasy VIIApril 24, 2012
44Quickies 5Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, Aquaria, Mass Effect 2May 11, 2012
45Quickies 6Uncharted franchise, Advance Wars: Dual Strike, Final Fantasy IXMay 16, 2012
46Quickies 7God of War, World of Goo, Demon's SoulsMay 23, 2012
47Quickies 8Shadow of the Colossus, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Persona 3June 7, 2012
48Quickies 9To the Moon, Okami, Final Fantasy VIIIJune 13, 2012
49Quickies 10Metroid Prime, Outland, Chrono CrossJuly 9, 2012
50FinaleCivilization IV, Final Fantasy VII (Remix), The Legend of Zelda: The Wind WakerJuly 17, 2012

About My Reviews

It seems to me that most people have varying notions on what a video game review is supposed to be. As such, I feel it helpful to give a good idea on what I deem to be the purpose of my reviews, as to better give any reader of them a better sense of where I am coming from. Here you will find what I consider when writing my reviews, which will hopefully lead to them making more sense, as well as being more useful to you, the reader.

Review Style

The first thing you should know is that I don't summarize games. I usually get put off by reviews that simply run through the bullet-point features of a game- "There's this mode, where you do this, and then there's that mode, where you do that..." There's enough info on the web to satisfy anyone just looking for raw details and facts. I'm more about trying to explain why I did or didn't like the game, and whether or not I feel it was worth my money.

The other thing I don't do (which kind of follows from the first point) is write a book when reviewing. You know, those 5 page long super-reviews that sites like IGN tend to do? Not my style. I'm not going to assault anyone with a fat old wall-o'-text. Basically, I try to pick out the main points about the game, and give my reaction on how they shaped my enjoyment of the game. Most reviewers seem to cover all the little details, so if that's what you are looking for, I'm sure you can easily find it elsewhere.

Finally, as games have become much more mainstream, I feel that the distinction between a game being considered universally "good" or "bad" has become hard to determine. I feel that practically every game will be enjoyed by someone, and hated by someone else. As such, it's my perception that the act of thinking a game is "good" or "bad" has become a mostly subjective exercise. Therefore, my reviews are purely that- subjective. I'm writing about how much I enjoyed the game, and whether or not I felt it was worth my time and money. You may end up feeling differently about the game than I did, which is all well and good. In fact, it's great. Diversity is a wonderful thing.

These 3 points are the core of my main review philosophy for any review I post here on good old GiantBomb: Talk about how much I liked the game, in as clear and concise of a manner as possible. Leave out the fluff, the gory details, and keep it short and to the point. It's likely that anyone reading one of my reviews found it by sifting through numerous other user reviews, meaning you are probably looking to sample a wide variety of opinions in a timely manner. Therefore, I'm attempting to give that quick burst of feedback, but also back it up with clear reasons for why I make my claims.

Scoring System

So that's that for the written portion. As for the 5 Star scoring system, I think most people seem to interpret it differently. Therefore, I once again feel it helpful to give my interpretation of the scoring system, and briefly describe what I mean when I give a game X Stars (I won't be giving half-stars).

5 Stars: I had a blast playing this game, and also feel that just about anyone who goes into the game with an open mind will also enjoy it, though maybe to varying degrees. There might be a few small quirks, but for the most part I wouldn't really change anything about this game. This is the real deal.

4 Stars: I really enjoyed this game, and would recommend it to almost anyone. However, there are one or two noticeable issues that just didn't sit right with me. There will be a handful of players who won't be able to get past those issues, but for everyone else this game is a great choice.

3 Stars: I had fun with this game in the long run, but questionable design choices make me wonder how many other people will share my sentiment. It was kind of an up and down experience, and one that I think many players will enjoy, while many others will not.

2 Stars: I had a handful of problems with this game, and the overall experience was one that left me feeling somewhat cheated. It had its moments of glory, but wasn't consistent enough to deliver from start to finish. Not sure that many players will appreciate this game, though some should.

1 Star: I didn't enjoy this game one bit. It might have the slightest bit of redeeming value, and may even entertain a select few. But when compared to other games coming out it's just not worth it. I imagine that pretty much everyone could find something else they would have more fun playing.

And that sums up my review style- enjoy!