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Friday, March 14, 2014

My 200 Favorite Video Game Themes - Part 4: CATFIGHT!

Gerudo Valley
from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
Composer: Koji Kondo
NIntendo; 1998

The Legend of Zelda series makes its first appearance on this list with the theme from Gerudo Valley from the phenomenal Ocarina of Time.  A fan favorite of the series, Ocarina of Time is a trend-setting, genre-defining Nintendo 64 classic but its soundtrack, while having a few of my favorite themes of all time, tends to land more on the mediocre side as a whole, at least in terms of what Koji Kondo is capable of.  That said, there are a few standout themes in OoT that I would argue easily rank high among the greatest video game themes of all time.  The music from Gerudo Valley is a vibrant Latin guitar piece, adding trumpets and string accompaniment to build the song up.  It is incredibly simple structurally, but remains a catchy and lively tune.

Underwater Bombs
from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
Composer: Jun Funahashi
Konami/Ultra; 1989

The first TMNT game released on consoles is kind of an oddity.  While it is based on the animated series (which had been out for several years at the time of this game’s release), it is full of loose interpretations of the characters, their roles, and their importance to the story.  Add to that the dreaded water level that this theme supports, and you have a game that is either really hated, or remembered with only the slightest hint of fondness.  That said, this theme from stage 2 is damn good.  The minor key, the definite aquatic sound, and the beat and melody all come together to a delightful whole.  I’m not sure why, but water levels often have some of the best music.  Wave Man, which appeared previously on the list at number 183, and this theme here are just a taste of what is to come in terms of aquatic themes, and some of them rank among my favorite video game tunes of all time, but you will have to stick around to find out what they are.

Intro Theme (US)
from Mega Man 8 (PSX)
from Shusaku Uchiyama
Capcom; 1997

Mega Man 8 has an absolutely stunning soundtrack.  It is unconventional compared to the soundtracks of the titles before it.  It mixes genres, going for a slightly more melodic and instrumental tone over the electronic pop/rock sounds we got from the rest of the series.  The use of real instrumentation was also a big step up for the series and the intro is the first real taste of the change we get from Mega Man 8.  It is a short, sweet mix of rock, jazz, blues and electronica that works so damn well, and it is just a precursor for what is to come in this game’s outstanding soundtrack.  Now, that said, the Japanese version of the opening is another story entirely.  It is an absolutely dreadful, bubbly J-Pop anthem called Electrical Communication that blends all of the worse elements of the genre.  The plucky stylings, the childish vocals, the Engrish; all of it.  So, be thankful that we got this awesome tune to back our opening movie because I’m not sure how many American gamers would have been willing to stomach the game after that other pop monstrosity of an opening.

Stolen Eyes
from Final Fantasy IX (PSX)
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
Squaresoft; 2000

This instrumental rendition of the game’s theme song Melodies of Life is a delightfully soothing piece.  It opens in just the right way.  The strings and harp blend is just beautiful, and the woodwind lead brings the song’s melodic touches to the foreground.  While Melodies of Life is only an okay song in my opinion, this version is great.  It nails home the mood of the song better than the original version, I would say, and it does it without a single lyric.

Izzy Glow’s Theme
from Mega Man X5 (PSX)
Composer: Naoto Tanaka
Capcom; 2000

Megaman X5, people!  This soundtrack…  I would say, of the Megaman X series, X5 would be the second best of all of them, right after the original.  X5 has a stunning assortment of amazing themes and, despite the bizarre decision to give the bosses really stupid names for the US release,  and the constant, intrusive and unnecessary dialogue scenes, it is a pretty solid game.  Izzy Glow’s (Shining Hotarunicus in the Japanese version) level is actually kind of boring, but his song is the polar opposite.  From the opening’s rocking guitar riff, to the chirping synth, to the badass lick that is the main melody, to the bridge, all leading up to the sweet breakdown near the end, it all works.  It is a truly awesome theme.

from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
Composers: Hidenori Maezawa, Jun Funahashi, Yukie Morimoto, Yoshinori Sasaki
Konami; 1989

Castlevania returns to the list, and this theme comes to us from the excellent Castlevania III.  The last NES entry in the series, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is a game that pushed the beloved 80's console to its limits.  It looked better, played better and sounded better than most games released up to that point and we had not seen all of what the NES had to offer yet at this point.  The soundtrack is also quite stunning and will definitely return to this list again soon.  Aquarius is a tune that is about as “Castlevania” as you can get.  It is intense, melodic, layered and upbeat.  The Gothic organ riff at the beginning ties the song to the series’ trademark style and the catchy melody that follows makes it one of my favorite tunes of the Castlevania anthology.

Rose’s Theme
from Super Street Fighter IV
Composer: Hideyuki Fukasawa
Capcom; 2010

Hideyuki is a relative newcomer to Capcom’s legacy of excellent music.  He joined the sound team in 2002 as the composer for Onimusha 2.  His work on that project put him in the bid to work on the soundtracks to Capcom’s hoard of fighting games released in the late 2000’s and onward.  He arguably did his best work on the brain-meltingly good Super Street Fighter IV soundtrack.  A stunning series of remixes of classic Street Fighter tunes and new compositions that is so complete, so big, so astoundingly good that fans have lined up to announce many of the remixes as “better than the originals.”  I am inclined to agree with them.  The first appearance of this game on my list comes from Rose’s stage.  Rose, who first appeared in Street Fighter Alpha in the mid 90’s is one of my favorite characters in the series.  She’s a badass fortune teller who will kill you with her scarf, so that makes her pretty metal.  The song is also quite epic, having a very 90’s fighting game sound to it, featuring modern electronic techniques.  

The Temple
from Life Force
Composer: Miki Higashino
Konami; 1986

Oh, Life Force!  I love this damn game.  This game has occupied so many hours of my life it is actually kind of sad.  Released in Japanese arcades in 1986 under the title Salamander, it was a spinoff/pseudo-sequel to Konami’s previous shooter hit Gradius.  Excellent gameplay and level design highlighted this title but for me, it’s always been about the soundtrack.  This game has six stages and every single one of them has an awesome tune.  They did not all make it on this list, but trust me, they are good, and this is not the only time Life Force will show up in my countdown.  The first entry from the series on my list is from Stage 5, an odd Egyptian temple stage that was a late addition to the title for the NES and it is pretty damn good.  The boss is a King Tut head surrounded by a ring of orbiting balls that shoot at you.  It’s really strange.  The song, however, is awesome.  Like the rest of the soundtrack, it is very full, featuring a number of layers creating an echoing twinkle of a melody.  For a game released on the Famicom in 1987, the soundtrack is stunningly sophisticated.  Compared to what other games sounded like at the time, this and a few other standout titles really showcased the audio capabilities of the system during a period when the chiptune medium was just starting to mature.

Cammy’s Theme
from Super Street Fighter IV
Composer: Hideyuki Fukasawa
Capcom; 2010

Just following the appearance of Rose’s theme from Super Street Fighter 4 comes the theme of the ever-exploited Cammy, who can never seem to find a pair of pants.  How unfortunate… Despite her objectification, however, the song is great.  It ended up in close contention with Rose’s theme, so close in fact, that they are almost right next to each other on the list.  This was purely unintentional, believe me.  But I can picture these two beating the Buddha out of each other over whose theme is actually the best.  I like this theme’s guitar heavy, 80’s-stylings and the energy it brings.  It’s definitely a tough-as-nails fighting anthem.

Crystal Man
from Mega Man V
Composer: Mari Yamaguchi
Capcom; 1992

I love the melody of this song.  It’s somber, smooth and has a nice rhythm to it.  It’s a tight groove that lacks a lot of the punch of many of the other Mega Man tunes but it brings with it instead a melodic uniqueness in the series’ repertoire.  Yet another entry from Mega Man V (It will not be the last), this is a slick piece of work with a nice melody, slick pace and, I don’t know, it me it just sounds so… “Chill.”

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