from Final Fantasy VI (SNES)
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
I love this tune because it perfectly reflects the nature of Kefka Palazzo for me as we are first introduced to him. To me, early in the game, Kefka always came off as an entitled, power-hungry, megalomaniacal jackass. You know, kind of like a U.S. senator! What is awesome about this is we all know now that by the end of the game he becomes what amounts to a god and is quite successful in his venture to destroy the world. He becomes arguably the best villain in the history of video games because we watch him grow in power and ultimately stake his claim as the man above all men, that is, until a group of fighters tag-team the hell out of him and knock him off his heavenly pedestal. The song has this mischievous feel in the beginning, and knowing what Kefka really is makes this song chilling for me. It is essentially a perfect character theme.
On a Pale Horse
from Halo: Combat Evolved (X-Box)
Composers: Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori
This alternate version of the Halo theme features a beautiful staccato strings style that gives the song a very intense feel which builds further as the strings fill this warmer sound near the end. The sound really picks up and the result is a theme that is both striking and captivating. The song is so well constructed that you could play it over someone doing laundry and it would seem like some epic washing was going on.
Into the Thick of It
from Secret of Mana (SNES)
Composer: Hiroki Kikuta
One of the most famous and beloved RPG themes of all time sits at 148 on my list. It is a masterfully-composed work that does bring back a lot of memories for me. The song fits the area well, too, playing early in the game amid a monster-infested forest. The guitar filling the background, the strings and flute all build as the song progresses making a beautiful melody that simply strikes me to the core every time I hear it.
from Mega Man 8 (PSX)
Composer: Shusaku Uchiyama
Mega Man 8 has shown up before on my list and this will not be the last time either. As I said before I adore this soundtrack and I cannot convey enough how much I love listening to it. Astro Man’s theme is a strange tune that perfectly fits the space theme of the boss and his stage, as the twinkling sci-fi synth fills the foreground. The song then breaks into this dark jazzy piano number leading to a breakdown and a synth solo. It’s an awesome song and the first few seconds are enough for me to put it this high on my list.
from Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)
Composers: Yuzo Koshiro, Motohiro Kawashima
Next is the Stage 3-1 theme from Streets of Rage 2. Dreamer plays over a brawl in an amusement park at night. It is a stage in a brawler title so it is linear as hell and full of the same baddies over and over. Yet, this hellish amusement park is still better than Beverly Hills Cop 3. Like all of the excellent music from this series, Dreamer has an 80’s post-funk and hip-hop influence. The synth opening leading to the smooth jazzy lead that plays during the song proper all flow so nicely, and there is a dirty, gritty sound to it despite its soulful feel. It is perfect for what it is trying to convey and fits the mood of the game very well.
from Mega Man V (NES)
Composer: Mari Yamaguchi
This is one of the many two-in-one title themes in the Mega Man series. Starting with Mega Man 2’s outstanding intro scene, the series made a point to start with a striking opening theme and Megaman V’s opening and title songs are among the series’ best, in my opinion. This song definitely sounds like a Mega Man song, too. It has all of the elements. The minor key, the beeping melody, the rock-guitar sound of the main part of the song, all of it. It comes together well to open a game that has one of the best singular game soundtracks of all time.
Time for Rest
from Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
Composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Hitoshi Sakimoto
Here is another tune I would often just listen to in the game, even if only for a few moments. This song plays in a tiny section of Final Fantasy XII in the elevator room between the Sochen Cave Palace and Archades, just a little over halfway through the game’s story. It is funny to me how a song that is so hidden among other amazing themes from this astounding soundtrack can leave such an impact on me. I do not know what it is, really. It is a great song, for sure, but there is just something about this theme that stands out for me.
from Halo 2 (X-Box)
Composers: Martin O'Donnell, Michael Salvatori
Marty O’Donnell’s compositions are very distinct. He seems to really like mixing modern elements like electronic drums and guitar with classical music. Heretic, Hero, from Halo 2, is the theme of the Arbiter, a damned Covenant soldier who is forced against his will to do the bidding of those who cursed him. Well, he is not having any of that. Ultimately, this theme, to me, conveys a tone of a rising hero, a perfect feel given the song’s subject.
from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game (PS3)
Ubisoft Montreal; 2010
Like all of Anamanaguchi’s themes from Scott Pilgrim, this one is a great example of their distinct sound, blending classic gaming music and rock ideas to create one awesome song. This is a theme that just puts a smile on my face. Tonally it is a great work, it has the sound of danger mixed with excitement and energy. It feels right for the game, too. It just sounds like a fight song to me.
from Final Fantasy X (PS2)
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
The original Final Fantasy X debuts on my list with the theme heard during the first few battles with Seymour. This is an odd song in the game as, despite several other songs in the game having electronic elements, it is definitely inspired by dance music and similar themes. The East Asian chimes that open lead into a gothic moody intro, and as the drums kick in along with the bouncy synth, that pretty much nails this theme. It is off-kilter and very out of place, similar to how Seymour stands in the annals of Final Fantasy villains. While he was nowhere near as pointless and uninteresting as Vayne Solidor from Final Fantasy XII, he certainly always came off as an odd choice for a villain. This song, however, is excellent and fits the tension and pace of the battles with Seymour quite well.