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Friday, March 21, 2014

My 200 Favorite Video Game Themes - Part 10: Clearing the Hump

Jade’s Theme - Shauni
from Beyond Good and Evil
Composer: Christophe Héral
Ubisoft; 2003

Like Flower, Beyond Good and Evil is an amazing sleeper that is greatly underappreciated in my opinion.  This action/adventure title is full of mood, deep characters, outstanding writing, flawless gameplay and one of the best game soundtracks of the new millenium.  Yet another very Celtic theme to show up on my list, Jade’s Theme (“Shauni” as it is also known; So titled after Jade’s “true” name) is played in variation throughout the game, and has about three or four iterations that play depending on the mood and tone of the scene.  I went with including the main version of the theme due to it’s spirit and lovely melody.

from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
Composers: Hidenori Maezawa, Jun Funahashi, Yukie Morimoto, Yoshinori Sasaki
Konami; 1991

I will say it again: Castlevania III is one of the best-looking and most well-designed games on the NES and Stage 2: The Clock Tower is one of the greatest levels in 2D platforming history.  The theme does not hurt either.  This harpsichord melody is very simple with only the minimal accompaniment to back it up.  Yet, this song is one of the themes I would put the game in and play just to hear.  This was from a time before YouTube and and even before games had options menus where you can go back and listen to the songs in test mode, so I had to write down a password so I can go to stage 2 and sit on the starting blocks and listen to this tune from time to time.  Oh, the good ol’ days of gaming, where you had to work your butt off just to get the simplest level of satisfaction.

To Zanarkand
from Final Fantasy X
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
Squaresoft; 2001

This now famous piano piece has become, over the last decade, one of the most beloved themes in the Final Fantasy anthology.  It is an incredibly simple, but timeless, composition that sets the mood and feel of the entire game.  I featured Someday the Dream Will End a few parts back on my list, but the theme from which it is derived is far superior in my book, if only for how well it works in the game.  These songs play one after the other in the game, as the player makes way across the penultimate chapter of the story, leading up to the final few confrontations.  Before the final struggle with Sin could commence however, our pilgrims must face a sorrowful trek through a fallen city, bleak and lifeless, as mournful music emphasizes the dread each character is feeling.  The piano score is so perfect for the mood of these few scenes and that is why, at least I believe, it has resonated so well with gamers.  It conjures memories of the emotional struggle within each of the protagonists at this point in the story.

Demystify Feast
from Touhou: Immaterial and Missing Power
Composer: ZUN
Team Shanghai Alice; 2004

Yet another piano-heavy Touhou theme (is there any other kind) makes my list.  This time it is the theme Demystify Feast from Immaterial and Missing Power.  This is a tremendously complex song.  The notes are all fast and multiple instruments are hitting from different angles.  It is pretty perfect, really, considering the player is dodging hundreds of bullets on screen at any given time.  Therefore, it only makes sense that any accompanying song would be heavy and intensely energetic.  

Grenade Man
from Mega Man 8 (PSX)
from Shusaku Uchiyama
Capcom; 1997

MM8 has already shown up a couple of times on my list already.  I cannot express enough how much I love this soundtrack.  It is so much more sophisticated than that of its predecessors (With the obvious exception of Mega Man X).  You can tell that they were trying to make themes that were catchy and memorable and that did not fall into the trap of sounding like “video game music”.  Grenade Man is a theme that definitely has a video game sound to it, but manages to blend the complexity of much of the game’s remaining themes with a more traditional Capcom sound.  The heavy synth lead is a powerful addition to the song, especially at the bridge, where the song just trumpets powerfully, expanding the sound and making everything sound just so full.  The jazz bass (a trademark of this soundtrack) also gives the song a pace and a groove that feels very different from other game themes to me.

Slinger’s Song
from Bastion
Composer: Darren Korb
Supergiant Games/Warner Bros.; 2011

Bastion is back with another dusty, gritty theme that mixes Western, blues and modern electronic ideas well and creates a song that could be used for everything from a lame rap battle, to the introduction of a James Woods character, to a blue jeans ad.  Yet, it works here because it holds to the atmosphere of the game and fits in with the styles portrayed therein.  It is a short loop, but it is endlessly memorable and catchy.

from Final Fantasy XII
Composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Hitoshi Sakimoto
SquareEnix; 2006

The Royal City of Rabanastre is the main hub of Final Fantasy XII, which means players who intend to complete this game in its entirety will be returning here a lot.  It only makes sense, then, to have a theme that feels right, sounds good and is not on a 45 second loop.  Otherwise players may find themselves going slowly insane over the course of the game.  Rabanastre’s theme is an anthemic and bright piece and ranks among my favorite “town themes” of all time.

Bright Man
from Mega Man IV
Composer: Minae Fujii
Capcom; 1991

Upbeat and fun is generally how I like my Mega Man music and it does not get much more upbeat than this.  Starting in a standard Rockman minor key, this song then expands into a bright and lively composition.  The last half of the song uses some fairly sophisticated chiptune effects like tremolo, fading and phasing to its benefit, making this a standout tune on the Mega Man IV soundtrack.

from Duck Tales
Composer: Hiroshige Tonomura
Capcom; 1989

I love this tune.  I can just imagine someone telling Tonomura-san, “Hey!  We want something that sounds like it belongs in a Dracula movie!  Not one of your GOOD video game song… Thingies!”  So what do we get, a song that does BOTH!  So there you have it.  One incredibly good game composer took an overused minor-key vampire theme and made it fit in with the rest of this awesome soundtrack.  Good job, sir!

Spark Man
from Mega Man III
Composer: Yasuaki Fujita, Harumi Fujita
Capcom; 1990

We round out the first half of my list with one of my favorite themes from Mega Man III.  Mega Man III was an important milestone for me as a gamer.  It was the point when I started playing games as a hobby, not just an occasional distraction.  I was about seven when this game came out and I had already been playing games for a few years with regularity.  As a young kid who was well beyond my years when it came to taste in music (I was listening to Heart, Talking Heads, Tears for Fears and Def Leppard at five), I was captivated by the music in this game.  At that point, I had not really paid too much attention to game music.  I mean, I heard some that I had liked, but I was never really a fan of game themes, only a fan of the games they came from.  Yet, something changed in my with Mega Man III.  I suppose this was the title that really, firmly cemented me as a hardcore Blue Bomber fanboy and that had a lot to do with it, but I like a lot of things about this soundtrack, and this tune in particular.  Spark Man’s theme starts with this warm, bright string intro and leads into a bouncy rock piece.  It flows well and it is one of those Mega Man themes that just seems to fit the stage well, with electrodes and circuits pulsing to the beat of the music.

Well, that is one hundred down!  From here on out, there is not going to be anything but huge titles and classic themes.  Things are going to get big here folks, so let’s keep this train moving!  We have one hundred more themes to go, all leading up to my ten favorites.  Stay with me and follow my blog for updates, you do NOT want to miss this...

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