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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My 200 Favorite Video Game Themes - Part 13: A Return from Absence

I am sorry about the delays. I have not been well and had to motivate myself to keep this blog updated. Thank you for your patience and enjoy!

Armored Armadillo
from Mega Man X
Composer: Setsuo Yamamoto
Capcom; 1993

Armored Armadillo’s theme is a high-energy rock guitar theme with a pretty slick feel to it.  It always gave me a sort of Motorhead vibe and it has a pretty long loop, even for Mega Man X.  The lead breaks into a solo just as it seems as though it was about to loop around to the start again.  It is a catchy tune from an excellent game.

Higan Retour ~ Riverside View
from Touhou: Phantasmagoria of Flower View
Composer: ZUN
2005; Team Shanghai Alice

A piano-heavy Touhou tune?  Nah….. . . . Komachi’s theme song from PoFV is a moody, dramatic and very anime-ish theme and it fits well in its catalogue of fellow fabulous Touhou themes.  It is one of my favorite themes of the series and it just gets better and better each time I listen to it.

ROX 300
from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: the Game
Composers: Anamanaguchi
2010; Ubisoft Montreal

So, Anamanaguchi again…  ROX 300, the boss theme that plays while fighting Roxy, is a bright and energetic tune that mixes some early-80’s sound with a late-90’s bridge.  The change in mood and ideas is a great musical concept that is not exercised very often.  You have Domino by Genesis, Eric Clapton’s Badge and a few other notable ones, but as far as video game themes go, composers tend to keep it simple.  That is why this song is on my list.  It surprised me the first time I heard it because the sound opens kind of jarring for a boss theme.  It has an Asian-style melody leading into a bubblegum power anthem.  It’s a strange blend, for sure, but it works for me.  I guess I would call it a “day-brightener”.

Summoned Beast Battle
from Final Fantasy X
Composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Masashi Hamauzu, Junya Nakano
Squaresoft; 2001

The theme that plays over the very last battle in the game is an intense and vivid orchestral and piano theme that features some powerful percussion.  This was a song that I wish got a little more attention.  It is one of a number of great themes from Final Fantasy X that tends to get lost amid the hype over themes like Besaid Island and To Zanarkand.  Yet, this is an excellent entry in the series’ long history of amazing boss themes.

The Wind Never Ceases
from Secret of Mana
Composer: Hiroki Kikuta
Squaresoft; 1993

It has been a very long time since I’ve played all the way through Secret of Mana.  The Lotfy Mountain theme has always stuck with me.  It is atmospheric and peaceful, with a haunting little piano piece over the top.  It was one of the themes from the early 90’s that I think really reflected a medium that was starting to mature in all the right ways.  As an early example of “games as art” Secret of Mana utilized music very well.  In fact, it may have used its soundtrack better than any other game of its time, at the very least until Final Fantasy VI would literally change everything about game music the following year.

Bomb Man
from Mega Man
Composer: Manami Mastumae
Capcom; 1987

Bomb Man, for me, was the single theme in the early Mega Man games that defined the series’ distinct and memorable sound.  It uses the limited resources of the NES exceptionally-well, and while it pales in comparison to the sophistication of titles in the coming years for the sereis’ and its host console, it is a strong trendsetter for a particular type of fun video game music.  On top of that, this theme is just intensely nostalgic for me.  

Still Alive
from Portal
Composer: Jonathan Coulton
Valve; 2007

I featured I Want You Gone in the previous entry, and Still Alive is just ahead because I think that, while an argument could be made for I Want You Gone being a better song as a whole, I did not  have the same reaction to it as I did Still Alive.  Still Alive fit with the mood of Portal well, but it was still a theme that came entirely out of left field for me.  It was very funny the first time I heard it, and while I still believe it is a charming little tune, it is the novel idea of having a theme song like this for a game that makes it so lasting.  It is praiseworthy, and flawlessly executed.

Chemical Plant Zone
from Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Composer: Masato Nakamura
Sega; 1999

Another great Sonic theme makes my list.  This time it is the funk-heavy Chemical Plant Zone theme.  This song features a layered groove that has a tone and flow that fits its level well.  Instead of going for a simple metallic-sounding theme, or one that is upbeat and bright (like most platformers of its day), Nakamura and the Sonic 2 development team gave us a strong piece with a nice beat and a slick melody.

Liberi Fatali
from Final Fantasy VIII
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
Squaresoft; 1999

Playing during the opening of Final Fantasy VIII, this song is the introduction to what is arguably one of the greatest game soundtracks in the history of the medium.  Liberi Fatali is an anthem of sorts that plays as we get glimpses of things to come.  It is also somewhat of a milestone in console gaming.  While games had orchestrated music before this, the technological limitations of consoles made it difficult to convey the songs properly.  They either were heavily digitized midi tunes, tin-can recordings, or converted tracks.  Final Fantasy VIII gave us a fully-orchestrated soundtrack that actually sounded like one, and Liberi Fatali was our introduction to this future of console gaming.  

Neo Kobe Steel Factor
from Contra III: The Alien Wars
Composers: Miki Higashino, Masanori Adachi, Tappi Iwase
Konami; 1992

Here is a good one!  As I have mentioned, Contra III is my favorite in the series and the Stage III theme is one of the best on its soundtrack.  It has an incredibly long loop, taking about half of the stage to complete, and it is very well-composed, going from an imposing opening to a smooth riff that builds until the song proper begins, a fast and excellent horn melody that is both tense and satisfying.  The chords that guide the song’s tone shift from minor to major, creating an atmospheric gradient.  It is a delightful tune and I could easily listen to it all day.

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