from Mega Man III
Composers: Yasuaki Fujita, Harumi Fujita
Mega Man III makes its final appearance on my list. I have expressed before the personal effect this game has had on me, both as a gamer and a pop culture fan. I learned a lot about gaming from Mega Man III and it was also where I really started to reflect on the value of game music. It is something that I had not considered until I played this game as a child. Magnet Man’s theme, in particular, has always been a standout game theme. It is melodically captivating with an excellent bridge at the end. Some themes have stuck with me out of nostalgia but I would say that this tune is both nostalgic and outstanding in its own right.
A Violent Encounter
from Shadow of the Colossus
Composer: Kow Otani
Sony Japan Studio; 2005
Shadow of the Colossus is one of a few games I would label as “perfect”. It is like a vivid Vermeer, full of life and detail. The world has an unspoken history and it feels aged. The majestic guardians of the land are kept in their own prisons throughout the world, and these places have a story that is captivating and awe-inspiring, though never fully explained. There is something about this myth and the world it inhabits that stands out among other games. Instead of being a volume of exposition and plot twists, Shadow of the Colossus is like an abstract history explained through pictures, though never fully detailed in any way. There are gamers so enamored with this world that there have been countless attempts by fans online to break down and decipher the jigsaw puzzle that is the history of the game’s desolate hidden landscape and like the world in which Wander’s quest is set, its soundtrack is full of themes that are stunning and captivating. A Violent Encounter is among the game’s more menacing tracks. It is the sound of danger, in a simple loop that thunderously kicks in as the player faces yet another powerful and mighty threat.
Cell Stage 2
from Life Force
Composer: Miki Higashino
Miki Higashino returns to my list yet again, this time for her work on the game Life Force. This is one of my favorite soundtracks of the 8-bit era and the varying levels, full of strange and wonderful visual ideas, are all complimented by excellent music. Higashino, along with Iwase and Adachi, worked on some of Konami’s best soundtracks, and this early creation of her’s is among her greatest achievements. The sound of each track has the feel of a classic sci-fi anthem mixed with the sound of a high-energy late-80’s score. Few game composers have worked on soundtracks that so perfectly reflect the settings and themes of their games as Konami’s astounding sound team, and Higashino is the driving force behind their greatest compositions. The theme from the fourth stage has a slightly unsettling tone, while at the same time reflecting the title’s persisting adventurous feel. It is a sublime duality best heard while playing the game, as the flow of the stage perfectly reflect the song’s mesmerizing mood.
from Mega Man 7
Composers: Yuko Takahara, Hayato Kaji, Toshifumi Ōnishi, Kazunori Tazaki, Tatsuya Yoshikawa
Mega Man 7 has a far more bright and upbeat soundtrack than gamers of its time were typically used to outside of a few titles from Nintendo. It was a risk, for sure, to create a bright and almost care-free-sound for the themes to such an action-packed game, but Mega Man 7 (as well as Mega Man 8), managed to take the series’ sound in what I believe was a solid direction. As the Mega Man X spin-offs were focusing primarily on hard rock sounds and intensity, Freeze Man’s theme actually has sort of the opposite effect. The theme is bright, even happy, and the way it all flows through its major key sound is part of its charm.
from Final Fantasy X
Composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Masashi Hamauzu, Junya Nakano
Final Fantasy has been so ever-present on my list that I would not blame anyone for accusing me of being a fanboy. To that I say, “If you are referring to the music, then yes. Yes I am.” I believe Final Fantasy, as a series, has produced the best game music of any other game franchise. The varying level of quality for the games aside, there is no denying the achievements that were the titles’ soundtracks. So much so, that the series has spawned multiple major concerts. We are not talking about cosplay and fanboy t-shirts here, either. No, these were black-tie affairs performed by major orchestras. The series’ respected works have become pop culture legend and continue to be the standard by which all other game music is measured for many gamers. Final Fantasy X’s soundtrack is full of themes that have varying emotional ideas, and as the story progresses, the music becomes more and more mournful. However, at the beginning of the story the accompanying themes reflected the wonder of the journey ahead, and there is probably no theme in the game that better expresses the feel of this strange place than the theme from Besaid Island. It is welcoming, cheerful and acts as a stunning early impression to the game’s standard-setting soundtrack.
from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Composer: Michiru Yamane
Symphony of the Night is the title most Castlevania fans consider to be the series’ greatest achievement. The castle is vast, full of threats that vary from the smallest nuisance to the mightiest of threats. Along with the outstanding level design and deep gameplay there lies a compelling soundtrack filled with varying musical ideas. Marble Gallery is an epic track. It features the well-known and beloved Castlevania pace and tone, while also presenting a distinct sound and unique melody that mixes a classic style with modern ideas.
from Chrono Cross
Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda
Chrono Cross is undeniably a strange title. There are things in this game that make you wonder what sort of mushroom Funguy actually is. One thing that I think has not been called into question, however, is the game’s much beloved soundtrack. The intro theme to Chrono Cross, entitled Time’s Scar, is a mighty Celtic anthem that is energetic, moving and triumphant. The violin played in this theme is one of my all time favorite melodies in game music. I have not played through this game in years yet this one tune has always been in the back of my mind. It is truly unforgettable.
from Final Fantasy VII
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
...And speaking of unforgettable. I do not think this song needs any introduction. Aerith’s Theme from Final Fantasy VII has become one of the most recognizable tunes in video game history, most commonly associated with one of the most shocking and heartbreaking character deaths in modern popular culture. It ranks high among the most memorable sequences in gaming history and this tune fits perfectly in the moment. It is a soothing and heartfelt theme that is just as moving now as it was when the game was first released.
Dance of the Holyman
from Super Castlevania IV
Composers: Masanori Adachi, Taro Kudo
One of the first themes heard as one picks up Castlevania IV, Dance of the Holyman, Simon’s theme, is a tune that instantly evokes the feeling of an heroic achievement. The tune has an action-packed feel to it while remaining true to the series’ unique and unmistakable sound. From its striking opening measures to way the song breaks down into a jazz bass verse is all seamless and perfect. This is a tune I always look forward to hearing.
from Shadow of the Colossus
Composer: Kow Otani
Sony Japan Studio; 2005
Heard quite early in the game, Revived Power is a powerful encouragement to the player to keep fighting on. As a huge, lumbering beast fights off its aggressor, this tune seems to react to its struggle. It has the threatening tone of the other themes in the game, but also has an adventurous feel to it. It is a fun theme. It is one that makes you want to keep pushing forward. However, despite how great this soundtrack is, Shadow of the Colossus makes its final appearance on my list at number 21.