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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Beep Bop Boop: Top 10 Favorite Video Game Musical Tracks

I’ve been gravitating more and more toward video games if you haven’t noticed.  I don’t necessarily think this is straying too far from the toy theme.  Take a look at Mark Bellomo’s “Totally Tubular 80’s Toys” and you’ll see he has a whole section of vintage game machines from Coleco Vision to the Nintendo Entertainment System.  I did start my blogging on joystickdivision.com and the cblogs over at Destructoid so I'm just expanding this direction a bit more.  Also, I've kinda gotten back into playing a bit heavier since February when I was teaching full-time so it's on my mind a little more often.   I've been wanting to do this post for a while now but haven't organized it sufficiently (or was motivated) enough to complete it.  Don't worry.   I have a Transformers and Star Wars post coming up very soon.
What I'd like to speak of is what, in my opinion, is the finest selection of music presented in video games over the years.  This is an all-encompassing list from 8 to a million bits and everything in between.  These are all from games that, for the most part, have amazing total soundtracks and really presented challenges for me to actually pinpoint and choose one specific track.  Tell me what you think whether you agree, disagree, or have some choices of your own!

1. Peaceful ending – Act Raiser
In-Game Version

Orchestral Version
This song is absolutely beautiful.  Probably the first time I heard a track in a game and really thought to myself, "this could easily be in a movie."  Composed by the masterful skills of Yuzo Koshiro who actually had it performed in a special symphonic suite in 2004 in Leipzig, Germany.   This finale track really let's you sit back and take in everything you've done as you observe each of the lands you saved with exceptionally well written stories to wrap up each of your town's elders stories.  After all is said and done, you get a nice picked up medley of themes starting with (somehow) the 20th century Fox fanfare to kick it off to boot!  No matter where you go in this game, you have amazing tracks.  The opening title screen is epic, the sky palace has ethereal organ music to accompany your deity, even the crescendo of descending into the battles is great with that sustained lone horn as you are about to play the level.

2. Maniac Mansion – Opening Theme

This soundtrack was composed for the NES version by David Warhole (AD&D series) and George Sanger (7th Guest and 11th Hour)  and it is one of the best NES overall soundtracks.  It really utilizes everything it can get form the chiptune limitations.  Each character has their own individual track from funk to punk rock to surfer music but the opening theme is my personal favorite.  I remember most of the Lucas Arts games having some great old-school music.  Both of these composers would team up again for the NES version of Disney's the Rocketeer.

3. Toe Jam and Earl – Big Earl Bump

Probably some of the best original music in a game.  By original, I mean a game that truly produced stuff you will never hear again in a game of any thematic selection.  I doubt there are many Funk based-Alien-Beatbox titles slated for release any time soon.  Composer John Baker does a great job with the Genesis library of sounds and puts forth some of the catchiest music ever put out on the system.  In the first game, especially, the music outshines the actual game.

4. Final Fantasy II (IV) - Battle Theme

This was one game where I really think the whole soundtrack could be on the list.  From the Redwings theme, the towns, Palom and Porom's theme, the town music, boss battles and the opening which is one of the all time best tracks in video game music's history.   The track is selected is the Battle Theme.  It just really encapsulates what this game is about.  Banding your party together, hanging on as you take on insurmountable odds, keeping each other alive...I never saw this in a game or heard music like it and my 11 year old mind was blown.  Nobuo Uematsu composed this soundtrack as well as almost every other Final Fantasy game ever made.  This, I think, is his finest work by far.

5. Star Tropics - Captain Bell

Very unsung or overlooked gem of a game with a smashing soundtrack to top it off.  People have called it a Zelda clone, Action, RPG, etc.  However you slice it, it is an immersive, original piece of work deserving of proper attention.  The soundtrack is very well done with an island theme appropriate to the settings while it turns up the drama as the stakes get higher in the caves and eventually spaceship? Yeah, I know...I hate the end to this game too.  This and Shecola are my two favorite Island themes and who could forget playing the giant organ? This composer was hard to find out much about other than a name of Y. Hurai...strange, wish I could find out what else he's done.

(I couldn't decide on one specific track for each game let alone the series so I broke it into 3 and a half tracks from 3 separate games, enjoy!)

Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest – Silence of Daylight (Town Theme)

This game by far has the best music of any NES Castlevania title.  Composed by Kenichi Matsubara and containing classics still used today like Bloody Tears, you can't go wrong with this game's music, despite what problems the game itself may have.  I also love the woods and mansion themes.  This town theme though, what a great multi-leveled 8-bit piece of talent!

Symphony of the Night – Requiem for the Gods (Royal Chapel)

A perfect Castlevania theme if ever there was one.  This was composed by the very talented Michiru Yamane who has done every sequential sequel for the series since SOTN. (she also did SkullGirls and Rocket Knight Adventures...weird) This is a perfect mix of organ. chorus and works in game even better with the hollow sound of the church bells in the tower lofts.  Sad, Lonely and perfect for a game with vampires fighting vampires.

Super Castlevania IV- Entrance Hall/Chandeliers

In-game Version
Orchestral Version
Wow!  This one is the beginning 6-1 and 6-2 of the level.  My favorite level of the game as well when you finally get inside Dracula's castle.  It's pure 16 bit throwback to the original Castlevania's first level.   Then you are balancing for your life swinging from chandelier to chandelier in mode-7 craziness.  It was duel composed by Masanori Adachi and Taro Kudo (Super Mario RPG) from Konami studios.  This track was so good they remastered it in orchestral goodness at Castlevania: The Concert in Stockholm,  Sweden in 2010 where SOTN composer Michiru Yamane was performing on the piano along with the full orchestra!

7. Metal Gear Solid – Encounter!

"INTRUDER!"  Such great, dramatic music that raises the frantic level about 100 points.  If stealth, evasion and sneaking could have a flag-track, this would be it.   Granted, there are some other great tracks like Psycho Mantis's theme or the intro music or even the title screen's computer-esque motif with the ever present woodblocks touches when you're sneaking around.  Pure tension on overdrive. All of this was brought to life by the in-house Konami composer musicians, notably Kazuki Muraoka who did the original Metal Gear.

8. Batman Arkham City – Title Screen

I could listen to this track and be totally in a Batman induced trance.  Such a great buildup with the low horns.  Honestly, I'm waiting for the Nolan BatMan theme to kick in at any time over the low staccato beats in the beginning.   It seems like a perfect mix of the Burton, Nolan and animated themes rolled into one yet original on it's own.  Dark, Heroic and Dramatic.  Nick Arundel, who also did Arkham Asylum, hits it right on the head next to Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer.

9. Rygar – Guru

This track is mysterious, moody and fits the setting perfectly.  Composed by T. Hasuya who was also known for his awesome work on Clash at Demonhead. (Waiting for that VC release any year now) Sad that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ripped it off note for note.  Rygar is an overlooked old school gem that I often hear people discount as a throwaway game for being to hard, to slow, or boring.  I enjoyed it profusely and that has a lot to do with the sound direction.  It has such an early feel to it and I think it works perfectly.

10. Rayman Origins – Treasure Chest Chase

Few games based on cartoons really put you in a situation where the music is a character all it's own.  This is one of those games where every frame of animation oozes the love and time put into it and the soundtrack is no different.  Again, as with most mentioned games here, each level has its own unique feel but I gotta say, I  loved the banjo twang of the treasure chase scene since I heard it as the promo theme a year ago.  Christophe Heral and Billy Martin put this together so nicely, I don't even mind dying over and over and over trying to win that ruby tooth.


  1. These are some great choices! I recently did a Top 10 list of my favorite Nintendo game music, and even though it's a SUPER Nintendo game, I HAD to give an honorable mention to Super Castlevania IV. I love that game's entire soundtrack. Not to mention it's one of my favorite games ever.

    1. I saw your list...Blaster Master was on my list until the last second! I usually have the Zelda theme (or some variation of it) playing in my head during my drive to work...nerd alert. haha

  2. Awesome list. Arkham city and Simons quest were def awesome!


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