This past Wednesday, (while everyone and their stepmothers was at Comic Con) I got to check out the Video Games Live show at the Verizon Amphitheatre a.k.a. Irvine Meadows, for you veteranos. And I thought to myself, geez, they hit a pretty good cross section of my favorite video game tracks, but that doesn’t mean I still can write a post entitled “Agent Earl’s Top 10 Video Game Tracks… of ALL TIME!”
Little pretentious, eh? “OF ALL TIME!” How do we know that ancient Mesopotamians didn’t have video games, right? They could be like… undiscovered or… biodegraded… or something.
Alright. List. Oh, also, enjoyment of this post may be increased exponentially by ownership of a Spotify account. It’s free!I threw in a couple of my favorite remixes/covers for good measure. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them, too!
1. Legend of Zelda (Main Theme) – Composer: Koji Kondo
How can you not love this man’s work? If there’s one thing that Kondo is an absolute master of, it’s the ability to compose a strong, catchy melody that doesn’t get tiresome or annoying. The culmination of that is this tune. Additionally, it perfectly captures the feeling of heroism and exploration that is embodied by not only this original title, but the franchise as a whole. The Bossa Nova style remix by the OneUps is refreshing look at this classic tune. I can say that now, “classic,” right? It is almost 30 years old, after all.
Video Games Live
The OneUps – Bossa De Link (The Legend of Zelda)
2. Final Fantasy VII – One-Winged Angel – Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
Sephiroth. Man, if I was writing an entry on the top video game baddies of all time, Sephiroth would definitely be somewhere near the top of that list. I mean, the guy is the embodiment of single-minded, reckless hate. He offs probably one of the most fan-beloved characters in the gaming history, and smiles about it. Still, for some reason, we’re obsessed with the guy. It’s probably the Masamune. Who wouldn’t want to wield that much badassery? Who realistically could? Anyway, an unrelenting badass villain needs an unrelenting theme song, and One-Winged Angel is it. Complete a Latin chorus and heavy driving guitar in some versions, just listening to the song makes you want to break things and drive at unsafe speeds. I saw Nobuo Uematsu perform/conduct this live with a full orchestra and the Black Mages, let me say… the floor was damper than when Thanos shows up at the end of Avengers.
With the Black Mages
Black Wing Metamorphosis
3. Warcraft 3/World of Warcraft – A Call to Arms – Composer: Jason Hayes
The only word that can properly encapsulate this track is “epic.” It is mother effing epic. Used since the early 2000’s by Blizzard in their teaser trailers/opening cinematics, “Call to Arms” has never failed to really get my adrenaline pumping and get me excited to play a game. It’s like a good movie. It starts out real quiet, easing you into the world that’s laid out before you, and then the choir comes in and you’re like, “Oh man, this is getting real.” And by the last “Desidiratus bellum!” You’re all “FOR THE HORDE!!!!” or “FOR THE ALLIANCE!!” whatever floats your boat. I’m gonna click on Stormstrike so effin HARD!! I threw in an early trailer for Warcraft 3 with Peter Cullen doing the VO – because all good things are made more epic by the voice of Optimus Prime. Then they’re made less epic by bad movies.
4. Castlevania – Stage 1 Theme – Composer: Kinuyo Yamashita
Castlevania 1, the source of my childhood need for profanity. Godawful fraggin Medusa heads! What the flying fart!? The awesome thing about the game, though, was the great theme music they used to start the first stage. It was an interesting mix of foreboding with a sense of protagonist swagger. The Minibosses did a version mashed up with the Stage 3 theme a while back on electric guitars. After listening to it, it almost felt like all these years, the Castlevania theme was meant to played on that instrument. Take an audio gander!
5. Final Fantasy 6 – Celes’ Theme/Maria & Draco – Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
Depending on where you were, or when you started playing video games, you may know this under a different roman numerical value. In the US, it was originally released on the Super Nintendo as Final Fantasy 3, which of course has paved the way for confusing conversations at GameStops the world over. Celes: she was Aeris before Aeris was even a thing. Or maybe that’s Terra and Celes is Tifa? I don’t know. I do know that smack dab in the middle of FF3, there was this huge 16-bit opera centerpiece that honestly made me think, “WTF is going on right now?” Well, that’s what I thought back in the 90s. Now, I’m kind of impressed by it. If you think about when this game was released, storage space on a cartridge was short, and to devote all that space to sprites, text, music, and backgrounds for the opera had to have been a bit of a sell. In the end, it was worth it though, as its true purpose is revealed in heartwrenching fashion later on in the game. To this day, when people talk about sad video game themes, this one always comes up. A haunting tune, Celes’ theme conjures up feelings of loneliness like few other can. As a testament to its place in gamer memory, the opera has even been adapted for live performance. Yup. An operatic-type piece that started off in a video game.
6. Lunar Silver Star Stories – Wind’s Nocturne (Luna’s Boat Song) – Composer: Noriyuki Iwadare
I was actually first introduced to this by an early flash animation entitled “Shii’s Song,” which was about a cartoon feline’s unrequited love for a round-the-way tomcat and featured a chimpunked treatment of Jenny Stigile’s amazing English rendition. I went back to play the game, and it really is a great example of 90s J-RPGs. I liked the song so much, I may have covered it myself and posted it on YouTube, then linked it in a blog I may be currently writing.
OC Remix Cover
7. Dragon Warrior – Overworld Theme – Koichi Sugiyama
Holy heck. Dragon Warrior is the game that got me started on RPGs. I blame all the social awkwardness and vitamin D deficiencies on you, Dragon Warrior. Is that even your real name? I heard the guy down at the game shop call you Dragon Quest or something. Anyway, I used to be frightened to death of yellow jell-o because of this game. I still loved it. And I loved the overworld theme. The song just feels like wandering outdoors, somewhere idyllic, doesn’t it? Then that dreaded encounter sound would play and you’d have to either stab that slime to death or run for your life.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmu2KIi627Y (This is actually DWII, but I like this too.)
8. Chrono Trigger – At the Bottom of the Night – Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda
What an awesome game, right? Multiple endings. Awesome action RPG fights. Time travel. Robots. Frog Men. I could go on. But, I’m just going to say that every time something sad would happen in the game, they pulled out this tune and increased damage to the feels by 300%.
9. Halo – Halo Theme – Composers: Michael O’Donnel and Michael Salvatori
The really awesome thing about this theme is that as soon as that first choral note comes out, you know it’s Halo. That, and the theme does an amazing job evoking the feel of the game. It’s otherworldly, yet familiar. It’s calm (like the Master Chief), but then drives hard later on. I, for one, find it impossible to diassociate the score from the game, and that’s when you know it’s good. That’s when you know you’re about to get filled with a dozen, exploding, heat-seeking, purple needles.
10. Super Mario Bros. 2 – Main Theme – Composer: Koji Kondo
Did you really think we were gonna make it to the end of this list without a Super Mario Bros. nod? Impossible. This one just happens to be my favorite of that bunch. There’s no other theme that screams “HAPPY!” as much as this one does. Which, I suppose, is ironic, since Mario & Co. are beset by death on all sides. Or is it just a dreaaaammmm!? Pretend I didn’t say that. At least that what I heard as an explanation for the huge switch in gameplay between this title and it’s predecessor. Also, Super Famicom players might remember this as a Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic refitting. The Minibosses version below is a mashup of several of the level themes, and if possible increases the happy feeling begotten by listening to the original version. It’s just so… snappy.
Portal – Still Alive (The Cake is a Lie) – Composer: Jonathan Coulton
Do I really need a reason to like this song? If “being awesome” is a reason, chalk it up as number 1.
Cover w/ Sarah Quin
TombRaider 2013 – A Survivor is Born – Composer: Jason Graves
I might be biased, but I do genuinely like the theme for the new Tomb Raider. Reason being, I sort of find the lack of strong melodies or leitmotifs in cinematic scoring leaves the overall package a bit lackluster. Graves definitely built his score around a very memorable leitmotif, and that’s something I truly do admire about the work.