As I’ve said many times “In video games, gameplay is king”; however, music can make a huge difference. A strong soundtrack can elevate a weak game to greatness, while a weak soundtrack can suck the life out of a great game. I’ve decided to outline my top five picks for best soundtracks, which is special. Yes, internet, that means that I’m writing two extra paragraphs today, so you should be super thankful. Musical taste is subjective, so my picks aren’t necessarily going to be yours, so keep that in mind. I am also not going to be including any Final Fantasy game on this list. The reason for this is because every Final Fantasy has such exceptional music, and I would put any of them as my fifth pick. However, since I can’t elevate one above the others, the series gets ignored.
|It is insane the stuff you can make with Mario Paint|
5.) Persona 4
This is about as subjective as I get here. Persona 4 has one of the best J-pop inspired soundtracks that you will find. The requirement that you like upbeat J-pop music is important to appreciating the soundtrack, however. The soundtrack was made by Shōji Meguro who has worked heavily on the Shin Megami Tensei franchise since the release of the original Persona game back in 1999. This soundtrack takes a lot of queues from Persona 3, which introduced J-pop to the traditionally dour soundtracks of the series. However, the boss battle themes seem to take queues from Digital Devil Saga’s battle and boss themes. Every new dungeon has a unique theme and most of them are very catchy and interesting. There are several different boss themes, and the normal battle theme will definitely bore into you head. The selection I have chosen for this game is called “Heaven”. It is one of the dungeon themes and is supposed to invoke the world view of a child, and one of the most unconventional dungeon themes you will find in all of gaming.
4.) Chrono Cross
A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a music related article from 1up. It described Chrono Cross’ music as having Northern Ireland/England musical influences. In my entire life, I had never noticed this. The reason for this is that Chrono Cross’ soundtrack is so good that I associate the music style with the island setting of the game and not from the real-world inspirations for the game. It was designed by Yasunori Mitsuda, who had created the Chrono Trigger soundtrack. The game is split into two worlds and the two world map musics work perfectly. Home world being upbeat and familiar with a variation of the Chrono Trigger theme, while Another world has a far more worrisome, yet serene theme. The battle music, to me is the major downfall of the game’s soundtrack. It’s wacky, which works at times, but for more serious battles it falls flat. The boss music is much better, but it still doesn’t compare to the environmental music. My selection for Chrono Cross is “Time’s Scar” which is the opening theme of the game, and one of the best opening themes that have ever been made, setting the mood for the game perfectly.
3.) Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
The last game ever made in the prestigious Breath of Fire series is a major departure for the series. Instead of being a very traditional JRPG like its predecessors, Dragon Quarter became more of a dungeon crawler, which, unfortunately, alienated fans. Dragon Quarter’s soundtrack was made by Hitoshi Sakimoto, who is the composer of both Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII. Like his work on XII and tactics, the Dragon Quarter soundtrack is often very subtle. The game is set in an underground society with the lead trying to escape to the surface world, which was obliterated by war in the past. The dirty, industrial world is embodied very well in the soundtrack. Unlike Chrono Cross, there are several battle themes and boss themes which play appropriately to the intensity of the battle you are facing. My selection for Dragon Quarter is called “Electric Power Building”, it is the last destination before the party breaks into the top layer of the society. It’s a calm, serene theme that holds an undercurrent of tension as the party closes in on the final leg of their journey.
2.) Chrono Trigger
Yes, I do hate having both Chrono Cross and Trigger together in the same article; however, both games most assuredly deserve to be on the list. Like its sequel, Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack was composed by Yasunori Mitsuda. This is the oldest game on the list and it stands head and shoulders above just about any soundtrack you will find out there even today. The themes are extremely varied, from soul-crushingly sad themes to exciting blood-pumping boss battles. The game takes place over several time periods, all of which have their own themes. The Prehistoric world has the kind of jungle beats you would expect. The Middle Ages has a sad, antiquated sound. The Modern age is a variation of the Chrono Trigger theme, and the Ruined Future has a ruined empty theme. Making a selection for Chrono Trigger was the hardest thing I had to do with this post. Do I give Magus’ battle theme in all of its awesome glory, or do I give the good old fashioned Chrono Trigger theme? I decided to choose “Undersea Palace”, which is, in my opinion, the finest dungeon theme ever made.
Nier is the newest games on the list and it is a very divisive game. Fans of the game consider it one of the greatest games of this generation, while other people consider it to be quite horrible. Whether you love it or hate it, Nier has one of the greatest soundtracks ever made for a video game. The soundtrack was composed by Keiichi Okabe. The game’s soundtrack probably has the most vocals you’ll see in any video game soundtrack. These vocals were made by Emi Evans, who took several languages and modified them in order to fit the ruined future featured in the game. Everything from the field music, to boss battles is exceptional. From a serene seaside town, to a clanky ruined factory, Nier’s music always fits the setting, and it’s always exceptional. My selection for this game “Sound of the Ancients/Fate” is a late game boss battle, while it’s an excellent theme, I can’t stress enough that it isn’t a special theme. The entire soundtrack reeks with quality and I could easily put any theme in here to show off how excellent this soundtrack is.
Well there is my list. You may have noticed that these are all Japanese, and are all RPGs in fact. The reason for this isn’t because western games don’t have good soundtracks, but because there is a different approach among western games. Western soundtracks, with exceptions, mirror Hollywood blockbuster soundtracks in that they are merely background music, which are meant to add to the action of the game. Battle music is mostly heavy metal, and environmental music is mostly silence and sound effects. The music I’ve highlighted can stand on its own outside of a gaming context. Those are my picks, which I’m sure are different than yours. Let me know in the comments what your top five picks are.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer