What’s your favorite?
Madonna once said, “Music makes the people come together.” She also said, “There’s, like no lessons…. There’s, like, no books about anything,” probably in that stupid fake British voice she has going on. She’s right about the music, it does bring people together. Stand in line at a theme park, walk around a mall, as soon as a popular song comes on the radio you should be able to look around and see people mouthing if not outright singing along. It’s also probably an Ed Sheeran song that’s playing.
I can’t make fun of the Halifax ginger because he’s on my iTunes. But over the years, singers like him have been replaced in my life by more and more video game music. I am a huge fan of orchestral recordings and my plate has runneth over the past two decades with all the brilliant music that has come out. From the jazzy fun of Super Mario 3D World to the intense majesty of Metal Gear Solid, my walks and workouts have become a hell of a lot more epic since I’ve replaced Kanye with Koji Kondo. My playlist changes every day, but the same song always gets me started. It’s the song that, when I close my eyes, turns my boring exercise routines in a stunning adventure. It is, as this title implies, the “Dragon Quest Overture.”
Theme songs are so incredibly important in gaming. When you put in a cartridge, insert a disc or find your way to the arcade to check out the attract video, it’s the first thing that really gets you in the mood for what you’re about to experience. No single song does that better than the “Dragon Quest Overture.” It perfectly captures the fun adventurous spirit of every game in the series. With horns blazing, it announces its arrival like royalty before sweeping you through Koichi Sugiyama’s masterful composition. Whether in midi or backed by a full orchestra, it’s a stunningly powerful way to set the tone for a 40- to 100-hour adventure.
Doesn’t that make you just want to go kill some slimes? It’s the perfect theme song, so sorry to everyone else who will all be tied for runner-up.
Whenever I’m in the mood to listen to a particular theme or soundtrack, I usually just pop in that game. It’s a little less convenient than playing it on any major media provider, but it works for me. Castlevania: Symphony of the Nightis one of the few I can’t do that with though as I’m constantly trying to experience it.
Whether it’s the wistful sounds of “Lost Painting” or the upbeat tempo of “Alucard’s Theme,” I’m usually in the mood to partake in some portion of Symphony of the Night. I really hope that one day Castlevaniasees a resurgence (the show is helping) and it gets its own symphonic concert one day!
Imagine it’s 1996. We are barely a few years removed from game music sounding like shitty MIDIs produced on sound chips. Typical game intros were little more than a title card and the developer/publisher credits. Your buddy just got some fancy “PlayStation” thing, and you pop in Soul Blade. And then this plays. How could you not get ALL THE HYPE?
It does make me sad, though. Namco gave us “The Edge of Soul” and never again reached this pinnacle of video game music. They should have carried on… what they believed in from the very start…
Kevin Mersereau (akaDeadMoon)
Look, I pride myself in my “obscure” collection of garage rock/punk records. I’m a super jaded, aged hipster, and I’ve got a reputation to protect! That’s why we’re going to keep this next bit just between us Dtoiders: I fucking love the theme song for Persona 4: Golden, “Shadow World.”
The second that harmonica kicks in, I’m completely powerless. I want to smile, dance, and take part in, suspiciously choreographed, musical numbers. It’s not a big deal, OK?!? These things happen to everyone! This game got deep down under my skin, and “Shadow World” takes me right back to the wonderful year I spent in Inaba. Sometimes, it’s alright to admit that “fun things are fun.”
Occams Electric Toothbrush
You ever heard something that just grabs you? A song or melody demands your attention and causes you to stop what you are doing and acknowledge it completely. It’s like a sonic lance that pierces your consciousness and plunges into the deep places where you keep all of the soft bits that make you the person you are.
That’s “Panacea” from the Hyper Light Drifter ost composed by Disasterpeace. It has a sad, almost ethereal quality. Like you are hearing the echoes of a song that was played a long time ago. It feels like its missing parts; that it was once this grand moment that’s a broken shell now but the essence has survived even if it’s just a shadow. The lilting piano sounds like a stone skipping over still black waters and the synth build up to match the notes gives it this fuzziness, like a fever dream. It’s brilliant and potent and it demands my attention as great art should.
One of the most iconic songs in game history is also one of the most emotionally-driving themes. Choir-like “awing” evokes a sense of mystery before the tempo ramps up letting you know it’s time to go kick ass. Michael Salvatori and Martin O’Donnell are some of the best in the industry and their work on Haloalone is a big reason why. I’m no musician, but the use of drums matches both the tribal aspect of the Covenant and the feeling of close-quarter combat.
Every now and then I end up listening to a bunch of Halomusic to draw up both nostalgia and emotions the music itself masterfully evokes. The songs and their titles often tell a story on their own, even if don’t have the in-game context, such as “Heretic, Hero” or “In Amber Clad” from Halo 2. Anyway, this theme is what started it all, and what started your unforgettable first journey into the world of Halo.
There are so many classic gaming themes to pick from that this decision became overwhelming. What do I pick that truly represents one of my favorite games? If I go with Mario, I usually hum the theme for World 1-1 or something from Super Mario Bros 3. If I go with Zelda, I typically think of “Gerudo Valley” or “Saria’s Song”. Those aren’t main themes, so that doesn’t really apply.
One theme song that does get me conjuring memories of its game is “Grabbag,” otherwise known as the main theme for Duke Nukem 3D. That iconic guitar riff was all over the place in the late ’90s and is still referenced with the character to this day. The king might as well be dead, but you’ll never forget his image when that lick starts blaring.
If you need any more proof of how glorious the theme is, then take a listen to Megadeth’s cover of it. Yes, that is right! Megadeth did a cover of the theme for the Japanese edition of their 1999 album Risk. You can’t get any more metal than that.
I could come up with thirty answers to this question, most of us could, but I’m going with the opening of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City as my choice. I don’t think this needs too much explanation. It’s a masterpiece in mood-setting. The intro theme (preceded by the excellent company idents) captures a place, a time, a style and an attitude.
I would let it play through in its entirety every single time I loaded the game, allowing its simplistic but luscious, opulent, and sinister electro-vibes wash over me, always perfectly setting the scene for the neon-soaked nihilism to follow.
Normally, I’m really into hip-hop or punk-rock stuff, I grew up on the Tony Hawk Pro Skater OST and Crazy Taxi OST. But I can’t think of any other song or theme for a game this catchy that simply repeats the name of the game over and over.
Daytona USA’s “Let’s Go Away” composed and sung by Takenobu Mitsuyoshi somehow manages to achieve exactly that. Every time I listen to it, it invokes memories of going to my local arcade in the mall and seeing and playing the Daytona USA machine with my older cousins. To eventually getting Daytona USA 2001 on my SEGA Dreamcast and spending countless hours playing it, with the wonderful voice of Takenobu Mitsuyoshi being ingrained into my nine-year-old mind.
If there’s one thing CJ is today, it’s wrong.
If there’s one thing that stuck in the minds of gamers throughout the years, it’s the theme song of Metal Gear Solid 3, the titular “Snake Eater.” The iconic song is a masterpiece, creating a James Bond-esque intro when paired with the intro visuals. It just works as a whole. The vocals of Cynthia Harrell and the grand orchestra come together to perform an amazing song that reaches heights others fail to achieve.
What also makes the song so great is how much it works in Metal Gear material. Climbing up a long ladder that would normally be lame? Sing the lyrics in the background, suddenly it’s the greatest gameplay sequence of the year. Two old men fighting on top of a mobile fortress? Throw on “Snake Eater” and suddenly it’s rad. Putting Mario in a chokehold? “Snake Eater “it, suddenly you’re doing it for the greater good. Need an unlockable collectible to pad out your incomplete game? Have one of those collectibles unlock “Snake Eater” and it’s all good.
Somewhere out there, there’s a parallel universe where “Snake Eater” doesn’t exist. I feel bad for that universe.
There are so many great themes to choose from (seriously, we should revisit game music like monthly), but the one that came immediately to mind is “Terra’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI. It plays while the party is exploring the overworld map and it is absolutely perfect for that.
The underlying rhythm of the bass invokes a feeling of marching across vast distances with the party. After a few bars of that setup, the high wind melody kicks in, as if played by a minstrel following along. Then the bridge hits, the plodding rhythm stops and the sweeping strings come in, underlining how vast and important this journey is.
I hum “Terra’s Theme” to myself when I’m hiking the wilderness. Heck, when I first played through Final Fantasy VI, my roommate at the time would spontaneously break out his radio voice and begin to narrate the events on screen as if it were the audiobook for a twelve-volume epic. It simultaneously captures the action of long distance on-foot travel and the importance of the events that occur when the party finally reaches its destination.
While Darren’s choice is a solid one, I was thinking more generalized for this topic. Final Fantasy‘s “Prelude” is too damn iconic to gloss over. Those first few notes bring back waves of nostalgia that are unrivaled to me. Personally, it all started with Final Fantasy VII, but the Prelude means different things to different people, and that’s why it’s so amazing.
The same can be said for the battle and victory themes, which are equally memorable and ubiquitous, but they just don’t hit me the same way “Prelude” does. My head immediately jumps to the sound effects of the menus and the little finger cursor that I love so very much. The Final Fantasy series is filled to the brim with amazing choices and there really is no wrong answer here!
I am glad everyone else here is wrong so I can point out that the best title them in any game ever is Journey to Silius by Sunsoft on the NES. By composer Naoki Kodaka, the entire game has an amazing soundtrack as is typical of Sunsoft titles, which were famous for pushing the absolute shit out of the NES for the best sound available. If you compare most Sunsoft games to any other NES game, it’s immediately noticeable how good the sound is.
But just listen; the game screams adventure. It gets you fucking pumped right from the start. And it doesn’t end there. The first level theme is all “Yeah, let’s fuckin’ do this.” The entire soundtrack is great. Silius was meant to be a game in the Terminator franchise, but when licensing fell through, Sunsoft went ahead and made this side scrolling shooter anyways, and it is a bit of a (very difficult) gem on the system.
But even if the game was total shit, I’d still boot it up again just to hear the music. Damn.
As someone who watches a fair bit of anime, I see a lot of “theme songs” treated as a sort of branding exercise. Someone on the production committee for a show (or game, in many cases these days) represents a record label and wants their new guy or gal to get a boost from the latest nerd bait (and vice versa). That’s fine in its own way, but it doesn’t really feel like a “theme” unless it’s a bespoke composition for me, one designed to give the listener an impression of the show or game before it’s even experienced, or reinforce whatever impression they have as or after they experience it.
Suikoden II‘s opening theme does that perfectly. In combination with the excellent video stuff, it really gets that epic fantasy feel down while communicating that the story’s going to have its own ups and downs. Also, the climax right as seeing Luca Blight turn around is utterly priceless.
Katamari Damacy, Metroid, Jet Set Radio, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, Splatoon, Star Fox, Vib Ribbon, Animal Crossing, Rez, EarthBound, Section Z, Bonk’s Adventure, Contra, Rhythm Heaven, Resident Evil, Mega Man, Mushroom Men, The Legend of Zelda, Y’s I & II, Double Dragon, Super Mario Bros, Bust-A-Move, Bust-A-Groove, Bubble Bobble, Bit.Trip COMPLETE, Splatterhouse, Super Meat Boy (original), PaRappa The Rapper, Rygar, Shovel Knight, Silent Hill, No More Heroes, the list of my favorite game soundtracks could go on and on.
Actually, it can’t, so I’ll just go with Chrono Trigger. No game theme song does more with less than this one. It evokes extreme feelings of playfulness, drama, mystery, and a bittersweetmelancholy all at the same time. Back when the game first came out, I tape recorded the song by holding an old machine up to my TV speaker, and would listen to it in the car, in the shower, and before I went to bed at night.
It’s very special and I love it.
When playing a horror game, I find myself looking for reprieve. Something, anything to give me a sense of normalcy amidst all the crazy stuff that’s happening around me. Akira Yamaoka’s music doesn’t often do that. Instead, it adds to the atmosphere, heightening the fear with industrial noises and monastic chants.
But there are exceptions, and the biggest one is all about the comfort that comes with hearing a familiar tune: the Silent Hill theme, which is featured in every Silent Hill game except Origins. As soon as you hear that twangy, fast-paced mandolin, you know you’re in Silent Hill, and if you’re a horror fan, you’re happy to be there.
Deadmoon had a solid pick with Persona 4’s “Shadow World,” but my pick is a bit more recent. While I love the music of every Persona game, the most recent one, Persona 5, stands out to me the most.
“Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There” is the kind of smooth sounding jam that makes you feel like a real Phantom thief. I also have to admit that as a bass player I have a hard time resisting all of Persona 5’s smooth ass soundtrack.
When someone wants me to reveal my favorite video game theme song, I find it difficult to pick only one track. Luckily, I’m a fan of motifs, so I’ll go with a tune that compliments a certain RPG’s debut on PC.
When I played The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel in 2015, the first thing that stuck with me was the song “Atrocious Raid.” The track was used in a scene where you’re storming a military base to prevent a huge crisis while a conflict is happening in the area. Other than being a cool introduction theme, the track represents the main cast setting aside their social class status to form an unbreakable bond. As each beat elevates in a way where you’re always on your toes, Falcom Sound Team jdkdrops some piano tunes to divide the major parts.
The best thing about the song is that it reappears as a different track called “Risking Everything, Here We Stand.” While the theme is the same, it contains an extra part, which goes well with a big scene where Class VII put everything on the line. To this day, both tunes make me cry since they remindme of their determination to move forward.
Robo Panda Z
I’d really like to agree with Holmes here. Chrono Trigger is my favorite game. However, when it comes to soundtracks, nothing can beat its pseudo-sequel Chrono Cross (admittedly, another favorite). “Time’s Scar” is the perfect intro to the rest of the black hole that is the rest of the soundtrack, one of Mitsuda’s best. It begins with a soothing melody before transitioning into a powerful, rolling drums and strings.
As it turns out, I’m not really the best at talking about music (at least, not today), but “Time’s Scar” in various renditions has been on my playlist for decades now, and it’s never stopped making me feel like I’m being transported to a distant world.
Katamari. Pick one. Eat my shorts. [Editor’s note: I picked the Tap My Katamaritheme song and those shorts could have used some cinnamon.]
First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for avoiding the most obvious choice. Second, my pick is still the best, around, nothing’s gonna ever keep it down, and, as the curator of this piece, I get the last word. [Insert maniacal laugh here.]
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