My Favourite Video Game Soundtracks - Part 1
I've spoken previously about my love of video games but, as both an avid listener of a broad variety of music and a composer of video game music, there are quite a few soundtracks out there that have left lasting impressions on me. I'd like to explore these in this series of blogs.
A GOOD SOUNDTRACK My love of video games started very early. I've always had a talent for music and have a habit of remembering the music of the games I have played (whether the music is good or not). I would often find myself humming or singing them to myself. Most people (musical or not), for example, know the music for Super Mario or the Mii music used on the Wii. Whether they've sought out the music afterwards or not, it's quite likely that while playing the game, the music was so good at enhancing the visuals' characteristics and tone, and interesting enough, for them to remember it despite it not drawing their attention at the time. This, I believe, is what makes a great soundtrack.
ADVENTURES IN BIT FORMAT
The smaller the platform a game is designed for, the less power-hungry it needs to be. For the Game Boy, games were designed in 8-bit format but by the release of the Game Boy Advance we were seeing games in 32-bit. Still, the size of these games were megabytes in size, reaching 100mb at most in the GBA's later life. Compare that to current generation consoles where games like Red Dead Redemption 2 are over 100 gigabytes and that's a huge size difference. Why am I telling you this? Well, the average mp3 track is about 2 - 8 megabytes and, for a game like Zelda: Link's Awakening or Pokémon Yellow, with hours of play-time and a dozen music tracks, that would leave no space for the game's data on the cartridge. This is why we have bit-music, where musical instruments are synthesized into retro-sounding formats (and don't often sound like the original instrument).
ZELDA: LINK'S AWAKENING, ZELDA: ORACLE OF AGES/SEASONS, ZELDA: A LINK TO THE PAST, ZELDA: MINISH CAP
So, despite a song from a Game Boy not sounding particularly realistic and, because of size limitations, having to be loopable (potentially making it annoying to listen to), I found myself loving the music of the games mentioned above. The title screen music of Zelda: Link's Awakening still remains, for me, an amazing piece of 8-bit game music and, along with the 'Overworld Theme', my favourite version of the Zelda theme. This heroic song brings back so many feelings of nostalgia.
One of the most memorable songs of the game, though, is the shop theme, which I think reflects the personality of the evil shopkeeper perfectly. It was also used for the witch's (Syrup) hut and whenever I stir a bowl when I'm baking (which is rare) I hear this game music in my head. Having said all that, the song I would stay put in-game for, just to listen to, was 'Mt. Tamaranch Tal Tal Heights'. I found it oozed courage and a touch of funk at the same time. For me, it is one of the best variations of the main theme, which is something the Zelda games do so well.
I remember playing a lot of Oracle of Ages and Seasons on Game Boy Colour, two games released at the same time that allowed you to carry over your save from one to the other. I found Seasons to be a lot more fun than Ages. Having said that though, Seasons had the most annoying bit in it where you had to follow someone without being seen. Its saving grace was the music used, called 'Hide And Seek'; it was so jolly and mischievous that you couldn't help feeling happy while being annoyed at being spotted and having to start the section all over again.
'Fairy Fountain' is a song that has been in every Zelda game and there are a lot of them now. I've only played the handheld games but it was hard to determine what my favourite version of this song is. The original will always be a classic but it was almost going to be A Link To The Past. I've gone with the one used in Minish Cap as, despite this being a Game Boy Advance game, the instruments sound so beautiful and make this a lovely song to listen to with its magical motifs on the harp.
POKÉMON YELLOW, POKÉMON TRADING CARD GAME, POKÉMON SILVER, POKÉMON RUBY
Like the Zelda games listed above, these four are bundled together because they are the versions of Pokémon I had on the handhelds. While the soundtracks for all these games are very good and full of different styles and moods, there are specific tracks from each that I want to highlight. In Yellow, it was the 'Gym Leader Battle' song; the fast arpeggio patterns used perfectly reflect the importance and intensity of these battles. It also helped that I had heard the version used in the TV series and had that in my head too (it's also a great song).
While the 'Champion Battle' theme from Silver is great to listen to, my favourite track is 'Game Corner'. It's just so funky and upbeat with such a great musical structure that I would walk into the area just to listen to it. The Trading Card Game had an all-round amazing soundtrack with some really funky and varied songs too. Two of my favourites are 'Normal Duel', which has some amazing motifs and 'Ronald's Theme', one of the funkiest 8-bit songs I've ever heard.
Ruby ended up being a little different. By this time, the Game Boy Advance has been released and was capable of 32-bit audio and visuals. This meant the musical instruments were able to sound more like their counterparts and made for a richer texture in the music. While the whole soundtrack is good, a few of my favourites include 'Route 104', which is so upbeat it's always a pleasure to listen to, 'Route 113' with it's pleasant and calming melodies, and 'Dive', which is great at reflecting the underwater exploration within the game, complete with bubble sounds.
I have to briefly mention Donkey Kong Country on Game Boy Colour, and 'Jungle Hijinks' in particular as it is such a fun tune to play along to. Also, Sims Bustin' Out on Game Boy Advance had quite an eclectic soundtrack but the 'Create-A-Sim' song is my favourite for its electronic jazzy hip-hop sound.
I could easily make a video game music blog that simply focuses on the Final Fantasy series. In fact, it would probably be more than one blog. I do, however, want to mention the GBA remakes of Final Fantasy 1 and 2 here, titled Dawn of Souls. The remastered music in these was quite impressive and would later sound even better when playing the remasters made for the PSP but my favourite song from this GBA version has to be 'Gurgu Volcano' as it was such an interesting and rhythmic song to listen to; happy and yet slightly dark and mischievous at the same time, with a great use of mallets.
Next time I'll be talking about the soundtracks of games I've played on PC and Xbox, like Theme Hospital, Mafia, Halo, and more. P.S. If you are looking for a music theory, music production, or music composition teacher near you, I offer face-to-face music lessons in Wells, UK and online music lessons to anyone worldwide. I also have 1000+ royalty-free stock music production tracks available to buy and am available for hire for original music compositions. Feel free to get in touch!