The Top 10 Video Game Themes

In celebration of the Playstation Network’s resurrection, here is the coolest list of the top 10 video-game-themes you’re ever likely to see. Ahem.


10. Cave Story – Intro

[STUDIO PIXEL]


Perhaps the most arcane entry on this list, Cave Story (洞窟物語 Dōkutsu Monogatari) is a freeware platform-adventure game released in 2004 initially only for PC. It was developed, designed, and programmed over five years by Daisuke Amaya, otherwise known as Pixel, in his free time. The game explores vintage 2D platform mechanics established in the classic arcade-games Pixel played as a boy, such as Metroid and Castlevania, and boy does the title-theme conform to said genre.

This was how Pixel began proceedings, by composing the most rudimentary title-screen game music you’ve ever heard, to coincide with the programming of basic character movements. Originally the game began life as a college-project, but saw completion after Pixel secured a job as a software developer. Jonny Greenwood called it “a work of art“, and the music is no different, if you can just climb past the initial electronics. Nicalis front-man Tyrone Rodriguez says:

“The WiiWare version of Cave Story features all-new music rearranged by Yann van der Cruyssen. He’s worked with Nicklas (Nygren) in the past and we’ve really liked working with him. We’ve paid very close attention to stay as faithful as possible to the original music. Each track is passed off while in-progress state to Amaya so that he can review and approve it. Yes, the old music and graphics will both be retained via a switch. You’ll also be able to mix-and-match audio and visuals. So, if you like the old art and new music, or vice versa, you can do it. Cave Story has a huge fanbase, we’re aware of that and want to make sure that it’s true to what they expect and Pixel-approved. If they don’t like the new art or music, we won’t be offended and they can play the game in its original state.”


9. Pokèmon – Intro

[NINTENDO]


Pokèmon is a franchise which needs no introduction. Ranging from video games and trading card games, to television animations and full-length feature films, we have an empire capable of taking over the world if it so wanted. The onslaught certainly infected my brain when I was a child.

Another outrageously 8-bit theme, but with all the connotations of adventure and purpose. If this music came on the minute you left your house every morning, I’m sure you’d achieve a whole lot more. Pitchfork and Guardian contributor Tom Ewing discusses social behaviours in the latest Pokemon games, here on his blog. Is your Pokemon collection complete? I should bloody hope so.


8. Sonic The Hedgehog

– Green Zone Theme

[SEGA]


If a hog is a domesticated pig, and a hedge is a fence or boundary formed by closely growing bushes or shrubs, then technically speaking, our blue friend Sonic should be a pet porcine who inhabits the bushes surrounding your garden. However, this is simply not the case. Firstly, take his spiny coat, tiny white gloves, short legs and natural hedgehog proficiency for rolling into a ball for defence. Secondly, shed the stereotypical fat-waddle and replace with super-fast skills, and you’ve got one cool nocturnal insectivore.

Here is a game theme that is actually almost unrecognisable until the minute the melody starts. That in itself is the sign of one catchy tune. In the first few games, the tempo of the background music increased throughout the “power-up” stage, whilst in subsequent titles a different ditty played during the speed-up. Numerous composers have contributed music the Sonic the Hedgehog series, but Masato Nakamura of Japanese pop band ‘Dreams Come True’ wrote the music for the first two 16-bit titles.


7. The Legend of Zelda

[NINTENDO]

The Legend of Zelda series, like many Nintendo games, is a bit of a mammoth, spawning a total of 16 incarnations. Koji Kondo, the Mozart of the videogame audio industry, has composed the majority of music for the entire series. He originally intended to use Ravel’s Boléro as the primary theme, which would have worked well, but was forced to rethink when he learned rather behind schedule, that the copyright for Boléro had yet to expire; thus ‘Zelda’s Theme’ was churned out in one day. But the baroque essence is portrayed perfectly.

Mini-games in Zelda often involve in-game musical instruments. In Ocarina of Time for example, playing instruments is a crucial game aspect and a revolutionary concept, “playing” the controller to succeed. A game tactic also present in Zelda’s Majora’s Mask.


6. Final Fantasy VII –

Cosmo Canyon

[SQUARE ENIX]


Originally released in 1997 for the Sony Playstation, the seventh and undeniably most popular instalment of the series was the first to be unleashed upon mainland Europe. Set in an Orwellian dystopia, the plot of Final Fantasy VII revolves around mercenary Cloud Strife (the male equivalent of Lara Croft?), who unites with a gang of rebellious comrades in a bid to bring down the mega-conglomerate Shinra corporation, who in turn are draining the life from the planet to utilise as an energy source. Whilst that may sound like complete balderdash to anyone who hasn’t played it, FFVII is easily a frontrunner for greatest videogame of all time.

The Cosmo Canyon theme is often an overlooked piece which accompanies your character’s presence in the place of the same name, a pilgrimage site for those who wish to pursue the study of Planet life. The religious experience “within” is captured by the quasi-tribal drum and quasi-industrial bass whilst a cracking tune on the ocarina soars above it like, brave, eagle. Here you can listen to the original, but David Ramos’ arrangement still rules supreme. Ya just can’t beat real instruments!


Interior Design by Vinyl Design

5. Tetris

– Type A

[THE TETRIS COMPANY]


Ok, so first the perhaps rather superfluous introduction to this legendary game. Tetris is a puzzle game of Soviet Union descent, initially designed and programmed by Alexey Pajitnov. June 6th 1984 saw the games release, whilst Pajitnov was working for the Dorodnicyn Computing Centre of the Academy of Science of the USSR in Moscow, Russia. Mouthful.

Here we have the sort of tune you’d hum as you packed up the car as tight as you could for a holiday, fitting every last item into each tiny nook. Perhaps as you attempt to park your car in a particularly tight spot. Sadly, the association does not completely belong to Tetris and its predominantly Western culture. It is in fact an arrangement of an ancient Russian folk song titled ‘Korobeiniki‘.


4. Braid –

Downstream

[NUMBER NONE]


Braid is a beautifully crafted and artful game by independent software developer Jonathan Blow, featuring licensed music from American independent record label Magnatune. The Celtic inspired offering ‘Downstream’, is from multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Shira Kammen, whose classical talent for the violin is illustrated in her music degree from the University of California.

The obvious reason for Blow’s decision to employ licensed music in Braid was to diminish development costs. Furthermore he believed that composers who frequently create music for video games did not possess the specific skills required, namely the ability to create the desired atmosphere  for the game. That specific mood being “organic and complex”, and let’s face it, this obscure piece was simply born to soundtrack those images. Song-length was a large contributing factor, since this allows a subtle looping quality whilst a player strives to find a solution for a difficult puzzle. Magnatune released a soundtrack of the game’s music on April 9th 2009, which includes two extra remixes that integrate the time-shifting components from the game.


3. Command & Conquer: Red Alert

– Hell March

[WESTWOOD STUDIOS]


Brutal. Perhaps the Rammstein of the computer game music world. Depicting the game’s military vibe with testosterone-fuelled metal riffs and the crunching echoes of feet marching, alongside the German cry, “Die waffen legt an!” (which loosely translates to “aim your weapons!”). The original score was composed by American Frank Klepacki and was rightfully voted best video game soundtrack of 1996 by PC Gamer and Gameslice magazines. The ‘Hell March’ theme can still be heard in media today as far-flung as Top Gear, ironically during their American Road trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Klepacki says:

“I wrote the more ambient style themes they asked me for, and then I began tinkering with this heavy metal song that I was trying to gear towards “Nod” for the next big C&C game. Brett Sperry came in my office and said “You got anything I can hear for the new C&C?” I played it for him. He said “What’s the name of this one?” I said ‘Hell March.’ He said “That’s the signature song for our next game.”.”


2. Super Mario Bros. –

Ground Theme

[NINTENDO]


The world-famous Super Mario Bros. theme, officially known as the ‘Ground Theme’, is initially established in the very first stage of the Nintendo game. It was one of six proposed songs composed for Super Mario Bros. by acclaimed Mario and Zelda series composer Koji Kondo, who found it the most problematic song to compose for the game. The uplifting calypso rhythm usually undergoes an analogous orchestration where in-game sound-synthesizers are capable of steel-drum imitation. Above you can hear a rather contrasting brass arrangement.

Employing only a tiny keyboard in which to compose the music on, the first prototype of the theme was based on an early preliminary of the game, which merely illustrated Mario running around a vast empty space. This inspired a lazy and insipid incarnation. However as the game went further into development, the theme was forced to adapt. Like Sonic, when the in-game clock extends below 100 seconds, the theme-tune accelerates. Innovative feature!


1. Final Fantasy VII –

Aeris’ Theme

[SQUARE ENIX]

Originally released in 1997 for the Sony Playstation, the seventh and undeniably most popular instalment of the series was the first to be unleashed upon mainland Europe. Set in an Orwellian dystopia, the plot of Final Fantasy VII revolves around mercenary Cloud Strife (the male equivalent of Lara Croft?), who unites with a gang of rebellious comrades in a bid to bring down the mega-conglomerate Shinra corporation, who in turn are draining the life from the planet to utilise as an energy source. That may sound like balderdash to anyone who hasn’t played it, but FFVII is easily a frontrunner for greatest videogame of all time. As the storyline evolves, each little escapade escalates and intertwines until Cloud and his allies face Sephiroth in an audacious showdown. Cue ‘Aeris’ Theme’.

Most strikingly played after Aeris is murdered by Sephiroth, which Carrie Gouskos of influential gaming website Gamespot described as “the most shocking moment in video games.” Both memorable and emotionally gripping, the soundtrack was scored by long-serving Final Fantasy veteran Nobuo Uematsu. Instead of recorded music and sound effects for the game, Uematsu opted for MIDIs, utilising the PlayStation’s internal sound chip. It is unsurprisingly popular among fans, its grand cinematic beauty inspiring countless inventive arrangements.


-James Godwin, May 19th, 2011

Copyright © 2011. James Godwin. All rights reserved.
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