1 More Castle’s Top 5 Favorite Video Game Songs
My very first list for 1 More Castle (Top 10 Castles in Video Games) was published on May 14th 2013. I wanted to do something special to honor my one year anniversary at the site. Instead of doing some self-indulgent list about my blogs, or something by myself I wanted to get as many 1 More Castle contributors involved as I could.
So what follows is several lists written by numerous 1 More Castle contributors. We are all going to be counting down our top five favorite retro video game songs.
Thanks for continuing to feature my blogs 1 More Castle and thanks to all the readers. Here’s hoping for another great year.
Let’s start one of the founding fathers of 1 More Podcastle, Eric Hunter.
5.) Opening theme – Maniac Mansion
Easily from one of my favorite NES games of all time, the opening theme really grabs me with the bass line. From there, the music becomes so complex that I remember thinking as a kid, “Oh wow. This is actually music. Like real music with movements and not just tones.” Still really dig the first 15 seconds. But then again, all the music in this game is amazing.
4.) Stage 1 “Forest of Elrond” – Wizards and Warriors
Again, that bass line. It feels like the music is being created on the spot and waiting for your actions to change it. Granted, the game isn’t great and I’ve never gotten that far in it, I think Stage 1 really hits home for me because I spent so much damn time exploring it was the only track I heard. Still a little scared of the red knight to this day.
3.) Green Hill Zone – Sonic the Hedgehog
God I love Sega! Such a great improvement over the SMS and NES sound chips, it made me hear things I never thought I would hear. I think the first time I played Sonic, the music from the Green Hill Zone was the first time I ever heard something upbeat that wasn’t tied to time running out or me dying. Run Sonic, run!
2.) Introduction – Streets of Rage
This song still gets me. It was the first time I could remember of starting a game up for the first time and just become so overwhelmed with sadness. The slow pan across the city landscape, the words “this city was once a happy, peaceful place…” Man. Usually when you play games you do it to kill time or to have fun. Streets of Rage starts on such a downer note and the music makes that a concert fact. Also, amazing game. Just wanted to be sure to say that.
1.) Dr. Wily Stage 1 – Megaman 2
So, a funny story. I’ve always enjoyed the Megaman series, the characters, music, etc and this track always stood out for me. It’s so radically different the others leading up to it and as a kid, I felt like I finally made it to the big times.
But, it wasn’t until I heard the metal rendition by the Minibosses (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuxfQjJ-3DM) [7:32] that it really hit home for that chip tune music was an art. It wasn’t just something that played in the background that you would forget because you were too occupied in getting to the next area or finding that last key. The Minibosses took many of the tunes in the Megaman 2 soundtrack and performed then with real instruments. And the Dr. Wily Stage 1 hits you right in the gut. This track (and the Minibosses variation) is what catapulted me into discovering more chip tune music, making mixes and discussing the importance of these tracks and how the affect the player during game play.
Next off is 1 More Castle’s librarian who is obsessed with gaming gossip and poop, Atsinganoi.
To begin with, I opted to follow Woodyman’s typical lead and only go with one song per series. This will explain why my top 5 isn’t simply 5 songs from Faxanadu’s OST. Also, since it’s likely everyone else will list the Megaman 2 (Flashman), Castlevania 2 (The Silence of Daylight), and Zelda II (Palace) tracks I would, I’m going to cheat by mentioning them here briefly and giving you a different top 5, all the while knowing full well I just gave you my real top 3 and am now expanding this to a top 8. Suck it, Woodyman!
5.) Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention – Battle 3
Shining Force is one of my all-time favourite games and has an absolutely terrific soundtrack, but this tune starts off amazing right from the start and just doesn’t let up. It gets me pumped for an epic battle, which exactly what a great track in a TRPG should do, and the first time you hear this song is in that damn circus against that bastard Marionette. One little bit of interesting info about this track is that it is essential a darker, faster, more aggressive version of the “city” music, though it is virtually unrecognizable.
4.) Ninja Gaiden 2: The Dark Sword of Chaos – Act 2, Part 2
I’ve never understood why this song never comes up on any of these kinds of lists. The Ninja Gaiden trilogy and The Dark Sword of Chaos in particular have great soundtracks, but this song has always stood out. It’s fast-paced, fun, has a driving beat, and is perfect when you’ve played this game as much as I have. It’s the kind of song that drives me to blaze through a level, all while making me sad when I do because I was enjoying listening to it. That right there is basically my opinion of the Ninja Gaiden 2 OST as a whole.
3.) Metroid – Kraid’s Lair
I’m not really a big Metroid fan. I’d even go as far as saying the first game in the series is bad, but this track is something else. In VGM as in regular music, making a fun, decent up-beat track, in my opinion, is a lot easier than making a slower, more brooding tune that is good. The theme from Kraid’s Lair is one of these rare tracks. It has an eerie quality that makes you feel uneasy.
2.) Maniac Mansion – Syd’s Theme
I don’t care that the NES version was censored. When I was a kid, I still got to microwave a hamster while playing on the most bizarre games my 9 year old brain had ever seen. I took me years to beat it, but it didn’t matter. After a while, I always took the same three characters: Dave, Razor, and Syd. As long as I had those three characters, the music was going to be awesome enough for me to keep playing forever.
Honestly, I could’ve chosen any of those three, but it just so happens that today, Syd’s theme is the one I prefer. Ask me again tomorrow, and it might be Razor or Dave. All three are perfect examples of what I love about 8-bit music.
1.) Faxanadu – Land of Dwarves
If you’ve never played or heard of Faxanadu, you’ve likely still heard the work of it’s music’s composer, Jun Chikuma. She counts Adventure Island and pretty much every Bomberman game from 1985 to 1998 among her credit, but her work for Faxanadu should go down as the single greatest video game soundtrack ever composed.
Without exaggerating, this whole list could’ve been tracks for Faxanadu’s soundtrack. With the opening theme, The Kingdom, Overworld, Keep Moving, Land of Mist, Daybreak, and many more, the music is amazing from beginning to end and forms a perfect complement to what I consider the most criminally underappreciated retro game.
But the song I chose was Land of Dwarves, one of the slowest in the game. It is another of those songs that, like Kraid’s Lair, manages to make you feel things other than base excitement. It’s not a song whose goal is to simply pump you up like every single song in a schmup is constantly trying to do. It’s a song that best encapsulates the feelings you get while playing Faxanadu; a game with enemies and sound effects you’ve never encountered in any game before or since; a game with a graphic style unlike any other; a game that from start to finish feels wonderfully foreign. I love this song and I love this game and you should to.
Next is a man with Retro Haterade flowing through his veins, Joshua Caleb.
5.) Nayru’s Song (Oracle of Ages)
I don’t know why, but this song sends chills down my spine every time I hear it. Even the 8-bit original. Something with the somber, haunting melody and the tone of the notes.
4.) Song of Storms (Ocarina of Time)
This one is just so mesmerizing. The way it repeats ad-nauseam but still manages to have slight variations in the melody throughout if you listen close enough.
3.) Saria’s Song (Ocarina of time)
Another repetitious, yet infectious tune. Just makes me wanna DANCE! HOT! HOT!
2.) Aquatic Ambiance (Donkey Kong Country)
Another mysterious and haunting melody, yet manages to be calming at the same time. Truly captures the mystery and peacefulness of the water.
1.) Metro Cross theme (Metro Cross)
Now here’s an odd one. A little known European arcade game that I loved as a kid. Not really sure what the theme is trying to go for but it’s been stuck in my head for over ten years, even when I couldn’t remember the name of the game.
*Bonus* Chemical Plant Zone (Sonic 2)
It was a tough call between Chemical Plant & Metro Cross but they’re both really awesome, have great nostalgia for me and have similar tones. Chemical Plant goes a bit more for the 90s rock style and succeeds in spades.
Next we have a guy who is always throwing around time, Alex Weiss.
When I was first approached with the task of picking out my five favorite retro game songs, I thought it may be an easy task, but as I thought about it all I could think of was Nintendo music. Don’t get me wrong Nintendo has some of THE BEST music out there, but I didn’t want to pick 5 Nintendo songs. So after much thinking and soul searching I decided on these five.
5.) “Bowser Castle” from Super Mario Kart
Even if I didn’t want to make all of my picks from Nintendo I don’t know if I could sleep at night without including this awesome track.
4.) “Spring Yard Zone” from Sonic the Hedgehog
On the other side of the console war was of course Sega’s Sonic, and even though I didn’t grow up with him I am confident I would have loved this song as a kid. It actually reminds me of a song from another game I can’t think of at the moment, so this will have to do.
3.) “Save & Load” from Mario Paint
Another Nintendo song? Yeah it’s also the last. I don’t know why I like this song, maybe it’s because I can dance to it.
2.) “Concrete Jungle” from SimCity 3000
I may have not been very good at SimCity 3000 growing up but man if that music isn’t some of the BEST.
1.) Theme from JewelBox
Also gameplay and more of the song since the other link cuts off.
This will be an odd choice; it’s from a game you have likely never played because it’s a Mac game. And now that I think about it the game isn’t terribly great. It’s good, but what stands out moreso is the music, it’s been stuck in my head for 20 years and will likely be stuck in it for another 20.
Next off we have half the mastermind behind 1 More Castle and brand of Irish cream, Eric Bailey.
Get ready for the most Nintendo-biased, mainstream, unsophisticated top 5 of all time.
5.) Oath to Order, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (N64)
Okay, let us be honest for a moment: The Zelda franchise is packed with so much great music that you could compose entire lists just from the series alone and any reader would understand. From the original 8-bit opening to latter-day orchestral arrangements, we have devoured dozens of musical masterpieces from the Legendary series.
So, why do I pick Oath of Order here? This is a contextual selection. In the absence of the cinematic, one could easily dismiss the Oath as a simplistic rise-and-fall ditty of no real consequence. How much gravity could six notes on the Ocarina have? But within the story, of the doomsday countdown to the moon’s world-ending collision… this is the call to arms. This is the giant summoning. This is the last gasp of a planet, the somber promise to future generations, the tears stilled and fears quelled. Order, indeed, restored.
4.) Forest Maze, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
For one glorious moment, Square and Nintendo merged forces to create an indelible memory: The original Super Mario RPG. I almost consider it more of a cinematic experience than a game; call me a navel-gazing snob, or simply chalk it up to the title’s ease, although any who try it will likely be compelled to explore its secrecy, charm, and masterful presentation.
The Forest Maze theme is upbeat and fun, yet with notes of mystery and a hint of the dangerous unknown. Combined with the newness of Geno, who would tragically go on to never be used again in further adventures thanks to copyright issues, the whole scene in Seven Stars really conjures a child-like awe. No wonder this song has inspired so much sentimentality among gamers.
3.) Overworld Theme, StarTropics (NES)
And here is my choice of pure nostalgia. Years from now, I will explain why StarTropics on NES is my all-time favorite video game. For now, let me just say that it was the perfect sort of game at the right moment of my life. I will love it always.
Fitting, then, is its exploration theme, a rich composition that evokes many more feelings for me than it probably does for the average listener. Surely its chipper charisma can be appreciated on some level, though, especially from hardware that did not always have the best soundtracks. This is an earworm, folks: Beware its power to become lodged in your mind for days at a time.
2.) Ground Theme, Super Mario Bros (NES)
1.) Saria’s Song, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
What is it about The Legend of Zelda? What is it about forests?
This is a haunting, soul-hushing melody. Yes, the relationship between Link and Saria certainly enhances its impact, and maybe it is best enjoyed in the Sacred Woods for full effect, but this is a classic. For many of us who grew up in that magical gaming period known at the 1990’s, the N64 offered the first opportunity for our favorite heroes to explore their realms in three dimensions.
Graphically, it was an achievement. Without fitting music, however, it would have all felt hollow and been for naughty. Saria’s Song, for me at least, really helped lend Ocarina of Time its unique feel, that the protagonist truly was participating in a fully realized environment. There are games with characters, and there are games with character, and then there are the rare jewels with both.
Lavender Town Theme, Pokémon Blue (GB); Forest Temple Theme, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64); probably something from Resident Evil and Sonic 2.
Finally we have the man of wood and a hundred fake names, Eric Vole aka Me!
As I’m sure all the other contributors can attest to, picking your favorite video game songs is tougher than it sounds. My favorite are always changing and switching places as I play new games and I remember older ones. So do not consider the following list to be my definitive top 5, but instead my current top 5. Enjoy!
5.) Sherbet Land – Mario Kart 64
Now I’m pretty sure that this theme is used in another track in the Mario Kart universe but to me it will always be associated with Sherbet Land.
I didn’t grow up with a Nintendo 64, but I remember playing this game at my friends house constantly. Back then and to this day I love snow/ice levels and especially snow/ice level themes. The Sherbet Land theme is not only my favorite theme from Mario Kart, but my favorite in the entire Mario series. It’s a simple song, but just so cheerful and fitting to an arctic environment that I just adore it.
4.) The Musashi Legend – Brave Fencer Musashi
I really miss my retro game collection. For those of you who don’t know, when I went away to college my parents sold the majority of my NES, Genesis, and PS1 collection for real low cheap. I’ve been slowly building it back up, but it’s taking a while. Also I’m a cheap bastard.
One of my most missed games is Brave Fencer Musashi a humorous action RPG made by Squaresoft. While the game was a bit lighthearted at times, the music was nothing but epic. The above theme makes you want to go out on an epic adventure and save the world. My favorite part is right at the 59 second mark.
3.) Level 1 (Forest) – Blaster Master
Another game I no longer own, but one of my favorites on the NES. Blaster Master is similar to Metroid, but with a tank named SOPHIA. You gain upgrades, explore, and kill baddies all while looking your pet frog.
The first level theme from Blaster Master is my favorite NES song, and it’s mostly due to that build up in the beginning. It slowly builds, rising in speed and volume until is drops into a theme of discovery and exploration.
2.) Time’s Scar – Chrono Cross
Why do RPGs have some of the greatest songs in all of video games? I don’t know but I do know that I’m not the only person who thinks Time’s Scar is amazing.
I think the reason I like this song so much, is the same reason I like the level 1 theme from Blaster Master so much. It’s the build up. In Time’s Scar the build up is much slower and more classical. It reminds me a lot of the opera scene from The Fifth Element. It starts off like a slow and sophisticated song then just becomes fast and fun.
1.) Into the Wilderness – Wild Arms
Another game lost to the great yard sale of 2007. Although I really want this game back, what I really want is the PS2 version, Wild Arms: Alter Code F.
As I mentioned before, I believe one of the most important things about a video game song is that it fits the game, level, or environment that it is placed in. The Wild Arms theme aka Into the Wilderness is just that. It’s an adventurous song, but also a western song. Just like the game it’s in, this theme combines mythical fantasy and the American Wild West in a beautiful blend. No matter how much my favorite video game song list changes, this theme will always be number 1.
Thanks for the 1 year anniversary 1 More Castle and thanks to the readers, YOU!