by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I talk about music a lot on this website – music was a huge part of my formative years, and I spent a good six years or so in Orchestra through school, so that combined with a love of RPGs gave me a love of RPG music. Do you know how hard it is to pick the best music of all time? Really goddamn hard. There are so many games by single companies that are just littered with absolute bangers, real certified slappers of musical notation. So, instead of just picking four or five songs and calling it good, each of these lists will have a “theme”, and that will help me populate them, instead of simply listing my favorite EarthBound and Final Fantasy tracks. So today, I wanted to consider some real possibly overlooked tracks that are worthy of being listened to. Now, they might not be overlooked by everyone, but I mean in a more general sense. I’ll hop around in future lists, either modern games or perhaps a focus on certain titles, going over its catalog of music and finding themes/other interesting things about them (to me). But today, I want to look at music that might have been overlooked, and without a doubt should not be.
The reason this turned into a multi-part list is probably because of 7th Saga since it honestly has an amazing OST. I didn’t want to populate the list with only songs from Square-Enix’s catalog, because that’s just not fair. So, I decided to stretch this one out, and go over lots of music over an extended period of time – Why? Because music is awesome, and I sincerely enjoy talking about it. Another honorable mention, thanks Rohner, is Wild Arms, just in general. I don’t think I ever beat a single Wild Arms game, but I played most of them, and their wild west music was just fantastic. That could be another game I just write about individually.
Are there any I missed? Of course there are! Let me know in the comments section!
Chrono Cross – The Scars of Time – Now, say what you will about Chrono Cross (and I have, at great length, many times), the score that was set for it was awe-inspiring. Each track fit where it was perfectly, and the opening sequence, The Scars of Time/Times Scars really set the pace for this game. The Scars of Time felt like it belonged in a movie score, during a beachside ritual. The rhythmic pounding of the drums, coupled with the constantly changing pace of the violins was really something special. It didn’t feel like anything in Chrono Trigger, which is convenient since it didn’t really feel to me like it belonged in the Chrono Trigger franchise. Sure, there were ties between them, but it felt like a new start. The opening flute solo for The Scars of Time was so damn serene and peaceful, which is a nice contrast to how the song shakes up and picks up the pace immediately after it ends. Link to The Scars of Time
The Legend of Dragoon – Dart’s Theme – Honestly, I think The Legend of Dragoon could have been an incredible franchise, and it’s a damn shame it never took off. I know a lot of people who that was their first real RPG, and it stuck with them for years, and it’s easy to see why. Dart’s theme in The Legend of Dragoon (his Red-Eye Dragoon Spirit Awakening) is such a powerful song, and it felt to me like it would be perfectly at home in any 90s fantasy anime. If you had told me it was an insert song for The Slayers, I likely would believe you (except I’ve seen The Slayers, so don’t try and lie to me, you ninny). It’s a prime example of a blending of styles – a more American metal style, and Japanese fantasy/anime styles, and I’m 100% here for it. The synthesized guitars, the steady drumbeat, it builds proper tension for the moments it needs to. Plus, let’s be honest – Dart and his Red Armor are awesome. Link to Dart’s Theme
Breath of Fire 1 – Sara’s Theme – Honestly, this is probably the saddest song I had ever heard up until this point in my life. This is including REM’s The One I Love, and most anything by Kansas, mind. Hell, Breath of Fire starts off with a punch to the gut. Your home town is destroyed by the Dark Dragons, and it all begins in fire. Most of the town is dead, and Sara, to save everyone’s lives, turns them into stone, except you. It had a very harpsichord-style sound to me, and it manages to convey generations of sadness all in one track. Maybe it’s because of my ethnic/religious upbringing, but this kind of terror and destruction spoke to me pretty clearly. Sara’s Theme is a mostly slow song, with pretty dark, sad undertones. But somewhere in it, there’s an uplifting sound of hope, that being for Ryu – now he has to leave his home behind, with no friends or family to help him, and do battle against impossible odds alone. That’s pretty damn sad, yeah? The song itself has a lot of personal memories attached to it for me and was probably the first RPG song I learned to play on the Viola. It’s a very melancholy track, and it’s perfect for the setting. Link to Sara’s Theme
The Legend of Zelda 2 – Palace Theme – Yes, Zelda 2 was an amazing game. Nintendo tried something different, turning it into a side-scrolling/top-down hybrid, and the music was mostly pretty great all told. I got pretty tired of the village music pretty quick, but you know what never tired me, no matter how many times I died (spoiler: it was a lot – I was bad at Zelda 2)? The Palace Theme. I imagine there are a lot of people now who know the music, who have never played the game, thanks to Super Smash Brothers. The Nintendo sound chip was pretty limited, but it offered a lot of depth in this particular track, with two themes going on behind one another. You had two very distinct, clear melodies it felt like, creating a real mysterious sound. You really felt like you were diving into the dark unknown, with mystery, challenge, and most importantly, death around every corner. The “Doot-doot-doots” of this song I hear in my head every time I think about Zelda 2, just in general. It was easily the stand-out track for the entire game, except maybe the boss music. Link to Palace Theme
Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals – The Savior of Those on Earth – I’ve talked about this game enough times, and probably this particular track, if not here, then on Twitter. Most people I’m friends with are familiar with Lufia as a franchise, but overall I think it was pretty damn overlooked. It’s not a Final Fantasy, it’s not a Dragon Quest. It’s not one of the Big RPG Series ™. But you know what it did have? Heart, and amazing music. Also known as For the Savior, it’s a very important song in Lufia 2, that is not used in many places. I can only think of one place conveniently, at the very end of the game. By this time, you know Maxim is going to die – there’s no escape, no hope. Doom Island is plummeting towards the earth and is going to decimate his new home. That means not only do Selan and Maxim die on the floating island, but so does their son. This song is fast-paced, dramatic, and full of sorrow and desperation. Maxim’s running around, trying to find a way to save the people he now calls friends/family, and it never fails to get the blood pumping. It’s a very dramatic moment, where you know there’s no going back, but at least he can make one final gasp as a hero to save people who don’t deserve to die. This song really felt like it stretched the limits of what the SNES sound chip could do, with rolling drums, synthesized stringed instruments, and felt like a proper orchestra playing the final moments of Maxim’s life. Come on, it doesn’t get better. Link to The Savior of Those on Earth
Want more? Check out Part II!