Director Danny Boyle once said that 70% to 80% of the enjoyment of a movie is the soundtrack. How does that translate to videogames, though? Certainly we’ve all listened to videogame music outside of the game itself. Particularly moving tracks can whisk us away to the point in the game that coincides with the track. But, real life isn’t a videogame…we don’t have music playing when we have major accomplishments, critical battles, glimpses of wonder, or moments of sorrowful. But, what if it was? This month, Mark Freedman asks the staff: Which vide game song would be your personal theme song?
So I know what you all are expecting. You all are totally expecting me to go all Ace Attorney and pick a song from one of those soundtracks. And don’t get me wrong, I love all of those songs dearly. They are among the most-played in my iTunes library. But my personal theme song? None of them really fit. I love the characters that they’re associated with just too dang much to steal them. I could never associate those songs with myself.
So what it comes down to is Xenoblade Chronicles. In case you don’t follow me on Twitter, I’ve been unhealthily obsessed with it thanks to chuggaaconroy’s LP and the music is lovely. If you haven’t heard it, go look it up right now. Seriously, do it. This article will wait. Anyways, this is one of my favorite tracks, “Daily Life”. It’s just an ordinary song that I can play while walking to class, hanging with friends, or doing homework. It’s the perfect background music to life. That’s really all I want in a personal theme song, to be honest. I’m not going to go battle some monsters or explore new worlds. I’m a college student. All I do is chill. And play videogames about pigeons. But that’s beside the point.
I usually have videogame music cranked at work. Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Street Fighter II…it’s all good, man. But, what song would I choose for myself? A song of accomplishment and victory, or a mystic tune when I get all philosophical? No, I think it would be something to really get my butt out of my seat and get me motivated to take on the world (but, still actually remain seated, since I’m a desk jockey).
That’s why I’m picking the Corneria level song from Star Fox. It’s a great tune to get you totally pumped to be controlling the Arwing for the first time, and in a 3D SNES game to boot! It’s always fun to pick up this game, back when Slippy just made frog noises, Peppy made bunny noises, and Falco sounded like an angry ogre on death’s door.
In fact, my answer’s not a hypothetical—I really did have a videogame theme song at one point. The peppy intro stage music from Mega Man 7 for some reason became my driving theme music for about a year or two after getting my license. Zipping around town in my stylish hand-me-down 1980-something Plymouth Acclaim never sounded better. Not altogether inappropriate, mind you, because the stage does start out with our heroes riding in a low-speed cabbage truck, or whatever that vehicle is supposed to be. To switch things up, I’d occasionally hum (yes, I hum my own theme music) the alternate version of the tune as featured in the Mega Man arcade game.
There are two videogame songs that would be equally appropriate as my personal theme:
The first is “Bunky” from Botanicula. The title means “cells” in Czech, and it is a somber, subdued, slowburn song with deep resonating tones and a kind of nervous, plaintive energy. It starts off with a repetitive refrain, yet grows in complexity the longer you listen to it. I feel this is pretty representative of my personality. I usually strike people as a “weird wallflower”—shy, quiet, introspective, awkward, and a bit dark—and it can take me awhile to open up to others; but the more you spend time with me the more interesting and outspoken I become.
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The second song is the iconic “Gurgu Volcano” theme from the original Final Fantasy.This is my “I’m feeling awesome and I’m about to do awesome things” jam for all those times when I am upbeat, in the zone, and ready to conquer anything in my path (be it a game boss, a new project, or a Netflix marathon).
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My favorite piece of videogame music, you say? Or rather, one that encapsulates me on a personal level? That’s bananas! Considering I can count the songs I’ve listened to over the last two years that aren’t from a videogame one hand, this is not an easy question. First, I made a list of all videogames with great soundtracks. Then, I shrunk that down to games I’ve actually played a significant way through. Then, to some of the first games I played and the ones I constantly reference on an almost daily basis. When it came down to that, it was still hard, but there’s one that’s always been there.
The third world map theme for Super Mario Bros. 3 in the Super Nintendo remastered compilation, Super Mario All-Stars.
Yes, most people would probably consider this waiting room or elevator music. Or, if you’re savvy, you would recognize it as similar to the Fairy Fountain themes from the Legend of Zelda series—which indeed, Koji Kondo would rearrange the composition from original Super Mario Bros. 3 for the Fairy Fountain in A Link to the Past, and so on. But for me, the third world in Super Mario Bros. 3 has always been my favorite world of any videogame. This was the first water world I ever “suffered” through; but this world, with the amazing array in level design, the reintroduction of the swimming mechanic found in the earlier Mario games, and the feeling that you could actually have fun in between levels by playing Toad’s slot machines and unlocking the boat and paddling all around in this four-map size world, made it feel not like suffering at all. Most people hate water worlds, but with this world alone, and how much I love it, as my all-time favorite world in a videogame, how could I judge a water world before I play it? It’s because of how well-designed this world is that not only do I enjoy most other water worlds, this world is the epitome of the game that taught me to love videogames. Everyone has to have a water world to teach them discipline, and this world was the entrance to my beginning in gaming. Out of every videogame tune I enjoy, I can’t ignore the tune that started it all, and can work for just about any moment in life.
No surprise here. While there’s just so many to choose from, I ended up selecting one of those songs I unconsciously start whistling from one time or another. So, next time you pop up your GameCola Soundtrack (I just know you love it), if you feel like you should go outside in your jeans and t-shirt and start punching and kicking people until you hear the sound of a coin bouncing on the street, that means you’re listening to my theme song.
This question changes depending upon my mood, but probably “Live and Learn” from Sonic Adventure 2. This track accompanies the final boss fight against the Ultimate Lifeform, a huge monster that requires the combined efforts of Shadow and Sonic powered up by the Chaos Emeralds to defeat. The twang of the electric guitars, the constant drum beat, and the word soup that is the invigorating yet incomprehensible lyrics all drive you forward to finish the otherwise frustrating fight. To make it worse, the song is really catchy—and if you know someone who’s played Sonic Adventure 2, you can infect them with this ear worm just by telling them “‘Live and Learn’ is now playing in your head”. And really, what more could one want in a theme song? Energetic, invigorating, inspiring if a little obtuse, and above all else catchy and infectious.
As much as I love the sounds of a heated battle theme in many games, I really don’t think such a theme suits me. A lot of the time when I’m alone or thinking to myself, I run over events in my head. I think about things I’ve done, what went wrong if anything did and how to improve myself as a person.
It’s for this reason that I’m putting up “Twilight Over Thanalan” from Final Fantasy XIV. Not only does it contribute to the fact that Eorzea is the MMO world I’ve been most immersed in since the genre’s inception, but I feel it also strikes that chord. The theme is initially very somber and soothing. But over time it ramps up into this glorious fanfare. And I get that same feeling when I hear that. The somber part of the song is quiet introspection as you stare at the sands of Ul’dah, and when the fanfare picks up that’s you as you set off on your next adventure and continue to try to be the best that you can possibly be.
Have a favorite tune you’d like as your theme song? Have a question to use for a future Q&A? Did you have fun trying to play all of the YouTube videos at once? Let us know in the comments…!