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Soundtracks for the Ages

February 10, 2015
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Game soundtracks that tied games together

I was recently stuck in a Tim Horton's, with naught but my phone and some delicious buffalo chicken mac n' cheese to keep my ADD mind from exploding out of boredom. However, I knew I had a bit of saving grace encased in my Otterbox, the Squaresoft (now Square Enix) classic 'Chrono Trigger.' Just as I was about to enter back into that world that held a more wibbly-wobbly timeline than the good Doctor Who himself, I had a thought: I had no headphones. Now, 'Chrono Trigger' is one of those timeless games, an RPG that truly transcends gaming trends to earn its place amongst the classics, but being a decent human being that doesn't take incredible joy in bothering the strangers closest to him by using his cell phone as a boom box, I couldn't partake in the music that brings it all together in one glorious package. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't force every customer in that Timmy's to listen to Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu's incredible soundtrack, and without that music, I couldn't bring myself to play an incomplete version of a game I loved.

It got me thinking about the games I'd played that were truly tied together by their soundtracks, stirring you beyond the screen's simple constraints and pulling you into their worlds by forcing you to remember both scenes and songs. I'll list out a few of my favorites, and I promise to only use one of Nobuo Uematsu's 'Final Fantasy' scores.

Chrono Trigger'

Composed by Yasunori Mitsua and Nobuo Uematsu

The SNES is a treasure trove of incredible music. Nintendo's 16-bit machine was the perfect mix: there was just enough sound technology to allow composers to give their music texture, yet there was still a need to make sure your melody lines were memorable and stood above everything. 'Chrono Trigger' has an emotional masterpiece of a soundtrack, with each major moment in the game having a proper and stirring response. Even when the game passes from present day to the past and back to the far future, every song fits the situation like a glove.


Composed by Darren Korb

Folky, earthy music was really my cup of tea until I played 'Bastion.' Running through a broken world, this music made me long for the world that these characters once knew. Bringing elements of folk reminiscent of the show 'Firefly' with oddly well-placed electronic music and exotic instruments, Korb's soundtrack soars above and beyond the excellent game itself. The biggest stars of the show, however, are the songs characters sing around a campfire - haunting and beautiful songs about the way the world was and a longing to be back in the home now decimated by this cataclysm. I don't want to spoil the story, but suffice it to say, these songs are used expertly in an incredibly emotional scene that stands as one of my favorite endings to any game.


Composed by Marty O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori

If you grew up in the early 2000s like I did, you probably experienced one of the greatest and chilling sounds of all time: the 'Halo' menu theme, sometimes multiplied over a few times at LAN parties with all of the TVs singing that haunting Gregorian chorus. While it certainly has a few recognizable tracks, the biggest accomplishment of the 'Halo' soundtrack is that it adapted to your situation by adding or subtracting layers of the current song depending on where you were and how much danger you were in. You could play through the game several times and not hear the same exact soundtrack each time, and yet it always was appropriate, driving and captivating.

Final Fantasy 7/8/9/10'

Composed by Nobuo Uematsu

OK, OK, so I stretched the truth a bit, but all of these Nobuo Uematsu soundtracks deserve a spot on this list. Uematsu is arguably the king of all gaming composers, and this was never more evident than during the Playstation era 'Final Fantasy' games. His incredible way of writing character and town themes (not to mention the stirring and uplifting airship themes) were complex and memorable. From the mercenary school of Balamb Garden to the desert sanctum Cosmo Canyon to Zanarkand, you can't play a single one of these four games and not see what a huge part Uematsu played in making these the definitive RPGs of the early digital age.
Seriously, if you don't tear up every time you hear Aeris's theme, you're just dead inside. You are. You are dead and need to be buried, because that song will forever be connected to one of the saddest moments in gaming.
Now, I'm gonna stop making lists and go get a tissue. Not because I'm crying thinking about Aeris' theme. I have a cold. A manly, manly cold that makes tears come to my eyes unbidden. Such strong, manly tears.

Honorable mentions:
'Mass Effect,' 'Super Mario 64,' 'Metroid Prime'

Aaron Waite writes a lot of stuff about 'Halo', 'Super Smash Bros.' and old games, generally in that order.

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