Friday, April 3, 2020

Green Phoenix - 8 Epic Video Game Tracks

I have never been much of a video game player. I did play a bit when I was younger and I still enjoy the occasional computer game now and again, being a big fan of simulation and RTS games. But the real draw that I have to video games is the immersive cinematic quality that so many possess, especially as the technology and financing as grown to enable that level of narrative story-telling.

And much like films and television, a key element to a cinematic experience in video games is the music that accompanies it. While most early games at pretty basic 8-bit musical sections, as technology and visuals advanced, so to did the musical compositions. And the effect was some truly stellar and epic video game music tracks.

And it is these tracks that will be the focus of today's article. Today we will countdown, in no particular order, and highlight 8 absolutely epic video game tracks. Those musical pieces that you find yourself listening to completely outside of the gaming experience. The songs that get played over and over again or seem to represent the very thematic heart of the game in question.

Today is going to be a hell of a lot of fun and I hope you all will join me in geeking out about some of the coolest sounding video game music I can think of.

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COUNTDOWN RULES

  1. The tracks in question were selected from my own personal opinion and do not represent any particular arrangement.
  2. Only a single track has been selected from any single soundtrack.
  3. I have limited my picks to one soundtrack from one property.
  4. Trailer music can't be used unless it also appears in the game's soundtrack.

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    INTRODUCTION

    1. Snake Eater (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

    Let's start this countdown off with what is easily the sexiest sounding track on this list. Growing up, I had an absolute obsession with James Bond, born from watching the series with my mom whenever we got a chance to watch it (with SpikeTV giving us plenty of opportunities to do so). As such, I have always enjoyed references to the famous British spy in other media, especially from a musical standpoint. In fact, I may very well do a countdown of James Bond intro songs or sound-alikes in the future.

    Add in a love of James Bond-style music with the incredible composition work of Norihiko Hobino and you have "Snake Eater", the titular song for Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

    This song is just so goddamn cool. It gives you goosebumps and stands alone even without the incredible visuals in evoking the 1960s era James Bond films. The whole track uses its Bond-similarities to immerse the audience in both the danger and eroticism that stereotypes 60s era spy fiction, which the game is in some ways a criticism and tribute to. I think it is pretty easy to state that this is among the most notable of the songs from the Metal Gear franchise, and one that perfectly captures the more romantic and erotic elements of espionage tends to evoke, creating a song that is absolutely epic in my humble opinion and a perfect start to this countdown.

    2. Gerudo Valley (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)

    The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time holds a special place in my heart, being the very first game that I ever played. I can remember sitting and playing this game for hours on end and enjoying every minute of what is widely considered one of the greatest Zelda games ever made.

    And when I think back to the music of Ocarina of Time, composed by Koji Kondo, there are so many stand-out tracks. Actually, I played that game so many damn times that I can recall every single track by memory. But if I had to say which track was my favorite and the one that I feel best captured a sense of adventure and fun, it would have to be the "Gerudo Valley".

    This track is just so much fun, evoking a very strong Spanish feel to the overall beat and melody. The track is very distinct from the rest of the music in the other regions of Hyrule, giving Gerudo Valley an incredibly disparate feel from the rest of Hyrule. Which given the in-universe relationship between the Gerudo and the rest of Hyrule makes complete and total sense.

    Growing up, I just remember sitting around Gerudo Valley on a horse just listening to this kickass tune, which I think speaks volumes to its quality and the sheer fun and adventure at play.

    3. Sogno di Volare "The Dream of Flight" (Civilization VI)

    Like a few of the games on this list, I never played Civilization VI, or any of the Civilization games for that matter. I just was never able to get into the franchise. That being said, the opening cinematic music from the Civilization games were going to have to be mentioned. I was initially hard-pressed to choose between "Baba Yaga" from Civilization V or the track that ultimately won.

    If I had to select a song that was perhaps representative of human ingenuity, an anthem to innovation, I would be hard-pressed to pick between Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" or Christopher Tin's "Sogno di Volare", otherwise known as "The Dream of Flight". This song truly is that great.

    This is the kind of song that makes you proud to be human. It's light and airy melody feels helps to evoke the images of mankind's greatest achievement: human flight. An analysis of the lyrics reveals a song that speaks to the role that every single person has played in progressing our world into the present day and into the distant future. A triumphant anthem of humanity's refusal to submit to any condition without a fight.

    This might very well be one of my favorite songs in any game, bar none. It just makes me proud to be human.

    4. Dovakiin Song (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)

    Let's be honest here. You all probably knew that this song was going to be somewhere on this list. I honestly felt obligated to put it here. For a few years, this song ruled the fucking gaming world and for good reason as it is a genuine masterpiece of fantasy gaming music.

    I honestly think of the "Dovakiin Song" as the video game equivalent of "Let It Go". Everybody knows it, most people enjoy it, and it has probably been overplayed to the point of annoyance. But that overplay occurred for a reason as this song is just overwhelmingly badass in the best way.

    Composer Jeremy Soule is sometimes called the "John Williams of Video Game Music" which I think might very well be one of the fucking coolest titles that a musician could be given. And the sheer scale and attention to detail that went into creating the "Dovakiin Song" is absolutely jaw-dropping.

    The song is orchestral is a massive choir section, singing in a fictional language created specifically for the game. The song truly captures the feeling of power and prestige that playing Skyrim helps you feel.

    I don't think I have to justify this song's place on the list. This anthem to the epic hero of Skyrim and Tamriel speaks for itself and I know that people will be listening to this epic track for decades to come.

    5. Answers (Final Fantasy XIV)

    I have never been much of a Final Fantasy fan. I am familiar with the series to a degree, but the complexity of the narratives and confusing shared elements always through me for a loop. I just never attached myself to the franchise like other franchises.

    That being said, even I could acknowledge that the music of the Final Fantasy series has always been incredible and that I needed to have a song from the franchise on this list if I wanted to make it at all comprehensive. If Jeremy Soule is the "John Williams of video game music" than composer Nobuo Uematsu, the genius behind Final Fantasy's innumerable soundtracks and classics, is the "Beethoven of video game music".

    I had to choose between "One-Winged Angel", Sephiroth's chilling theme from Final Fantasy VII, the operatic romance of "Maria and Draco" from Final Fantasy VI, and "Answers", the swan song of the original run of Final Fantasy XIV.

    I admit, I made my decision based on the opinions of JoshScorcher, who made a video countdown very similar to this one, where he went into extensive detail about just how epic "Answers" truly is. And when you look at how much of a triumph this song was in making a lackluster game epic and its revamp and reconstruction feel natural and worthy of the song absolutely is worth putting it on the list.

    I love listening to this song whenever I get the chance. The lyrics reveal it as a prayer of forgiveness to a deity. A request to answer why suffering and pain are present in the world and the answer given by the deity in question. The shifting tones between Gregorian chants, desperate calls for answers, and the pitied orchestral undertones make this song a joy to listen to. This song is a triumph and is, in my opinion, one of the finest examples of how video games can truly be thought of as an art form to be analyzed and appreciated. A legendary track among the legacy of legendary tracks of an extraordinary video game composer.

    I will be listening to this song and watching the associated video, even with my lack of Final Fantasy experience.


    6. One Final Effort (Halo 3)



    Much like the Final Fantasy series, I never played the Halo series beyond the occasionally multiplayer game on a friend's console. Despite that, the reputation of Halo and its incredible soundtrack truly speaks for itself, especially with this adventurous conclusion to Halo 3: "One Final Effort".

    When I think about the Halo franchise, the marching orchestral score of "One Final Effort" is the first thing to come to mind. The leitmotif that opens up and forms the underlying theme of this song can be heard in nearly every single associated track, becoming represented of the overwhelming power of the enemy and Master Chief's will to overcome them. The song is equal parts desperate and triumphant, the perfect encapsulation of war and the feelings of fighting an overwhelming enemy.

    The song is thrilling to listen to and speaks to the quality of Michael Salvatori's skill as a composer. Though I never grew up with a particular love of the Halo franchise and even blame it for some of the more troubling elements of modern gaming, the quality of "One Final Effort" is one thing that I simply cannot ignore or not give credit where it is so rightfully due.


    7. Overture (Hearts of Iron II)

    Now here is a game that I am certain 95% of you have never heard of before. Which is a shame because Hearts of Iron II basically made up the bulk of my pre-teen and teenage years and thoroughly converted me into a lover of RTS computer games, especially the Paradox Interactive games.

    In essence, the Hearts of Iron series is a World War II Real-Time Strategy game where the player takes control of a country during the years preceding and during the second world war and leads it through the potential conflicts. The series allows for amazing world conquests, alternate history timelines, and immersive storytelling (much like the rest of the Paradox library of games). Hearts of Iron II was a major part of my life growing up and influenced my passion for history and alternate history fiction.

    And my favorite part was by far the introductory and loading song "Overture". Composed by Andreas Waldetoft, "Overture" is, on the surface, a deceptively simple orchestral piece that fits in beautifully with the rest of this game's amazing score. But the fact that this song is played at the beginning of the game every time is why this song is so epic and on this list. Sometimes I would just keep the opening screen on for 20-30 minutes just listening to this song on loop.

    A key to RTS games like Hearts of Iron II is the immersion of the player into the world of the game. "Overture" succeeds in this spectacularly, as the triumphant brass music sounds like a march of military victories. The song gets you hyped up for the game and immediately put into the mood for military and political strategy and underpins the entire gameplay.

    It is the perfect starting dish of a song to get your palette ready for the rest of the game.


    8. Arthas, My Son (World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King)

    I never played World of Warcraft growing up, as my financial situation never really allowed it. I was always much more of a StarCraft player. But I could appreciate the narrative complexity of the WarCraft universe, especially in regards to the tragedy of Arthas Menethil, more commonly known as the Lich King.

    I am fairly certain that even your average video game layman is perhaps familiar with the legend of the Lich King and his impact on the video game world. And the song which forms the core of his musical leitmotif and underlies the tragedy of Arthas' life is perhaps the best example of that.

    This song is truly haunting and its presence throughout the Wrath of the Lich King expansion and the cinematic trailer gives the entire saga of the Lich King a level of pathos that World of Warcraft has never been able to truly reclaim, though that has never stopped them from trying.

    Much like "Dovakiin Song" from Skyrim, the level of detail is exemplary, speaking of the tragedy of Arthas Menethil as something that could've been avoided had the world been kinder or fairer. And it also hints at the pain and suffering that will inevitably befall the world of Azeroth as a result of the mistakes that Arthas and those around him have made. The lyrics, when translated, feel like, in another context, they would be a triumphant coronation song for a glorious golden era king. But with the betrayals and sacrifices which underlies Arthas' life, these exultations come off as hollow and as dead as the legions of undead that he commands. They are a perfect introduction to the tone of the entire expansion, which will eventually be concluded with the song "Invincible", the compliment and conclusion to the legend of the Lich King that is born in this song.

    Truly, I can think of no song that can better wrap up this timeline than "Arthas, My Son", a perfect three minutes of tragedy, joyless recollections, and promises of pain and sufferings on the people who betrayed a could've been king and the same that he unknowingly puts upon himself.

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    CONCLUSION

    I am not an expert on musical theory and I have gone on record saying that the audio segments of my regular reviewers tend to be the areas where my subjective opinion is the most openly influential. I do not mean to say that the selections above are the most epic musical soundtracks. I merely wished to share with you all those songs that I enjoy listening to the most from video games. Those tracks that just give me goosebumps and bring me back to incredible moments of playing those games or picturing epic fictional events with these songs as their accompanying background music.

    Next week it's back to basics with the third film in the Indiana Jones franchise: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

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