RPG Battle Music is more important than you think

The last few articles were pretty long, so here’s a short one.

Battle music in role-playing video games is of immense importance. These tunes are going to be following you throughout the course of the game and quite possibly into your head at night.

Here are five of the best and five of the worst you can find in the games of today and of the past.

The Kind of All Right Battle Music

Golden Sun

Playing Golden Sun for the first time was like finding a diamond in an already diamond-encrusted backpack. The game was released in 2001 as an almost-launch title for the Game Boy Advance. What the game’s battle theme did was bring Nintendo’s handheld devices sound into the next generation. The Dual 8-bit chip inside of the device could play a wider range of .wav files than the Game Boy Color was able to with its 2 square wave channels. It’s why there’s so much more going on in this battle theme than in say Pokémon Red and Blue.

Chrono Trigger

There’s a musical trope that the bassist in the band is the least important member, but that’s far from the truth here. The bass line in this theme (the duh-dunna-duh-dunanananananananananananana) is what carries this song through with players. Then the almost-operatic vocals come in to make your fight against those Amanita mushroom guys in the first forest. This song gives each character from disparate times, places, and worlds a chance to battle enemies all using a common theme that provides a kind of epic urgency that carries you through the game.

Lost Odyssey

Nobuo Uematsu is a veteran of making addictive battle themes in games. Known best for creating the battle themes for the Final Fantasy series, Uematsu and Daisuke Fukugawa departed from their well-known works and into unknown territory with Kaim, an immortal soldier. For how much you have to fight with and train your partners, the song better damn-well be good. What impressed me more about the game is how well the characters’ voices mesh with the game’s music. Usually the grunting and groaning associated with fighting can get a little annoying, but with the game’s impressive voice cast.

Dragon Quest

Dragon Quest is, perhaps, an even more classic RPG than Final Fantasy. Don’t hate me for saying that yet, but take a listen to that theme. The Nintendo Entertainment System has only five channels to play with and that meant Koitchi Sugiyama, the series composer, had little room to play with the game’s music. Using only a few different sounds, Sugiyama was able to create a theme that was not only catchy, but that was adaptable. Even in the latest game, the same style of battle theme exists and it still holds players attentions as they battle everything from Slimes to Drakes.

Valkyria Chronicles

This doesn’t even need to be rationalized, but I’ll say something anyways. Valkyria Chronicles‘s soundtrack was composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto who is known for creating the tracks for games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Ogre Battle. The game was different in that you’re fighting in a fantasy world, but rather in a place very much like Europe in the 1940s. Its a soundtrack filled with desperation and hope as your characters fight through burning streets. This track in particular gives you that much needed boost of confidence within its urgency. This game isn’t exactly an RPG, but it’s still a damn fine battle theme.

Kind of Mediocre Battle Music

Tales of Symphonia

This whimsical theme mixed with the endless recitation of “DEMON FANG, DEMON FANG” just makes players, and people watching in my case, hate having ears. Motoi Sakuraba, the game’s main composer, is known for creating some pretty amazing soundtracks including work on Mario Golf, Star Ocean, and Super Smash Melee. In other words, Sakuraba is a great composer, but this song with its happy ambiance, flippant theme, and lack of depth doesn’t work for me.

Baten Kaitos

I hate this game’s battle theme with a passion. Quite a few characters in Baten Kaitos – developed by Monolith Soft – use an instrument as a weapon, yet they all have to play with this repetitive theme. Oh, guess who composed it? Motoi. Sakuraba. Sakuraba, I don’t have anything against you, but these themes are just not for me. It starts with someone pounding away at a piano and soon launches into melodic violin with snares and a little bass in the background. It’s a mess.

Paper Mario Sticker Star

We are fighting dogamnit, not having a fun time in preschool throwing stickers at people… well Mario is in this game. Sticker Star was monumentally disappointing for its dumbing down of RPG elements and simple interface. You have to admit, when compared to the other RPG Mario has appeared in this one just doesn’t hold up. It’s childish and the battle theme reflects the kind of happy, sappy atmosphere the game effectively creates.

Persona 3

Oh man, the Internet is going to hate me for this. For however long I played Persona 3, I could never get over how strange the battle theme was for this game. I’m kind of unsure how to categorize the music in terms of its genre, but it has that mix of far too many influences to be catchy or addictive. It’s certainly memorable and I went to sleep for a month with that “Baby, baby, baybaaaaayyyyyyy” in my brain.

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