I’ve been a fan of video game soundtracks since I first heard Koji Kondo’s handling of the original The Legend of Zelda. Hearing the music from that game, like so many other people my age, takes me back to a simpler time in my life and reminds me of the passion that I had, and continue to have, for video games. That passion helped bring about this site (take that as you will).
I’ll often select the genre of game soundtracks on shuffle on my iPod and just let it go. Many times, a song will spark some memory from my life that brings me great joy as I reminisce about what was going on in my life when I was playing that game. The Mass Effect 2 soundtrack brings back memories of when my wife first told me she was pregnant. Golden Axe reminds me of the day I found out my grandfather had passed away. Final Fantasy VI brings me back to middle school, when I slowly started to break free from my social awkwardness (something I still struggle with on occasion to this day as I near 30 years old) and find myself. Video games, since I picked up my first NES controller at friend’s house when I was 5 years old, have always been a big part of my life. A game may leave the front of my mind, but when its soundtrack comes up on my iPod, I’m taken back to times and emotions sometimes long forgotten.
Those memories aren’t always happy ones. Sometimes those memories brought on by a song are of a squandered weekend rental (which could be a travesty lost on many kids in the present) or, more currently, a wasted purchase on a game I grew tired of or just simply disliked. Why would I keep soundtracks of games I would never go back and play again? Simple. Those soundtracks that fit that criteria and made the cut all the way to the present are good. Some so good, I never finished the game attached to the soundtrack, but have listened to the soundtrack multiple times through.
I’d like to share a few of those games with you on occasion and add in a favorite song (or just whatever I can scrounge up on YouTube) from these games. Do keep in mind that these are all subjective, so your mileage on my taste in music, and games, for that matter, might vary. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s rock out to some awesome music from games that really weren’t so awesome.
Ys III: Wanderers from Ys (SNES)
Wanderers from Ys (pronounced “ease”) was one of those squandered rentals from my childhood. I was given the chance to rent one game when I went to my grandma’s house for the weekend. My grandma purchased my brother and I an NES and, eventually, a SNES against the insistence of my parents on the condition that they stayed at her house. Needless to say, I was always excited for the weekend to come so I could get my mitts on the those systems. My grandma, who, to this day, will still buy me the occasional video game, was a bit less strict about what we did in terms of recreation. Some of my favorite memories from childhood are being at her house, eating cereal my parents wouldn’t let me have (Fruity Pebbles, Lucky Charms, Frosted Flakes), and staying up (or attempting to anyway) and watching all of Saturday Night Live. My grandma was always a rule bender for us because that’s what grandparents are supposed to do.
She would take us to a video store or two and let us rent one game for the weekend. Well, if Nintendo Power or GamePro didn’t cover it, chances are I had no idea what I was getting myself into for this monumental decision (or at least what would pass for one for a 10 year old). This random choice would have me playing games I still enjoy to this day. One weekend, I took the store clerk’s recommendation and tried Ys III. Finding my trust in the clerk misplaced, this decision led to me totally ignoring the Ys series altogether until Michael Cunningham from RPGamer started speaking so highly of Ys Seven for the PSP back in 2010.
With lousy hit detection, poor platforming, and a near ridiculous difficulty, I gave this game a few hours before I tossed it to the side and didn’t touch it again. Oddly, the song I have linked below, “The Boy’s Got Wings,” stuck in my head, perhaps trying to find some saving grace for this travesty. Purchasing Falcom’s reimaging, Oath in Felghana, I popped in the soundtrack that XSEED included in their premium edition release and remembered the song, now titled “The Boy Who Had Wings”. Wondering just how different the soundtracks were, I tracked down the soundtrack for Wanderers from Ys and found myself enjoying it slightly more than the rendition in Oath in Felghana.
While Ys III: Wanderers from Ys is an experience you can skip, its soundtrack is something you can enjoy without context. If the soundtrack inclines you to try it, I would recommend purchasing the excellent Ys: The Oath in Felghana instead. There’s no need for you to learn this lesson the hard way as I did.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclessia (Nintendo DS)
Castlevania is one of the few series I’m willing to take a blind chance on. Purchasing a game in the series has rarely left a bad taste in my mouth, but what an awful assault on my palette when it does. Order of Ecclessia fell into that category. Being vague on getting the best ending is common for Castlevania, but being so unequivocally cryptic about unlocking a significant portion of the game was a lesson I had hoped Konami learned from Symphony of the Night. Actually, the vagueness was more attuned with the virtual flipping of the bird to you that Simon’s Quest dealt.
While the combat was an inventive way of freshening up the series as it neared a point of stagnation, the frustration of not knowing what to do and pixel hunting found me giving up before I saved all the villagers and unlocked the last portion of the game.
Dear god though, the soundtrack was wonderful. You’ll be hard pressed to hit YouTube and find a clunker for Order of Ecclessia. I rarely use headphones when playing portables, but I would wait until a song hit its loop before I moved on to the next area more than I care to admit to. The soundtrack kept the cart in my DS longer than I felt it deserved.
Strania – The Stella Machina (XBLA)
Here’s where you may question my taste in music. I really enjoy the “shmup” genre, despite not being particularly good at them. With the genre being so niche, I try to buy most of them to support the genre. For every Ikaruga (the game that got me back into shmups when it released on GameCube), there are five games like Strania. While Strania doesn’t do anything particular bad in terms of gameplay, it doesn’t do anything well either. It handles about as well you’d expect something that requires fast reflexes and a ton of memorization, but as far bringing anything to the table that’s new or even well refined, well Strania only has it’s soundtrack to set it apart.
Strania, relative to its genre, is a long game. You can take on the role of the enemy ace you fight against and see the “story” from their perspective, effectively doubling the game’s length. There aren’t too many reasons to even see the game through that far unless you’re desperate for another shmup. Better instead to get the soundtrack, throw it on your iPod, and go workout to it. The energy in the music is wonderful to get you moving, which is in large contrast to the rather bland game it’s attached to.
So there you have it, my first foray into recommending some music for you. I have a ton more to suggest, but I thought it would be better served to split this up into a regular feature. If you have any suggestions, we’d love to hear them! Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.