Maybe the word “Ocarina” means nothing to you. It is a strange word. It could be the name of some long-lost defunct kingdom from Middle Europe, or perhaps a rare Eastern delicacy invented by Marco Polo to pad out his memoir. But if you’re someone of a certain age and temperament — someone who owned a Nintendo 64, in the long-ago era when videogame consoles were so resolutely un-chic that a major multinational corporation could actually create a controller seems specifically designed for tri-ped sewer mutants — then the word “Ocarina” can’t help but send you senselessly on a memory-spiral into The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the classic 1998 fantasy epic that regularly hovers on the top of gamers’ top 10 lists.
Maybe you remember riding across the field of Hyrule, or zipping around Kakariko village by way of your trusty Hookshot, or descending into the belly of Jabu-Jabu (a.k.a. Monstro with a vicious digestive system). But I’m betting what you remember most of all is the music. Ocarina of Time features some of the catchiest musical cues in videogame history — a key part of the gameplay has you learning twelve important tracks, all of them composed of six instantly memorable notes. Composed by Nintendo uber-composer Koji Kondo — who also created the equally iconic scores to the mainline Super Mario games — Ocarina‘s soundtrack is full of great tracks. (My personal favorite: The tragically beautiful “Zelda’s Lullaby.”)
Since the 3-D version of Ocarina of Time hits stores today, I thought it’d be fun to ask: What’s your favorite videogame soundtrack? There are some obvious classics. Nobuo Uematsu’s score to Final Fantasy VII created a whole magnificent world that perfectly matched the epic gameplay. (My favorite track from FFVII is “Cid’s Theme,” which makes for surprisingly effective gym music.) Yu Miyake’s insane score for Katamari Damacy perfectly matches that game’s hyperbolic wit, while Garry Schyman gave the original BioShock a freaky Shining-esque soundtrack.
I’m not sure any fantasy videogame score has ever been more purely thrilling — or sneakily melancholic — as Kow Otani’s Shadow of the Colossus. Likewise, I can’t think of any first-person shooter whose soundtrack has as much pizazz as Goldeneye 007 — composed by the team of Grant Kirhope, Robin Beanland, and Graeme Norgate, who funkily reimagined iconic James Bond themes. (See: “Frigate,” a delightfully tweaked remix of the Goldfinger theme.) And that’s not even including actual original songs composed for videogames, like the relentlessly chipper songs in Parappa the Rappa, the retro-fabulous theme from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, or the funny-scary “Still Alive” from Portal.
But picking one’s favorite videogame music is, ultimately, an extremely personal act of self-realization. You play videogames for hours, days, even years. The music stops sounding like music, really; it becomes something more elemental, atmospheric, as organic and yet invisible as the sound of your own breathing. So with that in mind, I have to reveal that my own personal favorite videogame soundtrack belongs to Mega Man 2. No, not the iconic NES classic; I’m talking about the Game Boy Mega Man II, an infamously outsourced dud.
Or at least, it’s generally accepted as a dud; when I was a kid, I played through it a few hundred million times. Every single level has music that casts me back helplessly into my childhood: The desperate yearning of “Air Man,” the kineticism of “Clash Man,” and “Needle Man,” a track which EW’s Keith Staskiewicz describes thus: “It could be a Rihanna song!” The soundtrack was composed by Kenji Yamazaki, who doesn’t seem to have worked on anything major. But his legacy is secure, at least in my eardrums.
So that’s my pick. Fellow gamers, what’s your personal favorite videogame music? The choir theme from HALO? The “Clouds” music from Super Mario III? The Disney-goes-RPG soundtrack to the Kingdom Hearts series?
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