Welcome to the ninth part of the CelJaded Top 100 for Best Video Game Music. This final post features entries #20 to #11.
Start by reading the introduction post first as it contains all the house rules that this list follows along with a few other musings that you might find interesting.
If you’re looking for another post in this same series then also consider visiting the associated index which includes a readout of all currently published entries and the posts in which they appear.
As always, please remember that I do not own any of the music samples you see embedded below; they are the property of their respective copyright owners.
#20 – Nerevar Rising …for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Principal Platforms: PC | Composers: Jeremy Soule | Year: 2001
Morrowind and Halo are two games from the same era that really define modern video game music. By 2001 it seemed that the days of simplistic synths and set level themes were coming to a close, with composers now enlisting the use of lavish audio suites and full orchestras with which to explore their deeper themes.
Morrowind’s central theme Nerevar Rising is one of the most renowned pieces of music that the genre has to offer and it’s a composition that’s since been reimagined for subsequent entries in the Elder Scrolls series.
This original version definitely sounds calmer than its bombastic counterparts, but even if it isn’t as rousing, the track makes up for it with its pleasing ambient quality and rather wistful beauty.
#19 – Main Menu …for Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Principal Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 | Composers: Michael McCann | Year: 2011
It’s gratifying to know that I’m not the only one with a menu theme fetish, as the creators of the cinematic flop After Earth clearly liked this one from Deus Ex 3 so much that they decided to license it for their film’s official trailer!
[Insert your own “didn’t ask for this” joke here]
#18 – Pokémon League …for Pokémon X and Y
Principal Platforms: Nintendo 3DS | Composers: Shota Kageyama, Minako Adachi, Hitomi Sato, Junichi Masuda | Year: 2013
Because of its typical reliance on established material, I don’t appreciate the music in Pokémon games like maybe I should. This is something that is changing as Nintendo’s handhelds become more powerful though, as the better technology has led to richer compositions that don’t sound as samey or compressed as they once did.
For Pokémon X and Y we once again return to the Pokémon League, not for battle this time (although I very nearly went that theme!), but for the triumphant area backing music that more than sells the grandeur of the game’s imminent final battle.
#17 – Training Ambience …for Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
Principal Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 | Composers: Jesper Kyd | Year: 2007
Kane & Lynch marks the first time that I was ever attracted to a video game based solely on the strength of its music. From the harsh guitar twang in the official trailer to the mournful sound of loss in Kane’s narrated letter, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the audio production in this otherwise mediocre game is a cut above the rest.
Training Ambience may be a difficult one to appreciate without proper context, but the game’s greater themes are embedded in this track like no other.
The early game set piece where this music appears is one of the rare moments of downtime you’ll actually witness in Kane & Lynch and it’s in this rare moment away from all the bullets and mayhem that you can really hear the haunting whispers of Kane’s estranged family and Lynch’s descent into medicated delirium as they start to bleed into reality.
There are no positive role models in a game like this, no glimmers of hope, and no happy endings for anyone involved in the story. It’s a testament to his experience that composer Jesper Kyd has managed to illustrate all of this in one little track to a training mission that most players probably won’t even give a second thought!
#16 – Yhorm the Giant …For Dark Souls III
Principal Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One | Composers: Yuka Kitamura | Year: 2016
Sometimes a piece of video game music comes along whose immense quality can be recognized in a mere 10 seconds of it playing. Yhorm the Giant is one of those times.
I have my misgivings about the way this particular boss battle was handled in Dark Souls III, but for a series of games that are rightly accompanied by silence for most of their duration, sometimes you just need a totally epic boss theme to blow the housing off of your speakers.
And in that regard at least, Yhorm the Giant does not disappoint!
#15 – Beyond Earth …For Civilization: Beyond Earth
Principal Platforms: PC | Composers: Geoff Knorr | Year: 2014
Even though Beyond Earth is now considered the black sheep of the Civilization family, the one thing that most players will agree on is how superb the its music is across the board.
Geoff Knorr got the honour of delivering us the title theme and it’s an honour well-earned indeed. In short: this is one of those thematic compositions that really “takes you there” and its presence will be sorely missed should you choose to install the Rising Tide expansion set.
Firaxis, please give us the ability to switch menus. Music as cool as this should never go to waste!
#14 – Music of the Spheres …for Soulstar
Principal Platforms: Sega Mega-CD | Composers: Nathan McCree | Year: 1994
Unrelated to Martin O’Donnel’s project of the same name, Music of the Spheres is one of the many fantastic tracks that Nathan McCree recorded for Soulstar; an obscure Mega-CD shoot ’em up notable for its amazing presentation and dodgy controls.
Picking just one track from this glorious selection of spacefaring tunes proved to be an agonizing decision, but I think this upbeat closing credits theme is just too good to ignore.
#13 – Pit Bully …for Three Dirty Dwarves
Principal Platforms: PC, Sega Saturn | Composers: Magyari András, Héger Attila, Dobos Attila et al. | Year: 1996
As uptempo and catchy as it is downright unusual, the music for Three Dirty Dwarves is an example of this genre at its most unique and memorable.
Its experimental style certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but this obscure 32-bit beat ’em up is loaded with charm and is never short of another crude banger to help set the bonkers tone.
To that end you have this rocking theme for Pit Bully; the dastardly orc who wears dogs like some people wear jewellery. Much like the character in question, there’s nothing pretty about this track at all! It’s just one more dirty guitar riff from beginning to end and for such a chaotic backyard brawl as this, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
#12 – Leeza’s First Mission …for Headhunter Redemption
Principal Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox | Composers: Richard Jacques | Year: 2004
Headhunter Redemption is the very definition of a disappointing sequel; a “next-gen” action game largely bereft of the sort of cutting-edge graphics and intriguing thrills that made its Dreamcast precursor such a success.
Redemption’s only real saving grace comes via Richard Jacques, the returning composer whose work on the original Headhunter saw him rightly decorated with praise as well as numerous industry awards.
Whilst the live orchestra is missing this time around (a fact that can be difficult to notice due to the album’s innate quality), the electronic music in Redemption is still very well realized and it combines pleasing hints of action and unsettling ambience to great effect throughout the game’s many dingy locales.
Leeza’s First Mission is, as the title suggests, the backing track to the game’s opening level. Whilst the setting is one of those bland industrial environments that you’ve seen in a hundred video games prior to this, the accompanying music has a very unique sound to it.
When you consider how often tracks like these tend to loop (as the player wanders corridors in search of key cards and door switches etc.), you may start to admire this one even more for its low key approach mixed with the occasional flash of drama.
#11 – Act on Instinct …for Command & Conquer
Principal Platforms: PC, PlayStation, Sega Saturn | Composers: Frank Klepacki | Year: 1995
Here’s another video game where the music hits you like a freight train the first time you hear it. I’m a big fan of industrial music in general so it should come as no surprise to hear how much I enjoy the many incomparable sounds that this franchise has to offer.
Act On Instinct is usually the first tune that players hear in this mainstay RTS and it gets top billing for a reason. This track is awash with all the heavy beats, uncompromising riffs, and amusing speech samples that grant Command & Conquer its unique place in video game music history.