Welcome to the third part of a brand new CelJaded Top 100 for Best Video Game Music. This post features entries #80 to #71.
Wondering where all the Chrono Trigger music is? Then you need to read 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.
#80 – The Shell’s Desert: Final Boss …For Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst
Principal Platforms: PC | Composers: Hideaki Kobayashi, Fumie Kumatani | Year: 2004
Like many JRPGs, Phantasy Star Online is a good ambassador for Japanese video game music in general.
The sound in PSO is decidedly campy and futuristic in tone, featuring calm melodies during exploration and more tense numbers during battle situations.
Of course the most thrilling music in an RPG tends to accompany boss battles and this one against the gigantic sandworm Saint-Milion – which also acts as a finale to the game – is about as thrilling as it gets.
#79 – Main Title …For Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
Principal Platforms: PC, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox | Composers: Jesper Kyd | Year: 2001
Arguably the most famous composition from the award-winning composer Jesper Kyd, the title theme from Hitman 2: Silent Assassin sets a high watermark in terms of quality.
This is a dark and ominous piece that ties into the game’s theme wonderfully and features an equally wonderful performance by The Budapest Symphony Orchestra and Choir.
The lyrics appear to be the sort used in the music for Requiem Mass, which loosely translated from Latin sounds like:
Eternal rest grant unto
them, O Lord, and let perpetual light
shine upon them.
A hymn becomes you, O God, in Zion
#78 – Grabbag …For Duke Nukem 3D
Principal Platforms: PC, PlayStation, Sega Saturn | Composers: Lee Jackson | Year: 1996
This title track to Duke Nukem 3D is one of the most rocking pieces of video game music you’ll ever find and over the years it has spawned numerous remixes, covers, and even an officially sanctioned variation by Megadeth.
Although the original version of the song is of simple MIDI quality, Grabbag’s most popular renditions feature the energetic guitar lines and heavy riffs (as heard in the sample above).
Composer Lee Jackson has attributed his inspiration to all kinds of sources including Pantera, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath and chose the name Grabbag as a nod to his figurative “grab-bag” of song ideas that resulted in the final piece.
#77 – Under the Star of Destiny …For Soulcalibur II
Principal Platforms: GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox | Composers: Junichi Nakatsuru, Yoshihito Yanom, Asuka Sakai et al. | Year: 2002
The Soulcalibur series has always presented unforgettable intro cinematics before the main game and this rousing theme, that accompanies the opening to Soulcalibur II, surely ranks as one of the very best in the hearts and minds of fans everywhere.
#76 – Fury, Hammer and Tongs …For Jade Empire
Principal Platforms: PC, Xbox | Composers: Jack Wall | Year: 2005
Jade Empire was BioWare’s valiant first attempt at escaping from the shadow of success that was cast by their earlier hit Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
This eastern-flavoured RPG has originality oozing out of its pores, but ultimately KOTOR’s legacy proved too difficult to escape from and as a result Jade Empire failed to really catch on despite its positive reviews.
Fury, Hammer and Tongs is the game’s default theme for whenever you enter a battle, but don’t let the commonality of that fool you; this is a furiously varied piece that seeks to make each and every one of the game’s many confrontations feel like a real spectacle.
#75 – D.O.A. …For Dead or Alive 2
Principal Platforms: Arcade, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 | Composers: Makoto Hosoi | Year: 2000
From this point onwards you may begin to notice the fondness I have for menu themes.
Such tracks are tricky beasts as they have to be immediately appealing without outstaying their welcome. After all, accessing menus is a common feature of modern video games, so you want to make sure that their accompanying music is gratifying enough to make the process more bearable.
Beat ’em ups like Dead or Alive are the sort where you don’t want to spend too much time setting options anyway, so here it can be even more vital to get your point across quickly.
To that end, this particular track from the franchise’s second entry is just one big heavy guitar riff that punches you in the face every time you start the game.
Quite fitting I’d say!
#74 – Colonel Crane’s Fighting Train …For Ironclad Tactics
Principal Platforms: PC | Composers: Farewell to the Woods | Year: 2013
Ironclad Tactics is a woefully underrated card battling game with an equally good symphonic soundtrack by composer Evan Le Ny.
The most memorable track on the album though comes from an independent group of folk musicians called Farewell to the Woods who have the honour of playing the end credits theme.
As they themselves describe it, Colonel Crane’s Fightin’ Train is “a song about a fictional Civil War general who fought with robots!”
Essentially this track is a recap of the game’s story, but it sounds great nonetheless and looks even better when put against the backdrop of an ironclad stage show!
This song also features on the band’s EP Holy Bones, Vol. 1.
#73 – Main Theme …For Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
Principal Platforms: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox | Composers: Kärtsy Hatakka, Kimmo Kajasto, Perttu Kivilaakso | Year: 2003
The Max Payne theme is a particularly memorable piece of music if mainly because of the amount of screen time it gets over the course of all three games in the series.
The remorseful tone in this piece arguably hits its most melancholy notes in Max Payne 2 as the cello and violin instruments in this version add a real air of sadness; something that the franchise has now become well known for.
In both the original Max Payne and in Max Payne 2, players can interact with working pianos in certain levels that allow them to play the first few notes of this theme, albeit not very well!
#72 – Port of Adia …For Turok 2: Seeds of Evil
Principal Platforms: Nintendo 64 | Composers: Darren Mitchell | Year: 1998
As I said in my big retrospective on Turok 2 not so long ago; the ominous orchestral score by Darren Mitchell here does a fantastic job of helping imagine a very bleak and hostile world.
The first level theme for the Port of Adia has always remained a favourite of mine just simply because of its energy and drama when compared with the more brooding tracks of the later game.
Even though they were recorded for a cartridge-based system though, Turok’s unsettling ambient strings still sound superb and overall the music does wonders for enhancing the atmosphere of an otherwise mediocre gaming experience.
#71 – Main Table …For Dragon’s Fury
Principal Platforms: TurboGrafx-16, Mega Drive | Composers: Toshiharu Yamanishi, Takeshi Yoshida, Naosuke Arai | Year: 1990
A great example of Japanese video game music if ever there was one.
Known as Devil Crash or Devil’s Crush in Japan, this heavy metal take on pinball is a real cult game today owing to its weird yet compelling art style and unique gameplay.
This near 10 minute main table theme goes the distance too, but it’s such a wild ride that you won’t mind it being practically the only piece of music you’ll hear in the game!
The sample presented above comes from the Mega Drive version that, along with the more sensitive title of Dragon’s Fury, also has an entirely different synth arranged by its western developer Technosoft.