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The Sounds of 2012

If you were to take a look at the music loaded on my iPhone, you would find a pretty decent amount of video game soundtracks. It’s always been one element that can make or break a moment in a video game. It can get your blood pumping during an intense battle, or make you want to cry during the saddest of moments. Just think back for a moment; in Final Fantasy VII, would Aerith’s death had been as emotional as it was without her theme playing solemnly in the background as her body was cast away by Cloud? It’s moments like that where the music can simply make an experience that much better and even more memorable. Perhaps hearing such tunes brings me back to those moments, but I also love to listen to game music for sheer enjoyment, just like any old music people listen to on a daily basis. Last year, there were several titles that sported some truly astounding music that helped define and create memorable experiences fr gamers the world over. The following tracks are from those titles, and they are certainly among the best music that gaming had to offer in 2012.

One franchise had an amazing rebirth of sorts this year, and that is the classic brawler, Double Dragon. This entry, titled Double Dragon Neon, is a wonderful homage to the 80’s era of gaming, with references to Mega Man, Ninja Turtles, and more. It doesn’t just draw from games of the era, though, but from the era itself, and if there’s one thing that certainly stood out about the 80’s, it was the music. Enter Jake Kaufman, the composer for Double Dragon Neon, who was tasked with making a soundtrack that would highlight that era while also accompanying the action of the title. The result is a set of music that, while he was distributing it for free, I donated $15 for simply because it’s that awesome. One such track really captures the era, and for some reason, while I’m not a fan of 80’s music, I LOVE this track.

The next track is a remake from the original Double Dragon, but it’s appropriately updated to have that 80’s vibe while also fitting the epic scale of the final fight with Skullmageddon as well as serving as the game’s theme.

This next track comes from one of 2012’s finest games, Mass Effect 3. This plays during the ending, and not only is the title befitting of such an event, but the track itself is as well, giving that sense of finality. I found myself listening to this over and over after beating the game, still finding it hard to believe that after three astounding games, Commander Shepard’s story is over.

Not everything on this list is from great games. These next two come from one of 2012’s biggest disappointments, in fact. The Last Story not only failed to impress in just about every regard, but it’s also one of renowned composer Nobuo Uematsu’s weakest offerings to date. However, this next track is classic Uematsu, giving off a very PlayStation era, Final Fantasy-esque sound, and it also plays during one of the last fights in the game. A definite stand-out track.

The next comes from the final boss fight of The Last Story. More classic Uematsu, with a very chaotic tone to it. It fits the fight perfectly as well as matching the insane plot twist that’s thrown your way just before it begins. Crank this one up.

So, are you ready for some Final Fantasy? This comes from the sequel to my personal pick for Game of the Year 2010, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and plays during an amazing opening fight where we’re re-introduced to series protagonist, Lightning.

Now for the battle theme. Just about every Final Fantasy I’ve ever played has had a great battle theme, and this one is no exception. I love the use of string instruments in this. It adds a certain element to it that makes it sound much more epic.

To wrap things up for XIII-2, it’s time to get loud. “Limit Break!”, its name a nod to super attacks you could pull off in older Final Fantasy titles, plays during boss fights. This fired me up every single time I heard it throughout the game. It’s not as good as the original Final Fantasy XIII’s boss theme, “Saber’s Edge” (which is one of my favorite RPG battle themes of all-time), but still damn good.

How about some Pokemon? Yup, Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 had some great new music to accompany all of the monster brawling. This first track is the theme that plays during Gym Leader fights. This, as well as the two subsequent tracks I’ll share with you, are proof that you don’t actually need an orchestra or band to create great music.

The next track only plays once a Gym Leader pulls out their final Pokemon. It’s a brilliant homage to the original Pokemon theme song and has a very climactic feel to it. It’s almost as if it’s cheering you on to make that final push to victory.

This next one is from the fight with the Pokemon League Champion. It’s a fast, adrenaline-pumping, and somewhat unconventional tune to get you fired up for the final fight. If you haven’t caught on yet, I think you should be able to tell by now that I love final boss fight tracks that really get your blood flowing.

Anyone who’s read my blog up until now has seen me harp on about ATLUS’s astounding RPG, Persona 4 Golden. Now, while a majority of the soundtrack featured tracks from the original PlayStation 2 release, there were some new tracks included to accommodate this re-release. One such track plays at a pivotal time in the game, where your time in Inaba is drawing to a close and you realize you must return to the city, leaving your friends behind. It plays as you walk around your school and in town, constantly reminding you that you’re going to have to say goodbye soon. I figure it’s also indicative by it’s title that it’s in the middle of Winter at this point in the game, as well. This track actually almost made me cry several times, making it a true example of how music in a game, when done right and placed appropriately, can draw emotions out of the player. This isn’t even remotely the kind of music I listen to (I’m a rock guy), but, damn, does it tug at my heart.

To lighten things up a bit, anyone who has an appreciation for the 8-bit games of yore on the NES will enjoy this one. This a remix of the boss theme, called “I’ll Face Myself -Battle-“, for a key fight in the game. This track just makes that fight that much more memorable and also shows the effort composer Shoji Meguro is willing to put in to match the setting and tone of any given moment in the game.

Keeping with Persona 4 for a bit, this track comes from the amazing fighting game sequel, Persona 4 Arena, which I can officially state has the best soundtrack of the year. This is a remix of the battle theme from the original game, which was called “Reach Out to the Truth”. This serves as the theme of main character Yu Narukami, playing every time you face him in battle. This version is more guitar-heavy and up-tempo than the original in hopes of getting your blood flowing for the fight, and, boy, does it ever succeed in doing that.

The next track plays while fighting one of my favorite characters in both the original game and this one, Chie Satonaka. The track’s name derives from Chie’s love for martial arts films, which is also reflected in her moveset in the game. It matches her character perfectly, being bubbly, positive, and upbeat. It’s catchy and I love hearing it every time it plays in-game. The remix of this is also amazing.

This is another one you can list under music that I typically wouldn’t listen to, but this plays during the credits after completing story mode with any character. The lyrics are in English, but it can be a little difficult to understand, so if you follow the link, there are lyrics under the video in the description. Considering the plot of Arena revolves around a new character’s ability to accept herself, knowing she’s different from everyone else and that her past was filled with unforgettably horrific events she has a hard time letting go of, makes this track a fitting end to the story. Plus, it’s just pleasant to listen to.

While you would think I’d end it off with Persona, I actually want to end it with a track from this year’s most underrated RPG, Tales of Graces f. This plays during the credits of the main storyline (different music plays during the credits after completing the “Future Arc” epilogue). This piece is downright beautiful and perfectly suitable as a final bow, signifying the end of a grand adventure. It’s also one of the best tracks of the year, hands down.

I hope you enjoyed listening to the best 2012 had to offer in game music! It certainly was a stellar year in that regard, and I hope what lies ahead this year can at least match it in quality, if not surpass it. Come back soon, as I’ll be finally making a decision on the top 10 best games of 2012, officially crowning a Game of the Year. I’m waiting until I finish Far Cry 3 and play through Dishonored before I make a final decision. I’ll also have a list of 2012’s biggest letdowns coming soon, as well, so there’s that to look forward to, as well. Until next time, folks!


One response

  1. Some excellent choices. I’m a huge fan of a lot of the tracks off the Persona soundtracks, and the Yu/Chie themes from Arena have made it on my regular playlist. Also happy to see some love for Graces f on the list — Sakuraba’s work might be a little too familiar at times, but he still churns out some great tracks as well.

    January 14, 2013 at 5:45 PM

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