VGM? What is that? Is it edible?
You remember those chipped tunes at the era of SNES? You remember the gorgeous orchestral piece from that shiny new console? VGM stands for Video Game Music, and it has come a long way since its first appearance, just like the world of gaming itself.
Music tells story. Music paints the world. It’s an essential element to any game, especially an RPG, that it’s hard to imagine an RPG without one.
Because we like lists, let’s have fun with one! Before that, the usual disclaimer: this is not official anywhere. They’re my personal favorites, and might not be similar to your opinion. If you feel your favorite VGM album isn’t listed, feel free to chip in the comment.
Here I’m listing five RPG soundtrack albums which, to me, have the best overall performance. Therefore, albums which contain a handful of memorable tracks but also several boring tunes would not be included. These albums, I think, convey enough feelings to please even casual VGM fan who haven’t played the game, and provide a good deal of nostalgia for those who have.
In no particular order:
Seiken Densetsu: Legend of Mana OST
Shimomura considers this her finest work, and I won’t object. Even from the title screen you know it’s going to be good. From the epic Song of Mana to the haunting Irwin on Reflection, the sacred Holy Power of Mana, to the joyful Play the Organ! I’ve played a lot of RPGs, but when talking about town themes, Hometown Domina will forever be in the forefront of my mind. Combined with the lush watercolor background arts from the game, this is a beautiful masterpiece for Square Enix (then Squaresoft).
Tales of Legendia OST
Motoi Sakuraba is a fine composer, but hearing the same style again and again can be quite painful. Despite being a nice RPG series, Tales of soundtracks are mostly bland with a gem every now and then. Go Shiina aka Masaru Shiina who is in charge of this particular release breaks all the mold, and is a much needed breath of fresh air. I remember feeling that this is going to make it to my favorites once I got past the opening scene and stepped into Lumen Spring. The Bird Chirps, I Sing isn’t like anything I’ve ever heard in any RPG. A very good start of a journey! Another track to recommend are The Prayer Becomes Power, Stella, and Delques Black Wings. ToL’s soundtrack features a mismatch of styles which will continue to surprise you throughout the game. My Tales sounds like it belongs to a Disney movie to me (although a good song on its own), and TAO doesn’t fit with the soundtrack, but overall the album will scream ‘fresh!’ at you. The soundtrack sticks out between the line of Tales games, and even RPGs in general. It’s a shame Shiina hasn’t returned for another title in the series. Oh, if you have played the game, you’ll notice that the tracklist is hardly complete. You can find the other tracks in ‘Tales of Legendia ~voices of character quests vol.2~ disc 2.
Genso Suikoden II OGS Complete
Hailed as the best game in the series, I’ll argue the same award applies to the soundtrack as well. This is Miki Higashino’s last contribution to the series, sadly, and the music for the next two games are a bit different than the first two until Norikazu Miura revives the style in SV. Spanning four discs and seventeen chapters, the soundtrack will bring you to a medieval world at wartime, telling you stories of tragedies and betrayal, but also a bit of time for smile, laughter, and warmth of camaraderie. Several notable tracks are Reminiscence (both the original and strings version), Let’s Climb that Hill, Passacaglia, Withered Earth, La Passione Commuove la Storia, and of course the legendary Theme of a Moonlight Night. To name all is to name half of the tracklist, which is not something I’m going to do given space constraint.
Mana Khemia ~Gakuen no Renkinjutsushi-tachi~
Ah, the fun filled days in the academy. Nothing notable but an explosion here and a blast of magic there. The diverse bunch of characters made their way into the soundtrack. It’s mostly cheery and optimistic, although darker themes are there as well. To get a glimpse into the young alchemist’s school life, try To The Future of Dreams. Listen to the character themes to find out how much of a ragtag bunch they are. The overworld theme is another treat. Nefertiti and Stigmata, two of the vocal tracks, are worthy of your time as well. The soundtrack is different from Ar Tonelico series, another GUST games, and while some might remind you of Atelier Iris 2, part of its mother series, Mana Khemia is nonetheless worth a shot.
Final Fantasy IX OST
I have to restrain my bias a bit. The theme of the game and soundtrack is evident from the beginning: nostalgia, and personally, I think they made the goal elegantly. Which game features a save/load screen theme as beautiful as The Place I’ll Return to Someday? I used to take my time saving just to hear the music. The overworld theme for Mist continent, Crossing Those Hills will lull you, leaving yourself unguarded, then suddenly you’re dragged into a battle with ferocious beasts. You’re not Alone! and Vamo’alla Flamenco tell you about different facets of the universe. Then there are Immoral Melody, Bittersweet Romance, and Terra. Some shun Melodies of Life, the game’s most prominent theme, but I have to confess it’s my favorite song all these years. The 30-seconds Coca-Cola commercial version included in the soundtrack makes a good ringtone. Get Final Fantasy IX OST+ for fuller experience.
Persona 3 OST
Quirky, upbeat, and catchy, but also dark and ominous, just like the nature of the game. Burn My Dread, Changing Seasons, Kyoto, and Kimi no Kioku are amongst the must-heard.
Kingdom Hearts II OST
I’m going to argue that Passion/Sanctuary is much better than Hikari, but to each of their own. Be sure to hear Dearly Beloved, Roxas, A Twinkle in the Sky, Hand in Hand, and A Walk in Andante.
As you can see, I’m a proud fan of Yoko Shimomura’s work.
I’ve several other songs to make the lists, but before you have to squint your eyes to read this post, I’ll have to end it here. Let’s resume next time!