“Oh no,” groaned Cuzco, “[Kronk]’s even got his own theme song.”
– “The Emperor’s New Groove,” 2000
The question comes up time and time again on assorted blogs and internet news channels: What do you listen to while gaming? What’s your gaming soundtrack? What’s your theme song? What’s your fight song? Well… Given that you could turn on my music library and get anything from Disturbed and Metallica to Mendelssohn and Mozart, from Sia and Sarah McLachlan to E.S. Posthumus and the Portal 2 soundtrack, the answer can (and does) vary widely.
I tend to ramble. (I somehow sense my readers nodding gratefully to themselves at this point…) So I gave myself some parameters when I set out to make these lists:
1) Video game music only. If I allowed myself to include all of the other music I listen to, the list would just keep going and going and going…
2) Limit my choice in games and number of tracks from each game. Too many games and choices will, again, result in a list much too long.
3) Separate the tracks into different categories to maintain focus.
4) For this particular list (Battle Themes) I looked for tracks that, specifically, made my blood pump faster, made me feel heroic or brave, and/or made me want to pick up a weapon to throw myself into glorious battle.
Molten Core: Ragnaros from World of Warcraft (Vanilla)
This was the first piece of music that made me psyched for battle against insurmountable odds. Coupled with the run down that long, winding corridor into Ragnaros’ chamber, it feels like something out of a movie as the heroes sprint toward the climactic ending. The foe is intimidating and a demi-god in his own right, whereas you and your friends are only mere mortals. Each beat of the drum seems to whisper, “Doom,” while the strings drive you forward in urgency despite your better judgment. You cannot falter and failure is not an option. The particular track is only fifty seconds long, but those are very epic fifty seconds.
Samara from Mass Effect 2
I am, for whatever reason, a huge fan of Eastern influences in music— something that becomes obvious as you see my other picks. Maybe it’s because I’m a closet belly dancer, I dunno. When I first heard this track without all of the gunfire and game sound effects, my brain immediately went back to Act II of Diablo II, the desert level, and the music for the Diablo III trailers I’d watched. But, in its own right, this is cinematic gameplay music at its best. The quieter parts suggest the finesse needed to infiltrate an enemy compound, and the tension that comes with it. The best part, however, is that the music isn’t just suited for the gameplay; it’s tailored to the NPC for whom the track is named. Without having played this mission or even looked up the character description, the music suggests an ethereal and deadly elegance: battle-prowess and beauty all in one. The sound of a tolling bell invokes the idea of being in a monastery, lending an almost spiritual feel.
Bombs for Throwing from Portal 2
There’s little left to the imagination with a title like that. The beat in the foreground actually sounds like there are bombs (and various other objects… but mostly bombs) getting shot out of a pneumatic tube. It sounds industrial and technical, as a cavernous science facility should. But it also has that sinister, dramatic intro to indicate 1) the bad guy’s in your face and 2) things just got real. Especially while playing a game like thePortal series, this particular track reminds me that my mind is a weapon, too. You can have all of the guns and firepower, but none of it means anything if you don’t have the wits to use them properly. This piece is definitely a pursuit piece: the drawn out notes of each “verse” become increasingly dogged and almost desperate as the track goes on. And each “refrain” is like a small victory, bringing you one step closer to the end.
Terran Theme 1 from Starcraft
For a piece that’s supposed to be background music while you mine minerals, build defenses, and create troops, it certainly makes you want to do anything but sit still, doing something mundane like overseeing the progress of your factory. It’s a very fun bit of music, mixing military and campy space/sci-fi themes with some twangy country/rock guitar thrown in for good measure. Space, after all, is the final frontier; who better to bring law to the lawless void than a gun-toting space
cowboy marine? The music speaks of perseverance, a “We’re in it to win it” sort of attitude. And that’s the kind of attitude that wins battles!
Icecrown Citadel: Sindragosa from World of Warcraft (Wrath of the Lich King)
Thanks to the sheer amount of times I fought and wiped on this encounter, I practically knew this piece by heart by the time my guild killed Arthas. As frustrating as the fight was, however, I never got tired of it. After each wipe, I wanted to pick myself up and get back in for another try. That’s what this particular combat theme does for me. The heralding trumpets at the intro, the Icecrown Citadel theme laid over the sound of a sad, almost forlorn flute. And then there are those punctuated strikes in the music, embodying the continuous clash of frostwing against armor. Sindragosa’s tale is a tragic and painful one, one we adventurers had to end at the Citadel. The music’s regal and heroic overtures are truly fitting for the struggle and the dragon herself.
Mordin from Mass Effect 2
Speaking of campy space/sci-fi themes, this piece sounds like nothing more than a stereotypical science-fiction blurb. It even comes complete with those “pew-pew” sounds from the 60s that scream, “Spaaaaaace! OooooOOoOoooh!” The key is to listen to the whole track once, go back to connect it with the intro again, and then listen all the way through one more time. Mordin’s intro becomes contemplative and almost sad, instead of just a slow introduction that builds up to the rest of the track. There’s an air of old dignity to the music that transforms into a dogged and desperate, but heroic, push toward doing the right thing. If the background strings sound hyper, it’s for a good reason— aside to add a signature hint of urgency to the battle theme. Like Samara’s theme, this track is the NPC’s personality in music form. One of my favorite Mordin quotes from the game is, “Hah, thought I was harmless, did you?”, and that idea of misconception becomes apparent in the music when you juxtapose the intro with the end. For a real twist on “I never would have seen that coming,” here’s an alien performing Gilbert and Sullivan (skip to 0:30 for the good bit).
You Will Be Perfect from Portal 2
I often like to think that the title is telling me to not worry about anything and, whatever I apply myself to, I will be perfect for the job. A girl can dream, can’t she? This was actually the track that sparked this entire post. Admittedly, I spend a fair bit of time daydreaming to this music, imagining a complex montage of my various characters doing heroic and badass things. It doesn’t matter which game or character I’m hooked on at the moment; this song makes everything seem more epic and just plain awesome. Disengaging out of fire while launching explosive shot? Yep. Sprinting to cover before taking off someone’s head with a sniper rifle? Absolutely. Blocking a drakonid’s attack with my shield? Of course. A long list of errands to run with the baby in tow? You bet! Demon hunter, gunslinger, Amazon, superhero, privateer, Jedi Knight, test subject, vanguard: Doesn’t matter.
The best thing about this track is that it’s short, sweet, and straightforward. Here’s your quiet intro while you survey the opposition; there’s the element of danger as the action starts; music stutters as things get real; music stutters again as the key changes and you’re near the end, almost there; finally, you emerge victorious, triumphant. And in the back of your mind as you saunter away from the battlefield, you think, “Damn straight. I am perfect.”
Got your favorite battle hymns? I want to know about it! Tomorrow, I’ll tackle (read: indulge) LilPeanut’s “Sixth” meme in a special Wednesday edition of the blog. And next week, I bring more video game music nostalgia with my favorite ambiance tracks.