8 JRPG soundtracks you should check out
As much as any other aspect of game play, music is an inextricable part of the Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) experience. In a genre where friends become enemies and stalwart companions run the risk of being unceremoniously murdered, a JRPG’s soundtrack is an important constant that helps maintain cohesion within the bounds of even the most sprawling narrative. It is as much a character to be experienced as any other member of a game’s cast and, for many, one of the most vital components of the entire experience. Below, I humbly give you a sampling of what I consider to be 8 JRPG soundtracks you should definitely check out.
Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda
Standout Tracks: Chrono Trigger, Yearnings of the Wind, Frog’s Theme, Zeal’s Palace
Arguably one of the most lauded JRPGs in the history of the genre, Chrono Trigger tells the tale of a young man and his companions as they journey through space and time in attempt to ward off the return of an ancient and powerful evil. While anyone familiar with the game knows there is far more to the story than that, they will also be quick to tell you that much of what makes the game so memorable lies in its incredible soundtrack. Each and every theme provides a near perfect accompaniment for the events unfolding before the player. Even on its own, the soundtrack has enough great pieces to capture your heart and imagination.
Wild Arms 3
Composer: Michiko Naruke
Standout Tracks: Advanced Wind, Only the Night Sky Knows, Scenery Called Everyday, Elegy for the Villains
Although benefiting from 5 iterations of the main title and even a few additional side stories, the Wild Arms series never really managed to command the same kind of following as mega-franchises like Final Fantasy. Nonetheless, the series is memorable not only for its colorful cast of characters and solid story, but also for combining the sensibilities of a space opera with a decidedly western frontier motif. Consequently, much of the series music, in particular that of Wild Arms 3, comes off as an effortlessly cool mix of sci-fi and cowboy western. It’s a definite treat for the ears and a welcome departure from more conventional offerings of the genre.
Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
Composer: Noriyuki Iwadare
Standout Tracks: Wings (Tsubasa), Toward the Horizon, Boss Battle Theme, Luna’s Boat Song
As localized by now defunct publisher Working Designs, the Lunar series has enjoyed the benefit of my affection since my elementary school days. Like seminal anime Macross, music is at the very heart of this story and it not only propels the events therein, but is integral to the very foundation of the universe it has created. While both entries in the main series have incredible soundtracks, it’s the original offering that most speaks to me by virtue of memorability and variety. There is something very special about the music of this soundtrack. It manages to capture the very essence of adventure and conveys it through melody.
Final Fantasy 8
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
Standout Tracks: Liberi Fatali, Eyes on Me, The Man with the Machine Gun, Succession of Witches, Maybe I’m a Lion
While much acclaim has been levied on the sixth and seventh entries of the juggernaut that is Final Fantasy, I have always been especially fond of Final Fantasy 8’s music. Aside from delivering extremely catchy overworld and battle themes, it provides some of the greatest character and theme songs for the series to date.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Composer: Joe Hisaishi
Standout Tracks: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch(Main Theme), Kokoro No Kakero, The Final Battle, The Zodiarchs, Sorrow, The Wrath of the While Witch
Basically Studio Ghibli’s gift to gamers around the globe, Ni no Kuni features music from long time collaborator Joe Hisaishi. The soundtrack to this game is pretty much what you would expect from the famed composer. Special attention is paid to the violin and piano for each piece and it provides exactly the right mix of whimsy and solemnity to support the accompanying bildungsroman.
Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda
Standout Tracks: Light from the Netherworld, Small Two of Pieces, Flight, Far Away Promise, June Mermaid, Bonds of Sea and Fire
Ah, sweet, sweet Xenogears… This series brought me the wonders of robots and philosophy at and age when I was just beginning to get over the death of Optimus Prime. It also featured one of the damn coolest soundtracks this side of the galaxy. Composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, a man responsible for at least one other entry on this list, the soundtrack features a diversity of style that brings together many of the games ethnic and religious themes while maintaining a vibe that is commensurate with its futuristic setting.
Tales of the Abyss
Composers: Motoi Sakuraba, Shinji Tamura, Motoo Fujiwara
Standout Tracks: Karma (Opening Theme), The Look of that Day, Fang Which Wants Blood, Tear’s Song
The Tales series has always been known for having great music, particularly when it comes to their opening themes. The eighth main title in the series, Tales of the Abyss, not only continues the tradition but, much like Lunar, it’s story actually focuses on music as one of the driving forces for the overall adventure. Not surprisingly, the soundtrack to the game is a fairly righteous affair. Ranging from fast and furious boss themes to far more subdued arrangements, every bit of music included the game feels completely suited to scenes they are meant to complement.
Skies of Arcadia
Composers: Yutaka Minobe, Tatsuyuki Maeda
Standout Tracks: Opening Theme, Main Theme, Last Battle (Opportunity)
One of the lesser known JRPGs on this list, Skies of Arcadia is an incredibly well written and executed adventure that benefits from an equally competent soundtrack. Replete with high-energy themes that serve to accentuate the swashbuckling narrative of the game, many of the tracks would feel right at home in any major Hollywood production.
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