Video Game Music Spotlight #16: Exploring the World - ArticleTaneli Palola , posted on 20 October 2020 / 2,747 Views
Some of my favourite pieces of video game music have historically been the overworld and hub world themes, as they often capture a wonderful sense of adventure and awe that makes me want to explore the world presented to me. The following nine themes are just a small handful of the best examples video games have given us over the years.
What are your favourite overworld themes? Answer the question of the month and leave your favourites in the comments below.
World Map ~Another World~
(from Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch)
The seventh generation of consoles wasn't exactly the best of times for traditional JRPGs, with old stalwarts like Final Fantasy experimenting in terms of gameplay and a number of other series taking a break or just disappearing altogether, while newcomers like Resonance of Fate were entirely different from the typical JRPG template.
One of the few titles that kept the old-school JRPG style alive during this period was Ni No Kuni, and nowhere was this more apparent than when the player arrives in the 'other world' for the first time and enters the world map. As the world opens up before them, the player is greeted by an excellent theme composed by the legendary Joe Hisaishi, and I can think of no better way to welcome players to the new world they've entered than that.
(from Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble)
Donkey Kong Country 3 is a game I've never actually played myself. In late 1996 the SNES was on its last legs, with the N64 and PS1 pushing it out of the limelight and most developers having already abandoned the aging console. I never even knew anyone who owned DKC 3, let alone played it at the time.
Despite this, one aspect of the game that I have since familiarized myself with is its soundtrack, which is, as one would expect from Rare, quite excellent. The track 'Northern Kremisphere' was the work of Eveline Fischer, who sadly often gets overlooked in favour of more famous Rare composers like David Wise and Grant Kirkhope. However, as her work for DKC 3 more than proves, Fischer deserves to be acknowledged right alongside her contemporaries as an excellent composer as well.
Searching For Friends
(from Final Fantasy VI)
The more well-known overworld theme from Final Fantasy VI would be 'Terra', and while it's certainly an excellent track, the song that plays while travelling around the world of ruin in an airship also deserves some praise. What makes this particular track stand out, to me at least, is where and when it plays in the game's story.
Around the mid-point of the story, the world of Final Fantasy VI is effectively torn asunder by the game's main villain Kefka, and the events that follow see many of the characters reach their absolute lowest points. The music very much reflects this. Then, finally, once you've gathered a few of the characters back together it begins to look like there's some semblance of hope to be found in the ruined world. The music that accompanies this newfound optimism as you travel the world via airship fits the situation wonderfully.
To a Journey
(from Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy)
There's something wonderfully upbeat and optimistic about this overworld theme from Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy. It seems to evoke a sense of longing for adventure, especially during the slower flute section in the middle when the track takes on an almost wistful tone for a brief moment.
Mana Khemia 2 is another game that I've never actually played, mainly because it's never been released in Europe, though the music alone makes me want to get my hands on the game one day. Mana Khemia 2, and its predecessor, are in fact part of the Atelier series of JRPGs, which has become something of a cult favourite in the west in recent years.
(from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask)
I really like the slightly darker, more frantic take on the classic Zelda theme found in Majora's Mask. It suits the story and tone of the game as a whole; there's still that familiar upbeat and positive theme running underneath, but the instrumentation and pace of the track give it a slightly rushed feel, which is perfect for the game's time travel-centric story.
My personal experience with Majora's Mask is watching one of my friends play it years ago, and I very much enjoyed the unusual atmosphere found within it when compared to other Zelda titles. The music plays a huge part in creating this unconventional atmosphere.
(from Lost Odyssey)
Despite my fondness for overworld themes, it's very rare that one of them captivates me to the extent that 'Neverending Journey' from Lost Odyssey did. Almost every time I ended up back on the map screen I would just sit back and listen to the music for a little while before moving on to the next location, simply because I just enjoyed this piece of music so much.
In my opinion this track also does a very good job of capturing the idea of the immortal main character Kaim's endless journey through life. There's something beautifully melancholic in the combination of acoustic guitar and flute, and the melody which commands the first half of the song. Then the electric guitar comes in to provide a beautiful counterpoint to the first half of the song. It's a great piece from one of Nobuo Uematsu's best scores.
(from Wild Arms 3)
The Wild Arms games have always had a unique style to them - one that was heavily inspired by spaghetti westerns - and nowhere is this more obvious than in the series' iconic music, composed by Michiko Naruke. Some of the best pieces of music in the series have always been the overworld themes, and the track 'Migratory Birds' from Wild Arms 3 was one that instantly left an impression on me when I first heard it.
Just like so many other themes on this list, 'Migratory Birds' does a great job of capturing a sense of adventure in an unknown world, but does so in a style all of its own. Even without taking that into account, it's always cool to hear video game music emulating the style of the great Ennio Morricone.
On the Beach of Dreams (Another World)
(from Chrono Cross)
Being a fan of JRPGs and Japanese games in general wasn't easy in Europe back in the 90s - a lot of the most beloved classics of the era never made their way to these shores and Chrono Cross was one such game. In fact, it's still not been officially released here as of the time of writing. As a result, I've never gotten to experience it for myself.
One of the reasons I greatly regret never being able to play Chrono Cross is its truly exceptional music, composed by Yasunori Mitsuda. Tracks like 'On the Beach of Dreams' are what makes this quite possibly my favourite score of his - and considering the quality of his work overall that's saying a lot.
World Map 3
(from The Legend of Dragoon)
The Legend of Dragoon is a game steeped in a powerful sense of lost magnificence. Everywhere in the game you can encounter the ruins & relics of great civilizations and see the immense power & glory that at some distant point in the past belonged to their inhabitants, but which has long since faded from memory and turned into legend. It's a world that has lost and forgotten much of what once made it great, and what it does remember is fragmented and incomplete at best.
One of the many ways the game conveys this is through its music and the four world map themes are prime examples of this. They combine a sense of beauty and wonder with a feeling of loss and sadness that suits the tone of each chapter in which they first appear.
Question of the Month
What Video Game Overworld Theme is Your Favourite?
For me, it's probably 'Neverending Journey' from Lost Odyssey. There's just something about the theme that makes me stop and listen to it over and over again. Naturally, there are several others I love as well, but that one stands out as my favourite.