10 Best World Music Tracks in JRPGs
As time has passed, games have been able to do some really amazing things with music. It's come to the point where full-on orchestras have been able to put on concerts based on our favorite tracks from so me of our favorite games. With amazing music like Final Fantasy VII’s ‘One-Winged Angel’ capturing the hearts of gamers, it's easy to take for granted what we often hear the most: world and town music. At worst, a game's world music can be annoying or non-existent to where the player turns it off or tunes it out.
However, some games go beyond the intense moments and the specific instances to make meaningful world music that amplifies the experience of the travels between set pieces. You're glad to get back into the trek or feel uplifted or calmed by the music of a certain city or village.
Starting off our list is the plucky tune that marks the beginning of our adventure with Lute, as well as the theme of Yorkland. SaGa Frontier has a lot of tragic or serious heroes that are the victims of unfortunate circumstances or desperate quests. Lute’s story is the complete opposite of that theme. His whole deal is simply to make something of himself and the theme of his homeland is an awesome aural example of that. There’s a carefree happy nature to it that compliments the bright and cheerful appearance of Yorkland, but it also serves as an inspirational send off to Lute’s journey. Compared to the dark ends of SaGa Frontier, Dear My Country is a great optimistic foil. If you’ve got time to spare and are enjoying the flow of the journey, you just might take a tip from Lute, head to Yorkland, and take a load off in this uplifting atmosphere.
Domina sets a certain tone as the first town you enter in the Legend of Mana. The bright golden colors and rustic farmland of the scene hide an undercurrent of problems that plague the myriad of characters you’ll meet there. The music does a good job of expressing this. Hometown Domina has that busy tempo of a countryside town and feels happy for the most part, but there’s almost a bittersweetness to its melody, a strife if you will. Just like the people you find within the land of Domina, this song displays a terrific balance of happiness and conflict. It does well to suit the hub that introduces you to your first trials in the Legend of Mana.
It’s difficult to pick any one song out of the fantastic soundtrack of Breath of Fire IV, but as far as town or world music goes, Thousand Wings is something else. Wyndia is home to the kingdom of the Wing Clan, and Thousand Wings is a fantastic complement to this city. The gentle chimes that kick off the song and the woodwind tones that flutter back and forth with the chimes throughout the song do well to provide a sense of regality and beauty befitting of the kingdom of a feather-winged monarchy. Wyndia is a place deserving of a song that flutters like a bird’s melody, and Thousand Wings does it perfect justice.
During the adventure of Zidane and company, they must use an enormous subterranean system of roots to journey between lands using a giant, insect-like creature as transportation. The theme that accompanies this part of the adventure is quite catchy. The piano is heavy-handed with this sort of air bellow beat that is reminiscent of a drudge through muck. Suddenly, the piano flutters into a sweet little ditty that goes hand-in-hand with the thought of underground creepy crawlies. Gargan Roo’s theme goes back and forth between stomping and tip-toeing with a bounce that is maintained through both ends. If there was ever a song that captured the spirit of a whimsical subterranean world, this might be it.
Ah, Lavender Town: the original super weird, super macabre Poké-nightmaresville. In a place that has a ghost problem, possessed people, an enormous Pokémon graveyard, and a Pokémon with mommy issues that a year’s salary worth of therapy won’t fix, there really ought to be a likewise dark song. Enter the Lavender Town theme. In a world of happy monster-capturing, gym-beating, friendship-making fun with joyous and uplifting music around every corner, Lavender Town is a wet blanket. Its theme greatly emphasizes that even in Pokéworld, not all is sunshine and Butterfrees. This song might be memorable for all the wrong reasons, but its stark contrast to pretty much everything else in the world of Pokémon still makes it a stand out for that one time when Pokémon took a moment to try to scare us before going back to the fun.
Final Fantasy VII’s soundtrack is one of the more amazing offerings ever given to the gaming. From the battles, to the boss fights, to instances like being in the church with Aeris, and the final showdown with Sephiroth, this game is absolutely brimming with some fine music all over the board. Talking about music in any given town, there are some pretty good tracks to be had, but there’s definitely one stand-out from the rest. ‘Gold Saucer’s Theme’ is bouncy, catchy, and fun as all hell. The song is another instance of stark contrast. FFVII is arguably a seriously depressing world. Cloud and his friends are always fighting against tragedy after tragedy in their hunt for Sephiroth and the soundtrack matches that feeling a lot of the time. The Gold Saucer is a moment of escape, and though it might be short lived, it sets itself apart in a harsh world as the possibly the most memorable theme park and accompanying music ever presented in a game.
Chrono Cross is filled with tracks that inspire a sense of beautiful ambiance. Forest of Illusion arguably captures this feeling the best as one of Chrono Cross’s world tracks. Setting the backdrop to the Shadow Forest, ‘Forest of Illusion’ plays out like rain. Every note drops and patters against a sweet rhythmic pattern, and the voice that sings underneath is lulling and hypnotic. Serge’s journey through Shadow Forest bears only a little importance to the overall story, but it doesn’t stop ‘Forest of Illusion’ from granting a mysterious and ethereal edge to Shadow Forest that might otherwise be lost without such a haunting song.
Earthbound is undoubtedly a weird game, but it certainly knows how to set moods. Arguably, there might not be another old school videogame track that creates the spirit of youthful adventure and heroic destiny quite like the theme of Onett. The song’s progression is a build-up that hits in all the right places. From the cheerful bounce of the tempo to the dramatic use of synthesized brass in the climactic high of the song, Onett’s theme captures the innocent eagerness and trepidation of a young boy who has just been told that he must go on a journey to save the world.
How do you come up with the theme for a prince who seeks to regain his kingdom by means of becoming a desert pirate with the help of the remnants of his trusted royal servants? Keep in mind, this crew is also rolling in one of the sweetest rides this side of Aveh--the desert cruiser Yggdrasil. The guys at Squaresoft came up with ‘Traces Left from Warriors’ Dreams’ and they did a pretty damn good job. This song balances military cadence with an air of royalty in a way that just leaves you giddy when you’re introduced to Prince Bartholomew Fatima for the first time. This song is so epic, it’s used in a lot of storytelling instances in Xenogears, but you still get to hear the body of the song as the theme whenever you’re aboard the Yggdrasil, earning it a well-deserved place on this list.
When you’ve got a game that goes across so many different periods of time, having a soundtrack that does well to remind you of that idea is kind of amazing. Chrono Trigger does a great job of conveying so many things at once every time you jump time periods, and the music is an absolutely fantastic complement. ‘Wind Scene/Yearnings of the Wind’ is a fantastic piece for where it’s first heard. Crono has just been dropped in this new world ages before his own. The things he was familiar with don’t exist yet; things are simpler. The age isn’t completely primitive, rather it is strange and mysterious. The song that accompanies the world map of 600 A.D. in Chrono Trigger encompasses that feeling. The unraveling of its simple beginning into something more beautiful is a perfect sample from a game that still stands the test of time as one of the best overall JRPGs ever.