I’ve been thinking on music in games lately. Perhaps it’s because I’ve finally copied a ton of collectible soundtrack CD’s to my iPod. Or maybe it’s because I like music. A lot.

Anyway, I figured I’d write a small series of articles on music. Specifically, music in games. The various types, genres, etc. How long will this series last? Who knows?

Today, we’re looking at Battle Themes.

In other words, the stuff that plays while this is happening.

A Battle Theme, primarily associated with JRPG’s (but found everywhere, of course), naturally plays during a battle. We’re covering RPG’s here, so a Battle Theme would be that song that plays during standard, non-boss battles.

Advertisement

A working theory of mine is that a battle theme can make or break your game. In the case of virtually every JRPG (Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Persona, etc.), you’re gonna be hearing that battle theme constantly. Practically every ten seconds.

Music can be an extremely powerful emotional trigger. It can make us feel a variety of things; sometimes even more so than the game/movie/TV show itself. Therefore, a dull battle theme will dull your feelings, and make the game seem boring by comparison.

And RPG’s are often enough of a grind on their own. You need a good battle theme to get pumped up!

Advertisement

That most famous of JRPG’s, and a game nobody ever shuts up about, does it very well. Here’s “Let The Battles Begin,” from Final Fantasy VII:

As soon as a battle starts in FFVII (wooshhhhh) that theme hits, and it hits hard with those three percussive opening notes. It grabs your attention, that “DUN-DUN-DUN” and holds it with a rising series of notes. The song consists mainly of these rising notes, keeping the intense feeling throughout even the most mundane battles. You feel like every battle matters.

Advertisement

It’s a damn-near perfect theme, because it makes you pay attention. The stakes seem high every time. And it’s catchy! That’s important, because, again, you hear it a lot.

In a sense, it follows the same feel previous Final Fantasy games had. You can hear a similar pulsing theme throughout the battle songs for Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI.

While we can argue all day about which of those is the best (*cough* IV *cough*), the point is, they all have a similar feel. It’s hammered into you by that beat, before extending into a tension-filled, action packed theme.

Advertisement

Namco Bandai’s Tales series usually goes a different route.

I’ve heard it said somewhere that, if Final Fantasy is a fine meal at a fancy upscale restaurant, the Tales series is like McDonald’s. Not quite as rich, not quite as fancy, but when you’ve got the craving, there’s nothing like it. I couldn’t agree more.

Tales always features a real-time battle setup, built around action and speed, and the battle themes compliment that nicely. Rather than create a feeling of tension, the battle music from Tales seeks to create feelings of action and exhilaration. It’s rapid, it’s driving, and it makes you feel unstoppable.
I like it a lot.

Advertisement

Lost Odyssey’s battle theme always struck me every time it played, as the composers were clearly going for a much grander, epic sounding theme. It’s a hair away from being a Travel Theme (which we’ll cover next time). It certainly matches the game, which, if you haven’t played, is extremely grand in scale and scope. The theme here is much slower than anything I’ve posted so far; there’s less drive here. It’s more of a “big-picture” kind of sound, sort of reminding you that there are other things happening in this world.

Persona 4 takes a wildly different approach, going with pop music rather than traditional JRPG battle themes. And it works in Persona 4’s kooky, lovable world. It’s actually a sharp contrast to the relative difficulty of some of the “normal” battles. Between this and Chie’s hopping around during battles, you start to think these guys are actually having fun seeking out a dimension-hopping murderer. And you are, too, thanks to music like this to compliment the fun-but-serious-but-fun nature of Persona.

And, just for fun, here are a few random picks I like:

Eternal Sonata: A theme that manages to be beautiful and epic all at once.

Chrono Trigger: Because every song in Chrono Trigger is amazing. That bass line, man.

Final Fantasy XIII: Simply epic; the best moment is about a minute in.

So! Obviously, I can’t cover every type of battle theme here, but these four types kind of cover a lot of ground, musically speaking. The idea, generally, is that a good battle theme should hook you in, and keep you focused and interested The songs I posted greatly succeed in this respect, I think. Let me know what your favorite battle themes are in the comments (post them if you can!), and stay tuned for a new article in this series soon!

Advertisement

I, Brian White, am an editor at Current Digital, where this article also appears, and I write Game of the Week on Kotaku TAY. You can read my (on hiatus) article series, Re: Gaming, here, and you can tweet at me @WingZero351 if that’s your bag.