“If music be the food of love, play on.”
Despite film, television and games primarily being a visual medium, it can be suggested that music, in many instances it can be argued that music provides the greatest elements of a piece of entertainment. There have been movies I’ve re-watched just to hear there music again and even 70 hour + games I’ve bought and played through solely based on the name of a composer. Finding a good soundtrack that you love is hard, but finding one that you can constantly come back to again and again is a true sign of musical genius on behalf of the creators.
Today I’d like to highlight ten tracks that resonate with me as some of my personal favourite pieces of music composed for films and games, with some honourable mentions thrown in for good measure. By the way, music is in my mind, a spoiler. If you haven’t seen or played any of the source materials that I’ve mentioned below, skip past the description. You have been warned! Now, let’s begin.
10. Naoki Sato – Hiten
Rurouni Kenshin (2012)
We’re starting with a track from one of my favourite action films of the past decade. Serving as the main battle theme for Kenshin, the swift-striking swordsman, Hiten is played during his assault on drug lord Kanryu’s mansion. The lower parts of the track often use an electric guitar and woodwind instruments to raise tension and hype up Kenshin’s arrival on the scene, before exploding into powerful vocal choirs that punctuate Kenshin’s ironic rampage through the field of battle. He beats down swordsman after swordsman, performing impossible feats of speed and agility, made legendary by Sato’s beautiful compositions.
9. Ennio Morricone – The Ecstasy of Gold
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)
I don’t even know how to describe The Ecstasy of Gold (maybe that’s why it took me so long to write this list). The closest phrase I could find to fit it would be “so stylish it’s magical” and you can quote me on that. Anything more I say wouldn’t do the track justice. Just go listen to it.
8. Hiroyuki Sawano – Hill of Sorrow
Guilty Crown (2011)
Hiroyuki Sawano is an incredibly interesting composer. Since he arrived on the scene at the start of the decade he’s produced a number of OSTs with incredibly memorable tracks, including The Reluctant Heroes (Attack on Titan) and Don’t Lose Your Way (Kill la Kill) to name just a couple. His most memorable tracks incorporate a mix of rhythm based hard rock with lots of ‘Engrish’ lyrics that often become iconic as the main themes of the shows he works on. Though to me his greatest collection of works came in the soundtrack of Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, Sawano’s peak for his most iconic type of song came in Hill of Sorrow, one of the main themes for Guilty Crown. The show itself might have been garbage at best, but it at least we’ll always have this song.
7. Nobuo Uematsu (and others) – Advent: One Winged Angel
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)
One-Winged Angel was already one of the most iconic boss themes in gaming history, but the remade version featured in FFVII‘s vastly unappreciated movie sequel, Advent Children is grander and more intense than the original. The Advent version amplifies the sounds of of the choir and orchestra, while adding electric guitars and powerful drums into the mix, bringing undeniable weight and presence to every moment main antagonist Sephiroth occupies the screen. Also with the release of this version came yet more ways to interpret the lyrics. My favourite is:
“Estaban – he’s my niece
He’s a bear – has big feet Sephiroth!”
6. Jamie Christopherson – Metal Gear Rising Revengeance: Vocal Tracks
Metal Gear Rising Revengeance (2013)
I know this list was initially meant to be for individual tracks, but I couldn’t single out any particular track that stands enough above the rest, so I just slapped the whole vocal album down. Like the game itself, MGR‘s vocal tracks just ooze metallic, uninhibited awesomeness that grabs you by the throat, proceeds to slice it into a thousand tiny pieces before ripping the cybernetic heart out of your chest and coolly walking away from your exploding corpse. Between The War Rages On, Stranger I Remain, It Has to Be This Way and the electric The Only Thing I Know For Real, every track is a highlight, like the spectacular boss fight that comes along with it. Rules of Nature is a common favourite, but I feel the entire album deserves its mention.
5. John Powell – Test Drive
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
How to Train Your Dragon came as one of the best surprises I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I was already having a good time before Hiccup and Toothless took to the air for the first time, but when I saw it and when I heard this track (dat crescendo!!) I immediately fell in love with it. The final 40 seconds of this track send shivers up my arms whenever I hear it. I haven’t found another film that’s done it as well since.
4. Steve Jablonsky – Scorponok
Say what you will about Michael Bay’s Transformers series, but it’s undeniable that they sound fantastic. Scorponok is easily the best track composed for the films by Jablonsky, punctuating the intense battle between Josh Duhamel’s army unit and the titular burrowing Decepticon. Nearly relentless with it’s tension building in the first half, Scorponok evolves to incorporate a sweeping full orchestra to act as the perfect backdrop to an exciting action sequence.
3. The Pillows – Ride on Shooting Star
Though its technically the theme for ending of FLCL, this song still deserves this spot or above on any music based list. Composed and performed by hard rock band ‘The Pillows’, Ride on Shooting Star‘s beat and riff parallel the outlandish ridiculous of FLCL perfectly, also serving as a relaxing cap for any given episode. It’s catchy, witty, cathartic and most importantly, an unforgettable song from an unforgettable show.
2. Takeharu Ishimoto – Price of Freedom
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (2007)
When I first played Crisis Core several years ago, I got to the ending and thought: “Hey, Zack Fair seems like a pretty powerful character and he survived the disaster at Nibelheim, whatever happened to him?”, then The Price of Freedom began playing while I (playing as Zack) attempted to fight off an endless onslaught of Shinra warriors. That’s what so tragic about Crisis Core and its OST, it’s a medley of Zack’s quest to become a hero, only to end at his final act, passing his will onto Cloud. I was deliberating between this track and Under the Apple Tree, but ultimately the tears I shed upon a play of The Price of Freedom made me lean more toward it. It’s one of the most emotional pieces of music I’ve ever heard, just behind the number 1 spot…
Bear McCreary – Kara’s Cordinates
Hans Zimmer – Ideal of Hope
Hiroyuki Sawano – Banshee
Nobuo Uematsu – Tina/Terra
Howard Shore – In Dreams
Harry Gregson Williams – “METAL GEAR SOLID” Main Theme (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater Version)
1. Nobuo Uematsu – Cosmo Canyon/Valley of the Fallen Star
Final Fantasy VII (1998) and Piano Collections: Final Fantasy VII (2003)
I know I’ve practically been gushing over FFVII‘s music on this list, but it’s my list and my honest opinion. The thing I loved most about the game’s soundtrack is that every aspect of the game, whether it be a location, a character or a system, had a unique, easily identifiable musical theme to accompany it. Masterpieces like the Main Theme, Ahead on Our Way, Those Who Fight, Tifa’s Theme and the previously mentioned One Winged Angel are all tracks that will stay with me forever, but the version of Cosmo Canyon found in the FFVII Piano Collections CD is something entirely in a league of its own. Uematsu, a king of his craft, reduces the Native American influences that were found in the original track and simply uses the core melody to a haunting effect.
‘Cosmo Canyon’, the home of feline companion Red XIII, houses a touching story of personal and familial loss. It’s a place where the characters are constantly looking upwards towards the sky, wandering about what they have done so far and what will happen before their journey is over.