View From the Road

View From the Road
A View From The Road: Play It Again, Sam

John Funk | 21 Dec 2009 17:00
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It's hard to admit, but even though I've largely considered myself to have "grown out" of the period when I was a huge fan of Japanese RPGs (from '98 to sometime around '04), I still look back fondly on games like Final Fantasy X and Chrono Trigger (and yes, Chrono Cross) and am finding my interest increasingly piqued by next year's Final Fantasy XIII.

But if there was any one thing that I'd love for my MMOGs and Western RPGs to take from their Japanese counterparts, it isn't the (admittedly gorgeous) graphics and (even more gorgeous) pre-rendered cutscenes, nor is it the more static and fixed methods of character advancement, and it certainly isn't the reliance on watching (or reading) a story, rather than playing a role.

It's the music.

My favorite memories of these classic JRPGs are often inextricably tied to their equally-classic tunes, and foremost among these are the battle themes. Fighting a boss in these games was a big freakin' deal, and the music let you know it - and as evidence, I present to the court Final Fantasy VI's "The Decisive Battle," Final Fantasy VII's "Fight On!", and Xenogears' "Knight of Fire." If you've played any of those games, chances are that those songs have the same effect on you as they have on me: "Oh god, oh god, where's the save point?!"

Beyond the music used for multiple boss battles, though, there was music specific to the unique storyline bosses. Chrono Trigger's "Battle With Magus," Chrono Cross' "Dragon God," and Final Fantasy X's "Seymour Battle" all evoke powerful memories of facing down the big bad guy which you struggled against for a long time. And this is to say nothing of the gigantic, bombastic final boss themes complete with the requisite Latin-chanting chorus. As overplayed and - to be frank - overrated as Uematsu's "One Winged Angel" is, it does have a powerful effect of making the player feel like they're at the end of a long, rough journey.

Where is the equivalent to these compositions in Western MMOGs?

This isn't to say that MMOGs don't have good music - far from it. To focus on the big dog in the park, Blizzard's in-house composers are phenomenal. The game has always had a fantastic soundtrack with songs like "Call to Arms," but the score to Wrath of the Lich King is particularly excellent and evocative. The accompaniment is grand and sets the stage perfectly in zones like the Dragonblight and the Storm Peaks, and I'd be doing the game's music a disservice if I failed to mention the utterly mindblowing "Arthas, My Son" from the intro cinematic. It's clear that the composers are more than competent - so where's my awesome boss battle music, huh?

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