Welcome back to my RPG Music Series, where I throw out some of my personal favorite tracks of mine from across various platforms. This one in particular is going to be a doozy, so prepare yourself accordingly!
The joyous SNES era, where we were graced with three excellent Final Fantasies (we will kindly ignore the existence of Mystic Quest), beloved classics such as Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger, as well as countless other magnificent RPGs. Below are a selection of tunes that have spoken and still manage to speak to me to this day. If you’d rather skip over my commentary, you can find a complete, pre-compiled playlist at the very bottom of this article.
Final Fantasy IV – Within the Giant
Let’s get the Final Fantasies out of the way first, because they not only are pretty much required by such a list, but also presented me with the most difficult choices.
Within the Giant only plays in a couple of areas in Final Fantasy IV, which is unfortunate. As a child, I would often pause the game during these moments just to take in the experience that much longer. It is the perfect mix of sci-fi, and fantasy that paints a painstakingly summary of your adventures thus far, as well as what lies ahead of you. I mean, who would have ever thought that a bass line like that would pair well with a stringed ensemble backing and a trumpet blasting the main melody? Beats me, but I’m glad it is a thing nonetheless.
Final Fantasy V – Beyond the Deep Blue Sea
I don’t think that Final Fantasy V gets the recognition it deserves, and its late release to the western market didn’t help things either. It VASTLY improved the groundwork of the job system presented in Final Fantasy III, making it an incredibly fun game to play when considering that sole feature alone.
This track is one of my favorite underwater tunes of all time, and is especially interesting considering that underwater areas in games were more or less nonexistent at that time.
Final Fantasy VI – Dark World
This one was the hardest for me to pick by far. Uematsu really went all-in on the last Final Fantasy for the SNES, and it shows. While Dark World isn’t the most exhilarating piece technically, you can’t deny how well it plays into the overall tone at that particular section of the game. You are separated from your companions, and the world literally just ended. You failed, more or less, and this track has no problem reminding you of that notion with every note. It is such an iconic piece that I felt like I had to include it despite it not being my personal favorite of the entire soundtrack.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest – Mountain Range of Whirlwinds
I know, I know. I asked us all to ignore the existence of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. So why bring this disease of a game up now? Honestly, I feel like Mystic Quest may get a harder rap than it deserves, but I can understand and agree with many of the common complaints. Yes, it is too easy and yes, its systems are extremely watered down in comparison to a mainline Final Fantasy title (or any RPG for that matter). At the very least though, I think most could gleam a light of hope from the game considering its soundtrack alone.
In retrospect, a lot of the tracks have a serious 90s rock vibe to them (take that as you will), but many others are respectable pieces in their own right. Having said that, I’m relieved to know that the days are behind us when Square thought it necessary to cater games specifically for the west because they thought we were too dumb to play the mainline games.
Chrono Trigger – Corridors of Time
In the late 90s / early 2000s, I was part of a small indie game development community that specialized in a specific game creation engine. 99% of the stuff made with the tool were non-commercial projects, so ripping and using commercial assets in said games were a very common occurence. It was a running gag amongst that community that every game made would somehow find a way to use Corridors of Time.
Although looking back, I was highly annoyed by the frequency of its use, it’s only because of how truly great the track is that people felt compelled to obsessively use it in the first place. If you are giving this a listen for the first time, I highly suggest that you do so with either a surround sound system or headphones. Your ears will thank me later.
Earthbound – Snowman
If you aren’t familiar with the Mother series and are wondering where more modern satirical RPGs like Undertale draw inspiration, then look no further. While not very popular in its prime, Earthbound has amassed a healthy cult following over the years. It is a treat of a game, filled with wonderful and occasionally odd music that fits right in with the weirdness of everything else in the game. Snowman is one of my most favorite tracks ever, and gets the whole winter wonderland vibe right on every level.
Secret of Mana – A Curious Tale
Every time I hear this song, I get taken back to summer break right before entering the 4th grade. At the time, I had never played anything quite like Secret of Mana, which is why its always been a cherished memory of mine throughout the years. Having played the remake and seeing how brutally faithful it was combat-wise to the original, I can’t say that I care much for the combat system these days, but the soundtrack is something I find myself going back to on an almost weekly basis to this day.
Seiken Densetsu 3 – Meridian Child
Unlike most of the games mentioned on this list, I have very little experience with Seiken Densetsu 3. It was the next game in the Mana series after Secret of Mana, though it has yet to see a true western release. Before I even played this game, I heard Meridian Child in a game made from the same indie development community mentioned earlier. After that, I had to play the game for myself, and was not disappointed by the experience. Here’s to hoping they localize the Seiken Densetsu Collection that already exists on the Japanese Switch eShop for us over here craving a great old-school RPG.
Lagoon – Castle Mark Phillips
Likely the least known title on this list, Lagoon is a game that I never managed to finish entirely, though I still invested a healthy amount of time into it. Combat-wise, it plays very much like a traditional, top-down Zelda game, but with one caveat. Your sword swings are so laughably small that you have to get uncomfortably close to your enemies to do any damage. That in itself made the game much more difficult in comparison to other games with a similar combat system. Castle Mark Phillips is played in multiple areas, and is likely to get stuck in your head before too long.
Secret of Evermore – Horace
Ask someone to finish the phrase “Secret of _____”, and nine times out of ten they will say “Mana”. Actually, make that 10 out of 10 times, because I doubt many people have fond memories of Secret of Evermore. It shares a lot of similarities to Secret of Mana, which I think is why it never really got off the ground for most people.
While arguably superior gameplay-wise to Mana, Evermore’s story was a bit out there and a massive departure from what people expected from a “Secret of” game. Admittedly, it was their own prerogative to design it in such a way due to the fact that it wasn’t a Mana game at all. Regardless, the soundtrack is pretty great despite not being quite as memorable as Secret of Mana.
Playlist – Great RPG Music On: SNES
The SNES had a massive RPG library, and I know I only scratched the surface of it here. Let me know some of your favorites within the games I already chose, as well as any other titles you think should also appear on this list!