RPG Overworld Themes – Even More Favorites
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so let’s talk some RPG music, shall we?
Music is an integral part of any game. While pieces that truly complement their environment are often capable of stirring emotions and conveying a story without words, dull, uninspiring themes can go completely under the radar. Today, we’re going to take a look once again at some of my favorite overworld themes in RPGs. As I’ve done in my previous lists, I’ll be limiting myself to one entry per franchise, as the Final Fantasy series (among others) could easily dominate one by itself.
When we’re done, be sure to let me know what you think about my picks, and what some of your own favorites are! Note that a couple of these picks are from games that don’t have a traditional overworld per se, but they do feature sprawling maps where the music remains consistent throughout.
Final Fantasy II
Ah, yes, the Final Fantasy entry everyone loves to hate, whether it be for its inspiration from certain space operas, or the SaGa-like progression systems. Me? I absolutely adore it for both of those reasons! Despite numerous forays into the title over the years, I only recently completed the game – the PSP version, to be precise – during quarantine last year. Although it’s not my absolute favorite in the series, it is comfortably within my top five of all time.
The overworld theme in Final Fantasy II excels in two ways: keeping things simple, while perfectly complimenting the narrative tone. The game primarily focuses on a set of bright-eyed youths that have lost everything to a nefarious empire, but they are still willing to press on even in the face of insurmountable odds. The world is unsettling, for sure, but there is a glimmer of hope in these young adventurers that will do anything in their power to stop the empire. Since the track’s inception on the NES, the theme has gone from a relatively short loop with a deep sense of foreboding, to adding a new section from the Wonderswan onwards that shines a slight ray of hope on the youth-led party.
Chrono Trigger’s exceptional soundtrack is no stranger to compliments, but I feel as if this particular one may not receive the recognition it deserves. While Dark World from Final Fantasy VI may be the more iconic “end of the world” theme of the two, there is a huge difference between them that makes me appreciate Ruined World even more (skip the next paragraph if you do not want to see mid-game spoilers of Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger).
Dark World haunts you moments after Kefka “destroys” the world, just as your scattered team is getting their bearings in the newly scarred landscape. Things are bleak, and the extent of the damage is unknown. At this point, it feels like the recovery of the party (and the world at large) is unlikely…but it’s not entirely impossible either. There is perhaps time to still make a difference. Ruined World, on the other hand, takes place years after the destruction wrought by Lavos, where any sort of hope for humanity has long been extinct. There is no hope – it is completely lost – and this track perfectly encapsulates that feeling of crippling desolation.
Brilliant, if you ask me.
Fun Traveling – Lunar: The Silver Star
Like Final Fantasy II, Lunar: The Silver Star features a youth-led adventure, and it has also seen various changes – or complete overhauls – to its soundtrack through its multiple versions over the years. Alex and company, however, haven’t lost everything to an evil empire, and begin their journey in a relatively carefree fashion. Chasing the legendary stories of Dragonmaster Dyne, they set off into the horizon – initially, anyway – with little care in the world.
With that, I think that this particular beginning overworld theme hits the nail on the head in terms of supplementing the narrative. While we may never see anything from the Lunar franchise again – it never was an overwhelming financial success – I sure hope that I am wrong.
Lone Bird in the Shire – Wild Arms
Speaking of franchises in need of a revival, how about Wild Arms? Laying dormant for many years, Wild Arms was one of the first “Wild West” themed games I ever played, and was a stark contrast to the more futuristic setting of Final Fantasy VII, which I was playing right around the same time. You don’t have to be musically inclined to realize this jaunty tune compliments traveling a dusty landscape quite well.
In Search of the Sacred Sword – Final Fantasy Adventure
While Kenji Ito is synonymous with the SaGa franchise, he’s also composed for other franchises over the years, most notably the Mana series. In fact, Final Fantasy Adventure – or Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden – was his first solo outing, and he immediately impressed despite the original Game Boy’s hardware limitations. While the Game Boy Advance version of this same track has its moments, it doesn’t really hold a candle to the original in my ears. In Search of the Sacred Sword plays in the back half of your adventure, and really drives home a sense of momentum despite the adversity that may await the hero later.
Dalentarth – Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Upon its original release, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was one of few games at the time that penetrated my nigh-impenetrable gaming schedule known as World of Warcraft. And in hindset, it makes sense – both games feature high fantasy, stylized visuals, among other similarities. Some considered it a bit too generic, but me? No sir.
And what stood out to me the most was how immersive its music was, especially in the first region of the game, Dalentarth. Grant Kirkhope did a fantastic job inviting players into this world through music, making them really feel like a part of it. And the best part is that this track is only the beginning. Dalentarth is another example where simplicity can be the superior choice instead of trying to overcomplicate the mood and feel of a location.
That’s it for my picks! What did you think about them, and what are some of your favorite overworld themes? Let me know!