Welcome back to No Tune Unturned, a feature in which some dude with no musical training beyond boring childhood piano lessons elaborates on why, precisely, he likes videogame music so much. I had a lot of nice things to say about the spectacular Symphony of the Goddesses concert last month, so head over there to feel the magic. Or, if you’d rather, just listen to Feel the Magic. Whatever works.
As the master of emotions, music has a near-magical ability to weave peace and serenity into the air, rivalled only by a warm fireplace on a sleepy winter night. The quiet moments are the ones I tend to remember most fondly in life, and the same can be said for videogames. Since you’re the one with the controller, the pace is often left up to you, which means stopping every now and then to listen. Taking a deep breath and losing yourself in the music of a halcyon scene– suspending your disbelief just long enough to believe you’re there– is one of those wonderful things that requires a good videogame by your side. Listen; do you hear that? No not that, that’s the eager drumming of your fingers as you chomp at the bit to read the rest of this super well-written article. Try again. Ah, there it is! That pleasant, cordial jingle that wants to crawl into your heart like a contented puppy? That’s the sound of repose.
Don’t forget to max out that quality button for your listening pleasure!
From The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Composed by Jeremy Soule
Before ever playing Oblivion, I had listened to its soundtrack again and again. The soft, uplifting songs painted a picture of breeze-tousled forests and burbling rivers surrounded by hills overgrown with verdant green grass. When the sun hovers just above the golden horizon, that’s when Harvest Dawn kicks in. Soothing harp notes are joined by a flute at 0:21 to greet the morning chill, warmed by shafts of sunlight embodied by 0:44’s high-pitched strings. The apex arrives at 1:28 when the orchestra commits itself to creating a lump in your throat, topped off by a whisper of the Elder Scrolls theme floating by at 1:39. As beautifully as it entered, Harvest Dawn plays itself out directly from the soul — or from Jeremy Soule, rather. Oblivion couldn’t quite live up to my imagination, but I never grow tired of hearing its composer’s exceptional arrangements, despite an iTunes play count in the hundreds. The simple act of breathing comes easier when Harvest Dawn is playing.
Song of the Gentle Breeze
From Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life
Composed by ??? (If you know, let me know!)
A wonderful song from a wonderful game called A Wonderful Life. Perhaps a shade darker and a little more realistic than its contemporaries — if realistic is a word even vaguely suitable for the series — this was the one Harvest Moon game that got me good. Forget-Me-Not Valley is a flyspeck town draped in welcome quietude, but a phonograph on your farm livens up the chorus of birds with any record you can find lying around. Meant for springtime, I keep Breeze spinning in that thing almost all year ’round; I mean, who wouldn’t? Right from the starry-skied break of dawn, its laid-back yet relentlessly cheery strumming makes every chore light as a feather until the last tomato is watered and it’s time to turn in for the night. There’s a refreshing quality about the song that reminds me to appreciate the swaying shadows of moonlit trees or that hint of crispness just before autumn, whether in the polygonal land of accelerated time or the actual waking world. Also, if you can resist whistling along full force at 0:25, you’re a stronger person than I.
Hena’s Fishing Hole
From The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Composed by Koji Kondo, Toru Minegishi and/or Asuka Ota
The fishing hole from Twilight Princess is the definition of repose. Humanoid lizards, raging rapids, and clowns who charge too much money for unconventional transportation crowd the land of Hyrule; but step inside this trouble-melting glade and you’d never know it. A piano plays a measured melody four notes at a time, allowing strings and a muted horn to carry snatches of the Twilight Princess theme on a current smoother than the pond’s glassy surface. I can’t help but see a pale pink blossom float past my mind’s eye or hear the splash of an oar as the rhythm leisurely glides along with no particular destination in mind. The music’s calming tempo is reflected in the breathtaking waters, neither of which ever fail to put me at ease. Hena’s Fishing Hole is a place of safety that danger can’t touch, stocked with all sorts of minigames and hidden Easter eggs to discover if only you poke around for a while. The lulling music lets you know that here you can rest; an offer difficult to turn down. In fact, I’m starting to feel a little sleepy. I’m not kidding; my eyelids are involuntarily sagging as I type, which means it’s time to change songs.
From Pikmin 2
Composed by Hajime Wakai
Playing Pikmin stresses me out. I love the little garden-sized world, but watching the creatures that populate it gobble up my Pikmin like sunflower seeds feels like a punch to the kidney. That’s why I prefer to fire up the trusty Piklopedia and watch these bizarre alien beings from afar, guilt-free. The shaky hand-held camera that peers into the hazy scenes of make-believe nature is set to music both curious and chill as can be. A mild, jazzy opening invites the onlooker to sit back and observe a slumbering Orange Bulborb or the feeding habits of a Ravenous Whiskerpillar. Captain Olimar’s pithy research notes are accompanied by a bass that would probably sound similar to dense radioactive raindrops falling on rubbery leaves (if scientists were to invent such a thing). It’s an oddball assortment of repetitive pianos, luminous strings, and spacey doojiggers that pop in and out in a thoroughly relaxing jumble.
Dire, Dire Docks
From Super Mario 64
Composed by Koji Kondo
I never could understand why exactly the docks are so dire, dire, especially with a theme this heartwarming. A foggy inlet cast in greys and blues echoes with bubble-like notes, bite-sized and comforting enough to replace the alphabet in your next bowl of soup. As the narrow level begins to open up, underwater treasures sparkle far beneath the waves, which 1:00’s synth hints at with rising excitement. By the time the giant pirate ship materializes from the murkiness, you’re probably pumped — and so is the music. After the synth soars into its own at 1:28, drums ever so slowly creep up to join the party until every instrument is jamming along with tranquil enthusiasm. The slow-paced joy of exploring this mysterious azure world is wrapped up in a song of hidden depth.
Peace of the World
From Dark Cloud 2
Composed by Tomohito Nishiura
When all the monsters of a given dungeon are wiped out, a new era of peace dawns with this soft-spoken celebration. Acoustic guitars play a simple duet that cuts through worry and complication with each note, opening the way for you to prance around wherever you’d like without fear of any peril. An empty dungeon also means time for fishing and, if you’re absolutely sure the restful tune has melted your frustrations away like butter, a golf-like sport called spheda. Akin to Hena’s Fishing Hole, this is a time to put the sword down for a moment and relax. As long as those two guitars keep playing, everything will be just fine.
From Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Combosed by Tomoya Tomita
Perhaps the most cuddly videogame the world will ever collectively volunteer to hug, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is one big repose in and of itself. Easy to play and impossible to dislike, it looks exactly like it sounds: creatively loveable. One of my very favourite levels is Frosty Wheel, a freezing land made of warm fabric that in all likelihood wants to hug you back. Piano notes as soft as the drifting cotton snowflakes fade into a muffled backdrop of chromatic colours, Kirby skating along his idyllic way all the while. Only a touch of wintry strings adds to the lone piano of 0:40 on its quest for quietude, forming a frost-brushed image of Waddle Dees snuggling beneath rainbow scarves in a snow-covered landscape. It’s a beautiful, comforting song tied securely to its source material with carefully-spun yarn; a lot of care went into this one. I really should find myself a copy of the game and re-experience the equivalent of an untroubled sleep with good dreams.
From Animal Crossing
Composed by Kazumi Totaka
This is the mellowest. You can’t get mellower. The day is done and now cobalt-coloured nighttime is here; if summer is still in the air, fireflies may dot the darkness. People are heading for home if they’re not already snoring, but there’s always time for one more walk around the pond. It’s 9:00 PM (in Animal Crossing and real-world time alike) and everything is absolutely mellow. There’s a different song for every hour in this never-ending game, and this is the one I always go back to. It shares the acoustic guitar from Peace of the World, the lazy four-note rhythm of Hena’s Fishing Hole, and the Piklopedia’s bass-heavy goodness, but above all, it’s unmistakably Animal Crossing. After the offbeat, upbeat tunes of daytime, the world pauses in reflection as the night deepens; that’s your cue to quit stuffing your pants with valuable fruit like an aggressively vegetarian Scrooge McDuck and slow down. Actually, that’s a pretty decent life lesson. Oddly enough, Animal Crossing is full of those.
From Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise
Composed by Grant Kirkhope
A sleepy, peaceable mood settles into the garden of living piñatas; late night candles flicker out one by one as delicate strings quiver behind the horn’s lead. To close out the day that Harvest Dawn began, the flute and harp duo appear once again at 0:35, passing the melody on when their hushed performance is at an end. Although the arrangement grows in strength, it never feels loud enough to wake the lightest of sleepers — which is for the best. Chaos will multiply like bunnycombs when the sun burns bright overhead, so appreciate the restful solitude while you can. But don’t let the last few sugary notes of tranquillity put you to sleep; you never know when the uncomfortably unnerving Seedos will steal into the garden and sabotage your hard work. The piñatas may sleep, but he never does.
After the Dream
NiGHTS Into Dreams
Composed by Naofumi Hataya
I deeply apologize if I gave you Seedos nightmares, but I have no doubt those memories can be vanquished with this final repose. The bosses from NiGHTS Into Dreams suffer the same after every defeat when this harmonious song assures you that everything is right with the world. Magical chimes and unorthodox percussion pave the way for the game’s theme at 0:15, followed by what I’m going to call a dreamscape harmonica that brightens up the mood at 0:29. Even though this whimsical composition frames the airborne NiGHTS as he/she/it dips and swirls through the fantastical world of unreality, a consoling homeyness glows brightly from somewhere inside. Listening to the flute wind down at 1:29 relaxes muscles you hardly realised were tense, and the rest is a smooth flight through the skies of joy and happiness and all sorts of positive nouns. The wars are fought, the fights are finished, and the world is at peace; now it’s time to wake up.
Thanks for reading/listening, and if you’ve got some favourite songs that I failed to include, by all means, please share them! I’m always up for some videogame music R&R. The same goes for new theme ideas, whether you have a series in mind or a specific composer. In an exciting twist of fate, No Tune Unturned now has a Twitter account (@NoTuneUnturned) which you can follow for daily videogame songs that I think are cool. I’d be honoured for you to join. Lastly, since I’ve run out of other things to say, I’ll give you a piece of advice that can never go wrong:
Videogame music is great, so listen to it!