Favorite video game soundtracks, by era

Here’s a quick list of my favorite video game soundtracks for each generation since I started playing (not including current generation–can’t pick a favorite if there’s still new stuff coming out, plus I haven’t actually played any games from the current generation).

8-bit: Mega Man 2, Takashi Tateishi: C’mon. That intro? Wily 1? Does this even have competition?

Honorable Mention: Yes, it does. Ducktales.

16-bit: Final Fantasy VI, Nobuo Uematsu: Another one with little in the way of competition. The Opera House sequence was like half an hour of kinda-crappy gameplay not only redeemed, but rendered classic, by the SNES sound chip being made to do things it had never done before–and then that glorious ending! Not to mention some truly outstanding character themes in between, such as Kefka’s, Celes’, and Cyan’s, and of course the utterly haunting world map and incredible second airship theme… I could go on like this.

Honorable Mentions: Chronotrigger, particularly when you know it was Mitsuda’s first professional job. (We’ll be seeing him again shortly.) Mega Man X.

PSX/N64/Dreamcast: Xenogears, Yasunori Mitsuda. Holy crap yes, from the vaguely Celtic-sounding “Aveh–Ancient Dance” to the Arab-flavored “Dajil–City of Burning Sands,” the ethereal majesty of “The Beginning and the End” to whatever the hell (other than FRICKING AWESOME) “Awakening” was, this was the game that announced Mitsuda as someone to pay attention to (since Uematsu kind of ganked the credit for Chronotrigger.)

Honorable Mentions: Lunar: The Silver Star, a fun, energetic, and sprightly sound perfectly fitted to its pre-FF7 largely-angstless RPG aesthetic. Chrono Cross, another Mitsuda work, and the polar opposite of Lunar, a soundtrack that utterly doesn’t fit the game at all as a consequence of being, y’know, actually good. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, much like the game itself, went for a weirder and darker tone than the safe path followed by Ocarina, and (again, like the game itself) ends up the stronger work as a result. Final Fantasy 8, despite being nigh-universally (and rightfully) reviled for its easily breakable gameplay, uninteresting cast, and convoluted story, is Uematsu’s best post-SNES work.

PS2/GameCube/X-Box: Xenosaga, Yasunori Mitsuda (Episode 1) and Yuki Kajiura (Episodes 2 and 3). Okay, yeah, I’m cheating and giving it to the whole franchise, but it’s the only way to get someone other than Mitsuda some space, because his bombastic, operatic soundtrack for Episode 1 is both a perfect fit for the game’s vast scope (and, let’s be honest, joyous pretention) and an excellent listen on its own, reusing and expanding upon certain key themes from Xenogears in ways that transcend that game’s soundtrack. Yuki Kajiura, on the other hand, does the second-best work of her career to date (only Madoka Magica is better) on the next two games of the series, including particular standouts “Image Theme” and “Communication Breakdown” from Episode 2 and “Godsibb” from Episode 3.

Honorable Mentions: Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is the only one I can think of. This is the generation where my gaming time began to shrink.

PS3/Wii/X-Box 360: Smash Bros. Brawl. Yeah, I am completely cheating, since the soundtrack is almost entirely made of remixes. But they’re good remixes of tracks that deserve to be remixed!

Honorable Mentions: None. This is the generation where my gaming time vanished entirely.

Five Episodes I Like

Reminder: MLP Liveblog tomorrow. Details go up at noon EST, actual liveblog chat thingy is at 2 p.m.

Something I’m toying with doing on occasion: Here’s a list of five really good episodes of television. It’s not a top five list or anything, although the intention is for the episode mentioned to be at least a contender for best episode of its show; they’re just five episodes I really, really like, with a brief explanation of what’s so good about them. No pattern, just the first five I think of.

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Once More with Feeling.” Buffy has enough truly great episodes to easily fill one of these lists on its own–“The Body,” “The Gift,” “Surprise”/”Innocence,” “Graduation Day,” “Hush” all come to mind swiftly and easily–but my postmodern heart swells with joy at “Once More with Feeling,” a musical wherein the protagonists’ main goal is figuring out why they keep singing their feelings and making it stop, while the villain uses the inability to feel without singing about it to torment them and disrupt their relationships. On top of this, unlike most musical episodes (a trend it more or less invented) it is not a one-off; it continues plot and character threads established in prior episodes and is a vital turning point for several of the season’s major plots. Plus it’s a genuinely good musical in its own right!
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “In the Pale Moonlight.” It’s the best episode of the best Star Trek, and the one that goes farthest in exploring the moral ambiguity that characterized (most of) DS9. Trekkies who hate DS9 frequently cite it as their go-to example of how the series betrayed the founding values of Star Trek, to which my response is that yes, it absolutely does, and it’s amazing.
  • Veronica Mars: “Pilot.” This is, quite simply, the best first episode I’ve ever seen. It is confident, well-acted, engaging, and not bogged down in exposition; it’s the kind of episode a series has at the start of its second or third season, not its first. Plus, how often do you get to see a rape victim tell her own story for herself and define it for herself? I flung myself headlong into Veronica Mars late last year, and this episode is the main reason why.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: “I Won’t Rely on Anyone Anymore.” Ten episodes into a twelve-episode series is not, usually, when you completely recontextualize every event of the series so far, up to and including the meaning of the opening credits. But Madoka doesn’t do things the usual way. This episode is, by turns, unsettling, heartbreaking, and fantastic, and it blows open the path to the end of the series in an utterly spectacular way.
  • Babylon 5: “Sleeping in Light.” One of the most satisfying, heartbreaking, bittersweet series finales ever shown. I cannot make it through this dry-eyed; there is one musical track in particular that I cannot hear without tearing up. My father died in 1992; that was the last time I cried until I saw this episode for the first time in 1998.

What are some of your favorites?

ETA: Fixed a couple of typos in the last two bullets: Madoka is a twelve-episode series, not thirteen, and “Sleeping in Light” was the series finale of B5, not just a season finale.