It’s been said that the first five minutes of a game are one of the most crucial times; capturing players’ attention and getting them excited for what’s ahead helps to ensure that they will keep coming back for more. As technology has grown more and more powerful, the techniques that developers use to engage us continue to grow more diverse and impressive, whether through graphics, gameplay or some other hook. However, one of the first techniques ever used, music, also remains one of the most powerful. Whether it be the opening cinematic, the starting level, or even the menu theme, music helps us to suspend our disbelief and transport us to the world we are about to experience. With a new year in gaming starting up, I’d like to recognize some of the memorable tunes that helped introduce us to their respective games.
To Zanarkand – Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X was the first game in the series that I played to completion; it remains one of my favorite games of all time, and while I love the entire soundtrack, the thing that stuck with me the most is its opening song, “To Zanarkand”. Simultaneously sad and beautiful, the track conveys so many emotions to the players. As the player watches a weary party resting on their journey, the music drives home the melancholy even further. Even as the game progressed, and things were much more bright and cheerful, this song stayed in the back of my mind, hinting at the struggles to come. It also certainly didn’t hurt that I love piano pieces in games. The simplicity of the song emphasizes the melody, which makes it all the more memorable. In fact, I loved the song so much that I tracked down the sheet music, and I can now play the entire thing by heart.
Short Change Hero – Borderlands 2
One part smooth rock and two parts pure awesome, “Short Change Hero” does a great job at setting the mood for Borderlands 2. While this game is just as much of a caffeine-soaked adrenaline ride as its predecessor, the sequel is a bit more serious and a bit darker, and its opening song reflects that. With the lyrics telling players, “This ain’t no place for a hero,” the song hints at how the planet has fared since the events of the first game. The slower pace gives it a very confident sound, underscoring how much of a badass your new hunter is. Plus, the guitar in this song gives off a real western vibe, which perfectly suits the deserts and wastelands of Pandora. As you set out as the mysterious stranger come to town, you can’t help but feel pumped up when you have a theme song this epic.
Opening – Super Metroid
The opening song of Super Metroid tells a story; even without looking at the screen, players can tell something has gone horribly wrong. This game, far from the lighthearted adventures of Nintendo’s other titles, was dark and brooding. All of the mysteries and secrets that await the player are hinted at with this opening. The song is so foreign, so alien, that it perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the game with only a few short notes. It makes you feel alone and isolated, which helps to get you into Samus’ helmet better than the entire opening monologue of Metroid: Other M.
Time’s Scar – Chrono Cross
This song is remarkable for how well it manages to build upon itself and change in tone. The flutes at the beginning of “Time’s Scar” are very peaceful, easing players in and recalling fond memories. Then, the pace and tempo begin to slowly increase, building up the excitement as the song becomes louder and more complicated. As the music reaches a climax, it cuts back for a moment, and fans of the series will recognize a melody from Chrono Trigger, which is admittedly about as much as the two games have to do with each other. It’s this cross between the familiar and the new that really gets a player excited to start, and even just listening to the song made me want to start a new game again.
Prologue – Shadow of the Colossus
When it comes to setting the mood and creating atmosphere right off the bat, it doesn’t get much better than Shadow of the Colossus. The entire game is a work of art, and the music is no less so. Right from the start, the haunting melody calls to mind desolate, lonely landscapes, as the strings and flutes rise and fall in waves that build upon each other. The vocals lend an almost spiritual air to the piece, as if part of something ancient and mystical. It all comes together to make a piece that manages to be both serene and unfathomably sad. It’s as epic start to an amazing game, one that I couldn’t recommend more to anyone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves.
Theses are just a handful of the amazing opening songs out there, and if this topic comes around again, I’m sure that I will have no problem fielding another list. In the meantime, though, do you have any other good opening music in mind? Please share it with us in the comments below.