When the Music Misses the Mark

Image by Flickr user Brian J. Matis (CC)
Image by Flickr user Brian J. Matis (CC)

While playing through Xenoblade Chronicles, I’ve been reminded of the synergy between a game and its music. This game is filled with lush, harmonious, and exciting sounds that play well off of whatever stage you’re in. From music that envelopes you in sweeping plains, ponders the existence of snow-capped hills, and mourns loss in valleys deep and wide, Xenoblade Chronicles has had, so far, a winning soundtrack.

Only then I hit the Mechonis Field, a vast, multi-leveled arena that’s essentially located inside a giant, robotic being. With robot enemies littering various machined structures within the field, the place looks like nothing less than a world out of a science fiction movie. With moving sidewalks and platforms, buttons to activate, and doors that slide open to reveal more things to do and/or fight, the entire level screams “I’m mechanical!” So imagine my surprise when, upon traveling through the Mechonis Field, my ears were treated to the soft/bright synthesized sounds of 1980s sparkles and chimes.

Look, I like 1980s sparkles as much as anyone else, but I just couldn’t rectify in my head that music being played against the industrial atmosphere of Mechonis Field.  (In fact, all I could think of while playing was love montages and Tangerine Dream! It made for quite the strange distraction.)

I think most of us can agree upon the fact that video games contain awesome arrays of music, and most game soundtracks can easily hold their own against the world’s greatest compositions. (At UWG, we even have our own series, “Resonance,” celebrating the greatness of game music!) But there are times when a particular theme in a game doesn’t quite hit the mark, whether it sits in stark contrast to the scene before your eyes, is perpetually annoying for no good reason other than it can be, or it just doesn’t live up to what you want. The Mechonis Field theme runs on all those unpleasant cylinders for me, and here are four more themes that, if UWG had a series called “Dissonance,” would definitely be tops in the bottom.

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The Adventures of Cookie and Cream – Jungle World

Allow me to get the most personal pick out of the way first, because honestly, the primary reason I despise the piece of music is because of the terrible experience I had with this game. If you’re into misery, you can read all about that here. Suffice to say that I listened to Cookie and Cream’s Jungle World theme over and over and over because I hardly ever made it past that first level. Because of that it’ll remain one of my least favorite pieces of music ever. Even played on its own, without two rabbits trying to get through an obstacle course, it’s highly unappealing.

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Marvel vs. Capcom 2 – “I Wanna Take You for a Ride”

Nothing against songs placed on permanent loop, but I can’t think of a single time I didn’t want to rush through picking my characters in Marvel vs. Capcom 2 because of the incredibly annoying musical loop that played in the background. If anything, I wanted it to take a hike.

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Street Fighter II Turbo – Zangief’s theme

Can you spell b-o-r-i-n-g? As much as I l-o-v-e Zangief and doling out many a 360 pile driver, his theme in Street Fighter II Turbo has got to be the worst of the lot. (And it’s filled with so many great songs, too!) Zangief is big and meaty and tough, and his theme doesn’t reflect any of that. I’ll take my gruff, Russian fighter without Exposé in the background, thanks.

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Super Monkey Ball – Jungle theme

Apparently jungles and I just don’t get along. Also, Super Monkey Ball and I didn’t get along, either. Things weren’t as bad as they were between me and Cookie and Cream, but it’s not like I had a grand time rolling monkey-filled balls around mazes. Like “I Wanna Take You for a Ride,” listening to this upbeat, goofy song on loop during its stage got really irritating after awhile. I can take my lumps and disco too, but not with this song.


When it comes to video game OSTs and themes, what music doesn’t quite hit all the right notes for your ears?

7 thoughts on “When the Music Misses the Mark”

  1. What a great idea for a post. I really disliked pretty much the entire soundtrack for FFXIII-2. (Aside from The Last Travel, which is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.) It had too many songs with vocals, and it just didn’t fit the game. I could rarely understand the words, either, so I couldn’t tell if they even related to their respective level or not. All I know is music with vocals, for me, should be used sparingly in video games, and usually in particularly important scenes or levels. Not everywhere.

    I really hated Plains of Eternity. I can’t understand what she’s saying, plus the thumping in the background is terribly distracting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow…that song is just…I…?? I would have a very hard time playing any game while that was going on in the background. I’m with you on vocal music in games — the less, the better. When it’s used to highlight a particular aspect of the games, like in Bayonetta when a remix of “Fly Me to the Moon” was used only during some boss battles, that was fine. But when music with vocals is used throughout a whole games, that can be very distracting.

      Out of curiosity, I just listened to The Last Travel, and yes, it’s a very pretty song.

      Like

  2. I have a tendency to forget most of the game music I dislike, but there have been some that will stick around from time to time. For example: the special stage music from Sonic the Hedgehog. Nothing worse than getting stuck in one of those stages, and it’s solely because of this music.

    Also, I agree that Plains of Eternity was a dumb theme. Lyrics and background music usually don’t mix very well. Usually. A good example of an exception is “The Spine” from Transistor. Beautiful song.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Sonic, how could they! It’s like…really, really, *really* bad organ music.

      I’ve heard that the Transistor soundtrack is particularly spectacular. The game is hanging out in my Steam library — I should really get to it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good post, I love the return of Kuri Kuri Mix aka The Adventures of Cookie and Cream! We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one – although we never actually got round to completing it, we got to the final level or thereabouts. You thought those early stages were tough…

    I loved the Mechonis Field music. I know everyone loved the Metroid Prime soundtracks but I’m not a fan, and Mechonis Field feels to me like the music from Prime, fully realised and improved upon. Maybe it’s not the best fitting track but it certainly made me enjoy my time in Mechonis Field much more. And that section of the game was the lowpoint of Xenoblade for me, so all the better.

    Finally, one piece of music that sticks out for me for being inappropriate that I came upon for the first time recently (I’m surprised it hasn’t come up in the comments already) is Castlevania: SOTN’s end credits music, I Am the Wind. Talk about a bizarre climax. I don’t mind a good Mariah Carey belter and I like the song in general, but wow is it out of place. And the lyrics! A winning combination of existential angst, hope and vampire lore: Just like the sun / When my day’s done / Sometimes I don’t like the person I’ve become.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, it seems we are quite on the opposite sides with some of these tracks. 😉 On its own, the Mechonis Field music isn’t particularly bad, but boy oh boy, did it ever get stuck in my head in a bad way. (I’m pretty sure I was even hearing it in my sleep!) Maybe that’s why I was being particularly down on it here. P. S. The Metroid Prime soundtrack was just okay for me. Phenandra Drifts stood out, but eh, I could take or leave the rest. (Now Super Metroid’s soundtrack is another story…)

      As for I Am the Wind, my goodness, how I had completely forgotten about that mess. To finish such a wonderful game only to be met by a Kenny G. saxophone interlude and sappy lyrics? No. Thank. You.

      Liked by 1 person

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