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The Top Ten World Map and Stage Select Themes in Gaming
Welcome to Part One of a five-part series of the wonderful world of gaming music.
Every day this week, I will list my personal Top 10 for a variety of different topics, though there is a definite theme in the topic selection. Here’s the rundown:
TODAY: Top 10 World Map and Stage Select Themes
Tuesday: Top 10 Opening Themes
Wednesday: Top 10 Most Iconic Stage/Area Themes
Thursday: Top 10 Final Boss Themes
Friday: Top 10 Credits Themes
Today we’ll start at the beginning of the game, before we play a single minute, with the songs that accompany both travels through a vast central hub of destinations and a selection screen with many different paths to choose from. By Friday, we’ll be reveling in the best credits music gaming has to offer, capping off a wild musical week. Let’s not waste any time, eh?
Here is today’s list, my Top Ten World Map and Stage Select Themes!
10. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars – “Where Am I Going?”
I love that the name of this song is “Where Am I Going?,” because I asked myself that very question plenty of times during my trek through Super Mario RPG. I also love how this song is subdued and calm compared to the rest of the game’s music, a parallel to the world map’s being the most serene part of the game. There’s no crazy mine rides, swords falling through castles, or kidnappers trying to marry falling princesses here, just paths highlighting the many locations Mario will visit throughout the game. Despite the song’s repetitive nature, I never had a problem leaving the game on this screen when I needed to tend to real-world things and didn’t want to lose my progress. I was always happy to hear it when I returned, and that says a lot for the quality of the song.
9. Marvel vs Capcom 2 – “Take You For A Ride
I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE. I WANNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE.
If there was ever an effective inspiration for choosing characters quickly, these seven words are it.
8. Kingdom Hearts – “Precious Stars In The Sky”
Another subdued piece (not a theme, I promise), but this one does a much better job of emulating the accompanying surroundings. Kingdom Hearts’ world map is in space, with Sora and company blasting from world to world in the Gummi Ship, and this track does a great job of creating the feeling of awe and wonder than space creates. As the World Map grows, the song only becomes more and more fitting, which makes it that much better.
7. Suikoden Tierkreis – “Arrival On The Great Plains”
I wonder how many of you saw the game title and said “the hell is this?” Did you even know that the famed RPG series Suikoden has a game on the DS? A game that may very well be the best in the entire series? The trademark 108 party members, the turn-based battle system, the excellent story, it’s all there. This song is actually not the first world map theme in the game, you’ll hear it about a third of the way through, but MAN did I love going to the map when it became available. I love a song that can get my toe tapping while I play, and this song does it every time.
6. Street Fighter II – “Character Select
For all of the fantastic music that Capcom’s patriarchal fighting game has, is there one track heard more often by more gamers than this one? Think about it, while Guile’s theme may go with everything, no one was able to play SFII without hearing this music first. Think of all the people that played only one match before deciding the game wasn’t for them, they’ve heard this. The fighting fanatics have heard it so much it probably plays on permanent loop in their heads. There is no other song in Street Fighter than has been heard more times than this one, and there never will be.
5. Mass Effect – “Uncharted Worlds”
The most recent song on the list, but definitely one that deserves a spot here. Mass Effect players spend a lot of time hearing this song in all three games, mostly while they scan for minerals, artifacts, or whatever else landed on the many planets of the ME universe. I love how this song approaches its setting much like the Kingdom Hearts song earlier: you hear this song while scouring space for your next assignment, and this song paints an elegant picture of vastness and awe that perfectly represents the final frontier. I prefer this song over KH, however, because I feel like there’s more of a “space” feel to it, while Kingdom Hearts’ song is more about the curiosity that comes with being in space. If that makes any sense.
4. Chrono Trigger – “Wind Scene”
Admittedly, I did not hear this song when it originally began to serenade the gaming world. I didn’t play this excellent RPG until…(here it comes…) the DS. I don’t know why it took me that long, but it did. I didn’t really think I was missing out on much as I grew up, but when I caved and bought the DS version and experienced it first-hand, I knew I had been fooling myself for years. Besides being an excellent play, this game holds one of the best soundtracks to come out of the 16-bit era. Every song is masterfully composed, as if the game itself was creating the music as the story played out. This song, “Wind Scene,” is an early world map song that not only fits the world it’s heard in, but it has an air of heroism to it that foreshadows the entire adventure. Fantastic stuff.
3. Mega Man 2 – “Stage Select”
A six-second loop is the third best world map/stage select song of all time. Six freakin’ seconds. Quantity does not always mean quality, however, and these six seconds are everything you need to hear before picking which Robot Master to attack first. Part of what makes a successful stage select song is its ability to make the player want to kick some ass. I know I wanted to every time I heard these six seconds. Metal Man, Wood Man, Bubble Man…none of them stood a CHANCE. All because of six seconds.
2. Donkey Kong Country – “Simian Segue”
I don’t think I had more fun playing Super Nintendo than I did when Donkey Kong Country was in the machine. I distinctly remember a night where a few friends and I were battling through the stages one at a time, those not playing shouting hints and suggestions as we played. We lost a lot of lives, and a lot of tempers, but not many other games accomplished what DKC did. Plus, every time we’d go back to the map screen, spontaneous dance party! Who can’t help jamming to Simian Segue? Your head is bobbing and your toe is tapping right now, don’t even try to deny it.
1. Final Fantasy IX – “Crossing Those Hills”
Anyone reading this list probably had a hunch that Final Fantasy would be close to the top, but I wonder how many would have chosen “Crossing Those Hills” as the series representative. I’m a sucker for serenity in my music; anything that I can put on to help me through a sleepless night is a song that shoots to the top of my preferred list. What song on this list is more serene that this? I recall struggling through the Petrified Forest the first time I played FFIX, rage overtaking me at every misstep. When I finally got through it and ended up on the world map, I was immediately soothed; the music had carried all of that anger away. It’s as if Uematsu specifically created the world map music to be a calming agent for frustrated gamers. It’s a beautiful track, and easily the best world map/stage select song I’ve ever heard.
As always, I’m open to your suggestions and feedback. What stage select and world map songs stick out in your mind? Leave me some suggestions, I’m always game for new music.
Check back tomorrow for Part Two of my music extravaganza, the Top Ten Opening Themes in Gaming!