Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Feature - Top Ten Boss Battle Themes

As explained in our previous feature, boss battles are a gaming tradition and often an integral part of their design. However, instead of looking at bosses themselves, we will instead be looking at the music associated with them as the player is locked in combat.

Like last time, a Gameplay First video, in two parts, served as the partial inspiration for the creation of this list, only about a different subject. As we threw ideas around about what a music-based list would be about, we eventually settled on Top Ten Boss Battle Themes as the subject. This time, however, we actually have Autistic Gamer himself as a guest contributor (you can find his blog here), as we felt he would be able to better round out the time frame represented. During our communications with him, the list ended up sticking with the following criteria:

  • The song must be used in a boss fight (as such, it doesn't matter if it was a licensed track)
  • The song must be memorable
  • Only one song per game can be chosen (Addendum: Does not apply to Honorable Mentions list)
  • Only one contributor needs to have played the game

At first it was difficult to whittle the list down to ten, but even then we had a pretty good idea of what would end up in the top two slots. Because of Autistic Gamer's involvement, this list covers more than just contemporary games, though the end result may still surprise you. If there is a review of the mentioned game on the blog, we will provide a link to it so you may read our opinion on it. If you do not agree with the list, which is subjective to begin with, then feel free to create your own list in the comments.

The list, including the honorable mentions, is after the break. Our individual opinions will be color-coded as such: EHeroFlareNeos; Tetris_King; Autistic Gamer.

Spoiler Note: Some of the songs listed belong to important bosses in the games they originate from, so spoilers will be completely unmarked.

Final Warning

Honorable Mentions

Autistic Gamer's Honorable Mention

Okay. Let’s start off with my honorable mention. What better way to do that than with some Deadmau5?

Boss: Matt Miller
Song: A City in Florida
Artist: Deadmau5

Yes, I know this isn’t TECHNICALLY a video game song, but it’s Deadmau5, so if you asked my mother, she’d say it was. Close enough, right? Right.

Deadmau5 is, hands down, one of the best electronica artists out there, close on the tail of Daft Punk (pun intended). Having his work included in this madcap, zany, over-the-top fun-fest of a video game is very appropriate to me. Saints Row the Third already has a fantastic licensed soundtrack featuring the likes of Mötley Crüe (‘CAUSE I’M A LIVE!!! A LIVE WIRE!!!), Schooly D (‘CAUSE WE ARE THE AQUA TEENS, MAKE THE HOMIES SAY ‘HO’ AND THE GIRLIES WANNA SCREAM!) and, of course, Chopin. Oh, and I think Kanye is in there, too but he doesn’t need any more boosts to his ego, so let’s just fight the urge to quote “Power”. Even if we are livin’ in the 21st century (dammit).

Matt Miller's avatar (right) during the boss fight (*cough* Zekrom *cough*).

But Deadmau5’s style immediately stood out to me in the midst of the chaos of this game (and this boss fight). It’s often hard to hear the music over the sounds of gunshots and, in this case, Matt Miller crying like a little bitch after I whooped his ass with a mega buster (seriously, if you haven’t played Saints Row the Third yet, go do that). Kicking Matt Miller’s digital butt was fun enough as it is. Doing it to Deadmau5? Perfect choice by Volition.

EHeroFlareNeos' Honorable Mention

Boss: Metal Gear RAY; Jetstream Sam; Bladewolf; Mistral; Monsoon; Sundowner; Metal Gear EXCELSUS; Senator Armstrong
Song: Rules of Nature; The Only Thing I Know For Real; I’m My Own Master Now; A Stranger I Remain; The Stains of Time; Red Sun; Collective Consciousness; It Has To Be This Way
Composer: Jamie Christopherson

This is essentially all of the boss battle music from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, but there is a reason that they all get to be within one slot. As you fight each boss, whether they are affiliated with the Desperado Enforcement PMC’s Winds of Destruction or not, the music that plays in the background has lyrics that are a perfect expression of what each boss is like and gives the player a look into their innermost thoughts at the time, one great example being how It Has To Be This Way manages to add to the struggle between Raiden and Armstrong by showing us that though they both want different things, they both see violence as a tool to accomplish them. Jamie Christopherson did such an excellent job composing each track for the game that it was very difficult for us to be able to narrow down the tracks to just one for the purposes of this list. In fact, the vocalists are so well-chosen and the style of the entire soundtrack is so energetic that every song is perfectly listenable even when completely removed from the original context.

Monsoon, one of the toughest bosses in the game.

This is a major accomplishment: when such epic boss themes are written so well that they become actual songs and a CD compiling the music can be enjoyed even if you haven’t played the game (this CD is called Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Vocal Tracks and curious readers should buy it now). If there ever was a soundtrack whose entire output is so consistently good that it deserves this much recognition, it would be this one.

Tetris_King's Honorable Mention

Boss: Zed; Vikke; Mariska; Josey; Lewis Legend; Killabilly
Song: Zed’s Theme; Vikke’s Theme; Mariska’s Theme; Josey’s Theme; Lewis Legend’s Theme; Killabilly’s Theme
Composer: Jimmy Urine (from Mindless Self Indulgence)

As with the Honorable Mention for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance this is basically listing every boss from the game alongside their respective themes. While trying to figure out what songs would make good candidates for the Final Cut, it was very difficult to whittle down choices from Lollipop Chainsaw, simply because they’re all very good in their own ways. Each boss embodies a different musical genre, primarily rock sub-genres, and their music helps create an atmosphere within the respective fights. Vikke, for instance, is the physical embodiment of Viking Metal with an awesome score to match, while Josey’s fight has a good Funk feel to it that gave me an interest in wanting to hear more from the genre. Zed, who also happens to be voiced by Jimmy Urine, has a fight and soundtrack that literally brings Punk Rock to life, while Mariska’s theme based in Psychedelia gives her boss fight a unique feel to it, as if to say you are in for one heck of a trip. While admittedly I’m not really sure what genre Killabilly, the final boss, is supposed to be, his theme still works for the fight at hand, though Lewis Legend’s Rock n’ Roll theme is one that stands out to me since it only adds to how badass he is, especially with what happens during the several stages of the fight.

The Dark Purveyors (clockwise from top): Zed, Mariska, Lewis Legend, Josey, Vikke.

What helps each track is that they evolve over the course of the fight, allowing the intensity of the theme to adapt to the present situation. While a soundtrack for Lollipop Chainsaw exists containing all of the licensed music, the high quality of the boss fight music makes me wish a similar compilation existed for the original music as well.

The Final Cut

10. Count Dracula Duck (DuckTales Remastered)

Game: DuckTales Remastered
Boss: Count Dracula Duck
Song: Final Boss/Count Dracula Duck
Composer: Jake Kaufman

DuckTales. You will never leave the zeitgeist, will you? Most of us don’t even remember anything specific from the show (save for the catchy-ass theme song), but we DO remember that it was good. One of the best parts of DuckTales the game on the NES was the music and I knew that when Capcom and WayForward (the team behind Shantae and the Wii reimagining of A Boy and His Blob) announced DuckTales Remastered, I knew the soundtrack would be phenomenal. I do love being right. The entire soundtrack is fantastic, but as far as boss music goes, there are two tracks. One is for the main game bosses, the other is for the final boss. That one stands out the most of the two. However, it’s important to note that this particular track was composed specifically for the Remastered version of the game. The original fight used the standard boss fight track and took place back in Transylvania instead of Mt. Vesuvius, the second new area added to the game; the first being Scrooge’s money bin.

The reason this track is so low on the list is because although the composition is good and it really fits the feeling behind the battle (Scrooge is fighting this monster to save his nephews), the song doesn’t have enough length or variance to be extremely catchy. But although it’s short and loops quickly, it’s still a great song.


How did they miss "Count Duckula?"
Seriously, it writes itself.

I’ll admit this now: I have never played DuckTales or DuckTales Remastered, nor have I really seen the DuckTales TV series (this will not be the first time I’ll have ignorance of the source material, it’s kind of what you get with this kind of collaboration). However, I will agree that this theme is an excellent composition. I can now kind of imagine the fight that must be taking place with this kind of energetic theme playing, this multi-layered electronic piece with its smooth transitions and great building crescendo that can actually loop itself masterfully. From what I understand it’s an original piece made just for this remake, but it feels like it has a lot of soul, a lot of feeling and thought channeled into making it sound like it could have been a part of the game’s history. Its tempo has a certain blend that just works wonders: the background is very energetic and upbeat, emulating the style of an old NES game, but its top layer is dissonant and gives off an aura of evil from Count Dracula Duck. This blend sounds like it would bring a sense of urgency to the fight going on, perhaps complimenting a good amount of difficulty in bringing him down. In some situations, having a theme like this running behind the final boss battle is extremely cathartic and keeps you on your feet. As for Count Dracula Duck, it sounds like it would fit right in.

While I only have a passing knowledge of the DuckTales cartoon (I more watched Darkwing Duck), I do have an interest in playing the recent remake of the NES game, titled DuckTales Remastered, partially because of how much of the original voice cast from the cartoon is present, which I would consider an achievement. As such, the Boss Theme that starts off this list, one exclusive to the Remaster, is from the fight against Count Dracula Duck. Out of context, this theme is pretty catchy and sounds like an interesting mixture of modern and retro video game sounds, which helps make it more memorable and fits with the concept of the game. The atmosphere it creates is also an interesting blend, in that it has a lighter sound, yet it knows how to sound intense, trading off at just the right moments to make itself stand out and stick with the player. The composition has the just the right combination of things to make it oddly appropriate for a vampire enemy, let alone the final boss of the game, which I like for how unexpected that is considering music that is normally associated with the traditional vampire. Though I have yet to play the remake, hearing this song makes it sound like it will be worth my while if I do.
9. Dark Impetus (Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep)

Game: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
Boss: Unknown (Young Xehanort)
Song: Dark Impetus
Composer: Yoko Shimomura

Despite having a Kudzu Plot that can sometimes reach, and surpass, Metal Gear levels of confusion, Kingdom Hearts is a series that I absolutely love. Its gameplay continues to evolve down the right path to become more streamlined without sacrificing what was good and the music is very top-notch (I actually own the English soundtrack for the original game and a compilation of music from Birth by Sleep, 358/2 Days and Re:coded). Birth by Sleep is by far my favorite in every category and the only game in which I’ve beaten it once (going twice) on Proud Mode so I can see the secret ending easier. In searching for a theme to put on this list, Kingdom Hearts was one of my first stops, and Dark Impetus from Birth by Sleep is what came out on top.

Dark Impetus plays when you are fighting a bonus boss, a boss fight you have go off the beaten path to get to. In this case, to fight who is later revealed to be Young Xehanort, you must first beat the game with any character. Then, go to the Badlands section of the Keyblade Graveyard, defeat Vanitas Remnant and go back to the Land of Departure. If you can do all of that (which I have yet to do because Proud Mode), you will find yourself in one heck of a fight. As you fight, you will hear an orchestral masterwork which begins quickly with a few rising piano chords before dropping directly into one of the best background beats in the series. The mixture of electronic and orchestral components moves along at a very quick pace and shifts through multiple parts that transition perfectly into each other; there is also some fantastic violin work that aids in the dark and dissonant serenity of the piece.

If you had to hear all of this while fighting the toughest villain in Birth by Sleep, you’d feel a strong sense of urgency and dread and one thought will run through your head: “I must stop this guy and I must do it quick” (though perhaps not with that sophisticated a sentence structure). On top of that, you’re fighting a mysterious hooded figure in a ruined world, which visually aids the composition and elevates it to a new high. Plus, it’s great as a modern piece all on its own, so what’s not to like about it?

Apparently completing Kingdom Hearts is the only
way to generate 1.21 Gigawatts of power.

Oh, Kingdom Hearts. I only know what’s going on in your story about 358/2 of the time. That said, keep in mind that it’s virtually impossible to discuss Kingdom Hearts without giving away some spoilers. So if you’re not caught up on the series or want to avoid any spoilers, just assume I have my reasons for liking this track and spin on.

I love when boss music is very quick and upbeat. It gives a sense of weight and brevity to the battle itself. This isn’t just one more underling to put down; this person is important to the story. Their continued existence is a threat to your goals as the hero, perhaps even a threat to peace in the world. Dark Impetus plays at the end of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep when you fight a “mysterious figure” who turns out to be Xehanort’s younger self. By the way, I’ll admit that introducing time travel into an already confusing plotline wasn’t exactly the best decision Nomura has ever made, but this “saga” is about to come to a close with Kingdom Hearts III, so I’ll let it go.

Dark Impetus has that weight, it has that brevity and even though you’re not sure who you’re fighting, the music tells you that it’s important and they must be stopped. Plus, they’re wearing all black; that’s, like, the calling card of a traditional bad guy. Grab your keyblade; this asshat is going down.
While admittedly I have never played a Kingdom Hearts game before, I am aware of much of its story and its complexity which rivals that of Metal Gear (which I also haven’t played before). Regardless, I know how good the music in the series can get, and Dark Impetus is of those pieces, which plays during the fight against Unknown, aka Young Xehanort (don’t ask me about any smaller details on this guy). Its tone is a bit heavier than that of Count Dracula Duck’s Theme, but it has some amazing violin work amongst the orchestra that helps contribute to that tone and is one of the more epic songs from the Kingdom Hearts series. Just by hearing the song, you know you’re going to be facing one tough and epic boss fight, for which the orchestral sound is a perfect fit.

8. The Grolgoth (Rayman 2: The Great Escape)

Game: Rayman 2: The Great Escape
Boss: The Grolgoth (Razorbeard)
Song: The Grolgoth
Composer: Eric Chevalier

God. D***it. I absolutely LOVE Rayman 2. It’s one of the best platformers on the N64, the PS2 AND the Dreamcast. Not counting the absolutely inexcusably bad ports to the DS and 3DS, Rayman 2 is one of the best games I’ve ever played and it has a great soundtrack to boot. My favorite track from the game is The Woods of Light, which plays immediately after escaping from Razorbeard’s flagship, the Buccaneer. That song and that area serve to show you, the player, what the Glade of Dreams looked like before the robo-pirates arrived and what you’re fighting for. This track, the final battle with Razorbeard and his giant robot, The Grolgoth, serve to underscore the importance of this battle. Remember the Woods of Light? Remember Globox? Ly? Clark? The Teensies? Globox’s creepy wife and their tons of kids? They’re counting on you.

This song and this fight are too important to lose. Unlike most games, when this one starts, Rayman has already lost. He’s been captured and drained of his energy. Because of Ly and Globox, Rayman escapes and begins foiling the pirates’ plans. Rayman 2 isn’t about stopping an enemy from taking over the world; that’s already happened. Rayman 2 is about leading a movement to save the world and it all comes to a head onboard the Buccaneer in a climactic battle between Rayman, the limbless hero, and an evil  robot piloting another, larger evil robot. The weight of the battle itself is underscored by the music tack and the instrumentation therein does a fantastic job of that. The use of electric guitars over the major piano keys used throughout the entire game and the horns building through the song really show just how important this battle is. The entire Glade of Dreams is counting on you, Rayman. Hell, Ly reminds you of that every time you die. Maybe she’s taking lessons from Navi.

Rayman (left) in the clutches of the Grolgoth (right).

Rayman is a series I have always liked, having started with Rayman 2: The Great Escape on the PC (in the dark days before I had a video game console or handheld). The gameplay of the series is very fun no matter which one it is and even the new games, which go back to a time before the Rabbids hijacked the franchise, are a great combination of elements from the earliest 2D platformers and the more sophisticated 3D adventures. Rayman 2: The Great Escape is a game whose elements still surprisingly hold up well after over 14 years and its music is also composed well, which is where we got this song for our number eight slot.
The Grolgoth is a tough machine to take down, since you go from fighting on solid ground to flying around through cramped spaces above a dangerous pool of molten lava. The music which plays in the background is fitting for a 1999 platformer, with a dissonant tone that suggests right away that you are fighting the main villain, Razorbeard. There is a consistent mid-tempo and great backbeat that creates a groove to keep you invested in what’s on the screen as it sets the appropriate mood. Above this you hear a number of instruments which trade off to create the numerous rising and falling tones that occur as it gets to the end of the loop, with the occasional chiming in of another instrument to create the dark atmosphere. There are multiple parts, some which repeat on the same loop, and interestingly enough it is a record scratch which can serve as one of the transitions between parts. For being able to blend different styles while consistently maintaining such a dark tonality, The Grolgoth is a theme that deserves its spot on the list.
While I wouldn’t consider myself much of a Rayman aficionado, I will say that have played a handful of Rayman games before, including console ports of Rayman 2 and 3. While my experience with this boss comes from the PS2 port of Rayman 2: The Great Escape (called Rayman 2: Revolution for said port), the fight against Admiral Razorbeard piloting the Grolgoth is nonetheless intense. The Grolgoth’s theme perfectly complements this, having some dark tones with the occasional guitar sound to spice it up a bit. On top of this, the composition is actually fairly memorable and can be listened to outside of the game’s context. In short, The Grolgoth is a perfectly epic tune for an equally epic boss fight.
7. Painkiller (Brütal Legend)

Game: Brütal Legend
Boss: Emperor Doviculus
Song: Painkiller
Artist: Judas Priest

Judas. Motherf***ing. Priest. In case you couldn’t tell from my shout-out to Mötley Crüe earlier, I’m a bit of a metalhead. Which means, you guessed it, I LOVE Brütal Legend. The game’s main villain is Emperor Doviculus, lord of the metal demons and voiced by the amazing Tim Curry. So many of the lyrics just plain work for this fight.

Planets devastated
Mankind's on its knees
A saviour comes from out the skies
In answer to their pleas

This is basically the story of Brütal Legend. Eddie Riggs is brought to this world to help liberate mankind from the demons led by Doviculus himself.

Through boiling clouds of thunder
Blasting bolts of steel
Evils going under deadly wheels

Well, Eddie can use lightning and thunder magic with Clementine, his guitar, and he has the “deadly wheels” of the Druid Plow which is used liberally in this particular battle. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that this were written specifically for and about the climactic battle between Eddie and Doviculus, with Eddie himself being the titular “Painkiller”.

Of course, if you’ve played the game, you know that at the end, Eddie cuts off Doviculus’ head and lobs it into the Sea of Black Tears. When asked about a possible sequel, the game’s creator, Tim Schafer, made a point of bringing that up. So, if we do get a Br
ütal Legend 2, chances are we haven’t seen the last of this awesome villain.


As you may have gleamed from my reviews of Metallica: Through the Never and Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem – A Klok Opera, I am a huge metalhead. I’ve listened to many sub-genres ranging from Thrash Metal to Blackened Death Metal and look forward to discovering more and more bands (this is what Pandora is for). What we have in this spot may be a licensed track, but since it was used as the background while fighting Emperor Doviculus in Brütal Legend, it counts for this list. Judas Priest is not one of my all-time favorites, but they’ve produced some undeniably classic heavy metal tracks, and Painkiller is one of them. It’s to the point where Death (the Death Metal band) covered it on their final album, The Sound of Perseverance, which would subsequently be the late Chuck Schuldiner’s final album, and Disturbed opened their cover of Living After Midnight with Painkiller’s opening drum solo.

But I’m not here to go into Heavy Metal history; I’m here to talk about how awesome Painkiller is in this particular context. Brütal Legend is a game made entirely out of Heavy Metal and features some of the great legends of Metal, like Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy Kilmister, and one of the best Heavy Metal soundtracks of all time from across a multitude of genres. However, it is Painkiller that is used at the best possible moment. The pulsing drums, the awesome solos, the classic lyrics and the enormous amount of energy all contribute to the thrill of finally being able to kill Emperor Doviculus. Then again, I don’t think there’s a better choice of song for when you’re up against a Heavy Metal demon voiced by Tim Curry.

While I have not (yet) actually played Brütal Legend, I have seen what the game is like and what licensed music made it into the soundtrack. One of these songs, the original version of Painkiller by Judas Priest, plays during the final battle against Emperor Doviculus, who rules the Metal land Eddie Riggs finds himself transported to. I have heard both the Judas Priest original and the cover by Death (the Death Metal band), and I can’t think of any other Metal song worthy of Doviculus’ battle. The song itself contains some amazing guitar riffs backed by some amazing drum work and vocals that fit with the essence of the fight. Though the song existed long before the game, it’s still a perfect choice for that moment, giving Metalheads something to rejoice while playing.

6. Bombs for Throwing at You (Portal 2)

Game: Portal 2
Boss: Wheatley
Song: Bombs for Throwing at You
Composer: Mike Morasky

This is the part where he kills you.

What more can be said about Portal 2 that hasn’t been said elsewhere on the Internet? Not much, really. I will say that Portal 2’s music is just a spectacular mix of orchestral and electronic. This track does so much to underscore Chell’s final obstacle to freedom: her once-friend Wheatley. I won’t lie, when Wheatley turned evil I was upset, but I wasn’t shocked. Nor was I shocked when GLaDOS started becoming... well, “kinder” isn’t the word, but certainly less evil after being removed from her big body. Having that much power and control can drive anyone insane, I guess.

That said, this song really blends a quick and upbeat track with the electronica used throughout the game very well in such a way that improves an already fun and creative boss fight.

Before going into GLaDOS' huge body, Wheatley's primary predators
were GLaDOS herself, birds and his own stupidity.

Portal 2 is one of the greatest unnecessary sequels ever made. It’s got vastly improved gameplay and a plot that heavily develops GLaDOS and the new character Wheatley. There is also a very good score running underneath the whole game, and the one that plays during the boss fight is one of the best tracks from it. The fact that the song is mostly electronic is very appropriate, considering that at the end you have to fight a machine while he is, as the title of the song says, throwing bombs at you. The fight against Wheatley is very creative and as you keep dodging his bombs and placing more personality cores on him, this is the track that you’ll hear: a track with a rising opening that quickly becomes a fast and frenetic beat that manages to be upbeat at the same time. The tempo changes are handled very well and the additional effects, layered on top of a more consistent backbeat or sustained chords, help make it all the more memorable and enjoyable to listen to on its own; perfect for boss fight music such as this.
Puzzles, Personality Cores, GLaDOS, and Cave Johnson aside, one thing that really stands out from the recent Portal 2 is the music, which has some really great electronic music, all of which fits really well with the atmosphere and setting of the game. While some stand out more than others, one mix that really stands out is Bombs for Throwing at You, which plays while fighting a power-mad Wheatley, who until about halfway you thought was your friend. The piece really helps bring out the weight of the fight, which only becomes heavier as the timer drops closer to zero. When listened to outside of the game, whether through the physical or free digital soundtracks released by Valve, you have a better chance of listening to the smaller nuances of the song, which only help further gives you an idea of how intense the song is and why it takes this spot on this list.

5. King of the Koopas (Paper Mario)

Game: Paper Mario
Boss: Bowser
Song: King of the Koopas
Composer: Yuka Tsujiyoko

This is, hands down, one of the best Bowser fights of all time. The fate of the entire Mushroom Kingdom is at stake, more so than ever before. Bowser has the power to do literally anything he wants with the Star Rod and only Mario can stop him. But this track just helps add... something to it.

Now, I do have to clarify; I’m talking about the game version of the song. There are two versions floating around: the game version and the soundtrack version. The game version has an electric guitar which sounds AWESOME and the soundtrack version changes the MIDI instrumentation to use... I think horns? I’m not sure, but it sounds cheap and awful. The game version of the song is so well done and underscores the weight and importance of the battle so well that it’s actually quite impressive.

The Paper Mario games’ final battles grow in importance and weight exponentially (until you hit Sticker Star, but that was barely a Paper Mario game), but this fight with Bowser just hit the sweet spot of what Mario and Bowser’s rivalry is all about. The song behind it makes getting to this fight absolutely worth it just to hear this epic track behind a fun and exciting battle. Even if Bowser does have to wait his turn because I’m rocking out to that epic guitar solo.

Even with the power to do literally anything, Bowser couldn't beat Mario.
That's a rather impressive feat in-and-of itself, really.

I’m going to admit straight away that I have never played a Mario game in my life aside from Super Mario Bros. on NES.

After you put down your pitchforks, remember that in our previous Top Ten Best Boss Fights list, I explained that Tetris_King and I got a PS2 as our first gaming console, so we never really had the opportunity for that same nostalgia that a lot of other people would have. To make up for this, we have been collecting old consoles and games in an attempt to play catch up, though we still have some reservations about joining certain fandoms (and that’s all I’m going to say about that).

With that said, I still think that this is a well-written track. Having not played Paper Mario, I’m not sure of the context, but it does sound fitting for a boss battle in a franchise with NES roots. The backing drums are energetic and the electric guitar solos are pretty good as well. Add a dissonant electronic composition on top and you’ve got something very worthy of a boss fight against a fire-breathing turtle (at least I assume he breathes fire in this fight, my information on Bowser is very limited and possibly very old).
Most of my experience with Mario comes from the NES game Super Mario Bros. and the similarly-named movie, but I still have some limited second-hand knowledge of what some of the games are like. Bowser, the main villain of most games, is usually the final encounter in each game he is in, which includes Paper Mario, an RPG with a notable art style where the characters are rendered as paper against a three-dimensional plane. Bowser’s battle theme, King of the Koopas, is an interesting composition, prominently featuring a mixture of keyboard and percussion following a tonal shift from calm to intense. The way these two styles of instrument are mixed together is done in a way that works, as the sound often ungulates between intense, fast keyboard work and heavy percussion to slower, calmer keyboard and little percussion, which helps it stay interesting throughout the fight. The mix is fitting for the Koopa King and captures the importance of the battle nicely.
4. Final Battle (Banjo-Kazooie)

Game: Banjo-Kazooie
Boss: Gruntilda
Song: Final Battle
Composer: Grant Kirkhope

Now it’s time to whup your butt. I’ll shoot you down, you fat green slut!

Maybe if Conker had fought Grunty, we’d have gotten a line like that. The battle with Gruntilda at the end of Banjo-Kazooie is one of the most climactic battles on the console. Banjo-Kazooie is my absolute favorite N64 platformer collect-em-up of all time. This song’s composition is just amazing and considering the composer is the incomparable Grant Kirkhope, I’m not surprised. Kirkhope, like much of Rare at the time, got the Nintendo 64 to do things it was NEVER designed to do like full voice acting and inter-cartridge data transfers. Unfortunately, the latter was scrapped for technical reasons, but Rare in the N64 era was at its best.

This song is a re-arrangement of the Gruntilda’s Lair theme that plays throughout the whole game, but this fight is so memorable and so fun that the accompanying music has to be equally so. The bit of banjo included in the song serves to exemplify Banjo’s final battle with Grunty, whose highly memorable theme overtakes a good chunk of the song. This track just SCREAMS struggle and that’s what this fight is: a struggle.

Let’s actually analyze this: Banjo and Kazooie have a series of odd moves and acrobatic attacks, eggs they can shoot, flight, temporary invulnerability, a shaman, a mole and some bird-things on their side. Gruntilda has a flying broomstick, MAGIC BLASTS, AN IMPENETRABLE SHIELD, AND A HOMING ATTACK THAT DOES A METRIC F***-TON OF DAMAGE IF IT HITS. Seriously, you have to be DAMN good to dodge that attack unless you use the Wonderwing. Statistically, you’d be a fool to bet on the bear and bird in this fight. Hell, they aren’t even the ones who actually FINISH the witch! The Jinjonator does all the heavy lifting in a magnificent display of deus-ex machina at work. Banjo and Kazooie didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in the lava side of Hailfire Peaks in this fight, but because of their friends and their tenacity, they win. That is one hell of a battle and one hell of a track.

Gruntilda before spending two years trapped under a rock,
becoming even MORE ugly (if you can believe that).

As fate would have it, I’ve also never played a classic N64 Rareware title except for the beginning of GoldenEye 007 (when I borrowed it from a friend). Because of this, I have never really played a Banjo-Kazooie game, but I have watched that same friend play Nuts & Bolts (he liked the game, but that’s all I have to say about that). However, just because I haven’t played a game doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy its music. That is where I stand with the theme for the final battle against Gruntilda in Banjo-Kazooie.

Since I haven’t actually played Banjo-Kazooie, I’m sort of limited to talking about the composition of the piece. There is a lot that goes on in this one, though its more consistent mid-tempo serves as a good foundation for the changes to fast tempo that occur at certain points. A mostly upbeat attitude with a hint of dissonance makes for a good mixture of sounds that fit in with the style of the game. When the sweeping banjo hits, it creates a more lighthearted moment that is perhaps a good reminder of who exactly is fighting who at this point in time, but when the other instruments choose to kick in you get an overwhelming feeling that this is going to be a long hard fight.
I haven’t really played any Banjo-Kazooie games before, but I have been shown gameplay of the last game, Nuts & Bolts, before, and seeing gameplay footage of the first two, and hearing about what they’re like, has gotten me interested in wanting to check the series out at some point. That being said, I do know that, in the first two games, the titular protagonists Banjo and Kazooie have to face off against an evil witch named Gruntilda, whose battle music from the first game is being discussed here. The song gives the feeling of an intense battle, but at times it has more of a whimsical feel to it, which fits the tone of the track in a weird sort of way. This isn’t really a bad thing, since it, like King of the Koopas, uses this to its advantage with tonal shifts that give the song a unique atmosphere that keeps the fight interesting. Despite its whimsical flair, you know just by hearing it that you’re in for a challenge.

3. Sloprano (Conker's Bad Fur Day)

Game: Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Boss: The Great Mighty Poo
Song: Sloprano
Composer: Robin Beanland

I’ve already mentioned how impressed I am by what Rare made the N64 do. This song is a big part of that. The battle itself is funny and somewhat difficult, balancing frustration with success perfectly.

The lyrics are so catchy and memorable that you can’t help but sing along. And Rare knew this. The game has a bouncing ball (of poo) tracking the lyrics as the song goes. This is my favorite boss fight of all time and easily one of the best boss battle songs ever by pure virtue of it makes you sing along to a song about poo.

A song. About poo. That makes you sing along. Hell, this song exemplifies what Conker’s Bad Fur Day is all about and obviously fits the fight so perfectly well.

By the way, I’m very, very thankful that Conker’s health item (antigravity chocolate) floats above the ground. Sloprano is one video game world that you want to avoid eating anything off the ground, much less something brown and sticky. Yuck.

The Great Mighty Poo (right) (as seen in Conker's Bad Fur Day)

The aforementioned friend who showed me Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Buts also showed me, and a few others, a few hours of Conker: Live & Reloaded, the remake of Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Nevertheless, I had heard of the Great Mighty Poo and later heard his theme, Sloprano. I decided to actually watch the boss fight of this one for context and admittedly it’s exactly what I expected, a piece and fight that is so gross that it loops around to being funny. From what I’ve seen of Conker, this definitely fits right in with the game’s style and tone, which is to say that that its heavily adult themes seem like they were very daring for the time period. While Sloprano is easily the grossest song on this list, and consists of nothing but a rather sophisticated orchestra playing behind the voice of a giant piece of poo with an operatic singing voice (wow was that a weird statement), the sheer novelty of the idea is what qualifies it enough for the list.
While I am not intimately familiar with Conker’s Bad Fur Day (including its Xbox remake, Live and Reloaded), I have become aware of some of its contents, one of which is an enemy known as The Great Mighty Poo, who is exactly what it sounds like. His respective theme, Sloprano, features him singing (what an odd sentence) about how he’s going to defeat you in a number of disturbing ways which I don’t think I can repeat here. While it gets kind of gross, it is admittedly kind of funny after a while when you think about the context of the whole thing, and it fits in with the game’s setting from what I have seen. Despite its content, the song is actually pretty catchy later on and The Great Mighty Poo’s singing voice really isn’t all that bad (this is what video games can make you write). While I understand why our guest contributor is a fan of this song, there is a reason it isn’t in the top slot.

2. One-Winged Angel (Final Fantasy VII)

Game: Final Fantasy VII
Boss: Sephiroth (Safer∙Sephiroth)
Song: One-Winged Angel
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu

Note: Due to the multiple versions of this song that exist, none of the parties involved could decide on a single version to represent in this slot on the list, therefore we will each be talking about a different version.

One-Winged Angel (Final Fantasy VII Original Soundtrack)

I’m going to come clean and admit that I have never played a Final Fantasy game before. However, I have seen the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children movie and its Complete counterpart, and by proxy I have some knowledge of the mythos of Final Fantasy, mostly that of Final Fantasy VII. Now that that’s out of the way, I am here to discuss One-Winged Angel, the famous leitmotif of the antagonist Sephiroth. However, as it has enough of a legacy to spawn several official remixes for various purposes, each of us working on this list has decided to cover a different version of the iconic song; I was tasked with discussing the original version of the song, which is where it all began.

In context, One-Winged Angel plays during the final battle against Sephiroth, specifically when facing his Safer∙Sephiroth form. Notably, this is the first Final Fantasy track to have lyrics in it, in this case Latin chanting about how powerful Sephiroth is. The original work aims to capture a combination of orchestra and rock music, namely based in the works of Igor Stravinsky and Jimi Hendrix, and while it couldn’t be heard to its fullest extent due to PS1 hardware limitations, I think the final work pulls off the orchestral/rock mix rather well. The song itself creates an ominous atmosphere of dread against a powerful foe, as if you are going to fail against him if you are not properly prepared, and brings out the power of Sephiroth while emphasizing the weight of the fight (as some other entries on this list do); the fact that the lyrics are in Latin probably contributes to this, as Latin is often used to make a song feel more epic. While I haven’t really experienced the song in its original context, just listening to it has made me see why the song has the legacy it has amongst the Final Fantasy fandom and the gaming world in general, which was enough to have Nobuo Uematsu, the original composer, remix the song with his band (The Black Mages) for the Advent Children movie(s) to give it the edge he felt it deserved. However, while the Advent Children mixes did give the song something more, the original version still holds up in the years since Final Fantasy VII’s original release (this song came to mind instantly when coming up with song choices for this list) and definitely deserves being as high up as it is.

Concept art oSafer∙Sephiroth

With all of this praise towards Sephiroth’s leitmotif, why it is only Number 2, you might ask? The Number 1 choice for this list may come as a surprise for (many of) you reading this list.

One-Winged Angel (Final Fantasy Orchestra Album)

Okay, I’ll admit it: I haven’t played Final Fantasy VII. Yeah, yeah, stow your nerd rage; I’ll get to it eventually. I haven’t played Half-Life either. They’re on my to-do list.

But, as previously mentioned, I HAVE played Kingdom Hearts and that is where most of my knowledge of Cloud and Sephiroth comes from. It’s also where I first heard this amazing song. My job today is to discuss the orchestral version of the song. I really like the lead-up to the latin lyrics; it’s a bit long (like Sephiroth’s masamune [yes, that’s what his sword is called]) but it builds tension because whether you know what’s coming or not, you will. Soon. Also, if you're like me and you wonder just what the hell they’re saying and Googled the lyrics, they’re quite appropriate.

Especially the part where they say “Sephiroth” which translates to “Sephiroth”.

Sephiroth from the Hebrew word meaning "Asshole"

Advent: One-Winged Angel – ACC Long Version (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete)

My experience with Final Fantasy VII is a little limited. I’ve only played part of the first disc of the original game, but I’ve played through all of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and have seen both Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and its extended version, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete. Apart from Kingdom Hearts, I am most familiar with Cloud and Sephiroth through the two versions of Advent Children, which is also where my favorite version of One-Winged Angel comes from. In particular, I am here to talk about the Advent Children Complete (ACC) version.

From the beginning, One-Winged Angel was intended to be a fusion of orchestra and rock, more specifically Igor Stravinsky and Jimi Hendrix. While the original version accomplished a lot of that, and the later orchestral version brings the song up to a good modern composition, it is Advent: One-Winged Angel – ACC Long Version which is the most successful at accomplishing the original idea of a rock/orchestral hybrid. This version is basically a then-new orchestral arrangement of the original song with accompaniment by The Black Mages, a Progressive Rock/Metal band formed by Nobuo Uematsu himself (he’s the keyboardist), as well as new lyrics by Tetsuya Nomura (who is responsible for Kingdom Hearts). The resulting mix is, simply put, totally awesome.

The piece opens strongly by having truly haunting instrumentation signaling the arrival of Sephiroth in the movie; it begins precisely when the newly reborn antagonist raises his head and greets his old rival, Cloud, as if to say that it’s about to get real. As the fight onscreen gets more dramatic, so does the music, going through crescendos and decrescendos to create a dark atmosphere and a sense of dread not only for Cloud, but also for the viewer. Then, less than a minute in, a sick drum pattern kicks in as Sephiroth explains his motives and, right before the vocals kick in, one of the best CG swordfights ever begins. Gradually, the orchestral and metal elements escalate in intensity, though still with a dramatic flair and a well-paced tempo shift that makes you wonder which element is keeping up with which. Nearly halfway in, The Black Mages almost completely take over, with great drum beats and droning guitars which shift keys and introduce pinch harmonics at the right moments to match the increasing adrenaline rush of the action. Then, when the action is reaching its highest point, some of the most badass guitar solos play, highlighting the swordplay and keeping the viewer/listener completely engrossed. Suddenly, as the guitar solo reaches the highest frets on the neck, the song shifts into a very somber orchestral section, where, in ACC, Cloud is knocked down by his opponent and is attempting a last-ditch attack.

Sephiroth (left) fighting against Cloud (right) during Advent Children.

Near the end of this section however, he finds himself impaled on Sephiroth’s Masamune sword and lifted into the air. It is then that a new section created for ACC plays, which is when Sephiroth taunts Cloud before throwing him into the air and stabbing him further with his sword. This section captures the feeling that things just might be over for Cloud with its moving arrangement that feels like it really fits in with the rest of the song. Then, at the six minute mark, there is a brief pause. In ACC, this is when Cloud is motivated by the words of the late Zack Fair to strike back, but listening to the song on its own, it’s a very suspenseful moment that forges uncertainty in the listener; a very good use of silence to continue telling a story. A few seconds later, the music swells back in, signifying the moment when Cloud begins his final counterattack at Sephiroth, a more powerful variant of Omnislash Version 5. At first there’s tension, as mirrored by the strings, but then as the moment continues, the tone becomes more triumphant and, just as the vocals end in ACC, Cloud catches his falling sword as the rest of the components stick into the ground. It’s a fitting end to such a perfect audio/visual marriage.

One of the most interesting parts about this version however is Tetsuya Nomura’s new lyrics. They are written such that they are more relevant to memory, the idea that Sephiroth will never simply be a memory as long as Cloud continues to exist. This is reflected in his Kingdom Hearts appearances, where he is revealed to exist because Cloud exists and he will never completely disappear (this makes just as much sense in context by the way). Looking up the official English translation of the Latin vocals will reveal the most interesting things about Sephiroth’s character and I recommend you look them up as well.

And the fact that I’ve spent nearly 800 words talking about a song is why Advent: One-Winged Angel – ACC Long Version takes up the number two spot on this list (for me at least).

1. The Battle of Lil' Slugger (Super Meat Boy)

Game: Super Meat Boy
Boss: Lil’ Slugger
Song: The Battle of Lil’ Slugger
Composer: Danny Baranowsky

You just scrolled all the way down to see what we thought deserved the top spot on the list, didn’t you?

While a lot of the themes on this list are from games I haven’t played, there are a few I have previous experience with, one of them being Super Meat Boy, and I can safely say that, even though I haven’t beaten it yet, it is one of the most difficult games I have ever played, and for good reason. I was barely able to get past the first World in the game, mainly thanks to the battle with Lil’ Slugger, a walking chainsaw driven by the antagonist, Dr. Fetus, cutting through a forest to attack you, Meat Boy, as you try to outrun it and attempt to rescue your girlfriend, Bandage Girl (I seriously just typed that). In any case, this particular boss encounter is very difficult, taking me countless tries (and some help) to finally get past it.

Its theme, The Battle of Lil’ Slugger, perfectly encapsulates this, with its metal sound and intense guitar playing that makes you want to run for your life against a giant chainsaw ready to cut you down to size. This is only increased when the song, like your heart rate, speeds up, as there is a sense of danger during the fight knowing you have to restart if you mess up even once while outrunning Lil’ Slugger. Even when the song has its calmer points, you know that you can’t slow down or else the enemy will get you, forcing you to start all over again. It’s also a very catchy tune, one that really sticks with you for a while and is apparently very hard for an average guitarist to play. Regardless, the intensity of the song compliments the sense of danger that comes with the Boss, and deserves the top spot on this list.

A fetus driving a robot driving a robot with a giant chainsaw
attached to it simply cannot be anywhere other than first place.

Wait, WHAT?! Yep. Super Meat Boy tops the list. If you were that surprised, you clearly haven’t played this game enough. Understandable since it’s hard as BALLS.

The Battle of Lil’ Slugger is the boss music from the game’s first boss fight. Dr. Fetus, the game’s primary antagonist with the best villain name in the history of video games (he’s literally a fetus in a robot suit) is chasing Meat Boy through a burning forest in a giant walking chainsaw robot to a metal song with a guitar riff that would make Ozzy Osbourne nod sagely in approval as the metal gods offer dB soundworks a Fire Tribute. I did mention how much I love Brütal Legend, right?

The composition of this track is just spectacular. The riff later in the song is nearly impossible to play on guitar unless you’re really, REALLY good and it’s catchy as hell. Super Meat Boy already has an amazing soundtrack, but this one really rocks it to the top of the list (see what I did there?).

In fact, this song is available on Rock Band 3 along with Forest Funk, the music from The Forest (duh) and Betus Blues, the music from The Hospital. So, with that in mind, go spend 3 bucks on those and try to complete this track on Expert 100%. Still not as hard as Through the Fire and Flames, but impressive nonetheless.
In a shocking turn of events (for some), we have The Battle of Lil’ Slugger from Super Meat Boy at the top of our list. Super Meat Boy is a game that’s hard as all hell (Hell is even one of the Worlds) and has one of the best soundtracks ever. The great blend of modern and old school musicality is simply infectious and The Battle of Lil’ Slugger is a perfect example of such a feat.

I find the composition to be particularly brilliant. Rather than start off with an opening for a taste of what’s to come, it simply jumps you right into the action, much like how running from Dr. Fetus, who is a fetus in a robotic suit, riding a giant chainsaw with legs through a burning forest is very immediate (video games are weird and can make you type weird sentences). The tension is already there, your adrenaline is rising and the feeling of dread only increases with each passing death. As you die countless times, which is inevitable in a game like this, you hear a fast tempo beat played at an odd time signature that will get stuck in your head because it is that catchy. It isn’t long before you hear blazing guitar solos that only a true master can pull off, but there are also points where you hear less instrumentation, serving as a perfect counterbalance to the more energetic sections. The Heavy Metal influence is clearly present, but I like the balance that it not only strives for, but succeeds at with flying colors.

This one is a little more difficult for me to go into great detail over, but once you listen to it once, you will be amazed.

No comments:

Post a Comment