6 generations of the best RPG battle themes

Upon developing a love for RPGs, you quickly discover that you’d better get very used to hearing the same piece of music repeatedly for a very long time. Thankfully, most RPG developers these days are well aware of the fact that the normal battle theme is probably the most frequently occurring piece of music on the soundtrack — and as such it had better be a banger, lest people end up turning the sound off altogether.

So with that in mind, as a bit of Friday fun, here we have six of the best RPG normal battle themes from various platforms over the years. Got some of your own favourites? Then share ’em with us in the comments — or write us a letter for the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page if you want to talk in more depth; just click the “Write to Rice!” widget over on the right!

Anyway. Running roughly chronologically…

Ultima III: Exodus

While it’s a western RPG, 1983’s Ultima III: Exodus was a hugely influential game on the development of what we now know as “the JRPG”. It was one of the first computer RPGs to feature control of a full party, one of the first to make a real effort with a sense of narrative progression — and one of the first to feature a separate battle screen with its own distinctive “combat” theme.

There are various versions of this track out there, but this one, from the 1986 Commodore Amiga version, is one of the best. It’s a simple tune, but it gets across the seriousness of the situation in which you and your party have found yourselves — and there’s a certain pleasing “Gothicness” to its overall composition that works very well. It wouldn’t sound out of place in a Castlevania.

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

Fanart by irireko. Original source here.

Love it or hate it — and there are a fair few people who hate it — but Square’s attempt to make the concept of the RPG a bit more palatable to western SNES-playing audiences had some fantastic music if nothing else. It’s almost a pity that the combat in the game was so straightforward and easy, because you’d often kill stuff before the music really got good.

Although not the best game in the series by a very long shot, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is still worth a shot today — if only to see the various ways the series has experimented over the years. Doing things differently is by no means a recent thing for Final Fantasy!

Legend of Dragoon

Dismissed by some as Sony Japan Studio’s desperate attempt to ride the coat-tails of Final Fantasy’s renewed popularity after its legendary seventh installment, Legend of Dragoon was actually a pretty great RPG for PS1 in its own right. And, as this track demonstrates, it has a pretty cool soundtrack, too.

The PS1 era marked the point at which we started moving gradually away from synthesised soundtracks towards the more elaborate pre-recorded compositions that we have today. Legend of Dragoon’s music is a good example of a stop along the way in that process — it still sounds a little artificial, but it also has a much “fuller” sound than music from the generations that came before it.

Ar Tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica

Battle themes: Ar Tonelico 2

You didn’t think we were going to get through a music-related article without at least one Gust track slipping in, did you? Well, sorry to disappoint, if so, but the Ar Tonelico series is full of such amazing music it would be absolutely criminal not to include it in a roundup like this.

Ar Tonelico 2: Melody of Metafalica specifically has one of the best soundtracks in the series — and for a game that places such a strong emphasis on music as part of its aesthetic identity, that should be considered high praise indeed. It’s also arguably the best game in the series, too — though its infamous dodgy localisation from back in the day bothers some people more than others!

Hyperdimension Neptunia mk. 2

Battle themes: Hyperdimension Neptunia mk.2

Genuinely one of my all-time favourite battle themes, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk.2’s “Solid Park” fits in perfectly with the series. It’s got that electronic computery vibe to reflect the fact we’re living in a world where games consoles have become goddesses; it’s got a certain sexy edge to it that complements Tsunako’s curvy character designs; and it just rocks.

An important part of any battle theme is how it can make getting into a fight feel like a pleasure rather than a chore. And, for me at least, this track certainly does that for Hyperdimension Neptunia mk. 2.

Omega Quintet

Omega Quintet was one of the first anime-style RPGs on the PlayStation 4, and a much-underappreciated title from Compile Heart’s super-creative Galapagos RPG project. Featuring a combat system that emphasises showmanship and overkills rather than efficient enemy elimination, this driving battle theme — one of several in the game — really nails the “idols fight monsters” feel, particularly when some of the more ridiculous special moves start coming out to play.

I have a lot of time for solo violin lead lines in my battle themes, and Omega Quintet certainly delivers on that front. If you enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII’s battle theme — which even those who don’t like that game will often begrudgingly admit was a pretty great tune — then you’ll be right at home with Omega Quintet’s soundtrack.

So those are six of our favourites — what about you? Share your faves down in the comments, or write us a letter for the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page if you want to write something in a bit more detail!

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Pete Davison
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