This was one list I was really excited to make, as I have much appreciation for the soundtrack of video games. There is a lot that goes into making them, since they need to be something catchy or at least work within the game’s environment. Compared to other medias in general, games can last anywhere from 1 to 100 hours. The focus needs to be on the interactivity, sure, but music can enhance or destroy the entire experience. Casper’s challenge on making a list of songs with lyrics was an interesting one, since when a track goes so far to tell the player something, it really needs to leave an unique impression. I am much more into instrumental tracks, but cannot deny that there are some stellar ones with lyrics, with this list showcasing my 12 personal favourites.
Of course, there is not going to be any licensed songs from titles like Tony Hawk 2, SSX 3, Guitar Hero Metallica or Rock Band Beatles, since that would have just been dull. These songs on this list are much more connected to the game, in terms of either being made for them or specifically used for in-game events. For the sake of simplicity as well, I will not be putting in songs that only have vocals and not really lyrics, as that seemed like a grey area. Because of this, no Jet Set Radio or LocoRoco entries here. Lastly: my taste in music is all over the place. Despite that I have studied music and can play a couple of instruments, some of these entries are objectively bad. Even then, I cannot help but to love them for some strange reasons.
#12 Simple and Clean – Kingdom Hearts
We can all agree that this song is incredibly dumb, right? Like Kelis’ Milkshake or Avril Lavigne’s Sk8er Boi dumb. Simple and Clean is a stupid song that I still question whether it is so due to poor translation or strange culture, as it tells of a bizarre love issue that reminds me of how odd we were as teenagers. And this is exactly why I love this song. It is a batshit silly take on emotions we have yet to fully grasp or understand at that age, despite that we felt like we were the smartest people in the universe. Yeah, teens are weird.
Alongside this, I decided to go with the intro version of the very first Kingdom Hearts game as it is such a strange take on the melody, where it almost sounds like the singer is having an existential crisis. It is forceful with quick and rhythmic drums, electronic tunes, and a bass that hits hard. Because of this, it makes the entire song even more hilarious and engaging. I would definitely call it bad, but no disrespect to the composers or singers. It is one that is still stuck to my head due to its insanity and it is really an example of how something epic can come from the most silliest of places. Kinda sums up the Kingdom Hearts-series as well.
#11 Dreams Dreams – Nights: Journey of Dreams
This is probably one of the cheesiest songs on this list, but one done right. The lyrics reflect the adventure you have just had, as it is perfectly played at the end, where you are reminiscing of the possibilities and journeys you have had within the world of dreams, making you miss it even more. It is really a song about freedom, love, and noticing the stars in the darkest of night. There are mainly two different versions of this song in Nights: Journey of Dreams, and I could go either way, but while the credit version is more of a slow and emotional take about reminiscing, the stage version gives a strong kick with heavier rhythm to it.
Both uses dark instruments with drums, el-guitar, and heavy focus on vocals. However, while the credit version is more about the end, the stage version takes on the idea of that nothing is really over until you wish it to be. It is more action-packed, uplifting, and hard-hitting, making it overall more energising. This is not to say that it is necessarily better, but I prefer the idea of kids being sucked back into imagination right away again, instead of reminiscing about what once was with a tear in their eye. No matter which one though, Dreams Dreams really makes me feel like a kid again, who is excited for what adventures to partake in next time in Sega’s version of Neverland.
#10 Strictly For Adults (Romantic Love) – Parappa the Rapper 2
I was originally considering the Donkey Kong 64 rap, but there was another rapping dude that I found more entertaining, simply because of how creative the lyrics could be. Parappa the Rapper 2 is one of my favourite original titles for the PS2, with one of my favourite intro stages, simply for how clever and catchy it is (and the fact that I massively love burgers). However, out of all the magnificent raps in this game, I decided to go with Strictly For Adults, also known as Romantic Love.
Indeed, this has a lot of interesting choices for lyrics, with the karate master from the last game, Chop Chop Master Onion, acting as the instructor. In other words: this is romantic karate. This leads to some hilarious lyrics like love punch, soft chop, and generally clever rhymes that makes caressing seem like mister Miyagi’s training schedule. The rapping is solid with good rhythm, and backed by jazz music that fits with the smooth love education, and the actual timing of the raps. It is also just adorable to see Parappa doing the exercise with his friend. In a PG way, of course!
#9 Calling – The World Ends With You
What an underrated title. The World Ends With You is one of the most fascinating titles for the DS that hopefully is getting more recognition with its rereleases, as it is simply cool. It has a unique combat system, a neat world to get lost in, and an awesome style. This title also comes with a killer soundtrack that is full of beats, providing techno songs that are easy to enjoy on their own. So why Calling? Honestly, it was only because it was the most memorable to me, despite that there might be arguably better songs in this game.
Despite that, Calling is still a fantastic song with hard hitting beats, quick techno tunes, and wonderful vocals by Leah, that makes this fastpaced song more energised. The melody actually fits lovely with the lyrics that only has a couple of words, but describes feelings of disarray, anxiety, and general mental struggles. The song showcases understanding for such difficulties, but that one step at the time will make things slightly better. Similar to the melody, as it gets stronger with every beat. It is really an uplifting song that shows consideration, ties in well with the game’s characters, and roots you on without being intrusive.
#8 Rules of Nature – Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
There are plenty of fantastic songs that signify Metal Gear Solid-series’ strong storytelling. The Best Is Yet To Come, their take on a James Bond theme with Snake Eater, and the glorious Calling of the Night, which I just love for its composition alone. So why did I choose Rules of Nature? It can be argued that it is not even good, as it is a mash of a metal song where audio quality is all over the place. However, that is precisely why I love it. It is an action-filled and fun song that pulls no punches and goes all out from the start with techno, el-guitars, drums, all in a fast and powerful motion, fitting perfectly to this action heavy game by Platinum Games.
The lyrics goes further by telling about primal instincts of kill or be killed, and literally screams out the song’s name, Rules of Nature, before every chorus. It fills me with adrenaline and makes me pay attention to every slash, every deflect, and every insane moment. Think of it like this: this song is played within the intro stage where you fight a Metal Gear, something that is usually reserved as one of the last (if not the last) encounters in the Metal Gear Solid-titles. That is how action-packed and demanding this game is, and to be engaged in a song singing about your primal desires, is actually something beautiful, as strange as it might sound. I think Nietzsche would enjoy this song too.
#7 Hell Frozen Rain – Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
I love the creepy melodies of Akira Yamaoka as they always signifies what you should feel and how uncertain the world of Silent Hill is, with the unsettling audio enhancing the atmosphere even further. However, I cannot act as I am a fan of the songs with lyrics in general, as they range all over the place in terms of quality. Some people are struggling with Korn’s intro song for Downpour, but that was honestly one of the best, when you consider only the melody of the Silent Hill songs being consistently good. Lets face it, a series about psychological horror should not result in extremely cheesy love songs that are masked with fantastic melodies.
There are some songs that focus better on the main characters’ struggles thankfully, with Silent Hill 4 and Shattered Memories containing some of the best. I had trouble picking between Tender Sugar and Hell Frozen Rain as both have their own takes on the harsh guitar melody and are accompanied by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as the lead singer with her lovely dark voice. Tender Sugar questions dreams vs reality, while Hell Frozen Rain sees memories fade away and eventually ponder on what is true. In the end, I went with the latter for its more personal take that is better related to Shattered Memories’ unique concept, and for the 50’s style country melody being more dark, rhythmic and simply cool. Excuse the pun.
#6 The Wolven Storm (Priscilla’s Song) – The Witcher 3
It is impressive when a game can tell the player: “Please, put down the controller and take a moment to listen”. That is exactly what happens when The Witcher 3 presents The Wolven Storm, a beautiful song only expressed through a lute and the gorgeous voice of Emma Hiddleston. It is a song that basks in its simplicity to get forth its beauty, with an easy to remember melody, and where every note is clearly heard with perfect pitches. It is a calm, yet sad song.
I always try to grasp what a song might mean, and from what I can tell here without going too deep into spoilers, it is a song about lost love. It hits severely hard for anyone being involved in the Witcher’s journey up to this point, and it is so magnificently portrayed here. Love songs are something I rarely like due to their shallow texts, but this one is really like a poem, with wonderful descriptions. Combined with Priscilla’s troubled story and subtle hints of her own struggles in her singing, it makes the importance of her song even stronger, due to what might have never been able to exist: this beautiful song.
#5 Still Alive – Portal
Who honestly have not heard this one? This is one of the strangest songs on this list, and while I also enjoy Want You Gone from Portal 2, Still Alive is one song that really focuses on making its lyrics come forth. It only starts out with an acoustic guitar playing a simple but pleasant melody, and the lyrics being written as it is sung by an AI voice. It is basically a passive aggressive song by the villain, singing about her thoughts, with stronger instruments like el-guitar and bass added in just when the lyrics are clear that it got your attention.
It is a fantastic build up that gets better the further the song goes, and the lyrics are probably the best of any entry on this list, just because of how creative, hilarious and tied in with the game it is. A good song makes you pay attention to its text, and not just the melody, which Still Alive excels at. It really makes it worth playing through the game, as while it is fantastic on its own, it adds so much more when you have actually played through to hear this cynical song at the end. Actually, just go play Portal, okay? I heard they have cake.
#4 Life Will Change – Persona 5
I am so conflicted about this game, as I did not enjoy its mechanisms at all. Wonky stealth, combat that was always one sided, and objectives that made me feel like I went through a checklist, made me loath the idea of ever beating it. However, it does have an outstanding style. The visuals, the sleek animations, the intriguing world, and its soundtrack that is a mix of blues, rock, and even orchestra with stealth tunes, all those aspects are amazing. I love everything about its presentation, so you can believe me it was hard to choose the best song. In the end, I chose the song that always lured me into giving this game another shot: Life Will Change.
It starts off with a cool guitar riff that is fast and in your face, building up with cymbals, bass, drums, and then the vocals kick in with a wonderful dark female voice. The song gets more and more joyful and lighter, including both el-guitar and violins, with the singer expressing how you will never catch the player and that they will change the world. It is a neat rebellious song about how you will overcome anything within the blink of an eye, fitting to the core experience of the game, and always gets me pumped up for another go. Until I realise that I do not like Persona 5 as a game.
#3 What I’m Made Of – Sonic Heroes
I could probably fit an entire list with songs by Crush 40, due to how big of a fan I am. There are plenty of fantastic songs throughout their legacy, and while Live and Learn is amazing, this is my personal favourite. What I’m Made Of starts off with a forceful guitar, before being quickly accompanied by drums, bass, and then Johnny Gioeli singing with full throat. It is a fantastic melody, giving you all the speed and action a Sonic-game should have, with the sweet cheese of early 2000s edginess being still PG.
Johnny Gioeli adds his crunchy voice to make every word sound amazing. The lyrics are really about that nothing is going to stop you, and while you can take a lot, you will stand tall and fight back. Really, it is a song about overcoming your biggest obstacles, with you having everything to overcome them by simply being you. All this is done with fantastic guitar-play and composition by Jun Senoue. By having this being played as you blast through and take down the final boss of the game, it is really a fantastic end segment.
#2 Late Goodbye – Max Payne 2
Poets of the Fallen is one of my favourite bands ever, thanks to their lyrics alone. That a love song would be so high on this list, should speak volumes for how great they are as a band and for how impactful this song is. It has a lovely composed melody with low guitar tunes, simple text, and does not pick up with more instruments before a minute in. That is because it is a sad song about loss, that never really gets a light note. It just stays stuck in its comfortable, darker notes.
This song is wonderfully used throughout the game, highlighting what is to come and hinting you that this song means more than just being a diegetic melody to create an atmosphere. This is one of the best things about the first two Max Payne titles: they always tell the player what is going to happen, but it is still shocking when it occurs. This is because Remedy knows how to use this media to tell a story. The lyrics for this song is also strong, telling of a barren land where there are only certain forms of beauties to speak of and as the chorus says: It’s a late goodbye. I still cannot listen to this one without getting emotional.
#1 A Hardworking Hand – The Bard’s Tale 4
The Bard’s Tale 4 is one title I acknowledge for its issues, but love so much due to what it gets right. One of the aspects it does so, are the diegetic songs from the NPCs, be they working or trying to lighten their troubled days by a comfortable tune. However, A Hardworking Hand is one song that is used as a non-diegetic melody, right at the end. While you are applauded for your accomplishments, it is a bittersweet end that shows a new age is coming, and that your work is not over. The song’s lyrics are really about how every damage will be worse if you do not do something about them. Be they tear in clothes, a broken heart, or other elements, it needs work to make the days better.
It is a humble song only accompanied by a lute and a man singing, with the album version being just as beautiful in its own way. There is nothing grand to it in its composition, but strong due to how raw it is and this rendition captures the song’s heritage well. With its emphasis on notes, while always being calm, I made this into my alarm clock. It is also because it hits very much at home to me. Even if everything is done and you should be proud, neglecting other duties should not be taken lightly on. It should not be forced, but done step by step. Because of how much it made me appreciate the small work I do in general, A Hardworking Hand became my favourite song with lyrics in any video game. While it fits perfectly with the game’s event, it just as well correlates with me.
This was a severely fun list to do Casper, so I figured I should be just as kind to you. I always get very much hit and miss with a game by its introduction, be it inviting, vague, or treating the gamer like an utter moron. With that mindset, what are some of the best first stages in a video game you have ever encountered? I will be kind enough to say that this does not have to come from games with a clear stage setup, but can also be simply the introduction part of a more open title. First impressions are important after all, right?