When a series has been around for the better part of fifteen years, it generates a wealth of content. In the case of Pokémon, this has certainly rang true: we’ve seen countless installments in the venerable franchise, and with them have come new Pokémon, new trainers, new villains, new regions, and new graphics. But today, we want to focus on an aspect of the series that sometimes gets overlooked.
The Pokémon IP hasn’t been one that often gets talked of with regards to its music, but the fact is, it sports some incredible tunes that have helped inspire grand adventures and daring battles. Sure, its songs may go unnoticed amidst all of the hustle and bustle of catching ’em all, but the sounds accompanying our tireless endeavors have served in making Pikachu’s world all the more fulfilling and complete.
So today we acknowledge the lovely music of Pokémon by bequeathing you our top ten favorite songs from the games. Thus, and without any further ado, let’s get to it.
10. I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye
(Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky | 2009)
“I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye” is a haunting lullaby — one that is ripe with sadness and hope, inspiration and melancholy. Taken out of context, it still manages to be a strong piece that actually doesn’t need its accompanying game scene to hammer home its message. It’s rare to find a Pokémon song that so unapologetically tugs at its listeners’ heart strings. But this one does, and it does so with ease and grace.
09. Sunny Park
(Battle Revolution | 2007)
The Colosseum games, along with Battle Revolution, are underrated to the point of being damn near criminal. They’re overlooked far too often, and themes such as “Sunny Park” are a testament to what folks are missing out on by not giving them the time of day. This theme really personifies what PBR is all about; it’s high energy, contains a heinously catchy rift and for lack of a better phrase, is just downright fun. Plus, the heavy emphasis on synth-keyboards is sure to blow up anyone’s skirt who was born in the 80s. In actuality, the song at large harkens back to a bygone era of game music, which is sure to hit old school gamer’s right in the heart.
08. Team Plasma Battle
(Black, White | 2007)
There are so many excellent battle themes throughout the entirety of the Pokémon series that it was difficult to select just a few for this list. Nonetheless, when I put them all down on paper and listened to them each, I kept coming back to this one over and over again. I merely couldn’t get away from it due to how perfectly in sync it is, despite the chaotic construction of it. It’s a pulse-pounding, heart-thumping, punch-you-in-the-face theme that fits the mood of battle rather succinctly, what with its various moving parts and array of instruments. The wonderful use of synthesizers and the regular integration of note-drop off also sets it apart from the pack, adding to the sense of bedlam that embodies this piece right on down to its very core.
07. Goldenrod City
(Gold, Silver | 2000)
I was torn on this, as I really enjoy the remix version found in HeartGold/SoulSilver. However, that version loses a bit of the original’s message, as it’s far more bouncy than this one. This rendition, from Gold and Silver, though, was ultimately chosen thanks to its heartfelt sincerity heard in the captivating melody that catches its stride around the 15 second mark. While some newer gamers will undoubtedly scoff at the 8-bit, chiptune nature of it, I think most of us can realize the brilliance in the song’s structure and infectious chorus.
06. National Park
(HeartGold, SoulSilver | 2010)
Unlike the Goldenrod City pick above, HeartGold/SoulSilver‘s arrangement of “National Park” is exponentially better than the original, and mesmeric in all ways possible. The ascending and descending piano segment at the beginning sets the tone of the song, which in turn flourishes into a ballad befit for any ballroom across the globe. The song has a waltz type feel to it up until it kicks things into high gear around the 1:20 mark. From there, it’s all percussive drum blasts and a rhythm that breaks convention, creating a beautiful duality of sounds. Take note, musicians, this is how you remix a song.
05. Phenac City
(Gale of Darkness | 2005)
If you listen to this ditty and it doesn’t bring a smile to your face, then you need to check your pulse. Everything about this tune is brilliant: from its pacing, to the story told in its gorgeously entrancing melody during the slow buildup, to the energetic bursts of lightning fast rhythms interspersed throughout. This is perhaps one of the most diverse tunes in the Pokémon music compendium. Its approach to a city theme is just so radically different from what’s heard in almost all other towns in the installments, that it’s hard to deny its addictive, ecclectic qualities.
04. Aspertia City
(Black 2, White 2 | 2012)
This is certainly our favorite town song from Black 2/White 2, as it sets the stage for the entire adventure that awaits the player as they acclimate themselves to the game in the very beginning. Its refrain is possibly what’s most impressive about the whole jam: it’s whimsical, light-hearted and evokes a deep sense of languishing ambition. It’s difficult to capture such pivotal emotions in a single composition, but “Aspertia City”, in under three minutes, manages to hit all the right notes, both figuratively and literally.
03. Route 209 (Super Smash Bros. Brawl Arrangement)
(Diamond, Pearl | 2007)
This piano selection is, by our count anyway, the third strongest piece in all of the series’ library. It’s proud, dignified, but never to the point of compromising that distinct feeling of courage it expresses. This song really strikes at the center of what the franchise is all about: a spirited adventure that reminds us what it feels like to be strong, brave and youthful. Being able to capture the essence of an entire concept is a feat — and no small one, at that. Well done, Sato and Masuda, well done.
02. Unwavering Emotions
(Black, White | 2011)
Without a doubt, this is Pokémon’s most somber song. Maybe what’s most special about “Unwavering Emotions,” however, isn’t its tearjerker ability, but rather how incredibly focused and purposeful it is in its delivery and meaning. Rising and falling, sweeping and backing off, this is a composition that clearly “gets” what it means to experience deep longing and utter sadness. In fact, it’s so poignant in its sorrow, that it comes off almost as if a dirge. It’s as if you can hear the grief in each of its delicately balanced notes. To bring a listener to their knees with the close-cutting blade of tenderness and affectability is never something to take for granted. Consequently, “Unwavering Emotions” is a textbook example of a powerful story being told through the medium of song.
01. Trainer Battle
(FireRed, LeafGreen | 2004)
If you didn’t see this one coming, then you clearly don’t know Pokémon music. While some will certainly look down upon the choice of the remixed, FireRed/LeafGreen version of the infamous jam instead of the original Red/Blue iteration, it was important for me to really look at which gave the song an entire stage to shine. This is simply the more complete, more refined version of the tune, mixing in a few new instruments to round out a song that was already dazzling.
Nostalgia aside, this is the piece that is most often associated with the series, and for that, we can’t overlook its importance. This is a song that defines an intellectual property — that’s a big deal. It’s managed to become synonymous with one of the most popular roleplaying series of all times because of how well it understands the context of its existence, along with the folks who are playing the game. Every great franchise has that defining anthem; this is Pokémon’s, hands down.
“The [Top] Hat” is a monthly article evaluating the reasons why certain games are great or awful and/or the overall accomplishments of our gaming industry. Sometimes we take on the top 20 best games of the 2000s, and other times we analyze all the great games that get overshadowed by the mainstream giants. It is a lengthy editorial piece designed to elicit either nostalgia or an assessment of a product or group of products within this media. It is also a time for Bradly to rant about his opinions on the industry and its efforts. Agree or disagree, love his opinions or hate them, “The [Top] Hat” is the article you will want to look forward to each month.