We’re back for another edition of Checking the Score and we’ll be doing something a little different this month. With the Winter Solstice almost upon us, I found it fitting that we go back and recognize some “Winter” themes from games past. Games with distinct “ice” or “snow” themes that evoke the snowy beauty of the season will be featured here. Winter is not confined to one particular game and is often found across genres. Icy levels that send us spiraling out of control, or snowy fields to explore, can be found in almost every major game. Winter is a multi-faceted season that can bring upbeat joy for play or exploration. It also has darker sides where the season turns into a survival mode of sorts. Animals migrate to warmer areas, food becomes scarce and the environment becomes a harsh, snowy waste. Games have a way of utilizing these different kinds of Winter aesthetics to help drive the story forward or add necessary ambiance. We could name every possible “Winter” level theme, yet the list is limited to five to make it concise (we can always add more next year). This is not an exhaustive list, however, but a list of themes that have made a distinct impression over the years thanks to their Winter aesthetic.
Metroid Fusion OST – Sector 5 (ARC)
It could be because of the hauntingly chill melody, or because I have played this game about twenty times, but Metroid Fusion’s “ice area” has always stood out among all the other themes in the soundtrack. Its melody evokes that quiet loneliness in the backdrop of falling snow. Samus fights alone against SA-X (the main antagonist), but entering into Sector 5 of the Biologic Space Laboratories station makes us feel truly alone thanks to this theme. This icy area has a solitary nature to it that wouldn’t be complete without the tinkle of bells associated with “cold.” Its off-beat, almost creepy melody stays true to the sci-fi genre while still reminding us of organic elements. It’s a great track to kick off our collection.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 – Ice Cap Zone (Act 1)
Nothing beats the opening of the Ice Cap Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 3. The Blue Blur bursts onto the scene and snowboards down the mountain to the sounds of that classic Sonic synth goodness. The upbeat melody is a perfect backdrop to shredding some snow. Snowboarding, skiing, sledding and collecting rings are high-energy activities that require a soundtrack to keep up. Synths are so versatile in the kinds of sounds they can make, even being able to add that familiar “tinkle” of ice in Winter for that elemental effect. It’s a solid piece that uses inorganic sounds to remind us of natural environments.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Snowy Mountain Shrine
Breath of the Wild made me feel so many different emotions during my playthrough. Yet with so many amazing moments in the game, none evoked such a sense of solitary peace like standing on a snowy mountain top. The beauty of “Snowy Mountain Shrine” is that it utilizes only two instruments: piano and flutes. The theme doesn’t feel the need to use the obvious “Winter” aesthetic by utilizing bells or chimes. It’s a beautiful melody that asks us to take a moment to appreciate the frozen surroundings. It truly plays into the quiet beauty that often accompanies Winter and also adds depth to the title. Such simplicity accentuates the gentle snowfall within the game and leaves a lasting impression.
Lost Odyssey – Blizzard Field
Leave it to the master Nobuo Uematsu to come up with a hauntingly epic Winter theme for an odyssey of massive proportions. Utilizing those classic bells for a Winter effect, light use of an electric guitar and the plucking of strings show us another side to the season. The track utilizes familiar aesthetic themes, but takes a darker turn. A bleak, snow-filled wasteland evokes the harsh loneliness of winter as we make our way through the Snowfields in Lost Odyssey. With beasts appearing at any moment to attack, this haunting tune reminds us that Winter is not all snowballs and sugar plum faeries. Winter also means fighting for survival.
Final Fantasy VI – Terra’s Theme
I know we just talked about Nobuo, but how can we talk about “Winter”without discussing an important theme in video game history? “Terra’s Theme” is a musical composition of loss and perseverance. Its melody is both battle hardened and vulnerable. It’s a stunning opening track for the game and provides the perfect backdrop for the three lonely magitek armor trudging silently through the snow. It’s another theme that evokes one of the many sides of the Winter season by creating a solitary feeling in the cold. “Terra’s Theme” makes use of the game’s content material and blends it with the environment for a memorable, snowy experience with which to end these Winter picks.