Composer(s): Junichi Masuda
Being a staple of the 90s and still managing to be a mainstay in the current era, it’s no secret that the Pokemon franchise means a great deal to a large amount of people. Plenty of gamers look back fondly on their days with the series, seeing a whole host of triggered memories stemming from the various facets of the series that will make even the most hardened trainer misty-eyed. Music is as much a part of this as the graphics, the anime or even the creatures themselves. So in this article we’ll be taking a look at the series’ humble roots and the incredible array of tracks that came with it.
Anyone who has played Pokemon will recognise this jingle, even if they haven’t heard the original version. A simple, yet slowly ramping melody that eludes to the journey players will be undertaking. It’s brash and aggressive build up gives some context to the battle that occurs at the intro scene, all for it to break down into a familiar and adventurous tone that just forces us to hit ‘start’.
For many of us, this is the ‘sound’ of Pokemon, the franchise theme song. It was unique for the time and mixed in common musical nuances from tracks in other JRPGs, but added a modern context to it.
Considering all players started out in Pallet Town, the music that accompanies it is downright perfect. The warm tone and soft pace give this track a ‘homely’ feeling, which makes complete sense seeing as it is the home of the player. This isn’t too effective at the beginning of the game, as there is little to compare it to. Instead, the magic of this track is found once players return after becoming the League Champion.
It’s the complete opposite of what would have occurred in the moments before; hours and hours of battling, accompanied by fast tempo, hype inducing songs. All this adrenaline build up, the payoff of becoming champion and then the return to home, where everything becomes familiar and soothing yet again.
Despite being plagued with Rattata and Pidgey, Route 1 is an integral part of Pokemon R/B/Y. The road between Pallet Town and Virdian City is important in presenting the player with the journey they are about to have and to immerse them in a world they will be dwelling in for hours to come.
The jaunty beat and monotonous, yet catchy, rhythm create a feeling of simplicity and naivety for the player. It tells the player that they are at the beginning of this journey and that there is a lot more to come, with things only stepping up as time goes on.
Vs. Wild Pokemon
Battle themes can be difficult to pull off, more so with a game like Pokemon which requires players to actively seek out battles. The Pokemon series in general does this perfectly, featuring a staple melodic format on which all of the subsequent releases have built upon. R/B/Y started all of this with the multi-faceted and varied track.
It is important to note that this theme is excellent in taking the player out of the dungeon/route theme currently playing and bringing them into a completely different situation without breaking the sense of immersion. It removes the player from a slower paced track to that of higher intensity and excitement. On top of this, there is more emphasis on the music being one sided, with the music not balancing between two different themes. It is a straight progression and this fits well during wild Pokemon battles, as it is typically a one sided battle in favour of the trainer.
Unlike most JRPGs, Pokemon has two main battle themes. Both the aforementioned track and the Trainer battle track share similar melodic patterns, but this theme is significantly more intense. The main aspect of this is that the music is balanced, with the different layers of the track leading it to feel like the battle can go both ways. It conveys the idea of an actual battle, especially the backing to the song which is constantly moving from a high note to a low note quickly.
For a track that players will be hearing often, this is a fun one. It has enough intensity and build up to make players hyped, but it is full of little details that prevent it from being too monotonous, even after hundreds of hours of play.
When it comes to providing a player with a vibe of victory and challenge, the gym theme from Pokemon hits the nail on the head. The song builds well from the main tonal theme that other tracks, namely the main theme, utilising this theme to provide a level of readiness and hype. There are lots of high notes for the main melody, which are excellent when transitioning to the drop of the next theme…
Vs. Gym Leader / Elite Four
As far as boss battle music goes, the Gym Leader battle theme is incredible. It transitions perfectly from the prior theme and just draws players in to an immersive battle. The standout aspect to this track is how it expands upon the standard Trainer Battle theme, using the same pattern, but adding brevity to it. It also brings in aspects of the music played in the Gym itself as to meld the themes together and create a more cohesive piece.
As a kid, Lavender Town was fascinating to me. Not only was there a creepy vibe to the town, but it was followed with bizarre, real-world urban legends. The manga version of the town also added some horror to the mix with dying Pokemon zombies and an Arbok being cut in two (Pokemon Adventures if anyone is wondering).
In a musical sense, the theme in this town compliments the feelings of dread well enough to let the players know that this isn’t your standard Pokemon town. The off-key melody is what makes this song unnerving, at least to a slight degree. The entire song just feels off, which is what you want in a game with immersion like Pokemon. Don’t forget that the original Green version of this included a high-pitched tone that only children could hear, allegedly driving them into suicidal tendencies.
Those who remember their first playthrough of these games will likely remember the excitement filled disdain they had when realising that they had to fight their rival in order to complete the Elite Four. It’s a difficult battle for sure, but it is accompanied with a cluster of different instrumentals that clash together to create the games final boss theme.
Again, like the Elite Four/Gym Leader theme, this track uses the same format as both the aforementioned tunes and the original Trainer Battle theme. It’s this sense of progression that hypes the player up. This is the end of the game and this is the final battle, which is clearly expressed here. It’s a track that screams the challenge between Red and Blue (or Green, depending on what you played), but uses the bass notes, fast melody and sudden chords to give the battle an underdog vibe.
Other noteworthy tracks