As gamers, we’re so used to our music being bereft of any sort of vocal accompaniment, other than a tune to hum, that it can come as a surreal surprise when a track actually features someone’s voice. And no, we’re not talking about the epic choir chants reserved for JRPG final bosses, either.
But just like in real life, lyrics can a make song better or worse, and many soundtracks suffer because of them. However, when a composer intentionally adds lyrics to a song in the knowledge that it will make the game that much better, then what you end up with is a winning, memorable formula. Below are our top 10 catchiest video game songs with vocals:
10. The World Ends With You — “Long Dream”
The World Ends With You is an RPG for the DS that has a rather unique battle system; the game made full use of both screens to allow the player to control two characters at the same time, one on each screen, with the character on the touch screen being controlled with the stylus. Naturally, such an ‘out-there’ battle system had to come packed with a crazy awesome tune to make it really stand out. Square Enix succeeded here, and put together a sickeningly catchy battle theme to play amidst the chaos. The way the vocals escalate through the chorus is awesomely haunting, and will leave an impression long after you’ve concluded the game.
9. Dragon’s Dogma — “Into Free”
Dragon’s Dogma is one of the most wildly under-appreciated titles of 2012. Yes, your ‘pawns’ could definitely become an annoyance with their obnoxious fantasy-speak and the fact that they had to pick up ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING in sight, but the scope of the game and the combat mechanics more than made up for it. I’d go as far as to say the fight with the Dragon is easily one of the greatest boss fights in gaming history. But before all that, before you even hit the Start button, you’re greeted by a lovely piano melody…
…that transforms into a screeching hair-metal ballad for no reason whatsoever. It’s a little on the corny side and the vocals could definitely be considered somewhat grating, but the sheer surprise factor and genuinely awesome instrumental work lands this theme a spot on the list.
8. Burning Rangers — “We are Burning Rangers”
This oft-forgotten Saturn beauty starred a group of firefighters, battling fires in a future where it’s literally the only natural disaster left to worry about. Not many people had heard of Burning Rangers around the time of its release, and as such it sold rather poorly. Nevertheless, players were treated to a kick-ass anime opening, along with a theme reminiscent of cartoons popular in the 80s and early 90s. The theme for the Burning Rangers, however, is the song that sticks out. Featuring an impressive rap performance from Marlon D. Saunders and the melodical tagline of “Burning Rangers Go!” We Are Burning Rangers remains a memorable tune amongst Sega die-hards.
7. Jet Set Radio — “Super Brothers”
I’ll admit, I’m sort of cheating here, as Super Brothers was a song written before its inclusion in Jet Set Radio, and was created by a real band: Guitar Vader. Nevertheless, it worked incredibly well with the overall feel of the game, and is arguably one of the most memorable songs in it. Super Brothers also gets bonus points by being about Mario and Luigi, and featured on a game released when Nintendo and Sega were still at each others’ throats. Pretty ballsy move on Sega’s part.
6. Yakuza 4 — “For Faith”
The Yakuza series plays out a lot like a Japanese TV drama with combat that would make The Warriors flinch. The opening of Yakuza 4 is, incidentally, much like an opening for a Japanese TV drama, filled with dramatic sneak peaks at the story and an awesomely catchy rock composition – because all Japanese TV dramas open with catchy rock compositions, right? The powerfully sung chorus is the highlight of this track, and definitely gets you in the mood for some Japanese fisticuffs.
5. Parappa the Rapper — “Chop Chop Master Onion’s Rap”
Let’s be honest here, all of the songs in Parappa the Rapper are catchy as all hell. But for many (and me) it was Chop Chop Master Onion’s rap that stood out the most. It served as an introduction to just how ridiculous this game is and caught you completely off-guard with its mental lyrics. With incredible lyrics and an amazing dance routine courtesy of Chop Chop Master Onion and Parappa, this song is one of the PlayStation’s finest moments.
4. Discworld II: Missing Presumed…!? — “That’s Death”
Eric Idle’s “That’s Death” serves as the perfect opening to one of the greatest and funniest point-and-click adventure games of all time. In a similar irony to his singing of “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” at the end of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Eric sings about how death really isn’t that bad. He lists the finer points of joining the deceased: you’d never have to pay bills and it’s a great way to lose weight. Best of all, it’s all wrapped up in a lovely, jazzy number not often seen in games. Bravo, Mr. Idle. Bravo.
3.Final Fantasy X-2 –“1000 Words”
Widely considered one of the few low points of the Final Fantasy series, X-2 continued the story of the already divisive Final Fantasy X, a game about underwater football. Truthfully, it’s very hard to like a game with a plot as bad as X-2’s, but there was one standout moment in the game, which featured one of the most moving and downright tear-jerking songs in gaming. The scene shows Yuna performing a concert to an audience in the Thunder Plains (probably the worst possible place they could have picked for a gig with such a high concentration of people), and it’s nothing short of beautiful. The video that plays is equally heartbreaking.
2. Sonic Adventure 2 — “Escape From The City”
Easily the catchiest song to ever feature in a 3D Sonic title, Escape From The City is exceptionally cheesy, but fits so well with the whole “gotta go fast” motif. To be honest, it’s so good that if it was the only song in the game I’d be totally fine with it. Of course, there are plenty of other awesome tracks in Sonic Adventure 2, but there are very few with lyrics and vocals. There’s Live and Learn, of course, which is cheesy and fun in its own right, but for me there’s really only one winner. The Sonic Generations remixes of this song are also noteworthy, providing retro and modern spins on this incredible piece of songwriting.
1. Persona 4 — “Reach Out to the Truth”
Anyone who has played Persona 4 will almost definitely attest to its phenomenal soundtrack, and while there’s an absolute ton of fantastic songs that feature vocals in the Persona series, it has to be said that Persona 4’s battle theme is one of the series’ finest compositions. This is the Gangnam Style song of videogames, in that it’s so infectiously catchy you’ll legitimately struggle to listen to anything else for at least a day. If the badass riff isn’t enough to win you over, the lyrical performance from Shihoko Hirata certainly will. This is one of those goosebump inducing themes that indirectly encourages you to keep playing the game. Absolutely masterful.
Special Mention — Metal Gear Solid 3 — “Snake Eater”
“Snake Eater” by Cynthia Harrell slithers its way onto this illustrious list, not for honor, but for you. An incredible performance that encapsulates and even surpasses the very best of 007’s unforgettable themes, this evocative piece pushed Hideo Kojima’s already high production values into Hollywood territory.