We here at The Well-Red Mage consider video games to be an art form, a mode of expressive meaning and emotion, whether a particular game chooses to embrace this fact or not. Sure, there are many thousands of “low art” games but there are also many others that are just as moving as novels, paintings, photography or film.
One of the chief ways in which a video game comes off as an art piece is through its use of music. And one of the recurring themes in video game music is the “Forest theme”. Forest songs have been a part of the gaming experience since the earliest consoles, DOS and entertainment computers, but enigmatically, there are a large selection of them that generally seem to have the same kind of sound: a mysterious, organic, atmospheric ambiance.
Perhaps it’s through the use of particular instruments. Perhaps it’s representative of how we as human beings react to nature’s woodlands, and our being affected by their deeps, their shades, their coolness, and their secretiveness comes out in the music we as a race produce. The following tracks are the best examples of this kind of music, in our opinion, based on the gaming experiences that we have had (the Black Humor and the Well-Red Mages). So here are the greatest Forest themes to evoke a sense of the great furtive Green.
#20. “Forest of Illusion” – Super Mario World (1990)
Our countdown begins with a track most every Mario fan will remember from the SNES era. It’s short and loops quickly, but it begins to catch at that sense of secrets hiding everywhere, in every dell and vale and behind every tree. Indeed, the Forest of Illusion itself is a name which suggests all of the elusiveness of nature’s secrets, and this particular area in Super Mario World has more than its far share of hidden exits and keyholes.
#19. “Viridian Forest” – Pokemon Red/Blue (1996)
The bug-infested Viridian Forest bears a track that seems fraught with sensations of apprehension and frustration, highlighting the young insecurities of a fresh Pokemon trainer out to become the best of the best and catch ’em all. It’s a surprisingly articulate song for the Game Boy, which usually had games that were little more than exalted beeps and boops. You’ll see a lot of Nintendo on this list.
#18. “Brinstar Overgrown” – Super Metroid (1994)
Ah, the first bass-heavy song on the list. The sound of a warbling synth and pounding bass somehow seems to capture the depth of a forested wilderness, even if this particular track represented an alien jungle full of strange botanical life. One of the more upbeat tracks on the list, “Brinstar Overgrown” is a unique take on the Forest theme trope.
#17. “Forest Temple” – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
You knew the Legend of Zelda franchise was coming. The “Forest Temple” is ambient and decorated with organic sound effects more than symphonic strings. It’s a track that chose to approach the Forest theme concept from an eerie perspective and it carries it into full on creepy. Sometimes downright unpleasant and uncomfortable, sometimes airy and ghostly, “Forest Temple” perfectly accompanied the deep dark of the game’s woodland dungeon.
#16. “Forest Area” – Kirby’s Adventure (1993)
Considering how old this is an 8-bit game, it works surprisingly well and really lays a foundation that would be emulated in the many years since in further exploration the conceptual Forest theme. It carries with it the sense of wonder and fearful exploration, even though it has more of a “fun”, pop-music sound to it. Hey, it’s still Kirby, after all.
#15. “Deep Jungle” – Kingdom Hearts (2002)
Tarzan’s drums beat out the rhythm in Square and Disney’s collaborative masterpiece. “Deep Jungle” tells you that it’s an adventure. This is one of the more lighthearted tracks on this list, though it isn’t without its sense of hidden dangers and ambiance. The sound of the wind instruments accompanying the drum will continue to become more and more apparent as we move on.
#14. “The Golden Grove” – Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (2010)
I had high expectations for Ni no Kuni’s soundtrack and it didn’t disappoint. Composed by the legendary Joe Hisaishi of Studio Ghibli’s impressive animated features, Ni No Kuni was a gorgeous RPG with visuals that seem as if they were hand-drawn. The music is no less beautiful with several memorable tracks. However it is “The Golden Grove” which captures the essence of the Forest theme as one of the more fully orchestrated tracks on our list. Rattling instruments resembling leaves blown in the wind, tinkling chimes evocative of childlike wonder and tremulous strings play at the sense of depth in this autumnal forest, picking your way step by step among the mushrooms.
#13. “Cedar Forest” (Falling Green) – Breath of Fire III (1997)
One of the more rustic tracks on our list, this song off of Capcom’s RPG franchise has been called a “rip off” of Chrono Trigger’s Forest theme “Secret of the Forest”, but maybe that’s why it’s so high up on this list. It’s jazzy on a soundtrack crowded with jazz but not overdone. It’s bassy, underscored by fast picking on something like a guitar, and embellished with a light piano. “Cedar Forest” is so successful because of its choice of instruments and how it uses them, capturing a sense of rural life.
#12. “Into the Thick of It” – Secret of Mana (1993)
Are you picking up the similarities of sound? These are different composers and time periods, you know. But one of the simplest ways that the Forest theme is aroused is from the use of this fast picking, almost harpsichord-ish, stringed instrument. It’s very folkloric. Layered over that is the breath of the woodwind, like a breeze through the eaves. This is a playful track that imagines sunlight meadows and groves, light cast through tree trunks and dappled shadows under the leaves. Secret of Mana itself is bright and sunny, and this track further serves that design.
#11. “Sacred Grove” – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006)
Call foul if you like. “Sacred Grove” is a pretty track which opens with a series of 4-note piano notes, then it dives into a very familiar theme for many: “The Lost Woods” from Ocarina of Time. However, when that old melody is borrowed a second time during the track, it’s played further in the distance, and a warbling sound brings a sense of unease and confusion. By the time “The Lost Woods” melody is replayed a third time, it’s on some kind of jarring brass. Then “Sacred Grove” just drops these sounds and returns to its gentler piano. It’s anti-climactic and serves to heighten the darkness and danger of Twilight Princess.
Check out the top 10 countdown post right here! What track will be number one?
–The Well-Red Mage & The Black Humor Mage