Welcome back to our countdown of the Top 20 Ocean themes in video games. You can find the first half of our list, 20-11, here. Slap on your diving gear and take a deep breath. Here we go. Shark cage, anyone?
#10. “Villi People” – Earthworm Jim 2
Okay, well, I suppose this might be cheating a little. Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” isn’t exactly original material in a game full of original material like Earthworm Jim 2. However on the level “Villi People”, Jim plays dress-up and dons his undercover persona: Sally the Blind Salamander. He’s tasked with swimming through the intestines of some humungous and unknown creature, fighting floating sheep and doing his best to avoid the pinball bumpers. It’s Earthworm Jim, remember? This was one of the defining moments when I fell in love with classical music, really when I discovered it, and when I realized that video game music can have an indescribable impact. I’m sure Beethoven meant to conjure imagery of, y’know, moonlight with this somber, slow piano piece, but playing it over a swimming stage was connective genius. Just try watching it over a video of ocean waves. Mesmerizingly appropriate. The ivories’ 3/4 matches the ebb and flow of a moonlit tide.
#.9 “A Secret Sleeping in the Deep Sea” – Final Fantasy VII
Chasing the Emerald Weapon around in a tiny submarine in Final Fantasy VII oughtn’t to have been accompanied by such a peaceful and placid track. We’re hunting a monster here, for cryin’ out loud! But it really works. In fact, I’m all but convinced that this is the soundtrack they play whenever they dive to the abyssal plain in search of strange and bizarre new life. Maybe not. The verbosely-named “A Secret Sleeping in the Deep Sea” carries a sense of wonder to it, just like exploring beneath the waves should, with a bounce to it that feels like the buoyancy of being underwater. As a younger version of myself, I remember diving and peeking under coral for marine life, and it was this track that occasionally recalled itself to mind.
#.8 “Cosmic Cover Galaxy” – Super Mario Galaxy 2
Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel seemed to consciously distance themselves from the heritage of lighthearted, steel drum beats which had characterized the Mario franchise to date, opting instead for a sweeping, symphonic, movie-quality orchestra. The result was a pair of soundtracks that were wonderfully encouraging to raise that volume on your television set. Bring on the harp and the piano, because this meandering and reverberating track has got it all so far as the Ocean motif is concerned. Is there water in outer space? Maybe space is water? I’ve seen 2001: a Space Odyssey. There’s some trippy crap out there.
#.8 “Aquatic Ambiance” – Donkey Kong Country
Very much in line with the synth-heavy sound of Donkey Kong Country’s other tracks, “Aquatic Ambiance” is just that: shadows of chimes and knocks reflect back at each other in an attempt to fill the large, empty ambient expanse of the sea. It’s ghostly and haunting but never unpleasant, like the calls of whales and dolphins, sinking out of sight into the darkness of the deep.
#6. “Voyage~ Another World” – Chrono Cross
Ethnic and rural, this track off of Chrono Cross captures the sense of sailing across the azure between sea and sky on an outrigger. The authentic, organic sound of human fingers slipping over the frets of a guitar remind us that we’re traveling among simple people, to villages with huts on islands without electricity. It’s happy, rugged, heartfelt and adventurous. This is like Wind Waker’s “The Great Sea” only less triumphant and naive, and if Wind Waker had more of a real world historism to it. Chrono Cross was nowhere near the quality of Chrono Trigger and it didn’t deserve a soundtrack as good as it possessed. In a game that has the sea as its world map, there are several tracks off of its OST which may have sufficed for an Ocean theme entry but this one takes the cake, to my mind.
#5. “The Ocean” – The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
Far less iconic compared to the ever-green Ocarina of Time and Link to the Past, Nintendo’s 3DS Tri Force Heroes did give us a gorgeous track to add to the Zelda franchises extensive list of water themed music. “The Ocean” introduces a lone violin to the concept of the Ocean theme, and its high loneliness envisions the smallness of ourselves in the face of the wide open sea. The xylophone-esque asending notes reminisce of bubbles rising to the surface, their vague echo reminding us of the huge underwater world. There’s almost a kind of sadness to this song, though by the time the melody ends, it brings the tune back to a more hopeful and optimistic turn.
#4. “Dire Dire Docks” – Super Mario 64
Penultimately oceanic, Super Mario 64 was for many gamers their first introduction to diving in crystal clear water rendered in full 3D, and the experience has stayed with many of us. In retrospect, Super Mario 64 didn’t have the best camera or controls, but it was enough to blow the minds of everyone who played Dire Dire Docks when the game was first released. The song that plays in that level is inviting, calming, reassuring and filled with curiosity. All the echoes and chimes and little touches are present here, reminding us that this is an unforgettable Ocean theme. If you can still hear the bloop–bloop of Mario paddling underwater, then you are an awesome person.
#3. “Birth” – flOw
flOw’s tagline is “Life could be simple”. Music can be as well. Dismissing all of the multilayered tracks of the previous entries, “Birth” is the voice of the microorganisms floating through their microscopic, fluid world, a song of only a handful of chords. It even sounds as if it is being heard underwater, muffled as it is. “Birth” may just be the soundtrack to accompany our own transition from water to the world of air upon our own births, a transitory experience we shall only have once and never again. Maybe floating just underneath the surface of the sea and watching the sunlight refract and dapple and shimmer through the water is the closest we shall ever come to it again. For that, flOw’s “Birth” track is one of the most fundamental and human sounds you may ever hear. Are those breathing noises like the breaths of our mothers while we were in their wombs?
#2. “Underwater theme” – Super Mario Bros.
Forget all the high thoughts of the previous entry and the mellifluous melodies of the tracks that have come before. There have been several water songs over the history of the Mario franchise, but none compare to the sheer iconic status and catchiness of the original “Underwater theme” from the first Super Mario Bros. It’s the great-grandaddy of all Ocean themes. It paved the way through the waves for every other track on this list. The 3/4 dancing waltz perfectly accompanies a day of play at the sea. Lighthearted, innocent, lazy and almost pleading with you to have a good time, Koji Kondo’s musical genius showed more than once on the original Super Mario Bros. and this tune is no exception. I’ll bet it gets stuck in your head.
#1. “Dearly Beloved” – Kingdom Hearts II
Once again, a track from Square comes in first. Is it unfair to include the actual sounds of waves rolling on the seashore underneath the melody of the track? Don’t care. “Dearly Beloved” was beyond beautiful on the first Kingdom Hearts, but in the sequel, it wears its oceanic influence on its sleeve. There are few things more evocative of the sea than strings coupled with the piano. “Piano”, as in the opposite of “forte”, means soft, as in the water of the shallows gently washing over your toes while you stand on the shore staring out over the cerulean horizon. The sea is calling to you, telling you her story: the story of sailors lost, of widows made, of animals playing under her waves, of treasures to be found, of adventures to be had, of distant lands beyond your reach, and of the magnitude and beauty of it all. It’s so much more than yourself. She was here before you were even born and she will be here long after your earthly existence. Welcome to the Blue Planet.
Bonus track: “Beyond the Sea” – Bobby Darin, Bioshock
Question: is this the sort of music Captain Nemo listened to aboard the Nautilus? Answer: of course it is. This song makes me smile. Makes me want to climb aboard my own steampunk submarine and see what we can see, to forget the sun and dive deeper into the welcoming unknown. We can just imagine the blaring brass fading into the watery distance.
Deez Honorable Mentions!
“Undersea Palace” – Chrono Trigger
“Sailing to Scaraba” – Earthbound
“Jellyfish Sea” – Chrono Cross
“Bubble Man” – Mega Man II
“Gratitude” – flOw
“Underwater theme” – Super Mario World
“Blitz Off” – Final Fantasy X
“Aquatic Ruin Zone” – Sonic 2
“Water Temple” – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
“Great Bay Temple” – The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
“Hanging Waters” – Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future
“Lakebed Temple” – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
“Underwater theme” – Super Mario Bros. 3
“Underground Sewer” – Chrono Trigger
(suggested by p2d2)
Unfortunately, this means we’ve got to head back to the surface. Oxygen running low. Did you enjoy our journey through the waves, from benthic regions back to the warm shallows? Any tracks you think we may have forgotten in the deep? Let me know and that’ll be $25, please.
–The Well-Red Mage, Black Humor Mage, Timely Mage & Green Screen Mage