“I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch the earth with my feet…”
Aloha Friday, NPCs!
Glad you made it back for the upper half of our list of Top 20 video game Sky themes. Make sure you check out numbers 20 through 11 here before you read on. Once you’re ready, fasten your seat belts and make sure your trays are in the locked and upright position. At ten-thousand feet we have a bird’s eye view of the final 10 penultimate Sky themes for all of their wispy and ethereal glory.
#10. “Skytown Main theme” – Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Speaking of ethereal, this song of choral intonations and gilded bells sounds like it could be on the playlist of St. Peter at the pearly gates. Stepping into Elysium as Samus in Metroid Prime 3, we’re greeted by a city of gold bathed in eternal sunset light. This theme couldn’t be more perfect. It encapsulates the transcendent, the numinous fear, the supernature of the heavenlies, an anthem of ascension. We don’t know what the choirs are singing but it doesn’t matter. It’s the feeling of holy terror and dignity they convey. There’s a sense of being somewhere Samus doesn’t belong, a sense of something religious about this track.
#9. “Welcome to Columbia” – Bioshock Infinite
A rush of air and strings as we rise above the clouds into the blue. A mechanical voice recites the word “Hallelujah”. The tangible keys of a honky-tonk piano begin to play with the sound of their weights and hammers shifting. And there is the floating city of Columbia, a symbol of the ideals of America, accompanied by a fleeting, imperfect track seemingly comprised of the haunting fragments of broken ragtime. It’s beautiful impermanence, a steampunk, sun-kissed, dirigible-filled vision of what the Land of the Free was once and simultaneously what it might have become. Of all the songs on our list, this one makes me the most uncomfortable. Not only is it reminiscent of falling, to me, but it also seems strangely tragic in its mask of optimism. Even though it’s an epiphany of a realm where towers and bridges soar at the height of eagles, it cannot help but sound as if it’s all going to come crashing down, sooner or later. I can’t stop listening to it.
#8. “Bubbly Clouds” – Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Leave it to the cutesy ball of pink fluff to score so high on this list. The track “Bubbly Clouds” first appeared on Kirby’s Dream Land for the Game Boy, so Epic Yarn’s modern retelling of this musical classic in full instrumental glory isn’t original but it is an exemplary Sky theme track. It’s light and airy and playful, and if you close your eyes you might be able to imagine yourself floating through some nimbus, touching rainbows with your fingers and catching raindrops on your tongue. If you inhale enough air, it may be possible, just like Kirby. That soft flute is adorable and the last part of the song before it returns to its beginnings (with that two note alternating rhythm) is like the beating of tiny pink wings.
#7. “Gusty Garden Galaxy” – Super Mario Galaxy
If adventure could be condensed into a liquid and then you drank it, this is the music that would play in your head. Super Mario Galaxy drifted away from the more traditional scores of the franchise and forsook the steeldrums and bongos for a pure orchestrated sound to great success. That’s abundantly clear in “Gusty Garden Galaxy”. The underlying driving of the strings section and the swelling melody overflows with joy. It’s like playing outside on a sunny day, like we used to do as children under the blue skies. No wonder Mario is always so happy. Hand in hand, let’s leap into the ether together with a resounding “Wahoo!”
#6. “Atop the World” – Tower of Heaven
Tower of Heaven is a game underscored by nostalgia and brevity, and this track which plays during its closing scenes drops the shrill tinniness of the Game Boy musical aesthetic like an unwanted facade and the glory of a solo piano shines through, a ray of sunlight through the darkest of clouds. The Tower reaches up into the highest of heavens and there, atop the world, you’re confronted with the mystery and majesty and awe of a world that doesn’t belong to those born of earth. You had to climb your way up there and your stay will not be long in that open seam between heaven and earth that eluded the eye of God. I was immediately impressed with Tower of Heaven when I first played it and because of the context of “Atop the World”, the song was breathtaking. Watch the butterflies flutter through the air.
#5. “Airship themes” – Final Fantasy franchise (I – X)
The fifth place on our list is occupied not by a single song but by ten of them. That’s because one of the recurring tropes of the Final Fantasy franchise is the beloved airship. Though each game has played up or downplayed them, airships are ubiquitous throughout the series. That leaves us with a ton of “Airship themes” from each game. Some of them even have more than one airship and more than one musical accompaniment. So what are we to do? Fill up half of our Top 20 list with tracks from a single franchise? Don’t be silly! We condense them all here under one happy roof! Final Fantasy is rife with Sky themes and here are ten of them from what was arguably the better, predominantly single-digit numerical era of the series. Look for “Highwind Takes to the Skies”, “Ride on”, and “Hilda Garde”, with FF IV‘s “Airship” as a standard bearer. It’s unfortunate that “Searching for Friends” is missing from Final Fantasy VI’s section (I’d have swapped that in for “Blackjack”), but you can look that up as homework if you like. Enjoy this collection of windcraft themes.
FF I “Airship theme” (0:00)
FF II “Airship” (0:37)
FF III “Huge Battleship Invincible” (1:12)
FF IV “Airship” (2:24)
FF V “The airship” (3:01)
FF VI “Blackjack” (4:14)
FF VII “Highwind Takes to the Skies” (5:38)
FF VIII “Ride on” (7:24)
FF IX “Hilda Garde” (8:55)
FF X “Launch” (10:58)
#4. “Wing Cap” – Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 was an absolutely unforgettable game and one of the best titles in the early days of fledgling 3D technology. And on of the most memorable things in the game (as the cover art reminds us) is picking up the Wing Cap and leaping up into the great wide open. The song is a variation on the classic Invincibility Star theme but when the elegant melody swoops in, then it really feels like flying. This song is a testament to the lighthearted simplicity that made Super Mario 64 so great in the first place. I can’t count how many dreams I’ve had where I could get a running start and jump into the air and fly, but I’m certain that this song must have played over a few of those dreams, at least.
#3. “Life as a Flower” – Flower
Maybe the most beautiful, the most otherworldly, and the most relaxing song on this list, “Life as a Flower” from the experimental wind-sim Flower is a hallmark for nearly everything we’ve learned about the Sky theme concept. It’s got the piano, the soft and light ambient sounds, the fair and optimistic melody, the bright outlook, the sense of weightless exploration, and beneath it all a drive to go further than before. In Flower, you take control of the wind itself and pass through meadows, taking petals and carrying them whither you wish. The game itself is deceptively infantile until you discover for yourself how absolutely gorgeous it is. That’s just like the dream of flight, regulated to the realm of dreams and fantasy until mankind built his first functioning aeroplane. Now it’s a reality. “Life as a Flower” is the tune of slowly drifting on a breeze, the life of a flower, a petal, a dandelion puff, a scattered seed, a blade of grass glistening in the sunlight.
#2. “Stickerbush Symphony” – Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong-Quest
“Stickerbush Symphony” (not Stickerbrush) represents a… rare category of music for me: I can remember what it was like the first time I heard it. David Wise’s music on the Donkey Kong Country SNES series was fantastic, but the first time I entered the Bramble Blast stage (I think that’s what it was called) I was subdued into motionless silence. I mean, I couldn’t move. I just had to listen to this bizarre, synthesized, upbeat, melodic song. In these terms, it’s hard to say why it’s so good and so widely beloved. But when the notes reach their highest point with the blue sky background: goosebumps. The track is dizzying but relaxing, a dive into an endless sea of clouds, a strange and atmospheric juxtaposition against the spike-infested challenges of the stage. To this day it is still the most memorable track from the entire series. Sure it sounds like an acid trip, a little bit, but when those high hats and snare beats come in, pure catchyness.
And the honor of number one best Sky them of all time goes to…
#1. “Corridors of Time” – Chrono Trigger
I can literally never get enough of this song. The first time I heard it, stepping out as Crono onto the floating isles of the Kingdom of Zeal, the sea of clouds swirling in the background, the palace sitting high on the mountain above waterfalls, lakes and opalescent cities, and “Corridors in Time” played, my jaw was on the floor. I still hold that Chrono Trigger is one of the best games ever made and this moment in the game is one of its greatest. This track does everything right. It’s choice of instruments from the echoing sitar to the chiming of its drums, the “ahhing” of its vocalizations, the heights of its melody… it all comes together for the number one spot. It’s magical and ancient and foreign, two words that best describe the wide open skies with their sailing white ships and spirits and angels. There is no better song I can think of to perfectly represent what the Sky theme concept is in all of its intangible, boundless glory. This is an evergreen track from the Chrono Trigger OST and it has been reinterpreted a hundred times over. This is where the journey ends. There is no higher.
Bonus Track: “Corridors of Time” – Smooth McGroove [Chrono Trigger]
I don’t know if you know who Mr. Smooth Mcgroove is, but if you don’t, I’d question what you think you’re doing reading an article about gaming music at all. He’s one of the rare non-useless, non-misinformed gamer Youtubers there are (I’m looking at you Game Theorists and Did Your Know Gaming!). He’s a genuinely bearded musical artist with an apparent command of true skill in timing and pitch and tone, and he brings his warming tenor to the art of video game acapella tracks. His renditions are stunning, and they have been to everyone I’ve shown them to. It’s instantly impressive. His version of “Corridors in Time” is too. Long live Charl!
Deez Honorable Mentions!
“Band Land” – Rayman
“Storm Owl” – Mega Man X4
“Cloud Tops” – Kirby’s Adventure
“Magic Carpet Ride” – Aladdin
“Athletic Theme” – Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
“Nimbus Land” – Super Mario RPG
“Sky Glide” – LittleBigPlanet 2
“The Sky” – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
“The Sky Runner” – Earthbound
“Cloud Tops” – The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap
“Cloud Cuckooland” – Banjoy-Tooie
“Sky Land” – Super Mario Bros. 3
“City in the Sky” – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
“Sky Chase Zone” – Sonic the Hedgehog 2
“Main theme” – Balloon Fight
“Star World” – Super Mario World
“Air Man” – Mega Man II
“Aerial City” – Tales of Destiny
“The White Wings” – Breath of Fire II
“Delphinus” – Skies of Arcadia
(suggested by Mr. Panda)
“Star Plant theme” – Grow Home
And that’s that. Any game you thought we missed? Let us know in a comment below! We hope you’ve enjoyed your travels with The Well-Red Mage through the art of the Sky theme concept. Thank you for flying with us.
–The Well-Red Mage, Black Humor Mage, Timely Mage & Green Screen Mage