In Real Life

The Endless Possibilities Of The Best World-Map Music

No doubt about it: we all love video game world-maps. That moment when you first set foot into a game’s wide blue yonder and see just how far the horizon goes… it’s magic.

While video game world maps are often plenty beautiful-looking, it’s also important how beautiful they sound. We’ll often spend hours and hours exploring a good game’s world map, and so it’s important that the map music gives us just the right mixture of excitement and space. World-map music needs to be exciting enough to accompany the very first moment we hear it, but memorable enough that we won’t be sick of it after our hundredth time hearing it.

I’ve been playing gorging on Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for the past couple of days, and among that game’s many wonderful musical themes, the world music stands out. The soundtrack, composed by Studio Ghibli maestro Joe Hisaishi, is joyful and decidedly old-fashioned, more old-world Hollywood than the modern, often jazz-influenced soundtracks common to JRPGs.

Never is the music grander than in the game’s world map. But it’s not all pomp and circumstance; there’s sadness to it as well, a wistfulness in the pennywhistles and flutes that perfectly fits the story of a boy coping with his mother’s death by visiting a wondrous fantasy land that may or may not be entirely imaginary. While this isn’t my All-Time favourite World-Map Music or anything (the game’s been out for a week!), I’ll go ahead and throw it in here as a recent example. My favourite part is actually at the very end, right past the 3:07 mark, when the music slowly slides into a mysterious reprise, before, in the game anyway, looping back to the opening theme. Side note: Man, you sure can’t beat a live orchestra, huh? This time, it’s the Tokyo Philharmonic. We’ve come a long way in how we sample and simulate orchestral performance, but when a real room full of trumpets, horns, flutes and violins plays these melodies, you can hear it.

And hey, since I can’t keep it to just one, I’ll add that the map music from the Mass Effect series gets me every time. This version includes the beeps and blips from the in-game interface, which actually adds to the atmosphere of the piece.

OK, that’s enough from me, I want to hear from you. What’s your favourite world-map music, and why? Toss a YouTube link into the “add video” tab and write a bit about why it’s your favourite. Let’s go exploring.