Listen Hear: Pokémon Themes, Battles, And Routes
Video games have tons of working parts that go into making them all so amazing. The story, the characters, the world, the graphics, the controls. But there is often an element that a lot of people overlook. An element that truly does bring to life a lot of the aforementioned list.
Music is an integral part of my life. Just as in films, the soundtrack can lift whatever game it’s in to an entirely new level. In this series, Listen Hear, I’m going to highlight some of video games’ finest musical pieces and explain why they mean so much to me. Hopefully you’ll find something here you enjoy and perhaps themes you never even noticed. Strap yourself in, we have a few decades to get through.
With the Pokémon resurgence still in full swing, I figured talking about the music that brought that series to life would be appropriate. The theme song from the American version of the show is practically synonymous with the franchise as a whole, even though it only played through the first season. It even surged in popularly recently with the release of Pokémon Go, prompting the original singer Jason Paige to re-record the famous track. But did you also know that much of the original soundtrack from Pokémon Red and Blue was orchestrated for the anime? Take a listen to the “Opening” theme from the games, composed by Junichi Masuda, who has done a large amount of work on the game series throughout the years.
For the anime, Shinji Miyazaki made the transition from a Commodore Amiga computer to a fully orchestrated sound.
In both versions, we start with a drum roll followed by urgent and heavy hitting sounds. It builds, almost dissonant at first, into a cheerful final hit before moving into the song proper. It just oozes with adventure, beckoning you to grab your Pokéballs and Pokédex and start off on your non-adult supervised “I’m Ten Years Old Going Out Into The World Alone Armed With Only A Small Creature” path to becoming the very best. It’s a perfect way to start the game, and it’s mirrored excellently in the show as Ash watches veteran trainers battle it out on TV the night before his own botched first day of being a Pokémon trainer.
A track heard more times than I can remember during the game is whenever you encounter a wild Pokémon. Being as this is the crux of the game, it makes sense you’d hear it countless times. Check out the Gameboy version of “Wild Pokémon Battle” first.
Now, the orchestrated version.
Holy shit. I became actively irradiated by this song when I was kid. You’d hear it so often that it almost became a chore to sit through the loading screen to get a Pokémon that you likely already had. But even listening to it now, it brings back so many memories of seeing a new creature for the first time and having no idea what attacks it would have or how to engage it. Both versions of the tune do a fantastic job of lighting up your senses, immediately throwing high-pitched key hits that alert you to a battle that’s about to begin. It starts tense, letting you fully take in the new Pokémon you’ve just come across, before changing gears to a more triumphant sound as you, or Ash, battle your way to capturing another creature for your collection.
Lastly, the original “Route 1” theme. The path you took at the very beginning of the game to leave your insanely small town of Pallet. Masuda starts off with the version we likely heard first.
Miyazaki then added a bit more flare to it.
Either way, the tune is the happiest thing you’ve ever heard. It’s simple and almost repetitive use of notes just makes you want to strut like Leonardo DiCaprio to get that stupid parcel that Professor Oak needed. The added flutes and descending baseline of the orchestrated version, followed by wind chimes and powerful violins just makes the song all the more joyful. Bobbing your head back and forth is almost impossible not to do.
Pokémon music has changed throughout the years, but there is always a constant flow of adventure within those notes. You could say it has…evolved. Even now, twenty years later, the music is still stunning. But hearing these songs for the first time, both in game and anime form, absolutely blew me away. It truly made me into a Pokémon fanatic, even if I was being somewhat mind controlled. Gotta catch ’em all!