It's the time of the year when the days get shorter, retailers stay open longer, big games are released and there seems to be a holiday every other week. Defunct Games wants to ring in this festive season with a look at the most memorable video game themes of all time. For five weeks straight, Cyril Lachel and Kevin Bailey will share their thoughts on themes from the last thirty years. Join us every day between November 22 and December 25 for The 34 Game Themes of Christmas!
[ Company: Enix | Year: 1991 | Console: Super NES ]
When it comes to the Super NES launch, most games can easily summed-up in one or two words. It's a racing game, platformer, golf game and so on. But ActRaiser bucks the trend. Part 2D fantasy action game and part overhead God simulator, ActRaiser was the most ambitious title at the Super NES launch. This theme evokes the high fantasy world, while reminding you that Nintendo's 16-bitter had a really great sound chip.
ActRaiser does what The Legend of Zelda couldn't. This theme is large and immediately commends your attention. The virtual horns trumpet an epic fantasy world full of dungeons and dragons. We build to several long sustained notes that feel like they should be playing over sweeping shots of snow-capped mountains and volcanoes bursting with lava. The ActRaiser theme gets the tone right, giving us a song truly worthy of the high fantasy concept. But then it just leaves us stranded. Instead of capitalizing on its strong start, this theme decides to repeat after only a few seconds. The trumpeting horns aren't nearly as impressive the second time around, ultimately leaving me disappointed. ActRaiser may be the first fantasy game to nail the tone, but sadly that's not enough to keep this theme interesting.
The instrument choice for ActRaiser's theme immediately brings to mind a sort of medieval fantasy setting, so from that standpoint it's instantly successful. It brings the setting to mind right away. That said, I've had a hard time figuring out exactly what I think of the theme. It seems fitting for the game, but it feels like it was cut a bit short. The build features an organ and a couple of horns trading off arpeggios and leads into a section where the lead instruments sustain and the backing instruments have a syncopated rest pattern, save for the organ which has both a sustain and a very busy arpeggio going on. Where it loses me is that this is it. It repeats from there, and I feel like it was still building. It seems to me like someone ran into writer's block and then decided to ship it as is.
When the reviews came in about this game, critics said that it had the best video game music of all time. They wondered if there was a tiny orchestra in the cartridge. I wonder if this Super NES launch game will hold up.