One of my most memorable experiences of E3 2012 was attending the Video Games Live concert, and the portion of the concert that stuck with me the most was the performance of Pokémon music, because it made me take a long, hard look at perhaps the most overlooked and underrated aspect of the popular phenomenon. The Pokémon games are filled with enigmatic creatures, but perhaps the most enigmatic creature of all is the music. We get so caught up in all the other aspects of Pokémon that we never think about the music. This is a shame, really, because not only does every game have a massive soundtrack, but the music itself is surprisingly complex in its composition. I’ve always found the music in Pokémon games to be more sophisticated than kid songs or even most radio pop, especially since even the catchiest and most familiar melodies do not use the typical note choices and chord progressions of typically catchy tunes.
The Pokémon XY Super Music Collection consists of a massive 212 tracks. Pokémon’s music has that inexplicable style to it, but does not limit itself to any single genre. Classical, pop rock, techno, atmospheric, whimsical, even hints of jazz and world music provide a unique and cool tapestry of sound that matches the unique coolness of the Kalos region and the myriad adventures it provides you. Even the 3-5 second jingle pieces such as when you level up sound lovingly crafted, and familiar pieces like the Pokémon Center theme song feel like home. The sound quality is rich and full without the tinny characteristics of prior Pokémon soundtracks, thanks to the superior sound capabilities of newer formats. The true beauty of the composers’ talent is on display here, not handicapped by format or sound chip limitations. The music sounds very good in the game, but is a hundred times more lush here because you can listen to it through better speakers than those found in the 3DS.
Any journey is more fun with friends, and X and Y give you an eclectic group of friends who you periodically hang out with to swap stories and engage in friendly rivalries throughout your journey in the Kalos region. Several pieces of music are associated with this group of friends and are variations on a common melodic theme. It’s always fun being with friends, and the music sounds appropriately cheerful and familiar. You and your friends will quickly find out that Kalos is rich in diversity and that each portion of the region has its own distinct culture. From the upscale urban-chic of Lumiose City to the coastal sportiness of Cyllage City to the subtly exotic undertones of Shalour City, each location’s music perfectly reflects its style and invites you to stay a while and enjoy everything that place has to offer. Some of the more memorable town themes, such as those of Anistar City and Snowbelle City, have a surprisingly heavy poignancy about them given their cultural places and roles in Kalos’ history. The storyline in X and Y is not all happy-go-lucky good times, and hearing hints of somberness just adds that extra gravitas to the evolving Pokémon mythos.
Battles, whether they are friendly or intensely competitive, are a keystone aspect of the Pokémon experience, so the soundtrack is chock full of driving battle themes. But before that, let’s talk about the classic pre-battle ritual of the stare-down. Stare-downs are dramatic parts of any battle scene, and there are different “Trainers’ Eyes Meet” themes depending on the type of Kalos trainer who’s staring you down. For example, the lass’s theme sounds appropriately girly, the psychic’s theme sounds appropriately mysterious, and the punk guy’s theme sounds like a bully’s theme music from a 1980s teen movie. A few of my personal favorites are female swimmer, black belt, and ace trainer. A few trainer types, including the beauty and hex maniac, share stare down themes with other trainer types, and thus don’t have their own listing on the soundtrack.
Of course, once the stare-down ends, it’s time to battle for real. Along with all the battle themes from X and Y, there are a few retro battle themes from the first games. There are over 20 battle themes in this soundtrack, and they are all fast paced, driving, and engaging in their own special ways. Whether you’re battling wild pokémon, your friends, trainers out in the field, gym leaders, villains, or any other opponents, there is a song to go with it. I always love when RPGs have multiple battle themes, because when playing a game anchored by combat, variety is the spice of life. My personal favorites are “Battle! (Friend)” and “Battle! (Gym Leader).” I like the melody in the former, especially the little bridge section from :52- :58. It gives the sense that the battle is serious, yet still friendly. The latter sounds like I’m on a big stage at a stadium with all the bright lights and a capacity crowd expecting an epic battle. Considering the creative designs of the gyms and the celebrity status of the gym leaders, it’s only fitting that that music is larger than life. Also cool are the multiple victory themes depending on the type of opponent fought. Where most RPGs have a singular victory theme, it is refreshing to encounter an RPG with several.
My favorite aspect of the game was playing dress-up with my character, so the jingles that represented the styles of my outfits are the ones that stayed with me the most. Because I played as a girl, it was nice to hear the boy’s side jingles for changing clothes. Although I think the girl’s clothing themes are generally better (perhaps owing to the fact that there are a LOT more articles of clothing for stylish girls to buy), my favorite is the boy’s “Basic Clothes” theme.
In addition to clothing boutiques allowing you to change your characters’ clothing, X and Y offer a wide variety of fun mini-games and virtual pet style mechanics that allow you to interact with individual pokeémon in your party. These pieces of music are all in the tail end of the soundtrack and remind me of the fun I had bonding with my favorite pokémon. As a fan of driving battle themes, the “Super Training!” and “Secret Super Training!” music are my favorite mini-game themes. These peppy themes sound like the great battle themes I loved in classic JRPGs and would have running through in my head whenever I’m about to face some kind of life challenge.
Pokémon certainly wouldn’t be Pokémon without some cool surprises, and the soundtrack exemplifies that with some nice surprises of its own. Who would think that a Pokémon soundtrack would contain heartfelt, stirring piano pieces? Lovely songs such as “Unwavering Heart,” “Az,” and “Elegant 2” showcase a level of emotional depth typically reserved for typically grander RPGs such as Final Fantasy or Persona. “Elegant 2” is definitely a piece I wished was longer, because it deserves to evolve into an epic piece, much like how adorable little charmander evolves into the awe-inspiring charizard.
Perhaps the most addicting feature in X and Y is the PR studio, where you can make 10-second YouTube style videos of your character and/or favorite pokémon to share with other players online. I spent copious amounts of time making PR videos, especially perusing the wide selection of music to accompany my videos. I like how the music was subcategorized into adjectives like “mature,” “cool,” “thrilling,” or “elegant” to offer plenty of self-expression options. A few pieces I’ve used for videos are “Cool 2” for its buoyancy, “Elegant 1” for its breeziness, and “Rhythmical 3” for its night out on the town vibe. Everyone has their own favorites, and it’s quite easy to pick one.
If there is any Pokémon soundtrack to own, it is this one. I heard instrumental layers in various pieces that I did not hear during gameplay, and that brought my feelings of nostalgia into HD. Even without the nostalgia of the game underlying my experience, I would have been treated to some truly epic JRPG music from a game that doesn’t quite evoke “epic experience” the way something like Xenogears would. The simple fact that I listened to a 212 track soundtrack repeatedly and liked everything says it all. I never imagined that a Pokémon game would be a contender for my favorite video game soundtrack of 2013, but here it is. This soundtrack comes highly recommended, and I urge any gamer to buy it, play it during their morning commutes, and turn that dreary morning drive/bus ride/train ride/etc. into a journey through Kalos.