I love karaoke. Not because I’m a great singer, but because it’s a fun way letting loose. I’m too white to dance, so singing my heart out in front of a crowd of equally drunk strangers is the next best thing. What’s awesome about doing karaoke in a foreign country like Japan is that some bars have video game songs in their list of singable tunes.
I’m not talking about licensed songs in games like Rock Band, but original songs composed specifically for a game. Some of these killer tracks rival radio pop hits of the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, and today. I mean, I haven’t even played half the games that house these rockin’ riffs. To make it on this top hit list, there are two criteria: it must have lyrics (duh), and it must appear in the game (sorry, “Chinese Ninja Warrior”).
5. “Opening” – Lunar, Sega CD
You hear that rocking Casio key-tar? This game means business. Right off the bat, we start with a game I have never played, for a system I had never laid eyes on until two years ago. To this day, I still haven’t played any iteration of Lunar, which should basically be impossible since it has been re-released on multiple platforms. But every version of the game is different in story, and most importantly, music. This over-the-top (and overly descriptive) Bonnie Tyler inspired song sets the scene for what is essentially a standard sprite-based JRPG. What’s a real downer is that this song is only on the Sega CD version. What makes that version even more coveted is that the game’s music was stored as “red book audio,” meaning one could place the game’s disk into a standard CD player and rock out in their mom’s sweet new Geo Storm.
4. “Snake Eater” – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, PS2
The last couple times I’ve gone karaoke-ing, people have sung various James Bond themes: “GoldenEye,” “View to a Kill,” and “Skyfall,” just to name a few. MGS3’s titular “Snake Eater” (not a WWE stage name, surprisingly) proudly stands up to the best of them. The third entry in the series turns the clock back to the Cold War, and director Hideo Kojima was certainly trying to infuse aspects of classic James Bond films into his creation — it’s this song that really nails it. I would also claim it to be the hardest song to sing on this list. Heavily sustained notes, plenty of range in volume and tone… it is not for the faint of heart. But if you can hit the beats, you will be a legend in the karaoke scene.
There was nothing quite like this operatic movie theme before the PlayStation 2 era. Ever since this song exploded onto the scene, Kojima’s internal music studio has been producing more and more music like it, attempting to recapture lighting in a bottle. Their most recent “Sins of the Father” is incredible, but it still ain’t no “Snake Eater.”
3. “Deadman’s Gun” – Red Dead Redemption, PS3/360
So far, this list has been very loud and upbeat. Let’s take it down a bit with a somber country tune. Red Dead Redemption was Rockstar Studio’s first attempt at creating an original score for one of its games. If you’ve played any of Rockstar’s previous titles like Grand Theft Auto, it’s clear these guys know music (fun fact: the Houser brothers were born to a father who partially owned a London jazz club called Ronnie Scott’s). Rockstar games have introduced me to artists and genres I would have never sought out on my own, with such variety as Health, Busta Rhymes, and Hall and Oates. But the song that stuck with me most was composed in house. I’ll be the first to admit I am not a country music fan, but I adore this song. It made me tear up at the end of the long and bittersweet journey that was RDR. If it doesn’t make you feel anything, I regret to inform you, sir or madam, you may not have a soul.
2. “Chop Chop Master Onion Rap” – PaRappa the Rapper, PSX
This song is the “YMCA” of video game music. Everybody knows it, and the dance moves are the exact lyrics of the song. Its vast fan base can be attributed to the wide availability of Playstation Underground discs, which featured “Onion’s Rap” in demo form, a shame since PaRappa is full of potential karaoke jams. I really have to applaud composers Masaya Matsuura and Yoshihisa Suzuki: they made fun and catchy rap songs about relatively mundane things (like waiting in line for the bathroom) that people of all ages could enjoy. Its greatest success lies in PaRappa’s relatability to the player with overcoming self doubt, trying to woo a dream girl, and holding down a low wage job. I’m a huge rap and hip hop fan — bitches and hoes are great and all — but can’t we talk about something else? Like taking a driving test or baking a gross cake?
1. “You’re Not Here” – Silent Hill 3, PS2
It’s a lot of pressure picking the final song of the night. It can’t be something that will make people want to keep going, but it also can’t send people home crying. “You’re Not Here” by musical mastermind Akira Yamaoka is the perfect middle ground. The rocking guitar and up-tempo beat will keep people on their feet, while the lyrics give rise to just the right amount of depressing self-reflection.
It still baffles me that a super weird horror series has some of the best rock tracks to ever grace my ear holes. All of Yamaoka’s tracks are full of passion, and convey various ranges of emotion, blurring the line between what is considered “game music” and just “music.” With “You’re Not Here,” he blends the musical styles of bands like Hole and The Breeders, with just a sprinkling of Depeche Mode, while still retaining his own original style. If you pop this song on at any party, I guarantee people will ask you about it. Then you can put on your hipster glasses as you tell them it is from a video game.
Now that you’re educated, get out there, grab a mic, and in the words of the great Mötley Crüe, “Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid.”
Article by contributor John Louis. Did he miss one? Leave a comment below and prove him wrong!