At the start of the year, I counted down my favourite tracks across the entirety of the main series of Pokemon games. Except there’s a small problem. You see, I recently dived into the soundtracks again and realised that a mere ten tracks was not nearly enough to cover all the amazing music this franchise had to offer. So, I’m doing it again to create more of a top 21.
Honestly, even that may not be enough to cover everything. So who knows? Maybe there’ll be a third instalment to this series in another six month’s time. Just like last time, I am keeping it purely to the main series of Pokemon games, so no spinoffs like the Mystery Dungeon or Ranger series will be included.
Now, to the music zone.
11 – Accumula Town – Black/White/Black 2/White 2
Ok, yes, it’s the ‘Furret Walk’ song, but there’s so much more than that to love about this track, (although that is a pretty big draw).
As you’ll know if you’ve read the first instalment of this list (which, if you haven’t noticed, I’d like it if you to read), then you’ll know that I don’t usually go for the quieter or simpler tracks, it’s not my style. The reason this track stood out to me is that it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s got a smooth sweetness to it, especially in the middle section where the flute completely takes over the melody and we get a track that has a calming aura to it, despite a decent pace.
In Black/White, Accumula Town is the first town you arrive in after setting off on your journey, so I think it’s an excellent way to introduce you to the broader world if the first town you encounter has a theme that is happy and welcoming. Sandgem Town in the Sinnoh games does this well, but I’m giving the edge to Accumula Town because it makes me feel cheerier when listening to it. While it’s got a relatively fast pace, it doesn’t go too fast for its own good. It’s almost like the track is encouragingly pulling you along the first step of your journey.
I’ve always been amazed at how, even though both Sinnoh & Unova were made on the same limited hardware, they were still able to have very distinct audio styles. I’ll go into more detail with it a bit later, but Unova feels a lot more ‘urban’ with its music, and this is precisely the kind of music I’d expect to come out of a happy little suburb. It makes Accumula Town a track that never fails to get me in a good mood.
10 – Max Raid Battle – Sword/Shield
Perhaps the only thing that the larger Pokemon fanbase can agree on about Sword & Shield is that the soundtrack is incredible. There are so many tracks from those games that I wish I had room to include (and a couple that we’ll be covering shortly). I included Marnie’s battle music in my first list because it was what stood out to me the most upon playing through the game. However, truth be told, I hadn’t properly dived into the full soundtrack yet, so when I did, I found some amazing music. This track included.
Max Raid Battles were one of the key selling points for Sword & Shield, as they put the game’s main gimmick on full display and encouraged collaboration between players in a way the franchise had never tried before. As a result, the track that accompanies these battles feels like it was built from the ground up to fit the entire concept of Max Raid Battles perfectly.
It starts out with this very quiet and odd synth build-up. As the camera dramatically pans around to show who you’ll be battling alongside before finally revealing you Dynamaxed/Gigantamaxed opponent. Then things start to ramp up and get more intense as you bring your Pokemon out on to the field and, the music syncs up perfectly to kick everything off the moment the battle begins. If you’ve played Sword/Shield as I have, then you’ve done a lot of Max Raid Battles, and I’ll be honest, that moment where the music kicks into gear never gets old.
Once the battle begins, the music wastes no time throwing you into a chaotic track that is simultaneously terrifying and triumphant. All around the main melody, there are synth and drum beats that go off at an erratic pace, surrounding and immersing you in the chaos that is a Max Raid Battle. You’ve got four Pokemon against one humongous one, and there are attacks flying everywhere, from all sides as you fight desperately to take down your opponents protections and avoid disaster.
Underneath all of that chaos, you have a melody that mixes brass & synth effects to create a track that feels like this grand spectacle. It taps into that same feeling that ‘Revied Power’ from Shadow of the Colossus does, where the fact that you’re even able to hold your ground against a gargantuan monster like this is a feat worthy of celebration. Just imagine what a Max Raid Battle would be like to watch right before your eyes, I imagine it would be a spectacle like no other, which is exactly the feeling that I get from this track.
9 – Vast Poni Canyon – Sun/Moon/Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon
While Mount Lanakila is technically the true ‘Victory Road’ section of Alola, I always felt that distinction should’ve gone to Vast Poni Canyon instead. It was unquestionably my favourite area to traverse in-game. It had so many wide open caverns and canyons that had an incredible sense of scale to them, even though your camera was pointed towards the floor most of the time. It twisted and turned in interesting ways, and every little nook and cranny had ways for you to explore the area. It’s an exciting climb to the base of the Altar of the Sunne/Moone, not to mention your final (or penultimate if you’re playing Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon) trial.
Vast Poni Canyon is a track with everything an area like this needs. It’s exciting, but also intimidating. It’s threatening but also encouraging. The opening to track is easily my favourite bit. The way the synth echoes throughout the track makes it feel like it’s echoing around this gigantic and well…vast canyon that surrounds you. It gives a very real feeling of scale to the environment along with bringing in that intimidation factor I was talking about.
Then the main melody kicks in, and the tone picks up a lot. The acoustic guitar in the foreground on the track compliments the subtle electric guitar in the background to make a track that has quite a chill vibe to it, while still keeping a certain energy that you need for an area like this one. A flute then takes over the melody, and things shift to the more emotional side of the music. This is the build-up to the final section of the game, where you’ll travel through dimensions and do battle with legendary Pokemon, this makes it partly a time of reflection on your journey up until this point. However, this track knows that the climax is just around the corner and the fast-paced synth effects, combined with the rapid percussion keep a certain intensity to the track, drawing out the nerves that come with nearing the climax of an adventure like this one.
On top of that, this track SCREAMS ‘Alola’ to me. I’d argue that Alola has one of the most distinct musical styles out of any region, but this is the track where I think it stands out the most. The theme and culture of Alola have been poured into this track, and every beat brings it out. There’s no mistaking which game this track comes from.
8 – VS Team Plasma Grunt – Black/White
Team Plasma has always been quite an interesting case for me. I feel like the story they told of ideals and corruption was an interesting idea. I wish it had come from a more adult-leaning franchise so that they could’ve explored the manipulation at the centre of the organisation.
To that end, their battle theme has a bit of a duality to it. Almost like its at conflict with itself, it’s subtle, but it’s there. The main melody of the song is strong and resolute. The progression of the synth gives me these feels of strong ideals and infinite resolve. These grunts aren’t just petty criminals; they believe they’re fighting for a worthy, humanitarian (except with Pokemon…poketarian?) cause. The conflict comes with the beat that’s carrying the whole thing.
The slow, methodical percussion is there, and it feels just a little bit off. It fits the rhythm of the track, it’s ‘going along with it’ so to speak, but the tone is different. Where the main melody is strong and triumphant, the beat underneath it is dark and intimidating. Maybe I’m stretching things a bit here, but when I think about it like that, it feels like that beat is representing the dissension at the heart of Team Plasma. That fact that Ghetsis is really at the centre of it all, using their message of liberation and kindness to hide his own selfish ambitions for world domination.
Symbolism aside, this is just a really fun track. The main melody has a slightly intimidating presence while still feeling like a grand battle between skilled trainers. It’s light and bouncy in places, while still throwing in the minor keys to remind you that these are the bad guy’s that you’re fighting. Thematically, I think this is a really robust track, and it holds up against any of the great evil-team battle themes.
7 – Castelia City – Black/White/Black 2/White 2
For those who are unaware, the Unova region, in which the Generation 5 games are set, was based on New York and Castelia City is the city that most clearly resembles the state’s capital city.
While the whole track has an ‘urban’ feel to it, this where that style feels the most present. Castelia City is stuffed to the brim with tall and powerful skyscrapers, while the streets below are pouring with hordes of people rushing back and forth. One of my favourite details in the whole franchise was the little text bubbles that appeared while walking through the crowded streets of Castelia City. It felt so realistic to be overhearing the most random snippets of stranger’s conversations. It was the first time in Pokemon history that I’ve felt a city in the game world actually has a realistic population for a city that size.
I’m sure you’ve already guessed what I’m going to say next, which that this track complements that atmosphere perfectly. For one thing, the choice of instrument is so genius that I never would’ve thought of it. Saxophone was such a brilliant choice to lead the melody in this track. For one thing, Jazz music is so heavily associated with urban American environments in pop-culture that you’re already on the nose. Then, you add on the fact that it’s exactly the kind of melody you might hear being played by buskers on the street or in the subway.
It’s so simple, and yet I feel such power with the emotions it brings forth. It’s got a slightly quickened pace to it, capturing the sense of hustle-and-bustle that you get as the crowds of people rush past you. Yet, underneath it lies some more sombre emotions. The kind of longing for something more or different that can often come if you grow up in a densely populated area like that. I can’t quite describe what I mean when I say that it sounds like the concept of nostalgia, but that’s pretty much the only way I can think of to describe it.
6 – VS Gladion – Sun/Moon/Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon
When I first heard this track, I wasn’t too sure on it. I enjoyed the melody, but I didn’t understand how it fit Gladion as a character. He seemed to be a much more downtrodden personality, I would’ve expected him to have a more intense and slow track for his battle theme…but eventually, I worked it out.
It’s the downward chord progression. Unlike almost every other battle theme that progresses upward, every bar in this one goes downward. Gladion’s had a weird life. He was born into a rich family that had their fingers in some very messy pies. Eventually, he caught onto the horrors that his mother was involved in and ran away, taking nothing but the Pokemon he considered friends. He abandoned his sister and caused his mother to fall even deeper into over-protective insanity. He was taken in with a petty criminal gang that he hated, but couldn’t break free from them because where else could he go?
Then he meets you, a trainer his age, who is making their own way in the world and is great at what they do. In battling you, Gladion gets a vision of the life he could’ve had. A life where he got to go out and see the world, making friends and taking on Pokemon battles for the fun of it, not out of necessity. That’s why the track is so upbeat. Gladion finally gets the opportunity to let out those positive emotions that have been suppressed inside of him – partly through his own doing and partly through his circumstance – that’s why he still only has a Type: Null when we first meet him, only for it to have become a Silvally by the end of his adventure.
Yet there’s still that downward chord progression I was on about. That’s Gladion’s underlying tragedy. His encounters with you may have helped him understand his position in the world better, and he may be a happier and better person now, but that doesn’t erase his past. He knows that while his relationship with his mother and sister is fixable, it’s going to be a long struggle. Not just for him to find common ground with his family, but for him to find it in himself to accept them back into his life.
Not only is the melody to this track catchy, fast-paced and really fun to listen to, but it tells Gladion’s story. It represents those deep, dark emotions alongside the high emotions and the joy that battling against you brings out of him.
5 – Nimbasa City – Black/White/Black 2/White 2
Unova’s got a lot of good town themes.
Castelia Cit gave us the more melancholic, emotional side of big cities. It’s the area where everything’s very tightly compact, the population is dense, and there’s not much room for anything other than business. Nimbasa City is the exact opposite.
Nimbasa City is more like Broadway. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s loud & it’s fun. Castelia City is where people do some serious work, while Nimbasa City is the flashy counterpart where all the stars come out to play. They’ve got concert halls, a carnival and two separate sports stadiums right next to each other. Even that town’s Gym Leader, Elesa, is a fashionista/celebrity in town. There are a couple of houses tucked away in the corner, but the majority of the space in the town is given over to the grandeur of the loud and colourful entertainment industry.
This is all backed up by a track that knows exactly how to have fun. The synthesised trumpets carry the track so well that it basically doesn’t need anything else to back it up, other than a simple bassline and an energetic beat. It’s quite a small loop all things considered, but it doesn’t need to be anything special when it’s so enjoyable to listen to. I talked before about how the New York environment is one heavily associated with jazz music. While Castelia City brings out the more poetic side of the genre, this track finds the fun in it. To be entirely honest, all it would need is a good guitar riff over the top, and it would practically be a ska track.
This whole track feels like it could be the opening number for a broadway musical. It pulls you in, hits you with tonnes of energy, gets you pumped and into the groove of things with a catchy hook, then sends you on your way, ready for the show. Spectacular.
4 – Sunyshore City – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum
Sunyshore City’s theme is an interesting mix of one because it has to balance a mix of emotions. On the one hand, this is the fight of your life. This is the city where you will fight for your eighth and final gym badge, overcoming the final obstacle between you and the Pokemon League. On the other hand, it’s a bright and sunny town by the beach! Kick back, relax and enjoy the nice weather!.
The intensity is covered in such a short space of time, and yet it’s SO effective at what it does. The intro to the track has such an incredible sense of intimidation. The usually cheery piano chords are undercut by the deep brass notes and sharp percussive beats. It gives you this feeling that you’re stepping into a battleground you’re not quite ready for, but you’ve got to take the fight anyway. This is your final test before you take on the Elite Four, best not mess it up.
Then it kicks in, and suddenly all that intimidation evaporates, and you’re left with an upbeat, jolly track that creates a welcoming atmosphere. As I said, this is a beach town, with a resort just down the road. The place is filled with holiday-makers and people playing around having fun. It adds to the alive feeling of the franchise’s worlds. Sure, you’re on your way to a big and tough battle, but the world doesn’t revolve around you (no matter what the time/space God you just caught thinks). This is a town where people have a wonderful time, so this track is going to make sure you do too.
It balances your place in the narrative with the overall world it’s in and creates a track with a bit of a duality to it. The harsh percussion never really goes away, almost like a pounding heartbeat, but it’s overpowered by the sun and fun that surrounds you in this town.
3 – VS Team Galactic Commander – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum
I love this track because it proves that not all villain themes have to be slow and manacing. That’s not to say slow & menacing villain themes are bad; in fact, my previous list on this topic features several of those tracks. However, I think it’s important that no music in games should get ‘stuck in their ways’ so to speak. I believe that it’s more important for your music to fit its usage than anything else. Whether it’s a location, cutscene or character, what makes a good track into an amazing one is when it embodies the feel of that thing perfectly. Which is why I think this track is so much fun to listen to.
The thing about the Team Galactic Commanders is that they’re a bit silly. Not necessarily in the way that they’re written, but just look at them. They wear bodysuits that look they’re from an 80’s film about the year 2000; their hair is done up in over the top ways with bright colours; not to mention the fact that they all named themselves after planets ‘cos Galactic’. In many ways, that’s all part of their charm, but they’re the kind of characters that you’re never really going to take seriously.
Following that theme, this track doesn’t take itself too seriously. It still throws in an overall threatening tone. The bassline especially grounds the whole thing and gives it an extra layer of intensity that would be missing otherwise. However, the synthesised main melody that carries the whole thing is noticeably different in tone. It starts off so incredibly chaotic, leaving you no time to breathe before throwing you straight into a fast-paced, fun and slightly over-the-top melody that doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. That sounds like an insult, but it’s actually the reason I enjoy listening to it so much.
Much like the commanders themselves, this track never gives you time to stop and take stock of what is going on. They just want to fight you, and it’s your job to fight back, whether you like it or not.
2 – VS Gym Leader – Sword/Shield
When I first played through Sword & Shield, I never realised the genius of this track, and I can only profusely apologise because this track is incredible.
The track has three phases, which on its own is great, but when you break each of them down, that’s when I fall in love with it.
The first phase is the simplest of the three; as you’d expect. There’s the build-up as the battle begins and each trainer brings out their first Pokemon, then things get intense. The beat is quite basic, but it’s impactful enough and backed up by a style of synth that I can’t quite describe to create quite the atmosphere. You have to remember that in Galar, these gym battles are being watched by a stadium full of thousands of people. Could you imagine what it would feel like to do battle in that environment? This first phase is like the feeling-out process of the fight. Both competitors are gauging each other’s battling styles and devising strategies to win.
Then you take down the Gym Leader’s first Pokemon, and the music moves to the second phase, ramping all the way up again before the synth comes back at a much higher octave and the melody shifts slightly. Moving away from the synth that just goes along with the beat, we move into an electronic melody that changes the atmosphere of the track. Those nerves from the start of the battle are long gone, we’re right in the thick of the battle now. Each trainer has a plan which they’re doing their best to execute it. A rapport has formed, and the crowd can feel the excitement building.
Eventually, you back the Gym Leader into a corner, all they have left is their final and strongest Pokemon. This is where it gets real. The track takes a moment to build up again, and then it repeats the intro to phase two, except this time, the crowd are chanting over it. When I first heard this, I honestly nearly teared up at how utter brilliant of an idea this was. To actually include the roaring, chanting & singing on the massive live crowd into the melody of the track itself was a stroke of musical genius and it adds everything to the exciting and intense feel of these battles.
If you’ve ever been in a large crowd for any kind of sporting event in the UK (and maybe elsewhere, I wouldn’t know), this is EXACTLY the kind of thing you hear. The composers even made sure that the voices weren’t all perfectly synched up, so it felt like real people were making these noises. The synth finally takes a back seat, just interjecting the backing to give the whole thing its sense of rhythm; then it sits back and lets the roar of the crowd wash over the track and carry you to victory.
1 – VS Eternatus ~ Phase 3 – Sword/Shield
This track is more or less the whole reason I wanted to make another one of these lists.
The climax of Sword & Shield’s story is a bit of an odd one, letting you go all the way to the champion battle before the villain finally reveals themselves and puts their plan into action. It was a weird choice of pacing, and I’m not sure it quite worked, but FUCK ME, it was worth it for this track.
After having already gone through about six quite gruelling battles across two different tournaments to get to the champion, you’re suddenly thrown through a loop and have to save the Galar region from an ancient & eternal monster. The first two phases are rough. First, you have to fight Eternatus’ regular form on your own, which is no easy task. Then it transforms into its ‘Eternamax form’ (which is a dumb name but let’s not go there), and Hop finally does something noteworthy in the story to help you. Except…you can’t actually touch it. Literally none of your attacks with even scratch it.
Then, we get what may be my favourite cutscene in all of Pokemon, where you summon Zacian and Zamazenta to help you save the day. Once they show up, this music kicks in and man…I just have to let it wash over me every time. The way the piano starts things off, for the quiet violin to tease the main melody, for the lead guitar to burst into the track and get the battle going. It even includes the dogs themselves howling over it. Genuinely, I teared up. It’s such an incredible build and fits so perfectly to the moment of these legendary dogs finally awakening to come and help you.
The rest of the track has a triumphant feel to it. It fills you with this incredible sense of confidence. Just moments ago, all seemed lost, yet now you’ve turned the tide. The legendary Pokemon have risen and are fighting alongside you; there’s no way you can lose now. It almost strays into feeling fun, but there’s something in the way the melody progresses that holds the intensity and dumps on a whole heap of emotional stakes.
In it’s simplest form, this is a track that makes me so very happy whenever I listen to it. The emotion it carries is so incredibly powerful that I never get tired of listening to it. Even when I had it on loop for 20 minutes while putting this entry together, it has a lot of complexity to it and yet what it conveys is so very simple. It’s undoubtedly one of the best tracks the composers for Pokemon have ever put together.
So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what music you love best from Pokemon, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure you come back this time on Wednesday for the next instalment in my 100 Favourite Games series!