GamesBeat

The Musical Highs and Lows of Pokemon Battles

I live in a fantasy world.

 
That was the gist of one of my elementary school report cards and it was not meant in a complimentary way. I had Pokemon fever – like others growing up in the '90s – and bad. If I wasn't fiddling with a loaded deck of Pokemon cards (how do you play the game, anyways?), doodling my own Pokemon creations, or pontificating on just how evil Team Rocket is, I'd be quietly staring out a window, daydreaming about being a Pokemon trainer myself.
 
Or rather, I thought I was being quiet. In the midst of class, I'd start quietly humming the battle theme played any time the player challenged a Gym Leader.
 
If you didn't already know, Pokemon is a series about battling creatures against each other that fit into different elemental types like fire and ground. Their trainers trek across the land collecting more, battling other trainers, and acquiring badges so they may ultimately battle the Champion for his (or her) title. In order to earn those badges, players must defeat eight of the toughest trainers – the Gym Leaders – to prove their worth.

These battles are tense affairs – especially for schoolchildren – accentuated by the recurring theme. It starts with a whirlwind of bleeps and bloops which gradually decrescendo; this corresponds to the player's introduction to the Leader's Pokemon, as well as the opening moves of the battle.
 
After a small drop in volume, a bumping base line echoes for a few seconds before crescendoing into the chorus. The chorus is tense: Notes rise and fall rapidly, staccato. And what better representation of a battle is there than going from high to low and back again in rapid succession?
 
At its climax, the theme makes use of collision. A short, three note interjection of the chorus occurs repeatedly, itself seguing into five rapid-fire notes. The process, terse and impactful, repeats once again before returning to the piece's transitional bridge cum chorus for the remainder of the tune.
 
So, what is it about the Gym Leader's theme that allowed it to capture my imagination so? Undoubtedly, its use only in gyms bestows upon them a certain air of importance. The battle to unfold isn't just like all the others. It's special; a moment to be treasured.
 
But the music carries itself without the game needing to do any work. It accomplishes an amazing feat in capturing the gravity of the situation – hey, Gym Leaders are boss battles, ok? – whilst all the while capturing the levity associated with the brand. It's fast-paced, fun, and frantic. But more importantly, after all these years, hearing that theme still stirs me to action like no other, inspiring me whenever I run, cook, or write.
 
Like I said, I live in a fantasy world.

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