I never invested much time into Japanese RPGs until Secret of Mana came along. The adventure contains some of the best orchestrations I've ever heard.
The overworld theme, "Into the Thick of It," was the first song to show me that games could become magnificent works of art.
I've probably played over 20 Japanese RPGs in my lifetime. However, I always have a special attachment to the overworld theme of Secret of Mana. When I first started the game, I had a frustrating time figuring out how to actually reach the sword in the beginning. I was a novice back then, and I didn't know that I could wade through the river.
Once I reached the next area, though, the music changed to an acoustic guitar. For the first time, the music in the video game just sounded beautiful and real. Even for a MIDI-style instrumentation, the sound was far beyond anything I had ever heard. I once tried to pull this type of stuff off on a piece of composition software, and I just couldn't figure out how to make it sound that good.
This was also one of the few SquareSoft games where battles didn't interrupt the flow of the music. The folk guitar arpeggios played in a loop with a strangely touching orchestral string melody. I really felt like I was wandering through the wilderness, searching across the world for people to meet.
Oddly enough, "Into the Thick of It" is also the song that plays soon after the track where the main character is forced out of his hometown. I had spent a half hour listening to the dreadful gloom and doom song, "Banished." In spite of this horrible situation, the overworld song plays right after he leaves to the next screen. It's as if the game wanted to demonstrate that there's more to the world than my main character's home.
Secret of Mana was always a game about moving forward without hesitation. It was more about the journey than the actual destination. Sure, the ending didn't turn out as I would have hoped. But the game was more about the joy of traversing the lush, green countryside. Songs such as "Into the Thick of It" only emphasized that fascination.
I often resisted downloading this onto my Wii, because I already have the Super Nintendo version. However, Secret of Mana is still the very first game that truly touched me with one of the best soundtracks in video game history. Whenever I felt really depressed, Secret of Mana taught me to move forward without dwelling on my problems.
Secret of Mana has a magnetic appeal that sucks you in, and "Into the Thick of It" epitomizes the game's charm.
What other overworld themes in RPGs have a similar significant impact? Feel free to write about any favorite memories in the comments below.