Among the numerous series Nintendo has created over the years, one of the most acclaimed and prolific has been the Metroid series. Barring an exception or two, more or less every game has been met with massive praise from critics and fans alike for their wonderful design in all aspects, with perhaps the most well-received of the bunch being Metroid Prime. Every facet of the game is designed to accentuate the overall aesthetic and atmosphere presented in any given situation, and this is used to their greatest effect in the musical scoring on display. Many games unsuccessfully try to have a soundtrack that fits every location perfectly and has a number of good songs even when the circumstances are taken away, usually succeeding at one or the other if it succeeds at all. Metroid Prime has the distinction of performing brilliantly in both categories.
If you had to use one word to describe the soundtrack to Metroid Prime, the best possible choice would be “atmospheric.” As you come across any given song, it can almost be guaranteed to contribute heavily to the feeling the current area is trying to evoke. Be it a very earthy-sounding song to coincide with the underground Magmoor Caverns or a very soft and beautiful piece to accompany the Phendrana Drifts, the song for each area completes the picture the graphics lay the base for. Just like most good soundtracks, this trend can be heard from the very first song shown, the Title theme. Another take on a classic present throughout the series, the Title music sets up a very mysterious mood, accomplished through the off-kilter instrumentation and odd noises constantly heard in the background. This perfectly fits the exploration of a strange, new world that encompasses a great majority of the game.
Although the mystery of what’s around every corner is a large part of the game’s atmosphere, it’s not the only significant thing at work. While every area is new to Samus and the player, each location also has its own distinct personality. However, while each main location theme provides a perfect accompaniment, as previously stated, this also stays true for the differing themes contained in each level. No large area has the same theme for every single section contained within, instead having a number of different themes to fit the changing environment.
There are many great examples of this idea at work throughout, such as the aforementioned Phendrana Drifts main theme. While this base song works as an introduction to the area, it wouldn’t work in context with sections such as the Deep Lake or Space Pirate Lab, as the instrumentation is too pleasantly light for both sets of circumstances. As such, each of those locations has a separate theme to better fit, with a deeper theme to accompany the underwater sections of the lake and an almost imperceptible air flow used to accentuate the emptiness of the lab. Another great example is the planetary surface underwater theme, shown below, changing from the regular Tallon IV theme to this ambient, calming song accompanying an even more alien location, despite the danger present.
Despite the importance of these location themes, this, naturally, does not account for the whole soundtrack. While they are the cornerstone of the overall set in terms of both tone and mood, there are other situations requiring a different approach. While still atmospheric, these themes also have to evoke energy to accompany the movement and effort of a fight or the excitement of having accomplished a goal due to the open nature of the exploration.
There aren’t a great amount of battle themes in Metroid Prime, but each one is given a large amount of weight due to the situations where they do play. While there are enemies encountered in nearly every room of the game, battle themes will only generally accompany bosses, with an exception made for Samus’ eternal foes, the Space Pirates. Obviously, a boss fight in nearly any game should be a memorable experience and to help those enemies leave a distinct impression, each boss has a unique theme that fits them perfectly, such as the slow, creepy song that plays for the fight with Flaahgra, the boss of the Chozo Ruins. The Space Pirates also share the honor of a special theme due to their deep ties with Samus. The game wants to ensure their importance is clearly understood and, as such, play a synonymous song every time you must fight them.
Lastly, I’d like to mention the little jingles that play whenever an item is grabbed, the game is reloaded from a save point, or likewise circumstances are encountered. While extremely short, these songs serve a very important purpose by giving a true sense of accomplishment. A simple message telling you what you’ve found doesn’t give enough of an impact on its own. However, when such a moment is accentuated with a fanfare, it grants the action a real sense of weight and the player feels as though they’ve really progressed. It may seem like a very tiny detail to focus on, but the lack of such a thing is noticeable and I guarantee that if you ever encounter such a situation, it will decrease the feeling of importance in that instance.
While I have, unfortunately, not had the opportunity to play a fair number of games in the Metroid series, I have a large liking for the Metroid Prime subseries. They are some of the best designed games I’ve seen from Nintendo within the last two console generations and, although many aspects stand out to me, I’ve always had a particular ear for the music on display throughout. The atmosphere set up by these tunes is second to none and I can’t imagine the game coalescing as well as it does without them. While the sequels to the original Prime probably warrant their own, individual articles on this series, that fact does not detract from the wonderful quality evident in the initial effort.
Music Mondays is a weekly column by Austin Yorski and Robert Heck dedicated to discussing the most interesting audio experiences in electronic interactive media. Tune in every week for more original game soundtracks that you need to hear. Feel free to disagree with, add to, or question everything. I welcome your feedback.