Let’s Hear It For Really Good Role-Playing Game Battle Music

Kotaku Game DiaryKotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we're playing.

I’ve got a song stuck in my head that’s somehow not getting old. A colleague recently wrote about a new Mario & Luigi remake, I dusted off an unfinished older Mario & Luigi game, and next thing I know, I’m on the subway and… am I bobbing my head to some boss battle music? Why, yes I am.

Listen to this strong song. It’s the boss battle music from Mario & Luigi Paper Jam :

Mario & Luigi Paper Jam boss battle theme as captured by YouTube user Xelos Nim

Regular battles in Mario & Luigi games are easy. Those skirmishes are set to a peppy jingle. Nothing to worry about when fighting some ordinary Koopas or Goombas. Battles against bosses are far more difficult and involve lengthy turns filled with complex attacks and even more complex defenses, back and forth, back and forth. These fights are huge struggles that require you to be energized for a dire contest. They are best suited for music that is very dramatic.

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Paper Jam’s boss battle theme starts off at a quick tempo, making me want to stomp and hammer Mario and Luigi’s enemies. Then, 35 seconds in, it slows to set up for a dramatic turn, which happens at 45 seconds. Then, at 56 seconds in, we hit peak drama. If this is the first round of a boss battle in this game, I’ve probably just hit an attack or two, and I’m trying hard to land an even bigger blow or am bracing myself for the boss’ fury. Mario & Luigi battles involve a lot of well-timed button presses, and messing them up can squander an attack or get our heroes steamrolled. Fittingly, the music during these moments conveys that the stakes are high. After its dramatic climax, the boss battle music chills out for a bit before building back up at 1:50 for what is definitely the audio version of the sentiment that I’m going to finally land this big attack and crush this boss. It then loops to the start. This is killer work from series composer Yoko Shimomura.

Great, dramatic boss battle music is A Thing for this series. The regular battle music is solid, and the boss battle music is incredible. That was the case for Paper Jam’s predecessor, Mario & Luigi Dream Team, too. By this point, it should sound familiar.

Mario & Luigi Dream Team boss battle theme as captured by GameXplain

Good game music can complement a game’s graphics, enhance its gameplay and, best of all, get the player in the ideal mood for whatever the game calls for, be it making a discovery, sneaking around, or struggling through a fight.

Despite that, sometimes I have just heard enough of it. I’ve uttered this apostasy before, but sometimes, I do just tune it out or turn a soundtrack off entirely, opting instead to listen to a podcast while I’m playing a game. Usually I’ll do that if I think I’ve heard it all already, if I’m 20 or 30 hours into a game and am no longer moved by a game’s tunes. Sometimes it even helps me accomplish a tough gaming task if I put some of my mental focus on listening to a podcast and allow my hands on the controller to be directed more by subconscious will.

Every now and then, however, the battle music in a game is just so good that I want to hear it every single time.

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About the author

Stephen Totilo

Editor-in-Chief. Playing: Luigi's Mansion 3, Destiny 2, Division 2 (need to get back to RDR2, Iconoclasts, Arkham Origins, Doom, Sushi Striker, Samus Returns, AC Odyssey, Breakpoint, and Outer Wilds)