Welcome back to our countdown. Let’s keep exploring the deep dark greenwood and the recurring concept of the Forest theme. If you haven’t already read the first part of our list, counting down from #20 to #11, you can find that post here.
Let’s get lost in the woods!
#10. “Forest Interlude” – Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong-Quest (1995)
Coming in at number ten is the synth-laden trippy track off of DKC2. You’ll see a lot of SNES soundtracks on this list and that’s no mistake. The Super Nintendo was rich with a huge variety of game genres and music, especially Forest themes. Also, it’s my favorite console of all time, so maybe there’s a slight bias. There, I said it. “Forest Interlude” utilizes naturalistic sounds like wood creaking and birds and bugs chirping. It’s slower ambient tune feels you’re like pushing past the branches and deeper into the unknown, a welcome reprieve from this game’s more hectic and energetic songs.
Probably the most famous Forest theme off the SNES and one of the most memorable tracks off of an OST already filled with many great songs, “Forest Maze” has been parodied and lyricized to no end on Youtube. This original rendition of the song sounds very “high middle ages” and has a sense of regality about it. Though it uses a quicker tempo than some other songs on this list, there is still the accompanying sense of following Mario through the 16-bit trees and trying not to get lost. It’s the soundtrack to a mushroom hunt. Just don’t eat the purple ones.
The first Final Fantasy track scores fairly high on our list, but you expected that, didn’t you? Final Fantasy has always been renown for its soundtracks arranged under the legendary composer, Nobuo Uematsu. His absence from the series really derailed the music of the franchise, but in FFIX at least, his musical magic still reigned. The moment that finds Zidane and co. stranded in the dark woodland of the aptly named Evil Forest triggers this track to play, emphasizing the sensation of peril and what it’s like to be lost in the night. Mystery is heavily laden in this track and the forboding hides just beneath it. Appropriate, just before they’re ambushed by strange, plant-like monsters.
Pure beauty and awe comes in at number seven with another Final Fantasy track. After the horror of the Thunder Plains, FFX’s Macalania Forest is a restful and wonderful realm of glass pools and crystal trees with floating roads of glistening diamond climbing up into the shimmering canopy. This Forest theme represents that visual perfectly with its pervading chimes and piano melodies, sounding as if it is being played on crystal itself. It’s a perfectly stress-free sigh of relief in the pilgrimage of the summoner.
#6. “Caution” (Jungle) – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004)
Okay so most of this game takes place in a forest but MGS3’s take on the Forest theme is a viable choice, rendering the musical concept into pure dread and the tension of hiding in grass and behind trees as armed soldiers hunt for you in the thick of bush. Of course, given the series it belongs to, this variation of the “Caution” theme sounds distinctly militaristic and modern compared to some other titles on our list, thanks to its use of muted pickings on an electric guitar. But the woodwind is still there to keep us company and remind us that this is indeed a Forest theme, just a rendition that less inspires wonder and more stresses danger.
#5. “The Lost Woods” – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
Making it all the way to number five, Ocarina of Time is the only game to appear twice on this countdown. Of course it is. This might be the most beloved game in the franchise and it begins in the forest and contains many forested areas. Green is the color of the Hero of Time! “The Lost Woods” is one of the great, iconic tracks off the N64. A kind of dance tune with tambourine and flute, its 3/4 timing signature helps to keep the bouncing melody from dragging, calling Link deeper and deeper into the misty, firefly-lit forest. Koji Kondo is a genius at developing Nintendo’s iconic music and you can’t argue with “The Lost Woods” being as high as it is on our list, indeed it is the highest scoring non-RPG track here. The Legend of Zelda is a franchise that has always been… “linked” to the woods. Heh.
#4. “Garden of God” – Chrono Cross (1999)
Dispensing with all of the organic, naturalistic noises of other tracks and any sense of real danger, “Garden of God” is majestic. True, this track doesn’t play only in forests, as there are several dragons in Chrono Cross that live in other natural domains, but the song does have the word “garden” in it and it does indeed play in forests. The peaceful harp and the sighing of the choir give this song the sound of its namesake, an air of divinity and the unknown, something ineffable, sacred, and incomprehensibly spiritual. It is the concept C.S. Lewis discussed in The Problem of Pain (ctrl+ F the word), this concept of “Numinous“, the fear of the holy, in audio form. It’s an incredibly selective variation on the Forest theme. Chrono Cross may have suffered from several failings in gameplay and such, but it had one of the best soundtracks of the PlayStation era. Believe me, it was a really close toss up between this track and “Forest of Cutting Shadows“.
#3. “Phantom Forest” – Final Fantasy VI (1994)
The mysterious forest resounds with the haunting cries of phantoms in this track off of one of the greatest RPG’s of all time. This track emphasizes pure mystery. Wispy notes like laughter fill the dark air just before you hear the whistle and the engine of the Ghost Train. A high, lone flute plays like the mourning of a man who has lost his family in some tragedy, echoing the melodies that play in the background. FFVI had a massive, complicated soundtrack and its Forest theme of sadness and loss, wonder and wandering, represents the essence of what we’re trying to describe with this musical motif.
#2. “Chasing the Black-Caped Man” – Final Fantasy VII (1997)
The number two spot is occupied by what is undoubtedly an RPG that has achieved the greatest fame and the largest following. Final Fantasy VII was the king of the PlayStation One era, without a doubt, and it came not only with a cast of memorable characters, a story that spanned three discs, an awesome villain, a host of sidequests, and a fully realized fictional world but it also featured one of the greatest soundtracks ever. Cloud’s search for truth, meaning and Sephiroth leads him and his team through a maze of wondrous environments. “Chasing the Black-Caped Man”, with its heavy bell tolls, underlines everything that’s great about the Forest theme concept and is a trip back down memory lane for many of us.
#1. “Secret of the Forest” – Chrono Trigger (1995)
Square dominates the final selections of our countdown which ends with one of the most beloved RPG’s of all time, whether you’ve played it or not. Chrono Trigger is a unique and beautiful role-playing, time-traveling experience, but we’re not here to talk about its gorgeous SNES graphics, its moving subplots or its wealth of narrative. We’re here because of Yasunori Mitsuda’s vast and variable soundtrack, one of the best for any game you can find. Mitsuda created a tapestry of musical themes to represent an array of settings, time periods, moods and emotions whether you look at songs featured in the middle ages or in the kingdom of Zeal. But “Secret of the Forest” is a title that really says it all and perfectly encapsulates everything about the recurring concept of the Forest theme. It’s mysterious, elusive, meandering, placid, reflective, contemplative, wild, calming and deep. In short, it’s everything a Forest song should be. It’s everything that mankind has felt when confronted with the beautiful indifference of nature’s forests. In my opinion, it’s the best example you can find of the Forest theme.
As a bonus track for our number one winner, here’s a sweet jazz rendition of “Secret of the Forest” from the album The Brink of Time!
Deez Honorable Mentions!
“Forest of Cutting Shadows” – Chrono Cross (1999)
“Navel of the World” – Chrono Cross (1999)
“Forest’s Requiem” – Golden Sun (2001)
“Forest Frenzy” – Donkey Kong Country (1994)
“Lost woods” – The Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past (1991)
“Flow” – FEZ (2012)
“Forest Dwellers” – Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)
“Black Forest” – Suikoden (1995)
“Owl Forest” – Dark Cloud (2000)
“Lost Woods” – Dragon’s Crown (2013)
“Wood Man” – Mega Man II (1988)
“The Jungle of Jyuraika” – Rogue Galaxy (2005)
“Dark Jungle” – Jurassic Park, part 2: The Chaos Continues (1994)
[suggested by Hatm0nster]
“Sleepywood” – MapleStory
“Passing Through the Forest” – Threads of Fate
Disagree? Think there was a particular theme that doesn’t deserve an unfair coldshoulder? Let me know in a comment below! Thanks for reading!
–The Well-Red Mage & The Black Humor Mage
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