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Jukebox Heroes: Top 40 MMO themes, #40-31

Asheron's Call, Dark Age of Camelot, Opinion, RuneScape, Miscellaneous, Neverwinter, City of Steam, Jukebox Heroes, Music

RuneScape
MMO main themes hold the potential to be some of the most powerful and magical pieces of music, partly because we associate them with particular games more than anything else. A great theme will dredge up intense memories or euphoria by the third note, and I see composers putting in their all with many of these themes.

A long time ago I did an MMO theme countdown of 20 tracks, but since then I've heard a lot more and have wanted to do the list all over again. So this week in Jukebox Heroes, we're kicking off a countdown of the top 40 MMO themes -- in my opinion, of course. I listened to over 150 themes and spent hours ranking them to create this list.

Because these choices are bound to be a little controversial and stir up debate (which is encouraged!), I set down a few rules that I wanted to share here. I limited myself to just one theme from a particular title, even if there were multiple themes in a game. Entries had to be a main theme or the closest equivalent of that; they had to be from MMOs, not from MOBAs; and I had to divorce my weighting of the track itself from the popularity of and my experience with that game. So no points added or subtracted based on the love of the game; I'm counting down the best music, period. Let's see what numbers 40 through 31 have in store for us!

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Jukebox Heroes: Allods Online's soundtrack

Opinion, Allods Online, Jukebox Heroes, Music

Allods Online
I'm particularly excited about this week's journey through MMO music because we're going to touch on one of those scores that doesn't get nearly enough of the respect it should. Like Runes of Magic's excellent OST, Allods Online's music is largely overlooked because the game itself isn't treated as a "serious" or "original" title. But one shouldn't be so quick to throw out the soundtrack with the bathwater (that is both messy and noisy!); Allods Online has several top-notch tracks that should be recognized no matter what you may think of the game.

Composers Mark Morgan (Fallout, Planescape: Torment) and Vladislav Isaev (Prime World) collaborated on the large project. "The music in Allods Online combines lots of different elements and styles," they said in a 2009 interview. "These range from dark ambient and ethnic music, symphonies and rock music, as well as various industrial noises. Some tracks in the game retain a Russian melody spirit combined with high a quality production and its own unique sound."

I think it's the Russian flair that sets this apart from being yet another fantasy soundtrack. Anything different and yet still catchy is welcome at my dinner table. Let's partake, shall we?

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Jukebox Heroes: Elf music

World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Vanguard, Runes of Magic, Miscellaneous, ArcheAge, Jukebox Heroes, Music

LotRO
As probably many of you know, I am no fan of the Elven menace. I won't rehash the reasons n this space, but I mention that because I do try to be a fair man. When I'm not trying to eradicate any pointy-eared immortal know-it-all tree-hugger in sight, I have been known to appreciate the Elves' musical culture. That doesn't make me a hypocrite. It just gives me slight pause before ganking the next Drizzt or Legolas.

For whatever reason, Elves bring out the magic and talent in MMO composition. Elven themes are quite often among the best that a particular OST has to offer, particularly if you like airy, magical, ethereal tracks that are big on imagination and almost devoid of percussion. I've been noting the trend of excellent Elf music for years and figured I might as well devote a week to it here before going back to my Elf-bashing ways.

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Jukebox Heroes: Free Realms' soundtrack

Fantasy, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Free Realms, Kids, Jukebox Heroes, Music

Free Realms
There's something about the announcement of a game's closure that draws tons of interest to that MMO, the type of interest that it frankly needed long before now, not a few minutes too late. Even so, I had Free Realms on my to do list for a while now and figured that spending an hour with its score was something that needed to be done.

Free Realms had had a lot of fingers in its musical pie, including those belonging to Tracy W. Bush, Atli Örvarsson, David Raiklen, and Aaron Kaplan. As a score, it's very reminiscent of The Sims franchise's soundtracks: whimsical, childlike, and quite light on pounding percussion. The many minigames and themed zones probably demanded a good variety of motifs to be developed.

It's a very good score overall although not as wide on variety as I would typically like. Let's give this game the musical send-off it deserves!

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Jukebox Heroes: Firefall's soundtrack

Sci-Fi, Opinion, Free-to-Play, MMOFPS, Firefall, Jukebox Heroes, Music

Firefall
There's something about militaristic science-fiction shooters that brings out the piano in the composer, isn't there? That's what I was thinking when I first heard one of the Firefall themes. Not that the track was bad, just that it made me wonder why these simple piano themes have been linked to such games. Oh, it's probably because of Halo, but I'd like to think that there are greater reasons than that.

So this week we're going to be taking a crash course on the Firefall soundtrack. As far as I know, composers Michael Bross and Boon Sim's score isn't available to buy or download anywhere, so the avid video game score collector is going to have to do a little digital yoga to coax those files out of the library. I think it's worth hunting around for it, as Firefall's music is an obvious labor of love and a desire to create a quality product.

"Initially, we experimented with something that was mostly synth-driven and atmospheric," Bross said in an interview, "but then there was a desire from the team to have something that leaned toward the orchestral. Over time, though, we settled into something that combined both orchestral and modern elements that lend very well to an epic but atmospheric feel."

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Jukebox Heroes: Guild Wars Nightfall's soundtrack

Fantasy, Guild Wars, Opinion, Jukebox Heroes, Music

Guild Wars
We're slowly but steadily working our way through the Guild Wars library, having already covered Prophecies and Factions in this space. It's time to move on to the third and final full campaign of the original game: Nightfall.

Nightfall has a special significance for me in that it was my starting point for actually going through the entirety of the game prior to Guild Wars 2's release. While I've never been a fan of desert and Middle Eastern settings, I must admit that Jeremy Soule's return to the score isn't something to be ignored. Perhaps there aren't as many stand-out tracks as in the previous campaigns, but on the whole the score is well above-average compared to many MMO soundtracks.

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Jukebox Heroes: Meridian 59's soundtrack

Fantasy, Meridian 59, Culture, Opinion, Jukebox Heroes, Music

Meridian 59
There's a lot of general distaste and dislike out there for video game music that comes in MIDI or chipset form. Many gamers have simply never really experienced eras when the sound for computers and consoles were limited in such ways, so to go back to listen to them seems downright painful. For MMO players, there are only a handful of games that came out during the MIDI era, and pretty much all of them have since updated to MP3 versions.

Yet I have a fondness for older-style game music. I agree with what Ryan Shwayder once wrote when he said, "I think MIDI composers had to become masters of capturing the real core or heart of what made a song feel right. They had to take a minimalist approach to the song because they had a limited number of channels and potential sounds to work with. And it is my belief that some of the best creative works come out when an artist has to work within constraints."

That said, most of Meridian 59's soundtrack out there is of the remastered variety, so that's what we'll be listening to today. By the way, the original soundtrack by Composer Gene M. Rozenberg is available on the official website for free!

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Jukebox Heroes: Reader request 3

Aion, Final Fantasy XI, Lord of the Rings Online, Culture, Opinion, Star Wars Galaxies, RuneScape, Miscellaneous, Jukebox Heroes, Music

jukebox heroes
Since it's our very last Jukebox Heroes column of the year on the very last day of the year, I thought it would be most appropriate to open up the reader request lines once again and feature MMO tunes that are your favorites. If you'd like to put in your own request for the next time I run one of these columns, please list your favorite MMO music track in the comments along with an explanation as to what you love about it!

So check out what your fellow soundtrackophiles appreciate and stay tuned for a totally rockin' 2014!

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Jukebox Heroes: MMO holiday tunes

Lord of the Rings Online, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Guild Wars 2, Miscellaneous, Jukebox Heroes, Music

Jukebox Heroes
Last year I celebrated Christmas with y'all by sharing several holiday music tracks from MMOs, and this year I thought I'd keep the tradition alive. It's not always the easiest thing to find holiday-specific music from these games, as not every game bothers to make new tunes for time-limited events. Still, there are a few that have been sitting in my folders for a while that I'd like to share, including one very special piece of music that pretty much nobody's ever heard before.

So as we wind down the year and relax with friends and family, I'm volunteering myself to be the DJ at your abode. Just put these tunes on and mix up a batch of your best egg nog because the two will be a combination that will make your relatives rave about your refined taste.

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Jukebox Heroes: Forsaken World's soundtrack

Fantasy, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Jukebox Heroes, Music

Forsaken World
I must admit that Forsaken World is one of those MMOs I know very, very little about. When I was in an experimental mood, I downloaded it for an evening but found the cluttered interface and cash-shop-heavy approach a turn-off. That doesn't mean I couldn't go back to listen to the music, of course!

Forsaken World was composed by Austrian Roland Mair-Gruber. I am not that familiar with Mair-Gruber (his portfolio is a little skimpy thus far), but if this score is anything to judge him by, he's a lover of serene soundscapes. This is the kind of soundtrack that you could just put on the background in a spa, for the most part, although that doesn't mean it's forgettable. I liked it enough not to consider my time listening to it a waste, even though there weren't as many standout tracks as I've heard elsewhere.

So what should you listen to from Forsaken World? I've got you covered this week in Jukebox Heroes!

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Jukebox Heroes: More of Guild Wars 2's soundtrack

Fantasy, Opinion, Guild Wars 2, Jukebox Heroes, Music, Buy-to-Play

GW2
It's been well over a year since I last touched on Guild Wars 2's OST, Super Adventure Box aside. Wow, has it really been that long? Sometimes it seems as if it just came out!

At this point in the game's lifespan, there are two categories of music that you'll find: the Jeremy Soule original soundtrack and the in-house pieces done by Maclaine Diemer and Leif Chappelle. I'm going to wrap up my favorite Soule selections in this column and leave the latter category for a later column. Let's get down to making out with our ears, shall we? Here are six more great Guild Wars 2 tracks that are among my personal favorites.

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Jukebox Heroes: Star Wars Galaxies' soundtrack

Sci-Fi, Opinion, Star Wars Galaxies, Jukebox Heroes, Music

SWG
Ah, Star Wars Galaxies. Even almost two years after your demise, it doesn't seem possible to shake you loose from our thoughts. Maybe the NGE was a blessing in disguise, a never-depleting power source of rage that will forever give life to your memories. In any case, it's time to talk about the one aspect of the game that was there before SWG was created and will go on indefinitely afterward: the soundtrack.

Talking about Star Wars Galaxies' soundtrack puts me in an odd position because a great deal of the OST is lifted directly from John Williams' movie scores. And what hasn't been said about those classics, really? But there are a few tracks here and there that I could pick out as being unique to the game, although the actual composer who did the job escapes my Google Fu.

So let's take one last trip to a Galaxies far, far away, shall we?

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Jukebox Heroes: Dragon's Prophet's soundtrack

Fantasy, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Jukebox Heroes, Dragon's Prophet, Music

Considering the lack of chatter I've heard about Dragon's Prophet post-launch, I'm willing to say that this title's been having a difficult time gaining traction in the main MMO community. Gameplay aside, I was looking forward to this MMO's release because I hold Runewaker's Runes of Magic in high regard when it comes to its soundtrack. I was hoping for the same level of quality in Dragon's Prophet, and I really wasn't disappointed.

The OST was composed by Alex Pfeffer, Alexander Röder, Mindy Lo, and Rmoney Chen. It's a series of grand, stirring orchestral tunes that would be at home transplanted to just about any fantasy MMO that you're playing. Listening through it all, I found that it had a high ratio of quality tracks, so much so that narrowing it down to six picks proved problematic. I think I found a good balance, however.

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Jukebox Heroes: Helm's Deep's soundtrack

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Expansions, Free-to-Play, Jukebox Heroes, Music

Jukebox Heroes Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep's soundtrack
Well this was a particularly pleasant surprise! As the resident Lord of the Rings Online writer around these here parts, I've been pretty excited about this week's Helm's Deep release. I totally did not expect Turbine to give away the entire soundtrack for free on SoundCloud a week ago, especially after selling Riders of Rohan's score as a digital album.

But that's what happened, and I am very much not complaining. While the esteemed Chance Thomas did not compose the second part of the Rohan saga, the studio did make the effort to create an original score in-house instead of just rehashing previous tracks. The result is an album of 25 new tunes for us to evaluate in anticipation of the next chapter of LotRO.

So I threw out my original plans for this week's column, microwaved up some coffee, and gave the new score a listen. It was difficult narrowing the field down to six standout tracks, but the coffee was strong and so was my will. Let's take a listen through Helm's Deep, shall we?

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Jukebox Heroes: Ultima X Odyssey's soundtrack

Fantasy, Opinion, Ultima Online, Jukebox Heroes, Music

Jukebox Heroes Ultima X Odyssey's soundtrack
Out of all of the MMOs that never made it to launch, Ultima X Odyssey could have really been something. It had a wonderfully stylized look, an immense amount of resources and talent behind it, the Ultima franchise legacy to draw upon, a cool morality choice system, and a pretty strong following. All of that fell apart when EA pulled the plug on the project in 2004, leaving fans in the lurch.

However, since UXO was far enough along in development, it's one of those cancelled MMOs that has an actual soundtrack (just like Project Copernicus, which I talked about a few weeks ago). Composer Chris Field completed and recorded an album for the game in 2003, and although it was never released, it was distributed into the wild for free, and certain portions of the soundtrack were repurposed for the game Lord of Ultima.

I have to say that it's a good (possibly even great) score, and it's a shame it didn't get to be in an MMO for us gamers to appreciate. That doesn't mean we can't have a listen right now and speculate on what players in parallel universes might be enjoying right now, yes?

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