Pictured: Sufficient inspiration for an article, apparently.
So organs. Organs are instruments played on keyboards that use compressed air out of pipes to play noises. They also can be a sexual innuendo, but I’m going to try and stay away from that for the duration of this article. Due to what’s required to make these instruments work, even the smallest of organs is reasonably sized and fairly noisy. This in turn, in addition to their frequent use in religious establishments, seems to have permanently associated organs with the severe and majestic. This means there are plenty of applications for organs in video game music, as intimidating majesty is particularly common in settings where insane men/creatures are often trying to destroy the entire bloody world. It’s worth noting that like all of my list articles, these are only the examples that I can remember, thus the pointed use of the word “some”. I’d be happy for any organ aficionados to add their favorite tunes in the comments below the article.
13. Castlevaina: Portrait of Ruin – Banquet of Madness (Final Boss)
The Castlevania games take place in a rather gothic setting and with a firm religious backdrop (you’re often allied with the church and are always using holy weapons to destroy Dracula and his monstrous minions). The music reflects this tone as well, so it’s unsurprising that most of the games in the series have some organ here and there. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin was a DS game released in 2006, whose unique hook was that you fought with a team of two protagonists. To counter this, the final boss of the game had you facing both Dracula and Death simultaneously, which is practically the definition of overkill. The final boss music itself is nothing special, just some decent music prominently featuring organ, which is why it’s the lowest on the list.
And here it is, in all its organ-y glory.
12. Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Ghirahim Battle
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the latest in the game series that really shouldn’t require introduction. The game itself had some issues that I may go over one day in the future, but it had some pretty great music as we’ve come to expect from the series. One of the memorable tunes from the Skyward Sword is the one that plays when fighting the games…interesting antagonist Ghirahim. I quite like this theme and would probably place it a bit higher on the list but the organ portion is so minimal it barely qualifies for the list in the first place, so it’ll have to settle for second last.
The song in question, where the organ part first comes in at about 0:12.
11. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – Top Floor
Old school gamers may be shocked and appalled (or not, on the off chance they’re reasonable human beings) with the fact that this 2003 GBA game was my introduction to the series, and that I generally prefer the newer games to the older, more linear affairs. However, regardless of what your opinions are on which Castlevania games are the best, most can agree that the games are all pretty good, and no small part of that is their excellent music. As mentioned in the first entry, these scores often feature organs, and AoS is no exception. Though the game has plenty of stellar tunes that sound sort of organ-ish, I’m forced to admit that those are more synth pianos and are therefore disqualified. The only two songs I’d count as having genuine organ are the Chapel and the Top Floor. And since the Chapel is a bit boring, the winner of this game would definitely be the Top Floor.
This excellent music adds a good groove to the final area, even if the organ only comes up a few times
10. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow – Chapel Music
Okay, I swear this is the last Castlevania entry. I can’t help it, they have a lot of good music wherein organs are involved. In the case of this particular game, I found quite a few songs involving organs, including the menu theme and the Pinnacle. However, the best organ related songs fittingly enough occur in the part of the game populated with gigantic organs.
Must…resist urge…to make…organ joke…
The chapel area of the game has catchier tunes than Aria of Sorrow’s, which it’s actually a direct sequel to. The normal music for the area is pretty good, and prominently features organ. However, if you play through the game again with another character in Julius mode, the music in this area changes to an excellent remix of Bloody Tears, the main theme of Castlevania 2. I think I like the remix better out of the two, but it’s a remix rather than an original song and features less organ, so we’ll call it a tie.
After Confession, the normal chapel music, is slower and more deliberate, but still has a certain charm. [Editor’s note: Upon closer inspection it appears this song might be a remix of a previous Castlevania song as well, but it’s a less iconic song from a game I’ve never played so who cares.]
Bloody Tears, meanwhile, is just generally awesome. And although there are only several seconds of organ in it, the song is like 30 seconds long so it still totally counts.
9. Kingdom Hearts – Forze del Male
Kingdom Hearts is a JRPG, and such games usually have dramatic organ songs somewhere along the way, because how else are you going to score the citadel at the end of the multiverse with its being of supreme evil or some such? Near the end of the game you reach a world named Hollow Bastion, which has a quite catchy theme song, but the organ therein is only in the background. So instead the song I’d choose for this game would be the organ heavy boss theme on the same world, Forze del Male.
Not much to say about this one without getting into spoilers for the game itself. A good track with a noticeable amount of organ.
8. Soul Calibur 2 – Raise Thy Sword
Soul Calibur 2 is a fighting game I very much enjoyed as a kid, and indeed even today. My favorite character was always Nightmare, as he was a dude in cool looking armor with a monstrous claw for one hand and the other clutching a sword as big as he was with an eye sticking out of it. Sure it was a bit embarrassing when he repeatedly got beaten by the 16-year old girl because she spammed quick attacks, but the 10% of the time that didn’t happen I looked proper awesome. The most memorable stage in Soul Calibur 2 for me was a ruined chapel where most campaigns had their final battle. And as you might expect of a majestic chapel, it was equipped with a sizeable organ.
It’s only gonna get harder to not make jokes about genitalia, isn’t it?
Of course such a majestic, organ-featuring stage wouldn’t be complete without music to match. I’m happy to report that Raise Thy Sword is a sufficiently epic tune to accompany your final, engaging dance of death with your sworn rival. And if instead of that it accompanies a girl half your size kicking you in the shins until you fall down, well, at least it’ll distract you from your extreme humiliation.
Music from fighting games don’t always draw attention to themselves, but this is undeniably good stuff.
7. Kingdom Hearts 2 – The 13th Struggle/Tension Rising
Just like its predecessor, Kingdom Hearts 2 knows that for true gravitas in a world of swords and sorcery nothing beats an organ. Tension Rising is the theme of the Nobodies in the game, and it features a fairly integral organ. There’s another song with organ in the game, The 13th Struggle, that only has a bit of organ in it. However, it’s one of my favorite songs in the game and series as a whole, so it gets a pass and we’ll call this one another tie.
Tension Rising accomplishes its title and sets a dramatic scene, which is all the easier thanks to our more majestic piano-like friend.
Meanwhile The 13th Struggle really has more of a focus on piano, but it has a some organ and I like it so we’ll have to cope.
6. Jet Set Radio – Grace and Glory
Foolish fools whose foolishness I pity may be foolishly unaware of the music of Jet Set Radio (you fools). This series starting on the Sega Dreamcast had a slick look, being the first cel-shaded video game, and had an attitude to match it. But what really made the game (and its sequel, which is the one I played first) for me is its utterly fantastic soundtrack. I’ll probably have to go over the games and/or their music another time, because I could rant at length on my affection for them. I cannot emphasize how much I like this soundtrack, which would place even higher if it weren’t for the organ in the song in question, which is mostly relegated to the background. Still, it definitely helps add a good dose of suspense and creepy feel to an otherwise funky tune.
I’d be unsettled if I weren’t too busy bobbing my head.
5. Paper Mario – Bowser’s Rage/Peach’s Castle (Bowser)
As I’ve said on the site before, Paper Mario is an excellent game with some good music to boot. Some of that aforementioned music features organ, and music featuring organs is in fact what we are going over in this article. Gee, I’m getting better and better at these descriptive write-ups, aren’t I? At any rate, there are a number of organ filled tunes we see near the end of the game, so let’s go through them.
After all the trials and tribulations of the game (and it’s super long final dungeon), you’re left to wander through a dark and empty Peach’s Castle with this appropriately eerie organ music playing before the final encounter to set the mood.
When we reach the true final battle, it reprises that earlier theme with a more menacing organ.
…and finally, that menacing organ, though still present, takes a backseat to bitchin’ guitar for the final stage of the boss fight. Great stuff.
4. Super Mario 64 – Ultimate Bowser
Bowser has generally been getting increasingly hostile and epic in the main Super Mario games over the years. He went from some weird dragon turtle thing who jumped and threw axes in the original to something the size of a skyscraper who throws meteors in the black void of space in Super Mario Galaxy 2. (Meanwhile, he’s been going the opposite direction in the Mario RPGs, getting increasingly comical).
On a side note, the final bowser fight music from Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a serious contender for one of the most epic video game fight songs I’ve ever heard, or hell just song in general. However, despite featuring a full orchestra and chanting choir, no organs are involved.
Super Mario 64, the first 3D entry in the Mario series, lies somewhere in the middle of the Bowser Intimidation Spectrum. Bowser is pretty large, but his fight music is more badass rock than severe and threatening. Also you grab the giant turtle by his tail, spin him around and throw him into spiked bombs, and it’s hard to find someone scary after that. The final encounter of the game, however, mixes up the usual music for something with a bit more gravity. And few things have more gravity than those overgrown pipe-pianos, organs.
I love how the song ebbs and flows in speed. It sounds less like a fight scene and more like when the mad master villain, atop the lip of an active volcano, reveals his master plan to fire all the world’s nukes simultaneously (because THEY ALL MOCKED HIM). It’s a change of pace, but not necessarily a bad one.
3. Kirby: Canvas Curse – Drawcia Fight
Kirby: Canvas Curse is a bit of an oddity in the series. You see back in 2005 upon the release of Nintendo’s new handheld, the Nintendo DS, Canvas Curse was made with the specific purpose of showing off its new touch screen technology. As a result, the game wasn’t the usual platforming puffball purloining power-ups. Instead, Kirby was a little ball you poked to make dash forward who you’d direct by drawing magical rainbow lines with the stylus. This doesn’t really sound like the greatest idea, but the result was a surprisingly good game, even if it was a bit different from the series standard fare.
Pictured above: Surprisingly good.
A weird quasi-tradition of Kirby games in general is that they tend to be really happy and cheerful but then have a surprisingly eerie/epic end boss fight. For what my money’s worth, I think series creator Masahiro Sakurai (who among other things handled Super Smash Bros. and Kid Icarus: Uprising) simply loves shit what be awesome. At any rate, Canvas Curse continues this creepy custom with its final boss Drawcia.
The final fight takes place in a standard issue Amazing Technicolor Battlefield out of any JRPG you care to name or, come to think of it, any Kirby game. The second stage of the fight, Drawcia Soul, is creepier, much harder, and has decent music. But the first stage of the fight, Drawcia Sorceress, has better music by far. And what else could it accomplish this but for the obvious? All organ, all the way, baby.
We’re far enough on the list that I can stop making pitiful jokes to disguise my geeking out, right? Yeah this is just catchy, excellent music here.
2. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Ganon’s Tower
Now this is a mother fucking grade A organ. Anyone who’s played to the end of this classic Zelda game that brought the series to its third dimension knows this one. It’s probably the most famous organ-related piece of gaming music of all time. Even beyond the music, it was what cued me in to the whole dramatic organ player trope in the first place. But for the benefit of those who don’t know what I’m blathering about, allow me to give some background.
For the first few entries of the Zelda series, the main villain Ganon was a literal monster. More specifically, he was a giant, blue-ish pig man who commanded the Triforce of Power, armies of smaller pig men and other monstrosities, and a powerful desire to take over the world. Er, or maybe destroy it? I dunno, his character wasn’t particularly well explained back then. Although to be fair, that’s only because he barely qualified as a character.
His name is in red text and quotes? The diabolical fiend!
I can earnestly say that there isn’t really anything wrong with that. If you just want a big monster because the story isn’t that important to the game, then just have a big monster. But the games gradually focused more on the story as time went on, so Ocarina of Time decided to try and humanize the villain a bit…literally. Like, they didn’t humanize him by making him sympathetic, they made him a literal human. Well, Gerudo to be precise.
The Gerudo were a desert-dwelling race of tanned, red-haired individuals. Strange things about them include that they appear to sustain an economy entirely based on thievery; the entire race is female except for their king (seriously); and they appear to all have weird gems growing out of their heads.
The human(oid) version of Ganon, Ganondorf, has a lot more dialogue than his previous counterpart and is better set up as a villain. Still, he’s absent for a good portion of the game, so his impact on the player fades over time. Right before the end of the game though, he’s given one last hurrah. After you’ve gone through every dungeon in the game, collected the various McGuffins from a cavalcade of bosses, and solved the puzzles of the final dungeon, one last stretch remains before the end. Ganon’s Tower, in the center of the castle, doesn’t have much in it at all apart from some barely registered fights. Mostly it’s just climbing, slowly climbing lots of red-carpeted corridors lined with stained glass windows. And as you climb, some background music gets louder and louder. I think we all know what that background music was played on…
That’s right, the final area doesn’t just have organ music. Instead the big bad has constructed a giant, majestic organ at the top of his tower. And when you come to destroy him, he doesn’t lay a trap, doesn’t gather his armies or cower in fear. Instead, he just waits for you, waits with the crystallized princess while playing the organ. When you enter the final room, you’re treated to the shots above, followed by Ganondorf stopping, spinning in place and facing you with a flourish of his cape before giving you his final speech. This scene is so god damn dramatic that it eats operas for breakfast; operas that have themselves been fed on a strict diet of musicals, soap operas, and movie scenes wherein someone is riding the blast wave of an explosion. As for the music itself…
If you played this music to a kitten it would still grow a handlebar moustache and laugh maniacally as it plots your demise.
…well, the music is simply fantastic. It takes the already great theme of Ganon and gives it an upgrade with the most appropriate instrument possible. Starting with an intimidating intro, it then goes softer and slower as the main theme begins. It’s ponderous, menacing and grandiose, exactly as climbing the final tower of the game should be. Not only does the music get louder in-game as you climb higher, but each loop has its own crescendo as well. And as the music progresses the iterations get increasingly fast and complex as well. It is simply one of the ultimate examples of how to prelude a final boss fight, and caps it off with a literal physical presence in the game world.
So how can it be second? If this is the ultimate manifestation of organs in video games, everything they should be and represent, how can there be something higher? Well it’s because this isn’t a list of top organs, it’s a list of top songs with organ in them. And in that category, for the number one slot, there’s simply only one choice I can make…
1. Final Fantasy 6 – Dancing Mad
Oh boy, where do I even start on this one. Dancing Mad is the name of the final boss song from Final Fantasy 6. A four part odyssey through the games various stages of final boss, it is also the undisputed god-king of organ music, and hell, a serious contender in video game music in general. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I haven’t even beaten FF6 myself, though I’m working on it and I already know the big twist. Yet even though I don’t have the benefit of nostalgia or the emotional impact of reaching this point in the game myself, this song still gives me chills at points. Before I go any further, I suppose I really should just let you listen for yourself.
Don’t be intimidated by the 17 minute run time, each part is looped once in this video. It’s actually only 8 or 9 minutes long.
Beyond being utterly brilliant music (and I’ll come back to that before we’re done here), this song (or four songs mashed together, depending on how you look at it) is chock full of organ. There’s honestly only like 10% or so of this 9ish minute piece that doesn’t feature organ, and even then it features organ-like sounds. The four parts each have their own distinct personality to them. The first is the grand, majestic intro, the second is the chanting, ebbing and flowing continuation, the third is the ascension to the heavens, and the final is, as a poet would describe it, where shit gets real. Every single one of these four parts has something to offer and at least one standout moment. So picking the best parts is like choosing your favorite chocolate-coated orgasm you had in a pile of money and liquid happiness. But I’ll do my best to try.
Everything is good. Okay hang on, let me try again.
The second part has the breakdown first appearing at 5:55, and the third part has it’s around 9:03, and those are both pretty good. But the real star of the show here are the first and last parts. The first part opens with a slow, dramatic organ to ease us in, with slick synths dancing from ear to ear in the background. The first part really gets going, though, around 0:55, where the produced “voices” come in. Even though these aren’t real people singing, the combination of them and the organ really come together to form a sense of drama. This drama turns to tension at 1:23 to the end of the first loop, where the music gets faster and the synths return to remind us that this is ultimately a fighting song.
The opening of the final part at 11:33 may be one of the most simplistic, yet magnificent, I’ve ever heard. It just goes to show how far you can go with a few notes in the right place. The main portion of the final part is back to the fighting feeling, to keep the sense of tension high as you place the main villain in his place (and briefly fits in his main theme along the way). The portion of the piece from 13:23 to the end of the final part may be my favorite part in the whole thing. It’s not a heavy, rocking end to the piece like many games choose to end. Instead it’s slow. It’s somber. It’s melancholy, haunting, and broods with an overwhelming sense of finality. There’s even a bit of ironic beauty to the whole affair, which I’m sure knowing this final boss fight was very much intentional.
This is not merely one of my favorite organ songs, or one of my favorite boss songs, or even one of my favorite video game songs (though my range of expertise outside that area is admittedly limited). No, this would make a list of my favorite songs of all time. I’m not sure whether it or One-Winged Angel would rank higher overall, but that I have to stop and seriously consider should tell you all you need to know. (And if you hadn’t heard either before today, for crying out loud click that link). You may disagree with my opinion in this regard, but I think that Dancing Mad is a wonderful piece of music. And this majestic piece of glory and magic wouldn’t be possible without that particular instrument, the organ.
As you can probably tell, this song gets my own organ a little excited.