MY RATING SYSTEM
I will give each song in this section my personal rating on a scale of 2-5 Alfadors: . If you're someone who is only looking for particular songs that you're already familiar with, you can disregard this system. If you're someone who would like to know what my strongest recommendations are, then the system works as follows:
= This song was either put up by request and I'm not personally very fond of it, or it might have been included simply because I included almost every other song from the game's soundtrack and would have felt it strange to omit one. Only recommended to those already familiar with it, or if you like everything else from the game's soundtrack and want to be a completist.
= Most songs will have this rating. It's your average good video game song. Not my strongest recommendation, but if you might want to try it if you like other songs in the game's soundtrack.
= A more outstanding song that is a little better or more unique than average. Strongly recommended.
= My highest possible recommendation. These are songs that have gone above and beyond the normal standards for videogame music and everyone should hear them at least once in their lifetime.
The reason there is no one-Alfador rating is because I will never put up anything I would only give one star to. If it annoys me, drives me crazy, or is just plain bad in some way, I won't put it up, even if someone requests it.
MY CATEGORY SYSTEM
This is meant to be helpful to those looking for game music in a particular style, or for those who might want at least some clue as to what an unfamiliar song may sound like before downloading it.
Ambient: Music that has any kind of sound effects meant to represent the surroundings, such as dripping water, birds chiping, creaking wood/doors, animal/monster sounds, wind, etc. Some ambient music has very little actual music, such as the greater part of Equinox's score.
Acoustic: Music whose main melody is played with an acoustic guitar and has few or no electronic instruments for backup is considered Acoustic.
Adagio: Music that is played very slowly and is typically soft in nature, though it doesn't necessarily carry the emotional weight of sounding "sad" or "negative" like "Melancholy" music, nor the scariness or creepiness of "Ominous", but tends to be rather neutral in tone. Usually orchestral, not always.
Arranged: The only songs that will ever end up in the "Arranged" category are those that do not actually appear in the games themselves, but were released on official soundtrack CDs. This is to differentiate songs that are from actual games from those that are not. These songs are either fully-orchestrated, or performed by a band or artist with typically much higher sound sample quality than the game console is capable of producing.
Asian: Shakuhachi and Koto instruments often dominate Asian-style video game music. It if makes you think of Japan, China, or anyplace else in the Far East, it'll be in this category.
Atmospheric: Music that tends to be very low-key, slowly played, and meant to evoke a feeling associated with the current surroundings. It rarely has a strong melody. (Think, the temple songs from Ocarina of Time.)
Ballad: Ballads are like a cross between an Overture and an Adagio, but usually faster-paced than Adagio and not quite so powerful as an Overture. They feel like they have a definite beginning, middle, and end, and are usually orchestral or acoustic. This is difficult to explain, but Ballads kind of sound like it wouldn't be inappropriate for them to have lyrics (listen to the ending song of Dragon Warrior II to get an idea of what I mean.)
Carnival: Music that sounds like it belongs in (and is often used for) a carnival, circus, or calliope.
Celtic: Irish flutes, tin whistles, and bagpipes often dominate this form of music. If it makes you want to go high-stepping through Scotland, or dance a jig in Ireland, it'll be in the "Celtic" category.
Cheerful: Music that sounds very happy and uplifting in nature. Ending themes and battle fanfares often fall into this category.
Choral: Music that sounds like it's being sung by a choir, whether it's actual human voices or synthesized to the best of the sound producer's capability. Sometimes accompanied by organs and other orchestral instruments, it may sound like something you'd hear in a church, or perhaps something for a ritual of a religious nature.
Classical: Though Classical and Orchestral are sometimes interchangeable, the main distinguishing feature of Classical is that it literally sounds like an existing piece of Classical music. This category will apply to anything that is a duplicate of a classical piece, such as Pachelbel's Canon in the title theme of Might and Magic, but not exclusively. Solo instrument pieces are also more likely to be classified as "Classical" than "Orchestral", since "Orchestral" implies an entire orchestra.
Dark: Heavy-handed music that sounds foreboding, eerie, and/or downright "evil". Far more unnerving than your typical Melancholy or Ominous piece. Usually used for villains, major boss fights, or scary places.
Epic: Music that is typically orchestral (though may occasionally be supported with an electric guitar or other such modern instrument) and very rousing and over-the-top in style, like something from a movie score. Often punctuated with profund use of timpani drums. Battles and action scenes often have epic musical accompaniment.
Ethereal: Similar to "Atmospheric", Ethereal music goes one step further and tends to sound very weird, strange, or mysterious, like you've just landed on an alien planet or stepped into a bizarre alternate dimension. It may remind you of the music used in sci-fi movies and TV shows when characters are in outer space.
Flamenco: A Latin form of dance music that's usually fast-paced and dominated by acoustic guitar, hand-clapping, and/or castanets.
Folk: Music that tends to use acoustic and/or ethnic instruments, like native flutes, guitars, banjos, and such. Can be slow or fast-paced, but is typically lighthearted in nature. I tend to associate folk music with music from the western part of the world, such as Native American, American folk, and South American traditional.
Folk-Rock: Music that has a driving beat like Rock, but utilizes more folksy-type instruments, such as banjos, flutes, and/or fiddle.
Funk: A groovy type of music that's like a cross between R&B and Jazz, rather close to being Pop. Tends to be fast-paced, and have a boogie-woogie 60s or 70s retro-style.
Gothic: The best way for me to describe "Gothic" music is to "Think Castlevania", though it is not exclusive to that series. Gothic music tends to have a certain eerie or ominous tone, even if it's upbeat in nature. Oftentimes, it is accompanied by organ (or would not be inappropriate to be arranged with organ in the case of 8-bit music), and is sometimes strangely reminiscent of a ticking clock (see "Out of Time", "Rising", and "Clockwork" from the Castlevania series). "Gothic" also tends to be a mixture of rock and orchestral, or at least could be arranged either way.
Hard Rock: Rock music that is heavier on the electric guitar, bass, and percussion than typical Rock music. Hard Rock is almost never slow.
Heavy Metal: Even harder than hard rock. Lots of electric guitar and drums. (As if I actually need to explain what Heavy Metal is.) If you could picture Metallica playing it, it'll be here.
Humorous: Music that is very "cartoony" in nature and doesn't seem to take itself too seriously. Sometimes used for humorous situations or for lighthearted action or adventure games. Occasionally, silly sound effects are present. Differs from "Carnival" in that it doesn't necessarily evoke the feeling of a Circus environment, but would not feel out-of-place in a cartoon or comedy.
J-Pop: Pop music with Japanese lyrics. 'Nuff said.
Jazz: Do I really need to explain what Jazz is? If it has that sort of improvised, fast-paced funky sound, and it isn't quite rock, and it's played with instruments you'd typically find in a jazz band, it'll be in this category.
Latin: Latin emcompasses several forms of music and typically uses Spanish instruments, such as guitar and horn. If it sounds like something from Spain or Mexico, it's here.
March: Orchestral music that moves at a very steady, relentless pace that, yes, you could probably picture troops marching along to. Snare and timpani drums and brass flourishes usually abound.
Mechanical: Music that is either orchestral or contemporary, but is marked by a very obvious machine-like tempo and quality. Actual sounds of machines might be present. (See, Martini's Trap from Alundra 2 or Devil's Lab from Final Fantasy VI.)
Melancholy: Music that is very slow and sad-sounding. If it makes you want to reach for the tissue box, it'll be in this category.
Middle-Eastern: If the music reminds you of Egypt, Arabia, Persia, or movies that take place in these settings, it will end up in this category. Tunes are usually carried by or supported with traditional Middle-Eastern instruments like reed pipes, finger cymbals, and goblet drums. If if makes you think of the pyramids or bellydancers, it'll be here.
Ominous: Music that is foreboding or mysterious in nature, not necessarily evil-sounding or dark, but definitely gives you a feeling that something weird or bad might happen. Often slow-paced in nature, but not necessarily. A little more neutral than "Dark" music, a little less neutral than "Atmospheric" music.
Orchestral: Music that is played on instruments that you would typically find in an orchestra. Strings, woodwinds, brass, piano, timpani drums, etc. Some orchestral music may occasionally be supported by an acoustic or electric bass. 8-Bit music can be considered "Orchestral" if the most appropriate arrangement for its sound and style would be with symphonic instruments. For example, yes, you could do an electric guitar remix of the Dragon Warrior music if you wanted to, but it's most likely meant to sound orchestral.
Overture: An "Overture" is usually at the beginning of a game, epic/orchestral in style, and has a very distinct beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is often a flourish of brass instruments, the middle a rousing multi-instrument melody, and the ending a heavy pounding of drums. Many also have automatic endings. Title themes for games with orchestral soundtracks often fall into this category.
Ragtime: If you're familiar with the work of Jazz musician/composer Scott Joplin ("The Entertainer"), then you'll easily recognize Ragtime music. Almost entirely piano and usually sounds like something you might hear in the saloon of an old western movie.
Rock: It seems rather silly to explain what Rock music is, but basically this is music that is typically fast-paced, has a driving beat, and usually dominated by guitar, percussion, bass, and sometimes keyboard and/or brass. Plain "Rock" is stronger and faster in nature than "Soft Rock", but not quite as heavy on the electric guitar and percussion as "Hard Rock". Some Rock music can be accompanied by orchestral instruments.
Romantic: Similar to a Ballad, this music is usually used for scenes of a romantic nature or for characters who are in love. Think, Rosa's theme from Final Fantasy IV or Solitude from Albert Odyssey Gaiden.
Samba: A Brazilian style of dance music, heavy on strings and percussion, and sometimes including brass and other instruments. If it's marked as "Samba", it will definitely sound like a party is going on.
Sock Hop: Light pop/rock music that sounds like it came from the 50s. If it makes you want to dance in a malt shop, it'll probably be in this category.
Soft Rock: "Soft Rock" is my preferred terminology for Pop music. It's contemporary-style music that isn't orchestral, but not quite heavy enough to be considered rock. It tends to be lighthearted and medium to fast-paced, although some Soft Rock is slow-paced like a ballad. May resemble modern dance music or oldies sock-hop style.
Sporting: Well, Sports games tend to use this style of music. You know that music with all the reed organ that you associate with and sometimes hear at baseball games or hockey games? That's what I call "Sporting" music.
Suspenseful: Unlike "Ominous", this is music that lets you know for an absolute fact that something exciting is happening. A lot of battle and action themes fall into this category. Think action and destruction. Usually more fast-paced than "Ominous" music. If you feel like leaning on the edge of your seat when you listen to it, that's suspenseful!
Swing: Swing is a type of jazz music that's characterized by the fact that you could probably dance to it if you'd want to. Very upbeat and uptempo jazz.
Symphonic: Used for Arranged tracks only. If an Arranged track was performed by an orchestra, it will be classified as Symphonic.
Techno: An electronic form of music or dance music. Techno is typically defined by utilizing unorthodox sounds, usually computerized or synthesized, as opposed to actual instruments to create the music. Techno tends to have a strong driving beat and be heavy on percussion. Oftentimes there is no distinct melody or harmony.
Tribal: Music with a lot of chanting, bongo drums, and native flutes, that tends to be extraordinarily heavy on the percussion. The chanting has a tendency to sound African (ie, faux-African) in nature or perhaps like something you'd hear on a tropical island.
Tropical: Like Tribal, Tropical music may also give you the feeling of being on a island or in the jungle, but it doesn't necessarily include all the chanting and heavy percussion. It may even be slow and relaxing or utilize steel drums or other instruments commonly associated with the ocean, island paradises, or tropical rain forests.
Vocal: Music that has actual lyrics or chanting. Some Vocal music consists entirely of vocalization and has no instrumental back-up at all.
Waltz: A waltz is any song that is in 3/4 (or triple) time. Try counting along with the beat of the music to keep time with it, and if you find yourself counting 1-2-3, 1-2-3, instead of 1-2-3-4, you're listening to a waltz. Sometimes video game songs are very, very obviously waltzes, such as the Windmill Hut (Song of Storms) from Ocarina of Time or the Calbrena Dolls theme from Final Fantasy IV, and other times you'd probably have to be counting the beats to notice it, such as Viking Spirits from Ogre Battle or the two overworld themes from Albert Odyssey Gaiden.
Western: Music that sounds like something from a Western-themed movie (ie, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) or similar to country music.