This month marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the Super Famicom in Japan (or of course the SNES for the rest of us), so it feels only right to celebrate the music from what is still today one of the best consoles to have ever been released. Along with the insane game library and its revolutionary controller, the big jump in audio quality from the NES thanks to its new dedicated sound chip (created hand in hand with Sony) was one of the main reasons for its success, leading to one of the strongest eras of video game music as composers pushed the S-SMP chip to its limits.
Where better to start when looking at the best SNES music than with Nintendo’s stable of first party titles. The obvious go-to would be Koji Kondo’s energetic scores to Super Mario Worlds 1+2, toying with the game’s themes and providing the perfect accompaniment to the plumbers 16-bit adventures, while also creating new pieces which create tension in certain levels (e.g. the ghost houses and castles). Elsewhere there’s David Wise’s wonderfully varied work on the Donkey Kong Country games, especially in Diddy’s Kong Quest, mixing ambience with memorable melodies, all while matching the theme of the target level. The strength and depth of Wise’s work is evident, as he pushes the boundaries of the sound chip while also showing off numerous influences and styles of music through each composition
If there’s one thing Nintendo treated with reverence in the SNES era it was the music; almost every first party SNES title was guaranteed to have a memorable, catchy and/or interesting soundtrack which would either cement their reputation or push the medium even further. The console made household (well, *my* househould anyway) names of Kenji Yamamoto (Super Metroid) and Soyo Oka (Super Mario Kart, Pilotwings), joining the Nintendo composing pantheon, which already included the likes of Koji Kondo and Kirokazu Tanaka. Other famous themes were created in this era too, including Big Blue and Mute City from F-Zero, Gourmet Race from the Kirby series and Star Fox’s Corneria.
Having a great selection of first party games is all well and good, but a console lives and dies on its third party (just ask the Wii U). Luckily the SNES didn’t need to worry about that; it had generally the better versions of the most popular multiplatform games at the time, including Super Castlevania IV and Yoko Shimamura’s fantastic Street Fighter II score. It was the system’s JRPG collection, however, that really cemented the SNES, and particularly Squaresoft as a musical juggernaut. Hiroki Kikuta and Yasunori Mitsuda, both early in their careers at the time, created two of the most memorable and beautiful scores of the 16-bit era in Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger respectively. Each composer managed to capture the emotions and setting their games wanted to elicit to a remarkably high standard.
A separate mention must be made, however, about the music of Final Fantasy, as the SNES era surrounded what was perhaps Nobuo Uematsu’s most accomplished and experimental works. Composing for three Final Fantasy games on the Super Nintendo, Uematsu was already pushing the sound to its limits with the soundtrack to IV (II in the US) and with his unique compositional style created his magnum opus in the main series’ sixth installment creating not only some of the most vivid and poignant themes the series had scene to that point, but also an opera and a miniature symphony. We’ll explore Uematsu and Final Fantasy at a later date but suffice to say that his work with the SNES titles was a massive high point in his output.
As usual, if there’s any SNES favourites that I you;d like to suggest or that you feel I’ve overlooked, let me know in the comments. The wealth of quality music this console gave us was astounding so please don’t be offended if I left any essentials out. Enjoy the playlist!