In some sci-fi fantasy works, there is an aspect of the hero’s journey known as “the call to adventure”. It is when the hero learns they must leave the world they know and travel on to the unknown. As a major fan of JRPGs, I believe that the opening music in these games serve as an ambient call to adventure for the player.
The first JRPG opening music that made me feel this way was that of the PlayStation 2 video game Tales of Legendia. Composed by Go Shiina and accompanied by a cinematic cutscene, the dynamic orchestral music introduced me to a colorful cast of characters and an intriguing new world. It made me excited to play the game for the first time, get to know the characters, and look forward to an epic storyline.
I believe that the best JRPG openings are emotionally stirring and give the player a sense of wonder. There is a yearning to jump right into whatever console or device you are playing on and set off on a journey. Whether it’s instrumental or features vocals, the opening music offers the promise of something new, thrilling, and entertaining.
One of my personal favorite openings is the overture to the Dragon Quest game franchise. Composed by Koichi Sugiyama, it sounds like the perfect welcome to a Dragon Quest game, the first few notes bringing to mind a curtain rising to reveal something grand as the rest of the song makes me think of the hero adventuring and getting to know the many new sights of their journey.
Another instrumental opening that I enjoy is that of Ys I, composed by Yuzo Koshiro and Mieko Ishikawa and arranged by Ryo Yonemitsu. It seamlessly combines certain character themes and the overworld theme to introduce Ys 1 and give the player a taste of what is to come, but it particularly like how it ominously sprinkles in a bit of the antagonist’s theme.
When it comes to opening themes with vocals, “Sanctuary” from Kingdom Hearts II immediately shows up on my mind. Sung by Utada Hikaru, the song hooks the player with the very first lyrics “In you and I, there’s a new land”. After playing this game and then hearing “Sanctuary” as the opening to Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, this song became one of my favorite openings because of how the lyrics portray a wonderful adventure as well as the internal strife of certain characters.
Sometimes, I’ll hear an opening that pleasantly surprises me. I recently purchased the mobile port of The World Ends With You, and was amazed to hear the song “Twister” composed by Takeharu Ishimoto. Lyrically nonsensical and a sonic mashmash of electronica, hip-hop, and pop, hearing the song in the opening cinematic made me intrigued about the game’s main character Neku and what else the game had to offer.
While there are other notable pieces of JRPG music such as the overworld music and the battle themes, sometimes the opening music stands out because it’s the first music you hear when you start the game. When combined with cinematic cutscenes, both sound and images join to welcome the player to the game and introduce the journey ahead.
A memorable JRPG opening sets the stage for the player and establishes the emotional tone of the game. JRPGs are known for grand adventures so a good opening should say, “Let’s travel, meet new places and people, and try to save the world somehow.” The opening music of a JRPG gives me the same feeling I get when starting a new SFF novel, the feeling that there is something mysterious and awe inspiring just around the corner.