As gamers, we often come to a fork in the road. One leads to that quaint and friendly village full of peppy music with a catchy melody, and the other... the other is that road less traveled, filled with dark and deadly dangers the likes before we which we've never faced. Yes, it leads us to those heavily tree-infested regions we call... FORESTS.

Despite all of the creepy-crawly critters that we may come upon, these forests do often have a benefit, and that is the excellent environmental music they can provide. It is often cerebral, melancholy, quiet... perfect for the contemplative hero who battles with wits rather than weapons. On the other hand, this music can be quick, fearsome, riveting... the ideal backdrop for a sword-and-sorcery hack-n-slasher facing overwhelming odds on a daunting quest. In fact, forest music can make or break the mood for either type of these protagonists, along with a plethora of other heroes whose mantles we can don for a time. Here are the ten themes which are the most memorable, the most catchy, the most emotionally-impacting, and the most forest-y of all forest themes in the history of video gaming.

Note: I kept each entry somewhat short so that you might consider going out to the original games or an online source and experiencing this music firsthand.

Very reminiscent of the musically thematic elements of a fairy tale, the waltz pattern lends itself to whimsy and wackiness very naturally. The true mark of brilliance is the progression of chords that, by itself, would come across as melancholy. Overlaid with arpeggios and waltz rhythms it becomes less of a tragic melody and more of a darkly humorous theme with a tinge of sadness. The use of a flute to play strains of the melody colors the timbre excellently with rustic wooden charm. Ultimately, this piece definitely brings to mind a patch of woods filled with magical wonder; magic plays as both mischievous and yet powerful in this piece, with crystal bells playing the muted power perfectly when coupled with string arpeggios.

In terms of music in the current console generation, Trine provides nuanced excellence, with themes such as the "Waltz of the Forest Temple Elves" playing a key role in not only creating a fully-fleshed environment, but standing on their own as representatives of the game in which they are found.

Honorable Trine Mention: Trine - Fangle Forest

The Super Nintendo was packed with a virtual thicket of great forest themes. Here, the common arpeggio pattern found in many forest themes is most masterfully exercised. Strains of melody can be found in several different instruments which all seem to play masterfully in painting a musical picture of the forest. For example, the quiet piano parts give a romantic element to the piece which is certainly undeniable; this is in turn reinforced by a string section portion that uses long, slurred notes to create slow, sonorous phrases that are memorable. There is also a level of tragedy to this music: it is not a happy, two-dimensional theme in the sense of Secret of Mana's forest theme.

Chrono Trigger is well-remembered for being a high-quality, mature game that truly revolutionized the gaming world; it was, after all, the 32-bit game in a 16-bit world. But most importantly, it used the expanded range of 32-bit memory to have textured, layered music and create atmospheres in a way that Secret of the Forest demonstrates. This piece is so well-regarded that Breath of Fire III would go on to steal portions of it for its own "Cedar Forest."

Honorable Classic SNES Game Mention: Donkey Kong Country 2 - Forest Interlude

A song that is often remembered for its "instant nostalgia" factor amongst Rayman fans, the "Woods of Light" begin with an Eastern rhythm and chord structure on guitar with a shaker and wood block percussive sound that create a truly different feel from normal forest themes. Rayman games had music that was often reminiscent of Donkey Kong Country music with a more melodic edge. Well DKC games used soundscape formats to create a general mise en scene, Rayman took the instrumental and percussive samples and used them for more catchy melodies. The result is a song that floats between rustic, untamed wilderness and a more modern heavy beat that picks up the first portion of the song and adds an element of pop to it.

Rayman 2 is certainly an unsung glory of a game with great music worth a listen.

Honorable Underrated Platformer Mention: Plok - Creepy Forest

This piece starts of hauntingly with a chilling rhythmic pattern overlaid by a flute pattern that feels akin to the sad strains of a ghost's tale of woe. After the high-pitched conclusion to the ghost's tale, it takes a turn to a more light-hearted chord progression, as if the light of the forest is beginning to permeate through the treetops, giving the player a sense of hope as the flute strain resolves the melody. But as soon as the listener finds comfort, the song dives back into the haunting portion from before, twisting the hope and comfort into uneasiness once again.

Songs like this are what make forest areas in the FF franchise great; there are many songs that capture that fear of what lurks in the forest throughout the run by composer Nobuo Uematsu. But Phantom Forest creates a great dichotomy between the light and darkness, the duality that exists within all of nature.

Honorable Final Fantasy Mention: Final Fantasy VII - Forest Temple

An excellent electric sound is punctuated by snare right from the get-go in this piece. The music maintains a sense of movement with melodies that juxtapose staccato in the string/guitar and legato in the clarinet. This juxtaposition highlights a melody that expresses the romantic ideal of transition that lends itself to the theme "Passing Through the Forest." Underneath it all is this electric rhythm line that continues to fall up and down on a myxolydian progression.

Playstation 2 is home to several games with excellent forest themes. In fact, most of the lesser known RPGs on Sony consoles contain great forest themes that capture some very poignant melodies and powerful emotions.

Honorable Playstation Mention: Legaia 2 - Dark Forest

There are MAYBE three to four hundred great forest themes in Castlevania, but Jigramunt got the tops. At first, you get lulled into this jazzy, urban vibe punctuated by some great hollow bongos, and then BAM! Welcome strings. We're back into traditional Castlevania mode: full orchestra with a great Bach-like fugue-ish underlay for a less-Baroque, more-Brahms melody. And the excellent bass line and percussion line provide a modernity that is lacking in the traditional sounds of a classical work. And pay particular attention to the "Night at Bald Mountain," a nod to one of the great pieces to showcase the classic monsters and menaces of the forests.

You could always go with a large number of Castlevania themes when compiling a list like this. Just to give you an idea of truly how stunning and widespread the eclectic range of Castlevania soundtracks is, feast your ears on this little ditty.

Honorable Castlevania Mention: Super Castlevania IV - Forest of Monsters

It is difficult to describe this piece in traditional music terms. This is definitely not a traditional musical work. There is a lot of unique use of electric synthesizers and other computer-generated sounds. Very reminiscent of a house-beat and the funky clubs with the ecstasy and the glowsticks, what stands out in this piece is the brilliant use of melodies that float around over top and next to each other. Every sound receives its own unique and ear-catching phrase that gets thrown in and out of the piece at the composer's whim. What happen is the stacking of phrase on phrase or phrase next to phrase creates a great building feeling that works to the game's advantage. Progression through the game seems to be met with progression in the music, a concept that has been well-met in the current generation of consoles.

Indie developers are home to more experimental music in games than the traditional big developers, meaning that the unique sounds of tomorrow can be found finding their ears today in smaller games that find rising popularity.

Honorable Current-Gen Indie Game with Great Cartoon Graphics Mention: Super Meat Boy - Forest Funk

Can you really pick between the classic 16-bit melody that is LTTP's Lost Woods or the brilliantly catchy tune that is OoT's Lost Woods? Both are beloved classics that bring bouts of instant nostalgia to every listener with in audible range. I, personally, as a fan of the Zelda series as a whole find that both tunes represent different attributes of the same, well-regarded region of the land of Hyrule. At first listen, LTTP's Lost Woods is a song that seems to sing with secrets: using a rhythmic line that has spunk but also a tinge of mystery in it, the melody finds mirth atop of it all with flute that overrides the string's staccato effortlessly with a gliding yet chipper melody that encapsulates a feeling of merriment. Perhaps this is the reason the Master Sword resided here so long: the mystery of the sword's secrets has been diluted by the musical glee of the woods. The reason these woods are lost is obviously because the music of this land imprisons its listeners, trapping them forever in a beautiful yet simple 30 seconds of wonderfully composed music.

On the other side of the coin, can anyone doubt the elegant simplicity embodied in Saria's Lost Woods melody? The whistling melody is composed with only a fair few notes (the entire melody line only has twenty notes). Ode to Joy's melody line is only thirteen, by comparison. That makes this hook elementary, to be sure, but rather it feels primal. This is the sound of Lost Woods through the ears of a child. Again, we find the spirit of being forever trapped resonating through a naive innocence that remains frozen in time. Skull Kid, Kokiri, Saria... these forever youthful inhabitants of the Lost Woods remain part of a wild, unstoppable force that is the Lost Woods, and the music encapsulates this perfectly.

Of course, there are themes for other forests in the Zelda series, but none have the same impact upon the listener nor the understanding of the greater themes they represent like these two wonderful pieces.

Honorable Legend of Zelda That's NOT the Lost Woods Mention: Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess - Faron Woods

Perhaps the most hummable melody in the history of forest tunes, "Beware the Forest's Mushrooms" is wildly well-remembered as the biggest nostalgia-supplier from Super Mario RPG. A classic little ditty, it also skirts the line between mysterious and manically cheerful. Somewhere lurking in this wooded region is something dank, dark and sinister... something that makes this forest a maze of confusion. But amongst the melodic strain with nearly lyrical phrasing that could easily be a vocal song in and of itself, there is a drug-like quality to the timbre and content of this song that keep sucking you back into it. Perhaps that is why it plays so well in this region. Despite a gamer's desire to progress to a victorious conclusion, obstacles like this song (and this forest) attempt to entice a player to forego their mission in an attempt to simply fall victim to a musical narcotic.

Again, this piece brings back the well-used arpeggio. Many of the forest pieces we've encountered love the arpeggio. What is nice is that most of this piece does not use the arpeggio and here, we find it providing the more sinister portion of the music instead of the standard cheery or wacky qualities that other games use it for. Of course, this is also a member of Square Enix family of games, which means there is a special dedication to musical quality with a long pedigree of success. It's difficult to limit Square to just two entries on this list, so here is yet another Honorable Mention for your listening pleasure.

Honorable Not-Strictly-Final Fantasy Square Enix Mention: Kingdom Hearts - Deep Jungle

I cannot stress enough how integral music was to the classic N64 platformer that is Banjo-Kazooie. Every area in the game was not only supplied with music, but also relied on it to not only provide consistency with the overarching game but also to set the entire tone for the level it belonged to. Banjo and Kazooie traverse through the Click Clock Woods, a very unique level for any game, witnessing that different quadrants of the level are representative of the four seasons. Therefore, the Click Clock Woods had to play quadruple duty, representing four different levels in theory but also one crucial theme in theory and remain consistent with the game in its entirety.

The music for spring relies on flute and clarinets to give a sense of rainfall and spring sunlight with the comic appeal of trombone on the bass line to keep the song silly and fancy-free. Summer turns to the sounds of strings and bees to become languid and slow-moving. In a waltz pattern, it takes the spring melody and turns it sleepy and soft. Then with a heavier trombone slide sound, the flutes and clarinets return to pep up the listener a little, but the summer remains waltz-bound and therefore is the tortoise to spring's hare. From summer, fall emerges with more of a barren sound. A little darker, less filler noise... the piece also utilizes midi wind sounds and owl calls to maintain a connection to less savory elements of the forest. Overall, we find ourselves less at ease as the sun shines a little less, the leaves begin to fall, and we move into a colder portion of the year. Then comes winter, with a tinkly xyophone and piano keys that plink like ivory. Very little else is going on at first: it is as if the forest has closed down for the winter. The slowly we here the staccato plucks of a high strings and snapping as more of the forest stirs underneath a blanket of snowfall. Which of course, brings us back to the rousing woods of spring...

Overall, for a game that is essentially fully reliant on music as a main character in the game, Banjo-Kazooie succeeds in truly building a great piece of music that embodies the forest in all of its stages of glory.

Honorable Rareware on Nintendo 64 Mention: Donkey Kong 64 - Fungi Forest Minecart Ride

There are most definitely other tunes that deserve a spot on this listen. Even with ten choices and ten honorable mentions, I am loathe to leave off "Jungle" from Contra, an 8-bit wonder that introduced the entire gaming world to one of the most classic forested levels of all. There are always great tunes lurking in the heart of the woods, waiting for those brave travelers with the strength to venture and an ear to listen. Remember to keep an eye out and an ear open for those hidden gems waiting to be uncovered.

List by scarletspeed7 (06/18/2012)

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