Wild Area and Route themes
Battles are only part of the game – we have the Wild Area and routes to explore! Let’s go through the former first.
There are two Wild Area themes, and both have a similar structure concept to it in using an exciting opening, a slower calmer part, and then going with the main melody with heavier instrumentation. The Wild Area theme you first hear is the softer and calmer of the two. It makes sense given you’re still a newbie to the adventure, with nary a Gym Badge to your name. Nonetheless, it has a glorious introduction to it spanning a full 25 seconds. Notably it vaguely outlines the title theme for the Pokémon franchise – you can catch it in this part of the Pokémon Gold and Silver title theme. This serves as a good set-up for the area and builds anticipation for the player, while calling to a classic tune that underpins the whole franchise.
The slower part afterward takes around a minute, and starts rather minimalistic. A few instruments join in now and again, but the main part is the piano playing a few variations of notes. A quick build with ascending strings gives way to string and chimed instrument solos – still fairly gentle until we finally hear some brass and increased drumming around the two minute mark. This builds further again to the most energetic part of the tune, which is still fairly constrained. On the three minute mark the song slows and stops, before looping again. The song takes its time, and that works fine for this large area.
The second one is more involved and truly gorgeous, with a slow but steady progression and a healthy array of instruments. Like before, it takes its time to really kick in. This track has an energetic opening, and then a short trill of bagpipes before lighter instruments (clarsach [Celtic harp], violins, and a piano trill not out of place from the Breath of the Wild soundtrack) take over for a gentle tune. It’s a full minute before we hear the bagpipes again, but this time in full force. It swaps in and out with the brass instruments to carry the melody. Acoustic guitar sits in the background to add colour to the tune.
For myself, this is the better of the two Wild Area themes. It’s extra long too, which given a lot of playtime will be spent in the area makes sense. Perhaps this is why we have two different tunes for the Wild Area, in fact – to add further variety, and not just showcase the higher levelled Pokémon you can encounter in the northern part, corresponding to the heavier instrumentation.
Kudos to the use of the clarsach and bagpipes as well, to truly give this area a United Kingdom feel.
These are standout themes for the soundtrack, and perhaps it is fitting for the showcased Wild Areas to be the strongest of the routes and areas. That said, it is disappointing to me that other such themes are notably weaker. Route 1 is fine overall, with a calm and cheerful vibe to it that certainly fits. It has a solid structure too. The opening several bars are repeated with a variation, which is then followed by a third section and bridge that takes us back to the loop. However the song is not particularly catchy for me, and none of the instruments particularly stand out or carry the tune.
We do hear the opening part later on in the Pokémon Sword and Shield soundtrack. However we can also hear similarities with this brief part in Rustboro City’s theme. Is it an outright quote? Given we’ve heard the Pokémon World Tournament theme in Bede’s Battle theme, it’s not unlikely. The second half may also sound familiar… more on that shortly.
Route 3 meanwhile stands out more to me. It has more variation in its structure, with an introduction, two variations on the same segment, a new segment repeated twice, a third variation, and then a transition to a slower new theme. There is more going on here without overloading the listener with too many instruments at once. You have low string notes giving a countermelody as well. And perhaps most notable is the unique fake-out the song does early on in a tempo change – the song slows down for a couple bars at the end of the introduction, before resuming straight back to full pace in the next segment.
There is a nice reference to this segment in the Pokémon Black and White Victory Road theme in its opening part, with the former used not as an intro but as an ending bridge to the tune. This game’s soundtrack is not just full of leitmotifs, but also quotes from past games, and that’s neat.
Route 10 is an odd one. Unlike other Routes, its tune is unique to it (we hear Route 1’s theme on Route 2 as well, and Route 3’s theme in several, but only Route 10 in its own area). Heavy piano notes play interspersed with an eerie set of synth instruments, and it makes for a unique setup. The issue for me here is that while it sounds cool, the song never goes anywhere. It doesn’t last a minute before looping, and I cannot easily see a sense of progression or climax in the song. It doesn’t achieve anything, and feels unfinished. It’s weird, and a bit of a disappointment in that regard. While there is one version (that only ever plays once) that morphs into the Wynburg City theme when you get to the end of the Route, it’s not enough to bring the tune into higher regard personally.
Glimwood Tangle may cause feelings of annoyance for some players who expected more from the infamous 24 hour livestream of this location. The tune itself is alright, but also doesn’t really progress anywhere in my opinion. You have some good usage from flat and sharp keys throughout, with light use of strings in the harmony to accompany the music box melody. The two sometimes swap, with strings being plucked rather than played with a bow to further add the feeling of sharper notes, and create a sense of unease. Instrumentation choice is quite solid, really – it’s just the tune doesn’t pause enough and sounds somewhat ‘samey’ throughout. Perhaps it is to add to the sense this forest is dark and possible to lose your way in. It lacks a sense of catchyness, and maybe replacing the longer music box segment with a different instrument and tune would have helped the song stand out beyond the location it plays in.
You can’t accuse the soundtrack of not trying different things though, and that’s especially true with the Galar Mines theme. Galar Mines 1 and 2 act as the caves for the game, albeit more linear than those in past titles (and probably the worst of the lot in the name department). What we get though is a rather funky piece that combines funk with trance-like elements. There are multiple styles going on here, with a killer bass tone throughout. The song also progresses from fairly chill to busy in the one minute plus loop it offers, as the synth debuts and gets progressively heavier until around the one minute mark, where it then uses drums and piano to help it soften back to the beginning. This track is unlike any other cave theme in Pokémon, and it is a success. Pro tip – listen to it with headphones and surround sound.
It’s a mixed bag again. We have some great additions in the Wild Area theme, the Route 3 tune, and also Galar Mines gives us a funky, catchy piece. The rest however? Frankly better off forgotten. It somewhat feels like we are lacking tracks as well, when compared to previous titles. Granted, no other game has tracks quite like the Wild Area themes, but is it truly worth the narrower tracklist, where a good chunk are, in my opinion anyway, lacking?