Since our initial review articles on Pokémon Sword and Shield, the Expansion Pass was announced and eventually fully released, bringing with it new content, and, furthermore, new music. How do the new song entries stack up, however? In this article, U’ll extend my thoughts on what I felt was an overall solid soundtrack addition to the Pokémon series. Much like before, we separate the tracks into type – Pokémon Battle themes, Character themes, and Area themes. And as a disclaimer, these opinions are my own – and I’m interested to see if yours differ!
Table of Contents
As for the base game, check out the existing article!
Pokémon Battle Themes
To clarify, I’ll be including the Battle themes specific to human characters in the following section, as their Battle themes build on their regular themes.
Confusingly, while this one is titled ‘Final Battle! (Mustard)’ in the video, it is more specific to Kubfu than Mustard himself, who has his own overworld theme and battle music. This song plays when your Kubfu fights another in order to learn how to evolve. Notably, this song uses some Ultra Jungle chanting (see the following Area theme section), and a much calmer tone to it than Mustard’s Battle theme. There’s still shades of oriental instrumentation here, but there’s a heavier use of strings and horns in this song compared to that. While that is fine, I don’t feel that it helps the song stand out particularly well. It instead just builds on the Tower of Darkness and Tower of Water themes, but I feel Mustard’s other battle theme feels more intense and hence fitting of the ‘Final Battle!’ name. Oh well.
It’s still a nice tune overall – it just seems to lack a truly neat final section that ties it all together, although I do like the use of strings throughout. Maybe it isn’t quite helped by it accompanying the scene of two small panda cubs duking it out.
On that note, I have a request for the talented folk who do music remixes, remasters and mash-ups. Can you hear how 0:13 sounds similar to the Attack on Titan opening theme? You should try mixing them up.
Calyrex, and its steed in either Glastrier or Spectrier, has a series of battle themes, and it is quite neat to compare them side by side. We’ll begin with Calyrex’s first theme, which you may not even hear the entirety of given how short the battle can be. It has a very regal feel to it with the trumpets and solid drumming shortly after, as if this Pokémon is having a grand entrance. The song then has a somewhat unsmooth change to a different theme at 0:50, and I’m not quite sure if I entirely dislike it. I do ultimately feel it could have been less abrupt however, as it repeats when the song loops – the song slows down, and then jumps back to the more frantic pace just a bit too suddenly for my liking. It’s a pity because I like that part in isolation. The strings add a nice contrast and the descending chord pattern in this segment is particularly nice. Furthermore, the transition from this part to the slower, final bridge is much better done.
I did enjoy the use of the rising notes that repeat that we hear in the background of its overworld theme song, and the combinations of the brass and strings is a safe but solid choice. Drumming helps make the song more distinct too – it’s not used all the time, but certainly gives a strong identity to the song.
The battle with Glastrier or Spectrier, which can be as equally short in duration, has a much darker tone. It begins with drums dominating with synths backing it up the beat. The tune gets repeated twice with slight variation before strings come in and add a lot of edge and uncertainty to the atmosphere. Some additional background instruments add further to this part, before the song repeats. It’s not the best song to just listen to for enjoyment, but here it works quite fine, and has no inconsistency in pacing or transition.
Both of these songs are fine, but the Mounted Calyrex battle theme goes above and beyond in combining the two together. You can hear the heavier drums throughout giving a more intimidating, active feel to Calyrex’s original battle theme. And it isn’t done lazily either. The brass instruments are heavier and harsher in this song compared to the opening of Calyrex’s theme – it’s not merely drums added to the opening given that feeling to the song.
It is easy to identify individual passages from both source songs, so I won’t dwell too much on that. It is nice that they take turns throughout the song, a perfect balance of steed and… king. Kudos to the composers here.
Perhaps the highlight of the battle themes is the Galarian Legendary Birds theme, the first time the Kanto Legendary bird trio truly have a unique song to call their own. You see, in the original Pokémon Red and Blue titles, the birds simply reused the Wild Pokémon Battle theme. In Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen they were made to stand out… with a higher pitched version of the same song. A bit of a shame, in my opinion. Maybe they just needed to be more British.
The song borrows some ideas from that original song, but mostly has its own identity, and rather interesting sections as well. It frequently breaks down in the first half with what can only be described as chaotic sections, which only build in intensity as the song transitions to different parts. Thankfully the song has a stronger melody at 0:47, remaining frantic but more structured. This then calms down around 1:09 with a more muted guitar-synth that slowly builds up the number of instruments as the song works back up to the beginning loop. The song verges towards being too chaotic, but this second half helps give it a solid base and make it into a great track that merely shows the player that these Pokémon are not to be messed with, rather than outright overwhelm them throughout the whole song.
Appreciated too are the GB-esque sounds that show up, particularly at the end of the song.
We hear similar instrumentation used in the original Regi Battle theme in the new version in Pokémon Sword and Shield. However, in this case, the battle feels too muted. Only at around 0:51 does the song particularly stick out to me, but it’s all too short lived. I prefer the original take on the Regis, until it reaches the 0:51 part. I think it might be the lower intensity or volume of the alarm-like bells in this version, while the balancing between it and the strings and other instruments is more even in, say, the Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 version.
Lastly, we have the Legendary Raid version of the Max Raid Battle theme. It’s nothing too remarkable, with in my opinion a somewhat disagreeable introduction. But the rest is a nice take on a tune I would just describe as “alright”, and it serves its purpose well enough – give a different feel to the final round of the battle gauntlet that is Dynamax Adventures. That in itself is worth appreciation – I wager many players of the Galar games have heard the base song one too many times by now.