The Isle of Armor Wild Area theme ultimately falls short of the original Wild Area themes, personally. The tune is fine, with no notable missteps and some nice passages, but it doesn’t stand out in the same way, such as with changes of phase or as bold choice of instrumentation (think bagpipes). It is a fairly gentle tune, and so somewhat becomes forgettable, lacking more intense periods that might better suit moments such as trying to escape Sharpedo. It is missing an identity, in other words. The introduction is nice and quite grand, but the tune does not seem to have quite enough to help it stay fresh after you spend hours on the whole Isle – the introduction is separate from the rest which loops, after all.
How about the Crown Tundra? I think its theme is stronger. It falls back on a call-and-response structure to give the listener an easier time to follow the progression, but even beyond that has a more solid identity. The music is more evocative of snowy areas, with grandiose brass, drums, and piano making for a grand introduction before we have a much softer part. The piano that follows has shades of an original Wild Area tune and structure to it, but here we definitely get a softer take, with harp and background strings leading us to that question and answer pattern – repetition of rising notes followed by a change in melody, tweaked on each repetition, both gives the song a clear motif and keeps the song fresh. The third repetition also has added weight thrown behind it with the added strings matching and adding to the main notes.
Right after the song shifts your expectations – you would expect to see a fourth variation of the tune’s motif, but before that happens, a different melody plays before we return to it – it’s in fact a longer variation of a call-and-response. And before that becomes too familiar, we then change structure again. The song later shifts between calm sections and bright brass and wind passages, continuing to keep the song fresh.
It’s also just frankly a longer tune, which helps when the tune is for an area you’re going to spend a fair bit of time in. The Isle of Amor’s theme doesn’t reach three minutes before looping, while the CT tune goes about four minutes. That’s substantial in this case. I would say a couple transitions between sections could be a little smoother, but it’s an enjoyable tune, and the early part is a more catchy and memorable part for me compared to the Isle of Armor Wild Area theme.
Going to specific locations now, the Master Dojo definitely does not lack the identity issue seen in the Isle of Armor theme. (That said, the vocals in this song and other Isle of Armor tunes were also used in Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon‘s Ultra Jungle area!) There’s a clear style to the song, mixing vocals, strings, and oriental instruments together to establish the style of the Dojo. It’s a fine tune overall which never gets too exciting, but serves the purpose just fine for a base for the player to return to during the Isle of Armor quests.
The two towers further embrace the chanting, and are fairly dramatic. If anything, they give me a bit of a Pokémon Mystery Dungeon vibe – not quite like, say, Sky Tower, but certainly evoking similar feelings and with similar choices in arrangement. In the Tower of Darkness, you have a constant shift between instrumentation, and drumming used in the background throughout to give the song some grounding. The brass instruments help build the intensity, before strings carry us through to a softer, more stirring part finished off by flutes.
The Tower of Waters (plural) differs, and I think is the stronger of the two with its use of synths, reminiscent of those used in Mario Galaxy. The looping harps in the background adds a different, ahem, bubbly flair to the song, and I think the piano section really shines and aids the transition to the wind section.
The Max Lair ‘lobby’ theme has a fair bit of repetition to it, but enough funk to it to make it forgivable. I do think that the repeating notes could be a bit quieter to let the other melody parts stand out more, but it is good that in the last third of the song they disappear. That said, the song then sounds arguably too bare… It’s hard to say, I both like the song but feel that it could stand out more, and make use of more potential. It seems like it’s crying for a stronger solo section to help break up the repeating brass notes. That said, it does fit for a Lobby theme – you shouldn’t expect a song to be too exciting here.
That bass slaps though, which is a trend of many Pokémon Sword and Shield songs.
Lastly, we have Freezington, a town with an uninspired name but a fitting song for a small town of old retired folk unable to see all the Legendary Pokémon around them. It has strong wintering vibes, and a sleepy feel to it from the music box lead instrument for half the song. The flute that takes over in the second stanza repeats the melody but now has the music box add to it, before the two combine for a bridge segment. It’s a slightly sad song, perhaps reflective of the fall from grace of the town’s success and Calyrex’s diminished power. I like the song, but it’s not one I will immediately think of when recalling the generation eight soundtrack.
That wraps up all the major songs in the Expansion Pass, and my thoughts on each one. Overall I rather liked these additions, which only served to strengthen an already solid soundtrack. While I still feel generation eight falls short of a few other generations in the music department, it’s far from the worst, especially with some great additions in Mustard’s Battle theme and the Galarian Bird Battle theme.
How do you rate the music of the Isle of Armor and the Crown Tundra, and the Pokémon Sword and Shield soundtrack as a whole? Please let me know your thoughts as you rock out to the OST!
Edited by Aldo, Mercury, and Sheep.