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Jukebox Heroes: City of Heroes' soundtrack


Really, how could it be anything else this week? By the first of December, a major MMO influence on my life will be gone for good. We will talk about it in the past tense with wistful tones, remembering the superheroic escapades and villainous schemes. It will be given a place of honor in many of our memories, and I truly believe that City of Heroes will echo throughout the industry and community for years to come.

One of those echoes is the game's score, which will endure, as does every MMO's soundtrack. When I first started playing City of Heroes in 2004, the music made a big impression on me. It painted a picture of the game's locale and atmosphere perhaps better than anything else. Heck, you could play the game with your eyes closed and know which zone you were in by the music cues. That's how integral the score was to the game.

So this is my final send-off to City of Heroes: a look at the highlight from its soundtrack from the launch through Freedom. Goodbye, City of Heroes... I'm going to really miss you. I won't miss the whine from the force field bubble, but I'll miss almost everything else.

1. Main Theme

City of Heroes' soundtrack exists in three distinct eras: the original soundtrack, City of Villains, and City of Heroes: Going Rogue. This is because each of those eras featured a different composer with a different take on the MMO. While I appreciate what came after, the classic 2004-era score is what I'll always associate most strongly with the game.

The original score was composed by Michael Henry, who was also in Cryptic's employ for Champions Online and Star Trek Online. He obviously did the soundtrack by himself (rather than with a full orchestra), which actually became a strength; City of Heroes' synth sound was definitely unique in the industry.

The main theme here is something I must have heard a thousand times because it looped endlessly during the character creation process -- and we all know how much time the average CoH player spent doing that! It's nothing but simulated horns giving us a nice fanfare while the percussion does its thing, but man, did it just resonate with me.

2. Freedom Court

Any City of Heroes player knows that most of the early music was quite short, just 20 seconds or so to introduce a new area and then get the heck out of the way. Oddly enough, that's another reason it became memorable: You didn't have the soundtrack constantly pumping out tunes, so when the music did come on, you paid attention. Plus, it didn't wear out its welcome.

Freedom Court (aka Atlas Park's theme) is probably one of the most recognizable themes from the game. It exemplifies why I loved the synth score, as it generated this retro comic book feel to the Golden/Silver Age. You couldn't hear this music and think of dark, brooding superheroes who had drug addictions or a lease from Satan or whatnot. No, you'd hear it and think of the Daily Planet, costume contests, and the early innocence of the genre.

3. Port Noble

I don't have a lot of strong feelings about City of Villains' soundtrack one way or another. I didn't play the villain side as much, so what little I've heard of this music escaped me almost instantly. That said, I'm quite partial to the Port Noble theme. It's got a bit more of an industrial sound to it and a catchy tempo, all the while embracing some of the darkness that you'd come to expect from the nastier elements in the game.

City of Villains' score was handled by Kevin Riepl, who's composed for a number of films such as Lost Boys: The Tribe, a few TV shows (Invader Zim), and plenty of other video games. MMO players may know him from additional music work in SUN and Huxley.

4. Welcome to Nova Praetoria

City of Heroes stepped it up big-time for Going Rogue's soundtrack, bringing on board veteran composer Jason Graves (Dead Space 2, Lineage II: Scions of Destiny) to provide more of a cinematic touch to the expansion's music.

Graves said of Going Rogue's score that it was both dark and uplifting in equal measures. I definitely get that vibe from Welcome To Nova Praetoria. We're talking Danny Elfman's 1989 Batman score-type vibe here, and that's a good thing. While it's far from the original style of City of Heroes music, it's big and epic, and I can imagine doing superjumps to it.

5. Chasing the Dream

You can tell that the team was mighty proud of Going Rogue's soundtrack, as it became the only City of Heroes music project to be released as a purchasable album (Amazon, iTunes). It's definitely an above-average score that excels in spots, particularly when it comes to Chasing the Dream.

This track opens with those excitable strings that are the foundation for any TV, movie, or video game song that's getting you ready to either do something incredible or reveal something mindblowing. From start to finish, it's a fast-paced piece that just demands that you be kicking butt for the privilege of hearing it.

6. Freedom Main Theme

Whenever you change an MMO's title song, there's bound to be some pushback about it. City of Heroes has had a few such changes, finally landing on this theme for the release of its free-to-play version, Freedom.

Personally, I love it and think it's absolutely perfect for a superhero game of this caliber. It brings to mind all sorts of my favorite superhero movie themes, in particular Sam Raimi's Spider-Man series. Seriously, listen to the bit that begins at 1:50 and tell me that you don't see spinning webs in the corner of your vision. If I really crank up the volume, I get involuntary chills as this song plays out.

There are literally hundreds of songs from City of Heroes (and Paragon Wiki has archived them all for you to enjoy), so I'm pretty sure that my six most favorite aren't universal. Which are yours?

MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Every Tuesday, Jukebox Heroes will check out a game's soundtrack and feature the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!

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