The narrative surrounding Sonic, as a character, and in the context of his games, has shifted immensely since his time on SEGA consoles. The one-time rival of huge platforms like Nintendo, and their staple Mario, has fallen into a pit of irrelevancy, finding a home in memes and fan-made games, but not anywhere that’s taken seriously. The combination of SEGA’s destruction as a console-making company, and the rise of the “demonic” 3D Sonic game, took what would’ve been a slump, and turned it into a pit of sharks. But while a lot of the criticism; especially more recently; has been well-deserved, it has allowed for even the best pieces of mediocre Sonic games to be completely forgotten. And one of those hidden gems happens to be the soundtrack to my favorite 3D Sonic game, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle.
When listing off some of the greatest game-related compositions of all time, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle will most likely not make the list. All of the games and scores I’ve previously listed as my favorite have been fantastic examples of musicianship, and beautiful art pieces. Whether they constructed something for a Super Nintendo game, or a PC indie game, they managed to end up with something that would both age well, and be able to stand on its own. That’s… not the case with Sonic, in this instance, but that also doesn’t matter.
One of the universally-agreed-upon worst games, Sonic the Hedgehog (2006).
What makes the soundtrack to Sonic Adventure 2 Battle so great isn’t its usage of skillful songwriting, or unique melodies. Instead, it relies on its ability to capture the essence of Sonic, and the time period at which this specific Sonic game came out. Sonic is often synonymous with speed, intensity, and fun. And while you could easily replicate those emotions and actions with a standard piece of say, classical music, SEGA’s sound team took a much different approach. Stealing from the trends of popular music around them, the creators of the Sonic Adventure 2 Battle soundtrack landed on a large library of fast, accessible pop-rock, ska, lo-fi hiphop, and more, that, when combined together, create a Tony Hawk-esque collection of entirely original music.
The themes and styles within the music are always reflected by the character you’re playing as. Throughout the game, you swap between Sonic, Shadow, Knuckles, Rogue, Tails, and Dr. Eggman, and each seems to have their own genre. When racing at full speed, on rails, and down hills, Sonic is granted a variety of different, up-tempo rock tracks, like the well-known “Escape From The City.” The slap bass and shredding guitars aid the gameplay in both the speed, and relentlessness, never stopping for you to catch up. Most of them also start with a simple introduction to allow you to get on your feet, before they instantly jump in. Shadow’s tracks often follow similar patterns, only with a slightly darker tone to compliment his relatively edgy image.
When it comes to Rogue and Knuckles, things take a step back, to follow their patient search for the emerald fragments. Guitars and bass are traded in for a lot of atmospheric and low-key backbeats, behind either an electronic instrumental, or rap reminiscent of the ’90s. The best example of this is in “A Ghost’s Pumpkin Soup,” which is full of tame cymbals, echoing piano notes, and record scratches, with a bit of eerie synths to match the Halloween aesthetic. “Dive Into The Mellow” is another wonderful song, that sounds almost as futuristic as something like Deltron 3030 (2000), which, considering it only came out a year later, is maybe expected, but still impressive.
Finally, the mech levels of Dr. Eggman and Tails tend to be somewhere in between; as their gameplay is very action-based, but not as quickly paced as something like Sonic and Shadow’s levels. The hip-hop flavor isn’t present, but instead, you’re either given slightly less aggressive versions of the heavy Sonic and Shadow tracks, or very jazzy ones. This duality can be seen between “Crush ‘Em All,” and “Lovely Gate 3;” the first of which is a tuned-down rock instrumental that fades into the background, and the other is an almost freeform jazz song, that’s updated to the twenty-first century.
The final piece of the musical puzzle is then, the lyricism within each track (that has lyrics). The aforementioned “A Ghost Pumpkin’s Soup” breaks the fourth wall, as most of them do, narrating from Knuckle’s perspective, what exactly he’s doing and feeling. Similarly, “Escape From The City” matches that, creating a narrative that isn’t as specific, but still follows Sonic’s journey through the beginning of the game, and his daring escape. To be honest, as a kid, I didn’t really think about this; and most probably wouldn’t; but even then, the information that was being stated did lock itself into my brain, just not actively. I think this provides an interesting level of depth to the soundtrack, even if a majority of the lines are pretty straightforward, as the characters don’t really narrate what they’re doing too often, or provide inside-looks at their thoughts.
Scenery from the Pumpkin Hill level.
As a whole, the Sonic Adventure 2 Battle soundtrack is an example of how to make media for certain situations. If you were to take this album out of context, it’s probably not that good, and sounds like poorly-aged rock. But while you’re inside of the game, going through these haunting towers, or high-speed railways, it accompanies them perfectly. And at the time of its release, it probably wouldn’t have been that bad as a solo album. It just happens to not have aged that well. So while many people may continue to bash newer sonic games, starting with the Sonic Adventure series, I hope it’s known that not everything from the developers was complete trash.