Like an introductory paragraph or a door to a house, a game’s title screen has the important job of inviting players into its world. It introduces the game with a nice in-your-face title with large font and music that sets the stage for things to come. I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the very best title screens, taking into account both the music and the visuals.
I decided to make the distinction between a “title screen,” which typically includes the title and “press start” (or some equivalent), and an intro screen which includes game scenes but no title or entryway into the game. In short, any visuals that play under the same music track that plays while at the “title screen” counts towards this list.
6. Mega Man 3 (NES) – Composed by Yusuaki Fujita
Title screens don’t get more minimalist than the one in Mega Man 3. However, the simple slanting font hinting at a certain George Lucas invention is only a modest prelude for things to come. What cements Mega Man 3 on this list is not this modernist visual interpretation, but rather the amazing intro music. It begins with a bluesy descending line, in which one could imagine Mega Man waltzing into Dr. Wily’s castle to kick his ass, and then transitions to a driving rock anthem fitting for the action-packed screens that Mega Man is known for. They don’t call him Rock Man for nothing, am I right? Like seriously, I can’t get enough of this track.
5. Halo: Combat Evolved (XBOX) – Composed by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori
The title screen from the first Halo, creates an atmosphere that feels so massive and yet so introspectively small. From the slowly rotating planet? (not too familiar with the story, to be honest), to the haunting chants, it kind of implies that this isn’t going to be your ordinary FPS game. Not too many shooting games that I know of allow for this kind of thoughtful pondering. Of course, there’s a total change of mood with the addition of tribal drums, rhythms, and voices. The combination of orchestra with these elements paints a picture that I wouldn’t really associate with a sci-fi adventure like Halo, but it works, like a statement of technology versus nature.
4. Fire Emblem (GBA) – Composed by Yuka Tsujiyoko
For the record, what I consider to be the “title screen” starts from 1:30 in this video. Nothing embodies the raw emotion of heroism quite as well as this title theme. The anthem blares its mighty sound (through the GBA’s weak soundcard) as we get a glimpse of the various classes showing off their stuff. I swear I could practically watch this sequence forever and not get tired of it. If we use our imagination, we can hear the various different instruments like strings, trumpets, and even a quizzical oboe, which is is all very fitting for the medieval setting that Fire Emblem imitates, fantasizes, and romanticizes.
3. Civilization IV (PC) – Composed by Christopher Tin
“Baba Yetu,” a piece that features a Swahili choir, is the first and only video game music track that has been nominated for a Grammy. The crazier part is that it WON. Like Halo‘s title theme, “Baba Yetu” fuses traditional Western instruments with African musical percussion and voice. It’s a more positive, if not more idealized, example of what happens when Western influence expands across the globe, especially since the game is about building empires. Politics aside, “Baba Yetu” is a phenomenal piece of music that is living proof that video games are moving that much closer to becoming a reputable art form.
2. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GCN) – Composed by Koji Kondo, Hajime Wakai, Kenta Nagata, and Toru Minegishi
All I can say is “Ahhh~”. From the music’s first utterance, we can practically feel the refreshing sea breeze on our faces and the warm sand hugging our feet. The sequence is incredibly incredibly cinematic, as we get sweeping shots of Outset Island and a dwarfed Link with the great ocean in front of him. Despite the colossal scale of the world, the atmosphere created is relaxing and cozy. The music melds two melodies together: the flute playing the Earth’s God Lyric and the violin playing the Wind God’s Aria. The eighth-note time signature, along with the bouncy melodies, create a playful soundscape that’s filled in with the natural sounds of the ocean and the island fauna. Beautiful.
1. Chrono Cross (PS1) – Composed by Yasunori Mitsuda
Pastoral, contemplative, breathtaking, the descriptive list goes on forever because that’s just how amazing it is. Chrono Cross has, when combining the track “Garden of God” with the visuals, the perfect title screen. We even get multiple variations of it, giving us a tour beneath the waters of the El Nido archipelago where soft light gently breathes through the surface and life teems in the most hidden areas. Life is an important theme in Chrono Cross, evident by the title theme’s name “Garden of God,” as well as the existence of the Sea of Eden, which is appropriate because since the oceans are the true origins of life. As it poetically states on the main character’s grave (not really a spoiler): “What came from the sea has returned to the sea.”
Both Final Fantasy IX and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask have great title screens, but I feel that they lean more towards intro scenes (despite using the same music track as the title screen). Final Fantasy VI also has a nice, if not brief, title screen reminiscent of the usage of Also sprach Zarathustra from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The interpretation in FFVI is a lot darker and more foreboding, but the way it transitions into the scene above the Narshe mines, and the intro credit sequence with “Terra’s Theme,” is very well done.
What are your favorite video game title screens?