Note Block Beat Box: Listening to Through the Tower from Ragnarok Online

Earlier, I outlined how Ragnarok Online's adorable, colorful graphics have helped the Korean MMORPG keep its fanbase for nearly 15 years. It'd be remiss of me to not mention another major reason for Ragnarok Online's longevity: Its epic soundtrack.

A decent soundtrack is especially important in older games like Ragnarok Online that demand a lot of level and / or item grinding. After all, if you're going to park your knight in one spot and slay piles of Porings for hours upon hours, you'd better have some funky tunes pouring into your ears to pump you up.

Thankfully, the sprawling soundtrack for Ragnarok Online, composed by the Korean game music composition group soundTeMP, is all about funk. It's also about jazz, rock, techno, classical, and traditional Asian music. It's also about taking all those styles, smashing them together, and leaving behind a pile of music that defines Ragnarok Online as much as its cutesy visuals.

When a game's been around as long as Ragnarok Online, it undergoes myriad expansions and revisions. The soundtrack grows accordingly, and soundTeMP has been there for every note. There are now well over a hundred songs in Ragnarok Online's playlist, and though I'd love to unravel every single one, life doesn't afford me that kind of time. We live in a cold, cruel world.

Instead, I opted to highlight what I believe is Ragnarok Online's best example of a successful style fusion: Through the Tower, the song that keeps you company as you fight through the Geffen Tower dungeon (and get demolished by Hunter Flies).

Through the Tower begins with a wild warble on a recorder alongside some brassy strumming on a Chinese zither, making for a sound that's paradoxically traditional and unusual. Then the techno beat picks up along with a handful of soulful piano notes, and things get really strange.

That last paragraph sounds like a description of the noise salad a baby and a puppy would make if you let them loose in a sound studio. But crazily, soundTeMP makes it work. Oh, does it ever work. If you played Ragnarok Online through your childhood but gave it up for one reason or another, Through the Tower is capable of moving you to tears.

soundTeMP knows how to get nutty, but it also knows when to rein things in. Another one of Ragnarok Online's most recognizable tracks is the Theme of Al de Baran, which puts a simple classical guitar and cello at its forefront, then backs it up with a bit of brass. It's well-suited for the small city, which is nestled by wild plains and mountains. It's a barren, lonely land, and the isolation you feel while exploring it is beautifully highlighted by the area's theme, another guitar-heavy piece called Antique Cowboy.

Even if you've never visited the magic town of Geffen or explored the sad plains of Al de Baran, make a point of listening to Ragnarok Online's music sometime. There's a good reason why the soundtrack and its host game have endured for so many years.

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