It was a colorful, explosive, smoother game than the NES Mega Man games, and had the benefit of a rich storyline and gorgeous 16-bit level design. (It's one of my favorite games ever, could you tell?) Mega Man X turns 25 this year and with the recent release of the Mega Man X Legacy Collection, and its inclusion on the SNES Classic, it's time we revisit one of the best aspects of the game: it's rocking soundtrack!
For my money, the score to Mega Man X is in the top three of SNES game scores, along with Koji Kondo's amazing work on both Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Mega Man X's music is much more varied, though, with pieces by five different composers (Setsuo Yamamoto, Makoto Tomozawa, Yuki Iwai, Yuko Takehara, and Toshihiko Horiyama) to make up the game's levels.
The stage-specific music had as much character as the stages and main enemies themselves, and as such, deserving of a definitive ranking. The below list will just be music from specific stages, so even though the two stage-select music pieces are awesome, and the Sigma boss battle songs are great, we're just talking about the music from levels. There are 14 such pieces of music, so let's get to it!
14 - Sting Chameleon
Now, all the music in Mega Man X is awesome, so we're starting pretty high already, but for me what I love the most is when the piece of music is completely distinctive and memorable, and Sting Chameleon's music is really not memorable at all. His stage is one of the hardest in the game, and was usually the last one I'd attempt before going after Sigma, so I'd usually spend a lot of time listening to it, and if it's still not memorable, you know it's bad. It also just sounds like a variation of a much better and way more memorable bit of music we'll talk about later.
13 - Sigma's Lair
This one's a real bummer, because I know they were going for creepy and ominous--it is the last level in the game, after all--but it just does nothing for me. And since the level in question is a cylinder you have to wall-jump up the whole way without falling because of enemies, it does little but remind me of tedium.
12 - Flame Mammoth
Sort of the same situation as Sting, this music is just kind of boring. It never really kicks into high gear. And since I don't really care about his stage, either, it just makes for a yawn.
11 - Sigma Stage 3
What is this Peter Gunn-ass knock-off shit? Get out of here!
10 - Launch Octopus
This track is how you do a video game bass line! I don't think even Les Claypool would write a slap-filled line like this! The only reason the song isn't higher on this is because the stuff on TOP of the bass line just feels like generic rock guitar.
9 - Sigma Stage 1
Boy, Victor Wooten over here sure loves these slappy bass lines! Calm down, Jaco Pastorius. Anyway, this song is fun.
8 - Sigma Stage 2
This track sounds like it's in a different game, and that's one of it's best qualities. Once you start in with the Sigma stages, the game gets kicked into a higher gear, and this stage sounds like you're playing Final Fight or something. It's got a much grittier and more urban (meaning city) feel to it.
7 - Boomer Kuwanger
I was always baffled by what a "kuwanger" was. All the other bosses were animals I'd heard of, and it wasn't immediately evident upon seeing him, a bipedal guy with a sharp pair of horns on his head he throws like a boomerang. Well, turns out, it's a mixture of the words "boomerang" and "kuwagata" (a Japanese stag beetle). Ohh! Anyway, his track rocks.
6 - Armored Armadillo
This track is off the rails, which is very fitting seeing as the bulk of the level takes place ON rails, with X traveling further into A.A.'s cavernous quarry of a stage. It's a fast, raucous track that perfectly sums up one of the most fun levels in the game.
5 - Chill Penguin
Since my very earliest play-throughs, I'd always start with Chill Penguin's stage (gotta get those upgraded boots, broooooh!) so this music just feels like Mega Man X to me. It doesn't have the tempo of some of the other tracks, but it has a definite attitude you can't ignore.
4 - Zero's Theme/Entrance
I'm cheating a little bit here since Zero's theme only comes in during some of the stages, but his appearances in the game are among the best and most fist-pumping moments in the whole story. X's mentor and big brother figure is really his only friend (except the ghostly hologram of Dr. Light) and he has a definitive theme all his own, cool and brooding but undoubtedly hopeful.
3 - Storm Eagle
I cannot tell you how much I love the Storm Eagle stage, from it's color scheme to its fun and difficult platforming sections. His section is on like an airplane hangar plus airship and it just sounds like a Top Gun movie. It's a banger.
2 - First Stage
When you have a game that starts with a stage prior to you getting to select anything, it better be memorable, and while the first stage of Mega Man X is definitely easy, its setting in a bombed-out city full of evil robots is very cool, and the music that accompanies it is nothing short of iconic. It bears the urgency of X having to run for his life, and the grittiness of a post-apocalyptic hellscape, and just kicks for as long as it takes you to play. (P.S., this is the track I feel like Sting Chameleon's stage music is a pale imitation of.)
1 - Spark Mandrill
Number one with an absolute bullet, the Spark Mandrill stage music is so good, it should almost be the theme song for the whole game. It builds to an amazing bridge section where every part complements the others so perfectly before reaching a harmonious crescendo, heading to a drum fill, and then repeating. It's a perfect piece of video game music.
And there you have it! My ranking of all the Mega Man X stage music. Does your ranking differ from mine? Let me know in the comments below!