Outside of the title screen, nothing sets the mood for the player's upcoming adventure/fight for survival/round of tetris than a game's file select (or password) theme. Let's talk about them!
This will be a small selection of some of my all time favorites. Of course I love em because they're excellent, so chances are good that you love them too--don't expect too many deep cuts here. If you see one of your favorites though, why not give it a listen and take a trip down memory road with me?
I'm terrible at putting things in a specific TOP TEN order, so let's just say: these are the ones I like.
Klonoa - Inquisitive Waltz
What a great song to get you ready to play! The waltz timing and carefree tune is evocative of a fair or circus, and does an excellent job of tricking you into thinking that this is a totally lighthearted game that didn't make me cry at the age of 14.
Dragon Warrior (et al.) - Intermezzo
This one is totally iconic, and I respect Enix for sticking to their guns and making this the file select theme for EVERY game in the decades-old franchise (barring the first two entries, which had different music).
I won't say it completely fits the theme of a fantasy adventure, but it's a jaunty kind of tune that I guess would fit a tavern or some shit. The composition was done better in later games of course, but as it was my first real RPG, Dragon Warrior/Quest IV will always be my personal favorite.
Castlevania Bloodlines - Password Screen
Yikes--this one is at the top of the admittedly un-crowded list of "creepiest password themes".
I was tempted to put Symphony of the Night's operatic file select music here, but as I prefer "Creepy and Kooky" Castlevania over "Extravagant and Gothic" Castlevania style, this one gets the nod.
The Legend of Zelda - A Link To The Past (et al.) File Select
Does this one have a real name besides File Select?
Another tune that spans the entire franchise (again, aside from the first two!), this is a wonderfully memorable song in a series full of iconic music. It's brilliantly picturesque in a way; the gentle, hesitant piano melody combined with the simple harp accompaniment bring to mind the theme of eternal heroes and love that lasts throughout time. Very romantic. I don't think they could've done better than this one.
The theme has been iterated on many many times but the clean MIDI sound of the SNES version has always been my favorite!
Sonic The Hedgehog 3 - File Select
Switching gears to something completely different, here's Sonic 3. "File select" doesn't really come to mind when you think Sonic, does it...?
Sonic 3 takes place on Floating Island and the music is appropriately tropical in theme--I love that 16 bit marimba. Actually, there's not really anything else like this in the rest of the soundtrack, is there? Maybe that's why I've always liked it. It's unusually laid back for a Sonic game and kind of feels like the "waiting room" before you get down to business.
Faxanadu - Mantra
If I were a better writer I'd go on at length about how big an impression Faxanadu left on six year old me. A game that begins with the world already in ruin and a race of people facing extinction, full of monsters that are often alien (and sometimes straight up incomprehensible) and THIS MUSIC!!! I don't know if Faxanadu was even appropriate for me to even play. Maybe I'm overstating things since it was so traumatic to me back then? Look up the boss theme if you don't believe me--that shit was too much for a child to handle.
The mournful "Mantra" theme kind of makes you feel like you've lost before you've even begun the game. I have a vivid memory of burning the hell out of my tongue on Hamburger Helper while playing this game. It was "lasagna" flavor, but it didn't even taste like tomato, let alone lasagna. Wonder if they still make that flavor? It sucked
Phantasy Star 2 - Step Up
Damn it I love this song. The bouncy Retro Anime Future aesthetic can be hard to pin down but Tokuhiko Uwabo's work on Phantasy Star II nailed it! Peak 80's Sega if I ever heard it.
I've always described the original Phantasy Star series as something that makes me nostalgic for a future that will never happen. Maybe there's a word for that in another language.
Got any favorite file select menu themes you like? Let me know.