Games currently playing: Brave Frontier, Two Dots, Kingdom Hearts: Union Cross
As a game generally geared towards kids, it makes sense that Pokémon’s main antagonists, the “Teams” (especially the silly Grunts), are never too awfully formidable or frightening. Likewise, their musical themes are not very scary, and can even be fun and whimsical! In today’s edition of Across the Generations, we will be looking at each gen’s Bad Guy Team Grunt Battle Theme. Each “Team” does have its own “Notices You!” theme, in addition to victory tunes, and admin and boss battle themes, but this article will be focusing on the actual battle music that plays when you fight the grunts (the track that you hear the most, relative to other antagonist themes).
Note: For a few reasons, I will not be including the grunt themes from Pokémon Sun & Moon. If you’ve played either, you probably know why I made this decision. If you haven’t played Sun or Moon, then… You should! :3
Pokémon Red / Blue / Yellow: Team Rocket
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first gen actually doesn’t have a special Team Rocket battle theme—it’s the same as all the other Trainer battles.
But that’s okay, because all the other Gens do…! :3
Pokémon Gold / Silver / Crystal: Team Rocket
Interestingly, Team Rocket’s battle theme is mostly in a higher register, which is somewhat unusual, at least when you think of what is typically an “epic” battle theme, with strong percussion and bass. Granted this is Gen II, so the music is still very chip-tune, but in comparison to other tracks, it’s just very interesting that it is so treble-heavy.
Now this is not at all to say that treble-heavy music cannot be epic or even good! I actually quite like this theme; the fast pace and frequently doubled notes make this track very exciting. The counter-melodies going on in the mid-register are pretty neat as well.
Pokémon Ruby / Sapphire / Emerald: Team Aqua / Team Magma
Add in a bit more percussion, bouncy bass, and timbral variety, and you’ve come to the Team Aqua / Magma battle theme from Gen III. The melodic and harmonic content of this Team theme is actually quite similar to that of Team Rocket’s. The bass line in the beginning is probably my favorite part, with its oscillating, incredibly mobile nature.
As I discussed in previous AtG reviews, there was a major upgrade in terms of sound and instrumental quality and variety between Gens II and III. I absolutely love the leading instrumental line, which sounds like a mixture of brass and strings. The addition of epic chimes at 0:53 – 0:57, to really highlight the harmonic minor quality of the track, is also just excellent. And the syncopated timpani lines add in just enough to spice up my life.
After said epic chime part, the bass line becomes even more pronounced than before, and to keep the intensity up, the piece keeps modulating (changing keys) up and up and up. Although this article is focusing on the battle theme, I do want to mention that I simply adore every musical theme that has to do with Team Aqua & Magma. From the absolutely glorious, majestic Mount Chimney theme to the final Team Boss fight, the musical themes of the land and sea antagonists will always hold a very special place in my heart.
Here’s the Mount Chimney theme. It’s just so wonderful that I have to include it… Maybe one of these days I’ll write an article on this theme itself… Agh it’s just so good! Now I’m sounding like one of those creepy trainers… With all the ellipses after each sentence they mutter… Ufufufu…
Pokémon Diamond / Pearl / Platinum: Team Galactic
Ooh! Is that a JAZZY ORGAN I hear!? Why yes, yes it is! After the cascading intro, the skipping and hopping bass line is established, and our lovely jazzy organ takes over the main melody. I really enjoy the unexpected patterns in the percussion parts of this track. Instead of your typical bassy hits on downbeats, with upbeat hits on beats 2 & 4, there’s a lot more rhythmic variety—in percussion as well as all the other melodic instrumental sections—while still maintaining a steady and clear beat.
I wouldn’t say the melody of this track is particularly catchy or memorable, but the overall feel of the piece is very groovy and enjoyable during your battle with the Team Galactic grunts.
Pokémon Black & White: Team Plasma
Awwww yeeeeah get me some of that COMPOUND TIME! 8D One of the funniest and most fun parts of this theme is that the little Team Plasma logo sound effect actually fits perfectly with the intro of the song. Unfortunately it does not play in the track itself, BUT you can watch a bit of this clip to hear the sound effect heard at 1:20 hehehe…
I love love LOVE this theme. I love most things compound time anyway, and this bouncy, energetic theme is no exception. I love the bass line, the catchy melody, the call-and-response, the insta-modulations (instant modulation without any sort of listener preparation). The sustained notes in the second part contribute in drawing out the suspense of the track.
I especially enjoy the 2-against-3 rhythms that appear in this track, heard between 0:29 and 0:39. What makes this rhythm interesting is that while most downbeats are highlighted as ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, instead every OTHER beat is highlighted: ONE-two-THREE, one-TWO-three. It goes by pretty fast, so it’s kinda hard to pinpoint exactly what’s going on. But that change-up of rhythms is very refreshing, in such a pounding compound time rhythm.
Pokémon X & Y: Team Flare
This track undoubtedly includes the most sophisticated sampling technology. The quality of electric guitars is by far the best we’ve heard as of yet. I would say that this grunt battle theme is about on the same level as that of DPP’s Galactic grunt theme. The track definitely focuses more on rhythms and flashy, punchy percussion and guitar sounds, and overall chordal textures rather than a memorable melody.
This is not a bad thing, of course! I quite enjoy this track, although those dissonant, wavering upper-register notes from 0:07 to 0:19 can get pretty irritating… I appreciate that the same annoying melody comes back, but in a lower register, from 0:33 to 0:45, with slight changes in the latter half. Using a lower-register instrument was a good move, too, since it’s not as piercing and IN YOUR FACE.
As usual, Gens II and V are at the top of my list! Which grunt battle themes are your favorites? Leave a comment below!