Heroes of Might and Magic III Soundtrack, Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero, 1999
After Heroes of Might and Magic II‘s unprecedented operatic splendour, the composing team of Paul Romero, Rob King and Steve Baca faced a problem when they tackled the franchise’s next soundtrack: where to go from here? Heroes of Might and Magic II found its approach by amplifying its predecessor’s ambitions and scale. As a result, it rocketed past other Western game soundtracks at the time into uncharted territory. Repeating the same strategy – going grander – for the Heroes of Might and Magic III soundtrack wasn’t an option. After all, how much bigger can you go than full-blown operatic grandeur?
What was Romero, King and Baca’s answer to this dilemma then? In a nutshell, they play it safe on the Heroes of Might and Magic III soundtrack. This is not an envelope-pushing work like its two predecessors. Instead, Heroes of Might and Magic III is nothing more and nothing less than a really great fantasy score, with all the stylistic trappings one would expect from the genre. It’s a less dazzling, extrovert work than Heroes of Might and Magic II. However, its melodic beauty and orchestrational finesse still tower above the vast majority of fantasy scores.
This elevated position is largely due to the same strengths that already characterised Heroes of Might and Magic II. Orchestral textures are lush and lovingly shaped, with an acute ear for effective counterpoint. Cues develop marvellously well and pack stunning amounts of diversity into two minutes of running time. And above all, the score’s greatest strength is its ever-reliable, never-ending flow of beautiful melodies. It’s all these qualities that make Heroes of Might and Magic III‘s adherence to genre stereotypes entirely forgivable. At every turn, it fills the fantasy formula with life and excitement.
It helps that the music’s textures feel a bit less crammed than on Heroes of Might and Magic II. Romero tempers the youthful exuberance that saw him tossing as many ideas as possible into the castle themes on Heroes of Might and Magic II. This time around, he sounds more relaxed. Equally, he’s keenly aware of how to create elaborate compositions that give their ideas and melodies enough room to breathe. Romero also returns to a methodology he used on Heroes of Might and Magic. Once again, he structures his castle themes as variations of a motif or melody. This helps to further smoothen out the compositions’ flow.
Despite its less dramatic air, this soundtrack doesn’t give up the sense of scale and emotional diversity that Heroes of Might and Magic II had accomplished. On the Heroes of Might and Magic III soundtrack, Romero, King and Baca once more manage to seamlessly mix a wealth of disparate atmospheres and colours into coherent compositions. This trait is particularly obvious on the album’s darker tracks. These pieces, despite all their Gothic demeanour, have an underlying playfulness that ties them in with the soundtrack’s bright mood. Even the gloomy depths of “Town – Dungeon” remain quite light-hearted with their traipsing string and brass rhythms, and a moody oboe melody on top. Similarly, “Town – Inferno” does a tremendous job at balancing the blithe sounds of a music box and a bouncy woodwind melody with the requisite ominous string tremoli and commanding brass.
This absorbing melange of moods is evident on many of the less sombre compositions as well. “Town – Fortress”‘s charming opening escalates unexpectedly into a grandiose episode. Full of building horn chords and driving violin and woodwind figures, the piece reaches its climax through a soaring motif. “Town – Tower”, the soundtrack’s longest composition, is even better. In fact, it’s the entire franchise’s best developed composition, and the apogee of the variation form Romero deploys. Taking elegant triple meter rhythms as its basis, “Town – Tower” moves through a ravishing wealth of melodies, moods and textures.
Where the Heroes of Might and Magic III soundtrack manages to surpass its brilliant predecessor is with its terrain tracks. These are now more similar in style to the castle themes – lavish and full-bodied rather than sparse and introvert. This makes for a more seamless, if also less surprising album flow. Once more, the compositions’ melodies and textures never cease to amaze. “Terrain – Underground” and “Terrain – Water” are impressionistic tone idylls, completely enrapturing and addictive in their sheer beauty and lushness. “Terrain – Swamp” features a cheeky, tumbling bassoon figure that remains charmingly unfazed by the oppressive, humid string atmosphere around it. Similarly, “Terrain – Rough”‘s flute melody has an intensely yearning, aching character that highlights how much more melodic the terrain tracks are this time around, more clearly defined and less drifting – if at the same time also more indebted to fantasy scoring conventions.
Ultimately, what listeners are left with is the perfect starting point for any score fan new to this venerable franchise, and a must-have for every fan of gorgeously orchestrated game music.
- 01 - AI Theme I Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 0:47
- 02 - AI Theme II Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 0:52
- 03 - AI Theme III Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 1:57
- 04 - Campaign Theme - Armageddon's Blade Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:20
- 05 - Evil Theme Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 1:34
- 06 - Good Theme Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 1:18
- 07 - Main Theme Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 1:14
- 08 - Neutral Theme Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 1:40
- 09 - Scenario Victory Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 1:14
- 10 - Secret Theme Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 1:10
- 11 - Terrain - Dirt Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:07
- 12 - Terrain - Grass Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:02
- 13 - Terrain - Lava Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 1:53
- 14 - Terrain - Rough Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:15
- 15 - Terrain - Sand Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:01
- 16 - Terrain - Snow Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:02
- 17 - Terrain - Swamp Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:27
- 18 - Terrain - Underground Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 1:55
- 19 - Terrain - Water Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 1:54
- 20 - Town - Castle Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:35
- 21 - Town - Conflux Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 1:24
- 22 - Town - Dungeon Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:17
- 23 - Town - Fortress Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 1:59
- 24 - Town - Inferno Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:17
- 25 - Town - Necropolis Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:34
- 26 - Town - Rampart Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:47
- 27 - Town - Stronghold Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 2:21
- 28 - Town - Tower Steve Baca / Rob King / Paul Romero 3:46
Wonderful description, and leaving a full time playlist of the music described 👌
Simon Elchlepp says
Thank you for your kind words and glad you’re enjoying the music!
Tristan Blanchard says
I won’t say how much I like your reviews every time I write a comment. You can just suppose I do anyway ^^
I agree with you on this specifically : “It helps that the music’s textures feel a bit less crammed than on Heroes of Might and Magic II. Romero tempers the youthful exuberance that saw him tossing as many ideas as possible into the castle themes on Heroes of Might and Magic II. This time around, he sounds more relaxed.”
It may be due to fact that HoMM III feels more “serious” than HoMM II in every way, especially when it comes to the graphics and the sound effects. I remember playing HoMM II, I could laugh every two minutes because that hero portrait looks so goofy, or because those goblins sound so funny when they attack halflings. Whereas playing HoMM III kept me more focused and solemn than amused.
In the end, I can’t decide which soundtrack I like the most. My favourites tracks belong either to HoMM II or HoMM III, and are mostly the terrain ones (both Grass Themes are gorgeous, same goes for Dirt Themes) ; they just saturate my mind with different kinds of nostalgia ^^
See you soon (on the Total Annihilation Page, probably 😛 )
Simon Elchlepp says
I’m glad to hear you’re still enjoying these reviews 😉
Thank you so much for adding some context around how the music interacts with the game and what kind of mood the games try to convey. I must admit that I haven’t played most of the games whose soundtracks I review here, so hearing from someone who has played these titles is really insightful and helps readers to appreciate the music in a more holistic way.
I fully agree, both HoMM II and HoMM III are outstanding scores, but come in quite different styles – I couldn’t say either which one was my favourite, but I think both are exceptional showcases of just how great orchestral fantasy scores could sound on MIDI.
Look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on other scores 🙂
Tristan Blanchard says
Actually, I played a lot of HoMM II while listening to the soundtrack on MIDI. So, I discovered the opera singers and the “real” sound way later (maybe when I installed the game on a new computer, with a more powerful sound card or something).
There was even the in-game option to plays the music either on MIDI, on CD quality (with Opera), or on CD quality WITHOUT Opera. Which makes me wonder if the composers were comfortable with the adding of voices on their tracks or not.
Anyway, I will try to add as much insight as I can from a player perspective (a very young one, sometimes). I haven’t played a lot of games you reviewed here, but I’ll do my best.
Thank you !
Simon Elchlepp says
Yeah, I’d love to find out more about the HoMM II and how it came about – particularly the idea of using operatic voices, which at the time must have sounded like madness to many. I agree that the option to play the music with or without operatic vocals is probably the result of someone being nervous about what gamers will think – maybe it was the composers, maybe the developer or publisher…
jon paul says
Heroes 4 must be next to review, my fav Academy (order) theme
Simon Elchlepp says
Thanks for leaving a comment! I must admit there’s no review for Heroes 4 coming – I don’t think it’s as strong as the first three scores in the franchise (the battle tracks are a bit of a drag). That being said, it does have some outstanding cues – I absolutely love that Haven theme!
Cool McDudeson says
Can’t believe that Stronghold didn’t get a special mention 🙂
Simon Elchlepp says
I know – just too many great track on here to mention them all 🙂
Same wonderful style in HOMM3. Trying to evoke the different worlds therein must have been a challenge, but some of the greatest composers over time were there to somewhat follow. Thank you, for I spent more enjoyable hours playing this game series than any other game. Game balance is a large part of a successful game, and the music in them all was simply outstanding.