Recently, on MAP if I am not mistaken (and I seldom am!) I had a brief discussion about video game music. Last evening over dinner the topic came up again as my friends and I tried to figure out what game’s score the ambient music in the restaurant reminded us of. All of this got me to thinking about how important a game’s score can be,and the different approaches a composer can take to a soundtrack. For instance, there are tracks like One Winged Angel that will linger in the minds of players for years and will be immediately associated with a particular game. Then there are the more subtle tracks that blend into the gameplay in such a way that they are usually noticeable only by their absence, but still manage to set the mood and tone of the environment.
As a music lover, I tend to prefer games with memorable scores which transcend simple mood music. I know that others will disagree and find such things to be a distraction rather than an enhancement to the game. Such people will find this editorial of minimal interest, then. I am basically going to talk about my favourite game music, music that I put on mu iPod alongside my other, more “mainstream” music.
One soundtrack that I do not think gets nearly the amount of praise and attention that it merits is Lunar: Silver Star Story: Complete. Its vocal pieces do rate moderately on the Cheese-o-Meter, particularly the title theme, “Wings” but in this case that is acceptable. The game is bright, chipper, and oozes youthful enthusiasm, and the vocal tracks match this. The instrumental tracks offer a more varied palette, from the cheerful and catchy, to the brooding and atmospheric,
Another game with an underrated soundtrack is World of Warcraft. Now, now, settle down.I just said that the soundtrack is underrated. Not the overall game. That is most decidedly overrated. The music, though, is masterful and as varied as the zones and races of Azeroth. Composer Jason Hayes is not a household name to most gamers, but his works are certainly household melodies. I particularly love the themes for the games’ capital cities, each seems to capture the essence of that city’s race. Stormwind blasts the player with a heavenly chorus, Thunder Bluff soothes with flutes and drums Undercity creeps you out with its heavy percussion and then eerie whispers, etc. I was particularly impressed with Wrath of the Lich King and the musical themes it showcased.
Katamari is a fun, quirky, and addictive game, with a soundtrack to match. These tunes embed themselves in the player’s brain and they will never, ever go away. When playing Katamari, I do not wonder if I will wind up humming a tune from it for the rest of the day, I simply wonder which one it will be today.
Now I must re-open the age old (or at least month old) debate here. Chrono Cross and Xenogears. Two pretty OK games with pretty fantastic soundtracks. Personally I prefer Xenogears to CC. The scores are more varied, and when I hear a piece from that game I can instantly recall when it is played, what is happening with the plot then, and because the plot of the game is so evocative, I always have a strong emotional reaction to this game’s music. Chrono Cross on the other hand, has a very pleasant soundtrack, with some really interesting orchestration. The music is evocative, but in a more general way. I do not tend to relate the songs to the game when I hear them.
The last game I would mention is a series, Final Fantasy. I tend to pick out a few songs per game that I really love and are really memorable to me. I recall that I would constantly pester Lusipurr to play the Fisherman’s Horizon theme (FF8), and the Opera House song ((FF6) I do not really want to dwell too much on this point, though. It is the gold standard by which most games are compared, musically at any rate.
Yes, in case you wondered, this was posted from work, hence the lack of pretty pictures to look at. Sorry! I have a folder on my desktop full of locats but that’s all, and none of them involve games or music.