Editorial: Music Makes the Games Go 'Round

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.

25 comments

  1. Wasn’t that during the D&D session Ginia, though you’re seldom mistaken.

  2. *shifty glance*

    Maybe we record those for filler content and outtakes without your permission. YOU DON’T KNOW.

    *grumbles*

    But you may have a point, Sir …

  3. You mention Final Fantasy and not IX? I love a lot of stand out tracks from the series, but I think IX is easily the strongest overall. Where are the pictures in this post? You’re killing me!

  4. The CC OST is definitely better than the Xenogears OST, though both are well suited to their respective games.

  5. @Bup: So do yours. Be quiet.

    @Ethos: You always say that, and you are always surprised when people don’t agree with you. TOO BAD.

    @SN: Wrong!

    @Darthgibblet: Right!

  6. -Wrong? How so? Better tracks make for a better OST last I checked. Xenogears is definitely the better game (sans second disc), but CC is Mitsuda at his zenith.

  7. @Lusi: Actually, I’m the only “nerd” in my main group of friends, so we never have discussions like that.

  8. No doubt when NATE LILES is with friends, the topic of conversation turns to NATE LILES!

  9. I have to agree with Ethos in regards to FFIX soundtrack. After finishing just yesterday, I can honestly say that out of all the Final Fantasy’s I have played throughout the years, FFIX stood out the most, was the most enjoyable to listen to and was the first FF soundtrack I ever bought and have on my iPod. It’s that good. Of course. My second favourite video game soundtrack is Super Smash Bros Brawl, mainly because there are so many good classic tunes to listen to that have been remixed and with a songlist of over 250 songs, your sure to find something you can enjoy. My next favourite would definatly have to be Oblivion. After playing Oblivion for more than 500+ and not getting annoyed with the music for that long, I think it’s safe to say it’s a good soundtrack, and one I wish I had.

  10. I liked FFIX, too. Don’t get me wrong. Actually when I started replaying it a few weeks ago I tried to pay particular attention to the music, because other than Melodies of Life and a few other select tracks, I actually could not and cannot remember much of the music. :(

  11. I like FFIX, but I think 6,7,8, and 10 have the best overall soundtracks. 1,2,3,4,9,11, and 12 have memorable songs but as an overall soundtrack I think they’re pretty weak.

    Other than Final Fantasy I would says my video game music loves are Megaman pretty much all of them, Baulders Gate 1 and 2, Marvel Vs Capcom, and my favorite fallback Zelda: Orcarina of time, and a link to the past.

  12. Aside from FF music, I’ve been listening to a lot of Persona soundtracks recently. Usually, I’m not really an expert on video game music or anything like that, but they came free with the games and they’re great background music for work.

  13. A big surprise for me was the Mass Effect soundtrack. Hearing it described, I thought it was going to be terrible, but it completely fit the mood and helped create the unique atmosphere.

    @Underdog – Oh yeah! I love the OoT soundtrack. Majora’s Mask comes close too.

  14. I can hardly recall the ME OST. All I remember was some pumping ’80s synth, which I found very appropriate.

  15. You know, I have persona and some freetime coming up maybe I should take care of that game…

  16. @Underdog: I’ve only played P3 and P4, but I throughly enjoyed them, you could probably do much worse if you’re looking or a free-time-killing game.

    @Ethos/SN: Yeah, I don’t really remember what the ME soundtrack sounded like, either. I guess all we need to know is that it’ll all be replaced by HARD ROCK for ME2!

  17. Hard Rock? I hope not! I don’t remember the synth, but I do remember that I liked it.

  18. I can’t say much of anything regarding music in RPGs.
    Katamari does have great music though!
    And Starfox, Uncharted, Beyond Good & Evil, and F-Zero.
    The first WipEout on PS1 had a killer soundtrack and caused me to get at least two speeding tickets back in the day.
    Yeah!

  19. I’m probably gonna catch hell for this but I’ve never played Xenogears or Chrono Cross (or Chrono Trigger for that matter) so I can’t speak on either of their soundtracks.

    this is actually a difficult topic for me since I don’t usually think of my favorite game music in terms of individual games but in terms of composers.

    my favorite soundtrack would probably be Final Fantasy Tactics. I hardly remember the songs for most games but I can still hear Sakimoto’s songs in my head. his music just makes me want to ruin someone’s shit using sound military tactics. granted, I put in over 100 hours in that game so that might have something to do with it…

    my favorite composers are Hitoshi Sakimoto, Daisuke Ishiwatari (Guilty Gear series, Blazblue), Kenji Ito (SaGa series), and ZUN (Touhou series).

    @Bup – ah, your group of friends aren’t hardcore gamers either? sucks don’t it?

  20. You should definitely download the CC and Xeno OSTs, two of the best OSTs ever made, with CC as the better of the two. :)

    As far as Sakimoto OSTs go, you couldn’t go past the amazing work he did for Vagrant Story.

  21. @SN – haven’t played Vagrant Story either. I should probably start working on playing those older JRPGs.

  22. It’s quite hard but very good, and has a better localisation than FFXII.

  23. 0_0 seriously. damn, Woosely must have worked his ass off if it’s that good. I do need to check this out.

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