I’ve always felt that videogame music can make or break a game. Some of my favorite games are my favorite because of the music. Much like setting can be described as a “character” in a story, music can also be described as a “character” in videogames. It helps to tell the story and often conveys a certain emotion whether it accompanies dialogue or stands alone. It’s true that not every game company gives music the same amount of attention as say the characters, the story, the graphics, or game mechanics but for those that do it really helps to keep the gamer engaged and enthralled.
Perhaps not every gamer feels the same way about music, but we thought it would be a good idea to write about some of the music that we feel gives us, and possibly others, a sort of spiritual experience (if you can get behind that) while playing the game. These themes and musical pieces hit the gamer hard in the chest, making them feel like part of the game itself and maybe even as if they were the main character or at least a part of the world. For any gamer familiar with these musical pieces, it’s possible tears might ensue not simply due to nostalgia but due to a strange emotion that, I feel, only music has the power to evoke. Music really does come from the soul and these chosen themes are some of gaming’s most emotional pieces, whatever emotion that may be…
So our Emily wants me to think about music, eh? Well, this is going to be hilarious considering I never really pay any attention to it. I mean, it’s there and I can obviously hear it, but I don’t usually absorb it in the same way some other gamers do. Generally, if I’m really noticing it, it’s annoying me which wouldn’t bode well for this list.
This being said, I think I’ll pick out a few games that either have iconic soundtracks I’ll always remember or conjure up certain memories that might not be directly related to the game. Actually … yeah … this should be fun…
Journey is an interesting game because there is no real dialogue. The sounds the pilgrim makes are musical notes which differ for every run-through, giving the player the idea they are playing different pilgrims each time. Pieces of the story are put together through images and exploration so nothing is ever blatantly told. All that being said, it might be obvious then music plays a huge role in this obscure adventure. Music defines each level and builds up to a grand finale that leaves the player weeping in both joy and sadness. “Apotheosis” is the final music the player hears before the end credits. It brings everything together in a triumphant, invigorating moment of heaven-bound momentum that gently ends with the lonely cello that started it all. Just about every positive emotion is felt throughout the entire piece from the first build-up to the final notes. It’s more than just the end of the game, it’s the end of the player’s journey. Truly a masterpiece in videogame music.
So this is one of the few games where I remember the soundtrack and love it, as well. In fact, in a rare moment of madness (or probable lucidity for me), I actually bought this soundtrack on LP (which covers Enemy Unknown, too) so I could listen to it while doing other things. The wonderful thing about the music in XCOM 2 is it’s perfectly fitting for the game. You have dark and decidedly eerie elements to the score that conjure images of an imposing, very powerful threat. This fits beautifully because XCOM 2 is all about subversion and control. I’m not going into the story, cause, well, spoilers, but you know the aliens are in charge; it’s all about what they’re up to in the background. There are also plenty of more upbeat elements to the score just to give your hard-as-nails freedom fighters that extra bit of pep. It’s just brilliant and you don’t need the game in front of you to enjoy it fully which is a fantastic achievement.
Kingdom Hearts– Dearly Beloved
I one hundred percent believe this list would not be complete without the legendary composer Yoko Shimomura listed somewhere. Her dramatic compositions not only get under your skin but seep into your veins and into your heart (dramatic but hey, it’s Shimomura). With her music, you are a part of the game and the story; there is no feeling of being on the outside. That is how powerful her music is. Any of her pieces could be listed but I chose “Dearly Beloved” because it does hold some nostalgia for me. The first time I heard it after loading up Kingdom Hearts on the PlayStation 2, I knew I was in for more than just an adventure. Even as a kid, I could feel the weight of the story within those few notes before even starting the game. There is a melancholy to the theme that resonates with just about every character in the franchise. Even though it’s a Disney game, the story of Sora and his loss is there in the theme.
Really any of the original Sonic videogame music pieces could be on this list but definitely the first one. It’s that opening theme that will be ingrained into my subconscious for the rest of my known existence. You couldn’t see the SEGA logo without hearing the sound effect attached to it and that was often followed with the first bars from the intro to the first escapade of our favourite blue rodent. This is a memory thing for me. I was about 12 when I got my Megadrive (Genesis for you foreign lot) and Sonic the Hedgehog was one of the first titles I owned. I just remember lying on the floor in front of my telly and switching it on for the first time. Then I remember playing it to death until I completed it. Wouldn’t mind re-living that now, actually.
Bloodborne– The First Hunter
Bloodborne has some pretty soul-wrenching themes but none hit me as hard as what could be considered the final boss music depending on how you played the game. Regardless of what decision the player makes, battling the final boss isn’t easy and it’s not just because this is Bloodborne. Without spoiling too much, this semi-final boss is every bit personal to the player and the main character. Whatever the ending may be for the player, there is a sense of release and finality. The crying violins in “The First Hunter” mixed with the determination of the choir creates an air of desperation; that one hunter should conquer the other for no selfish reason, just to put it all to an end. The entire fight is a mercy kill competition and the music only adds to the intense, emotional frenzy the player undergoes.
Rock n’ Roll Racing
Who remembers this one, then? No? Well, Rock N’ Roll Racing was an amazing game with a killer soundtrack. It was space-themed and unlike its counterparts at the time (F-Zero and the like), it was isometric. What really sticks in my head is the soundtrack. With songs like “Radar Love” by Golden Earring, “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath, and “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood and the Destroyers to race around to, what could possibly be better? This is one of those titles I still emulate and play today. Granted, it’s not flashy by any means but it sure as hell is fun and that’s the main point, right?
Final Fantasy X– A Fleeting Dream
“A Fleeting Dream” is a musical piece no Final Fantasy X fan could ever forget. This piece is serious and emotional. By the time the player gets to hear it, they are on the final road and near the end of Yuna’s pilgrimage. Everything that has led up to this point is beautifully told through the music, especially since (blessedly) the general fight music doesn’t play when the party runs into fiends. “A Fleeting Dream” continues to play through the battles making it all the more powerful. The characters are driven, the player is driven, and the music leads everyone to the end where a very serious and unforgettable boss awaits. Everything about the Zanarkand ruins feels like the characters and players are throwing everything they have into each fight. Everyone has a story to tell from the major romance story between Yuna and Tidus to the faithful family companion that is the bubbly Rikku. Even Kimahri’s personal journey as Yuna’s bodyguard can be felt in the music.
As you may have guessed by my last entry, I’m a metalhead. Rock music runs in my veins and I enjoy nothing more than gaming with something vulgar, crunchy, and full of guitar booming along in the background. What makes Brutal Legend such a wicked game is it doesn’t just play you rock music, it fully immerses you in it. This is an RPG about all things metal and it’s just bloody brilliant. With voiceovers from Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead), Rob Halford (Judas Priest), and of course, our good mate Ozzy (Black Sabbath), this is a title that has to be played to be believed. Jack Black is heading up an all-star cast and I would love to see a sequel. Brutal Legend deserved to be a franchise and I’m hoping some kind soul might just remember how good it is and give this story another whirl.
Final Fantasy XV– Somnus
Seems like a cheat to put Yoko Shimomura on the list again but if Alex gets to be all metal, then I get to be a fantasy nerd. Final Fantasy XV is one of those games you either love or hate or just don’t care about. I have my own opinion of the game and it is not entirely positive but one thing I think a lot of fans can agree on is the music. Shimomura had been on board from the very beginning and to see her keep her feet steady throughout the years (and years and years) of development was inspiring. When the game finally came out, when the menu faded into view and “Somnus” started playing, well, it’s no exaggeration to say hearing that was a spiritual experience. “Somnus” carries with it the emotional burden of facing Fate even through tragedy in order to save the world. It’s a pretty stereotypical hero’s journey but when you play the game and get to know the boy band on a personal level, the ending really does kick you in the gut. “Somnus” holds so much more meaning than just a simple prophecy and listening to it even without knowing anything about the game can cause the heart to ache and eyes to water.
GTA: Vice City
This is another one of those where I enjoyed the soundtrack so much I went out and bought the CD box set. The brilliance of this particular title is it covered pretty much every type of music you could think of and devoted a radio station to it. Like Pop? Flash FM is going to be your go-to with its bubblegum DJ Toni. Her show will bring you tracks by bands such as Talk Talk, INXS, and Michael Jackson. Rock addicts like me would probably want V Rock with DJ Lazlow. For Hip-Hop, it was Wildstyle Pirate Radio and its host Mr. Magic. Each CD was a different station and in the game, every station offered you a plethora of excellent bands and artists from the 80s to race around the streets enjoying. Sometimes I wouldn’t even bother playing the game. I’d just park up somewhere and jam out for a while or chuckle along to the often hilarious voiceovers and stories that made the DJs’ personalities and the stations truly memorable. Absolutely awesome stuff.
So there you have it! 10 sonically sizzling scores to satiate your sound starved soul. If you can think of any others we’ve missed, absolutely let us know! In the meantime, we’ve got tunes to enjoy but we’ll be back soon with another 10 (or even 20) somethings for you to chew over. Have fun for now!
Emily is a horror enthusiast and horror writer, a passion that has bled into the video game world. Her two favorite dark fantasy/horror games are Bloodborne and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Read more...