The topic of video game soundtracks is one that comes up every now and then, especially when conversing with other gamers. Some people will view the soundtracks as unimportant or less crucial than the gameplay or action, while others will say that the soundtrack can make or break a game. There are others still that will take the stance that soundtracks play an important part in the enjoyment of a game, but no more or less than that of the plot or gameplay. Given that there are about as many different philosophies surrounding video game soundtracks as there are gamers in the world, we thought we would get a big discussion going amongst some of the Analog Addiction staff and share the results with you. The entire discussion has been split into two parts due to how thorough the responses got, with the first half being included in this article and the second half coming a little later. Each editor also picked their favourite video game track so you’ll have some ear candy to complement the reading. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your personal favourite in here.
The staff were asked to weigh in on a few questions pertaining to a video game soundtracks:
How important is a game’s soundtrack in your opinion?
Which game do you feel has the best soundtrack and why?
What is your favourite video game track?
Jamie “El Jefe” Briggs
“Game soundtracks are vital, they can make a gaming experience memorable and create some amazing moments when the soundtrack is used to its full potential. Music within games has allowed me to have better experiences, simply because the music was setting a higher bar.
‘Bastion’ is an excellent experience, from its unique vocal narrative and beautiful art style, but also because of its excellent soundtrack. These songs are gorgeous and this is one soundtrack I can listen too over and over, it is so calming and relaxing. The music within ‘Bastion’ made my experience even greater, I remember getting to ‘Zia’s Theme’ in the game and I stopped and listened to that track 5 times. This is a moment I loved and I have loved the soundtrack ever since.
‘Deus Ex: Human Revolution’ is another game that provides a very unique soundtrack, actually my favourite of 2011. It possessed this unique, futuristic sound that complemented the game world exponentially. This is another soundtrack I own and one I couldn’t recommend enough, this also helped make this game one of my favourites of all time. Seriously buy this game, listen to the main menu theme and become in love with this games sound.”
Jideobi “Beast” Odunze
“A game’s soundtrack is very important to me. That is what draws you into the game. Some people like to play games with their own music playing in the background, that is normal yet mainly because some games lack that soundtrack in which sells each and every moment of the game. One which succeeds in having a great soundtrack is one where you want to hear it, one in which you feel the emotion it is telling you to feel, and you will silence everything else to hear every note. It is just another way to engage the player in what they are playing and that is key to a great story and storytelling as a whole.
Halo has the best soundtrack. It’s arguable as to which one had the best, though to me that would be Halo 4. Halo 4 is an emotional story. They wanted you to get that feeling of what happens when the hero finally is thrown into a situation that he and she find themselves up against the wall. Chief and Cortana both sold that story so well and enough to bring many close to tears at the very end.
With that being said, ‘Arrival’ from the last level of Halo 4 is my favorite game track. This was where it was all or nothing when Chief has lost the one thing that made him feel whole. The one person he was supposed to protect that died to protect him. This was that final stride to complete the mission they were willing to and did sacrifice everything to complete. It was the arrival of a moment that really defined who they were beneath their hard exteriors.”
Nathan “Dingo” Manning
“A game’s soundtrack, or score, is very important to me. Scores/soundtracks that are done right can add so much more to the atmosphere of a game. Looking at my list of favourite games, one of the main reasons I have the games on my list is because of their atmosphere. This is created not just through sound effects, but through the game’s score as well. Battlefield 3 features an intense score with a heavy bass that fits its military, fast paced action perfectly; Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has a calming orchestral score that intensifies in combat, creating a perfect atmosphere for a fantasy game; and Assassin’s Creed 3 features a score that sounds like it has been taken straight from the 18th Century. If any of these games were to switch scores, the experience would not be the same and the atmosphere would just not be the same.
Another one of my favourite games is Saints Row 3. While being a great game, Saints Row 3 also features one of my favourite levels ever. That level is the penthouse take over early in the game. The level is nothing out of the ordinary, gameplay wise, but there is something about the song (Power by Kanye West) that gets my blood pumping. I think that is the idea the composer had when they chose Power as the background song. Volition wanted players to feel like they were doing something important and needed something to get players engaged. I am not going to deny the fact that I ended up timing my kills to match up with the beat so I could create a personal kill montage.” [Nathan would like to make it very clear that he’s not the one playing in the video you’re about to see. He’s outraged at their lack of timing and rhythm.]
Jaime “Paco Bell” Sifontes
“I have alway held a rather interesting opinion on what makes a video game better than the rest, and while I would most certainly agree that gameplay is typically king of that formula, the amalgam between music and story are typically the most important to me. Well, if that the main focus of the game; Tetris doesn’t get a 1/10 because it fails to tell the tale about the trials and tribulations of the ‘zig zag’ block. However, Tetris is a great example of how many gamers can recognize how important music/sounds can be to a video game. The theme of Tetris, or Korobeiniki, is one of the most widely recognized themes in all of video gaming. It is a tune that I can hum or whistle to in a coffee shop and a majority of the people would know what I am refering to.
Today’s more intricate gaming though (not that Tetris isn’t intricate or complex) uses music to tap into people’s ethos, or emtions. Whether its a bombastic orchestra for Halo, or a sad violin in Zero Escape, the soundtrack can be the link to a video game that will alow us to remember the key momments forever.
Personally, I feel the best soundtrack to this day for any video game is Chrono Trigger. It is adventerous and heroic, but poingnant when it needs to be. The music has beautiful timing and is extremely memorable. It was Nobuo Uemastsu & Yasunori Mitsuda’s finest work as a whole. A recent mashup with Jay Z and Chrono Trigger just proves how adaptable the music itself is, and the nostalgia is crazy. My personal favorite though is the music from the Persona Series. While all of the Shin Megami Tensei music is fantastic, and all of the composers are masters of their craft.
My favorite track though is Blue Bird Lamentation in Virtue’s Last Reward, for reasons I cannot say….”
Michael “Stuck in the Past” Troina
“Some soundtracks of games you can’t even hear or are pretty irrelevant to gameplay, others have full scores from orchestra or piano concerto’s, and others are simply awesome 8,16, or 32-bit songs. All in all, I believe soundtrack’s have a pretty big impact for me, but not in a way that I would turn down a game with a bad soundtrack. No, it is in a way that I almost can’t play games without sound bits at all. If I’m playing Mario Kart, it would be impossible for me to play the game with no sound, it just is something that makes the game more enticing, more realistic, more involving. Mario games, Sonic games, Legend of Zelda games, their songs just fit the motif and theme of each area, and that is something you can’t replace or ever take away. The soundtrack enhances the value and experience of the game and level. Many of the unforgettable soundtracks are from some of the best games, and often most the remembered levels; but some bad games do spew out good soundtracks, so don’t count them out.
Sonic 3 has the best video game OST ever. Every single level, every act each theme fits, and is a new song. It’s addicting, fun, catchy, and GOOD. Best bits from Sonic 3: Ice Cap Zone Act 1, Flying Battery Zone Act 1 are some of my favourites.”
This wraps up part one of the roundtable discussion surrounding video game soundtracks and their importance within the games themselves. As you can see, the first half of the staff are very pro-soundtrack and feel it’s vital to the gaming experience. Will the other half of the staff agree? The only way to find out for sure is to wait and find out! In the meantime, sound off below in the comments and let us know what you think about the opinions and musical selections so far.
Update: The second part of this discussion is now up. You can find it here.
Eric is an editor for Analog Addiction where you can find all the latest gaming news, previews, reviews, and everything else that rhymes with those words. ‘Like’ Analog Addiction on Facebook to receive all of the updates as they’re posted.