Soundtracks in Gaming: A Tribute

| April 23, 2017 | 0 Comments

I find myself increasingly appreciative of instrumental music as the years go by. While vocals and lyrics still speak to me from time to time, there’s something about the absence of them that makes music more personal to me; it creates a tone and context for my mood, feelings, and thoughts without attaching any specific voice or message to them. Moreover, it helps me to work and write, focusing on the action of my own projects and stories as opposed to the singer’s.

Personally, I find that one of the best sources for such music is in videogame soundtracks. They – and their composers – don’t really get the kind of praise they deserve. Each soundtrack is a powerful fragment of the larger whole that is a videogame, emanating with untamed energy, enhancing not only your enjoyment of the game but its story, mood, and aesthetic itself, and I’m here to list off five of my favorites.

(5) Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (Harry Gregson-Williams)

While its predecessor remains my favorite entry in the franchise, MGS4’s soundtrack shook me to my core in wholly unexpected fashion. Energetic, empowering, and often times melancholic, Williams’ tracks by themselves speak volumes about the Metal Gear series and the state of its heroes in its (sort of) concluding entry. The track Old Snake basically tells our hero Solid Snake’s story, both tragic and heroic, with just the right pang of hopefulness inside to reflect he still has fire left in him after all these years. Meanwhile, Metal Gear Saga captures the epic scope and scale of a saga twenty years in the making, finally nearing its end with the potential death of its hero. It’s going to be a tough ride especially for longtime fans, and Williams scores it with enough thunder and gravitas to carry them through it.

(4) Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (Joe Hisaishi)

NNK is a collaboration between game developers Level-5 and the wildly famous Studio Ghibli, known for such masterpieces as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. In typical Ghibli fashion, everything from the art style to the telling coming-of-age narrative shines through, accompanied by a soundtrack brought to life in epic fashion by Joe Hisaishi and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Whether you’re racing across the sprawling fantasy world to the enchanting tune of Another World, or taking to the skies on dragonback to the blaring rhythms of… well… Taking to the Skies, NNK’s soundtrack is a marvel. Every town in the game has its own unique culture and people, and the music for these towns captures the mood and aesthetic perfectly. Ni No Kuni is a testament to the power of how music not only accompanies you on your gaming adventures, but also sets the stage and tone for them.

(3) Journey (Austin Wintory)

There isn’t much I can say about Journey’s soundtrack – or, to be honest, Journey itself – except that it’s remarkably sharp and poignant. Wintory’s composition is a balance of subdued, intimate, and mysterious. In a game rich with lore, wonder, and allegory that it conveys entirely through action and without dialogue, he captures something mythic in his sounds that makes the experience flow along smoothly, and almost tells its own story independent of the game it underscores.

(2) Final Fantasy series (Nobuo Uematsu; Various)

Square-Enix’s hallmark JRPG series boasts fifteen main entries to date, in addition to its pantheon of spin-offs and crossovers. And with a franchise that massive, it should come as no surprise that the fanbase is often divided as to which entries rank best, worst, and why. But most Final Fantasy fans do seemingly agree on one thing: the series’ soundtrack is consistently solid. Whether it’s the iconic victory fanfare of old or the more recent Somnus, our love for longtime series composer Nobuo Uematsu and his collaborators stretches as far ahead as the franchise itself undoubtedly will. From the ominous chanting behind One Winged Angel to the haunting, mystical tunes of To Zanarkand, Final Fantasy’s pantheon of iconic music tracks rivals the albums of even the greatest musicians. There’s a reason Uematsu is considered “the Beethoven of videogame music!”

(1) Kingdom Hearts II (Yoko Shimomura)

The Kingdom Hearts series combines the storytelling and animesque eccentricity of Final Fantasy with the magic of Disney to create something greater than the sum of its parts: a unique breed of nostalgia and new, of ancient magic and future technology. Composer Yoko Shimomura is one of the most talented artists in the industry, and the fact that she has remixed and reimagined countless favorite Disney tracks for the series’ many Disney worlds, characters, and cameos is a testament to her range. On top of that, she has also composed original tracks such as Dearly Beloved and The Other Promise, as well as motifs for a majority of the franchise’s heroes that tell you volumes about them as people through music alone. KH2’s soundtrack sprawls across generations of Disney stories and inspires nostalgia, but more than that it tells you a vibrant, epic new story with a passion and honest love for the series that is rare in many artists.

Featured photo credit: Javier Domínguez Ferreiro 2526329318_9be13a07b0_o via photopin (license)

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Art and Literature, featured, Music, Science and Technology, TV and Movies

Aaraf Afzal

About the Author ()

Aaraf Afzal is many things, but he's not particularly good at being any of them. He continues to work towards this goal, among others, studying Film & TV and Economics at Boston University. An avid subscriber to the belief that all forms of media have their own sense of artistic beauty, he is particularly invested in writing fiction and recently released his first novel "Re: Revolution" in Bangladesh. Alongside his pursuits at Culture Shock, he's currently at work writing an online series called "The Chosen Zeroes." Fandoms and inspirations include Neil Gaiman, Kingdom Hearts, Ratchet and Clank, Marvel Comics, and Culture Shock. Giggity.

Leave a Reply