The Legend of Videogame Soundtracks: There for All Time

Let me give you some background as to just why I’ve decided to write this post. for some reason, I decided it was time for some Zelda action. After turning on my Wii, blowing the cobwebs off ‘Twilight Princess’ and booting it up, I was horrified to see the last saved game was dated in glowing yellow letters:

29/05/2007 18:52

It was then that I realised that I’d turned my back on my childhood hero for exactly three years. Three years and I’d never played the game which had shaped my weekends and my spare time. Ever since the launch of Ocarina of Time in 1998, I’d completed it a grand total of fifteen times (sad, I know). What horrified me even more was the fact that the game had been launched in December 2006, which means I’d played the game for only five months before shutting it off for an enormous three-year hiatus.

Just hearing the intro tune, that famous and fantastic compilation by Koji Kondo, was enough to say “Jake, its been far too long. What have you been doing all these years?’. And that’s when it struck me. The music was enough to move me to play. With other games, I usually had music playing from my stereo which I then associated with playing that particular game. For instance, I can’t play Metriod Prime without thinking of the Futureheads debut album. Which brings me back to my main point.

Great games have great scores. They’re nearly all orchestrated. And it’s that simple, eclectic mix that makes me think that, you know what, video game music is just as influential as all the other genres. For a composer to go, “That music is beautiful. I’m going to spend months of my life writing a score which does it justice”, is not something which happens very often. But it’s becoming more and more acceptable, and more commonplace as I’ll be trying to persuade you throughout this article.

It’s a bone fide controversial issue, but I firmly believe that video games have spawned not just an art, but that the music that the genre has sprouted – kicking and screaming, from 8-bit systems to the most prestigious of modern orchestras –  to magnificence in its own right.

From al-cappella to orchestra, video game music has a lot to answer for. The first multi million selling  home entertainment video game, Super Mario Bros., hit the NES in Europe in 1985. Now, for all you statistic freaks its the best selling game of all time, reaching a staggering  40.23 million copies (that’s excluding Wii Sports which was released with the Wii console and smashed all records at around 60 million, but it was free so I won’t be taking that into consideration). Not many film companies can take that claim. To be in the houshold of nearly 41 million people? It’s unconstitutional! But the truth remains clear to me – and that’s that video games are a new format, a new paradigm, a new way of thinking, in everyones lives. And we’re exposing ourselves to them more and more.

I’d love to think back to the days when everyone thought it was just a fad, or a waste of time/childhood (to quote Phil, “I never had a Nintendo! I had an IMAGINATION!!!”) or simply another TV visualised board game. But here’s the rub: video game consoles are in the majority of people’s homes now.

I was perusing the font of all video knowledge, and this was the first of the orchestrated tunes which I want to impose on you: The Legend of Zelda medley:

As you can see from the post, there are a number of different tunes from various different Zelda games woven into this piece, but the one which always gives me vivid memories of Zelda to the point of welling up is the Dark World track, from ‘A Link To The Past’ (about 4:12 in). These peices were obviously written to inspire and stay with you for a long, long time. And the fact this was written in the early 1990’s is a very good indicator of how long they will last, too.

The fan following is pretty ferocious too.  A cappella tunes are peppering youtube, with this one being my favourite so far (not just because of the faces the bloke makes):

Moving on from Zelda, there are other game series which have just the same amount of a fan-following. And the one which most of you will have either revered or reviled, Metal Gear Solid. Now, I never owned a Playstation, but when Jack introduced me to MGS2: Sons of Liberty, I was, to be frank, fucking BLOWN AWAY BLUD. Not only that, but the piece written for the series was second to none in suspense and grandeur, written by a very notable composer Harry Gregson-Williams. I’ll let the music speak for itself on this one:

I hope you’ll agree on one word: EPIC.

Now I’m not going to leave any other reputable games out of this post, but in the name of brevity I need to omit some. Of course, perhaps the most iconic and memorable tracks stem from the very beginning: Mario. Here he is in full orchestrated loveliness:

It’s possibly the most laid-back of the lot, but it says a lot about the gameplay for mario – a ‘take it or leave it’ ethic which really works for the game. That said, all of the games which I have mentioned have one thing in common, and that’s that the gameplay, or more precisely, the game’s underlying theme or mood, is perfectly captured in the score.

And, to be honest, that’s all you could ask for – a representative tune which is not just thrown together for the sake of having some nice plinky plonky tune to keep gamers engaged. Mario puts a smile on your face, and wipes it off again once you get utterly battered by Bowser; MGS has you gasping for air and then on the edge of your seat, in puerile tension while liquid snake engages in a ridiculously long, heartfelt soliloquy; Zelda, with its lack of voice acting, requires the score to communicate the impending doom, or the intangible, whilst ultimately telling a story that you alone are the hero of.

#2

As long as videogames are around, there will always be great, and sometimes epic, music to accompany them.

After being told by Jake about his idea for this post it really made me realise just how much good game music there is out there. Its often overlooked simply because we don’t think about it – we’re busy playing the game – but on its own they suddenly bring the game back to life in our imagination.

Anyway, enough of repeating Jake, here are a couple more from me. First up we have the Hell March (3) from the latest Red Alert outing. This is a beautifully written piece of music that combines sounds of metallic fury with samples of soldiers chanting, to give a feeling of power. The music bring out in me a sort of hellish fury, one with which I wish to use all the power at my disposal to crush and destroy my opponents in an all out bloody massacre. The fast tempo creates an atmosphere of tension and the use of quasi-church music adds to the supernatural hellish feel. I wish to smite all my enemies with my furious wrath. So, it basically captures the game quite well.

Next, I have another piece of music designed to evoke aggression, but tailored to its specific game. Its a game I love and one that will always stay dear to my heart: Tekken 3. The music that accompanies the introduction movie is phenomenal for its accuracy to the game its supporting. The track first of all reminds you of the music you hear in arcades, which is where the game originally started. On top of this, the music has quick tempo accompanied with an electro-rocky feel. This gives a sensation of fast-paced action, and the ‘electro-rocky’ aspect gives a sensation of futuristic fighting. The breakdown halfway through also gives a sense of implied rage as its scripted to accompany Nina waking up (a character set on revenge). All in all I love it.

There are many more tracks out there that should be on here, I share the same sadness that Jake has that we can’t bring them all to you. If this has really grabbed you there are a three sites that you might like which I found here. They are: OverClocked Remix which is all about creativity and VGMusic which has a huge library. I say three because there is another site listed called Music 4 Games but that sadly does not apper to exist anymore.

Now that you’ve got access to many more, I’m going to have to leave you with just one more. I’m not sure if this song counts, as it wasn’t written for a game, but it does fit extremely well. Its the soundtrack to the opening video of Gran Turismo 2 and if you played that game prepare for a massive hit of nostalgia. For me its the game that taught me the fundamentals of racing, which I still use to this day, and it must have left its mark on you. What a game… enjoy!

#3

One reason I play the vidya is to indulge in chaotic, fast paced fantasy violence for a glorious hour or so, allowing me to gleefully shoot Ryan and Richard in the face with a colourful array of brutal weaponry, courtesy of Unreal Tournament, and more recently, Unreal 3, featuring superior HD.

The music of the original Unreal Tournament was definitely a staple of many a fun filled night the 3 of us would share, adding a pumping techno soundtrack to our virtual carnage. I even came across a download of all the songs, so the escapism can follow me now wherever I go!

For the really awesome bit, which I think perfectly encapsulates the fast paced ultraviolent amoral vibe of Unreal, hit 1:23. Then picture frantically dashing through futuristic corridors, minigun blazing, several opponents ahead of you disintegrating into a glorious shower of gore, in full beautiful HD.

Another, older, worse graphics but still wonderfully tasteless and violent offering responsible for many, many hours of mine, is the Playstation classic Die Hard Trilogy. Loosely based on the films, with some awesome John Mcclain quotes stolen for good measure (the “sorry pal!” when you accidentally shoot an innocent bystander is particularly gratifying) but more along the lines of Terrorists exist, ergo, kill them.

The second “game”, based on die hard 2, has one of the best vidya music moments ever, and was really unexpected in such a crass, mindless offering. The dark jingly intro is fantastic, fitting with the cold Christmas vibes but at the same time a great indicator of the carnage about to unfold.

I like to jam this song whenever I leave the house and it’s snowing, and suspect everyone I see is secretly a terrorist. By terrorist, I mean the mid 90’s definition which meant well dressed suspicious Europeans, instead of today’s standard of anyone vaguely middle eastern.

It would be unthinkable, nay, impossible for me to do this post without coming to Silent Hill, and the absolutely transcendental music of Akira Yamaoka Silent Hill one and 2 are responsible for some of the most scary, unsettling gaming experiences ever.

To be honest, I could do a whole post on the music of Silent Hill games, and even then barely scrape it. Half of what makes the games so unnerving is the music, providing the perfect accent to the many, many moments of terror, fear, and unsettling curiosity. I’m going to have to go with Silent Hill 2 though, and the beginning song, Promise Reprise.

I will forever remember the beginning of the game, and slowly walking down that long, long path into the deserted town of Silent Hill, with an increasing sense of Isolation, and the faint sound of footsteps following me…

Even Russian Slam metal dudes Abominable Putridity used some of the music on their latest album, the intro being the radio static you get when a creature is near you, and finishing the album using a track consisting of the music from your last encounter with Pyramid Head, and “remixing” it, as such.

…However, let’s not forget Dota by Basshunter, the anthem of PC gamers everywhere. #onlyinsweden

By Jake with contributions from Joe and Phil

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4 thoughts on “The Legend of Videogame Soundtracks: There for All Time

  1. Pingback: Subtle Sounds: Jessica Curry’s Compositions For Dear Esther |

  2. A fun article, but a bit scattershot I’d say; you can tell someone had a brainwave and wrote it 🙂

    I’m not going to do the typical commenter thing of listing my favorite soundtracks (Shadow of the Colossus! Total Annihilation! – um…), but I will say that the best, most representative piece of UT music is Save Me by Alexander Brandon, AKA the Morpheus track:

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