Thursday, August 16, 2012

Can Music Make or Break a Game?


Written by Debbie Lloyd

The importance of music in a video game is often overlooked. We all have our favourite tracks from our favourite games, but how does music really add to our gaming experience? With the exception of games like LIMBO, I believe it has a massive impact on how we experience each game world. 


The music of Tetris and Pacman is something that will remain with many gamers. Play these in a room full of people, and it’s guaranteed that most of them will know what these little midi files are from, and they will even be able to hum along to it. The music is part of the nostalgia for some gamers, part of the playing experience and each game may perhaps not have enjoyed as much fame as they did without these iconic sounds.

Video game music has become a lot more complex since the early days of arcade machines though. With composers like Nobuo Uematsu, famous for the Final Fantasy series, Koji Kondo, the genius behind The Legend of Zelda soundtracks, or Shoji Meguro, a more obscure composer famed with composing some unique music for the Persona franchise, video games are a land filled with magnificent composition. Of course the magic of video game music is not just limited to JRPGs. The Halo franchise boasts a fan base with a passion for the orchestral music contained within, and Metal Gear Solid fans sing praise to each instalments soundtrack. 

Even action games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta have a certain something about their battle tracks that are designed to get you pumped up. I bet you never thought that a version of Fly Me To The Moon could get your adrenaline rushing in order for you to kick some angel butt, but it really works. In typical Devil May Cry style, the main battle music is written and performed by the lead vocalist to heavy rock band, Hyonogaja, and really gets you in a button bashing mood. Without these key songs would you really have had as much desire to pummel those enemies and finish off the game? Perhaps not.

Fallout 3 is a rare example where older songs are used for the soundtrack, and Galaxy News Radio is a pure stroke of genius that left me riveted with every song, no matter how often they were replayed. Fallout New Vegas featured a similar soundtrack, but for some reason it just didn’t hit the same chords for me. 


The true test of video game music though, is when you decide whether you want to listen to it outside of their game worlds. The music of Final Fantasy has its very own concert touring the world at the moment; Distant Worlds. The giant Halo series has even had a concert hosted in its honour, with fans flocking to listen to the live soundtrack and relive some of their favourite moments. If that doesn’t tell you the quality of what we are caressing our eardrums with, then I don’t know what will.

I can personally spend hours playing Persona 3 and not get bored of the battle music. I even listen to the soundtrack in my iTunes library when I start to get a bit of withdrawal. There are however some games that demand you mute them and create your own soundtrack. The music in Blue Dragon was one of these games. Every boss battle had the same annoying heavy rock track on an endless loop. There was no way I could sit through that, so I had to make my own amusement. I also did the same with World of Warcraft whenever I got stuck into a day-long session on the epic MMORPG because chirping birds does get a bit boring after a while.

MTV has dished out awards for the best video game soundtracks in the past, and of course the BAFTAs have recognized the medium of the game soundtrack in their annual video game awards. Music is just as important in games as it in film and television it would seem.

My point is without the music, gaming may not be what it is today. Without background ditties to hum along to and dramatic battle sounds, games might feel static and lifeless. Sure, some hit the mark where others fall short, but let us take a moment to appreciate what we so often forget is a vital cog in the gaming machine.

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