Over the years, I have delved into various genres of music. Jazz and hip hop have become to staples in my daily music listening. This is a sharp contrast to the hard rock and metal days of high school where I could be found listening to Rage Against The Machine or Iron Maiden at any given time. Although I have looked into various genres of music, I find that the one that I go back to the most is video game music. Before I discuss my passion of video game music, let me delve a little bit into the video game music, hereby referred to as VGM, that I was surrounded by as a child.
I have always felt very passionate about video game music from as early as Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3. I remember skating around in Foundry while playing Ace Of Spades by Motorhead and Wish by Alien Ant Farm. Sometimes I’d turn on the game just to listen to the music. It just fit the game so well. Another distinct soundtrack was Sonic Adventure Battle 2. There was just something about Escape The City and Live And Learn, the two opening tracks to the game composed by the band Crush 40, that was just magical. I was hyped and excited to play the game. I would subconsciously learn the words to the song just because I heard the songs so often.
It wasn’t until my experience with RPG’s that the possibilities of music in video games really opened up to me. Tales of Symphonia was my first JRPG game on a grand scale and I am so glad it was for more reasons that I will discuss at a later time. As I was playing the game, sinking in hours on hours, I really began to grow fond of the soundtrack that was made for this game. It strongly differed from Escape The City and Wish in that the music in Tales had no words and it was a lot more atmospheric. When I was in the wood, it felt mellow or spooky. When I was on the world map, I heard music that prompted adventure. I never knew what I would uncover in the next zone, but I was immensely excited to get there. Songs such as Fatalzie, A Selfish Want, and The End Of A Thought are just a few examples of the songs that got me hooked into VGM.
As I grew older I became exposed to more games that had beautiful soundtracks such as Red Dead Redemption, Bioshock, Halo (3 in particular) and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. These soundtracks had a lot more components to it and sounded so full. I would later on find myself getting into PC gaming and got exposed to a lot of games. Hotline Miami, Geometry Dash, Rocket League, Borderlands The Pre-Sequel. Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Binding Of Isaac and Super Meat Boy were just a handful of the great titles I played.
Recently, I began to wonder why I was drawn to them so often. Was it because of the game that the music was associated with, or was it the musicality of it all and how it genuinely sounded? To me, it was an honest mix. Of course, when I hear the opening theme to Halo 3, I get a flood of memories from high school playing Custom maps after school and playing Griffball. But, I think the other aspect is that composers of video games do not make music for profit in the contemporary sense.
Based on my limited understanding, a composer will be asked or requested to compose a song for a game or an entire soundtrack. They may be given images, word, or even gameplay to help them understand the purpose of their music, but after that, the music is up to them as long as it follows the guidelines or fits in the setting. I think that is absolutely beautiful. These composers are definitely earning money, that is for sure, but I don’t think Jeremy Soule is sitting at home hoping the Skryim soundtrack will go Platinum.
It’s the sincerity of the music and how the music fits into the game that attracts me to video game music. Someone isn’t trying to make a quick buck based on past success. I don’t think 95% of the fanbase would notice if Jeremy composed the soundtrack for Elder Scrolls VI or not. That’s not to say they wouldn’t be disappointed, he is an absolutely stellar composer and musician, but the game will still sell just as well as its predecessors if not better
I feel that with contemporary music, artists create less than stellar albums in order to tour and make more money. A lot of the music feels uninspired and repetitive. I feel the exact opposite with VGM though. I feel that VGM is bright, and different and immersive and consistently unique. The music from Monument Valley is vastly different than that of Borderlands 2 and Hotline Miami 2: The Wrong Number, and that’s beautiful. Yes, they are meant for different games and meant to set the scene in a different manner, but they all feel raw and unique.
Here are some of my favorite video game tracks:
End Of A Thought -- Tales Of Symphonia
Live & Learn -- Sonic Adventure Battle 2
Stereo Madness -- Geometry Dash
Hydrogen -- Hotline Miami
Rocket League Theme Song -- Rocket League
L -- Hohokum
Dragonborn -- Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim