While it is probably one of the lesser appreciated aspects of a video game, (damn graphics and all of their fancy polygons) music is definitely one of the most remembered and cherished. From humming the Mario theme down the street to having the Final Fantasy VII victory fanfare set as a ringtone on your phone and full-fledged orchestral concerts celebrating the sounds that give you a reason to take note and listen, it is and probably will continue to be something that will stick with us for the rest of our lives. Here at Twinfinite, we took the time to sit down and talk about the titles whose music has buried itself deep in our brains and left tiny, unforgettable, unplanned song babies. Here is our favorite video game music of all time.
Many people who aren’t well-versed in video games talk about music as though it’s just ‘bleeps and bloops’. Obviously that hasn’t been remotely the case since at least the mid-80s, but there definitely was a time when it was a big deal to hear a real song (or its closest approximation at least) in a video game.
I played a ton of Rocky for the Colecovision back in the day. Based on Rocky III, the game itself was little more than Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots where you play as either Rocky Balboa or Clubber Lang. Looking at a video of the entire thing being played out in two minutes, I can’t believe how much time I spent playing it as a kid.
But then I remembered the music.
The Rocky Theme is such an evocative piece of movie music that it just makes you want to get up off the mat and take on the world. Hearing that music while standing over the twitching, fool-pitied body of Clubber Lang and hearing that song play is the earliest memory I have of being truly moved by a piece of music in a game. Only a chiptune version of Eye of the Tiger or an 8 bit re-enactment of the best man-hug ever could have made this game perfect.
I may have used this game as another First before, but it stills rings true. The music in this game just complimented the high velocity so well. The Emerald Hill Zone theme is probably forever branded into every circuit of my brain, and I love it. The boss theme, however, played an especially significant role for me as I tried to coordinate each attack with the music as best as I could. The rhythm was always a little off, so it didn’t exactly help, but boy was it fun.
Casino Night Zone must have been one of my first forays into jazz… with blast processing! The entire level was full of pings that created a cacophony over the soundtrack, creating quite the 16-bit experience. Then don’t even get me started on the Special Stages. I would collect 50 rings and find the nearest star pole (Aw yeah) just to hear that song again and again. I would often forget that I should actually try to get the Chaos Emerald at the end of these stages. Mo’ beats, mo’ problems.
Music is an increasingly important element in video games, but even some of the oldest games have music that has somehow managed to stand the test of time. Despite playing older games (with great music) like Mario, Megaman, and Sonic the Hedgehog, the first time I really took note of the music in a game was Final Fantasy VII.
The lengthy soundtrack, designed almost entirely by composer Nobuo Uematsu, was expertly developed to accompany each major character, area, and plot point. Even today, the tracks can immediately evoke emotion in veterans of the game. I still listen to the tracks from that game on an almost weekly basis (although I’ve upgraded many of the tracks to their corresponding orchestral version). I am clearly not alone, as the Final Fantasy series is one of few video games to be celebrated by orchestras around the world in various shows. I invite the uninitiated to search for Final Fantasy on Spotify to see what you’re missing.
An honorable mention goes out to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, which almost single-handedly inspired a love for punk music in both me and my older brother.
Nier is, without a doubt, the most controversial title of this generation. Everyone who played it will tell you something different about its quality. Some complain that the graphics aren’t up to par while others praise the same element. The only thing that people seem to agree on is that the game has a fantastic soundtrack. It truly is something special, and for me, it was something I didn’t even notice until I had gotten a few hours into it.
I picked up Nier some time after my child was born and would play it in those few hours that I could between naps. Therefore, a good chunk of the game was played with the audio a few bars above mute. When I had finally landed a chance to play the game in a normal environment, I found out what I had lost by simply playing games without music. I’m not a guy who is that into the audio in most games; if it sounds good, then I’m happy.
When I finally turned the game on and ran through it with the music on, the game was changed for me. It was better. In fact, it was almost fabulous. I’m not sure if this is the first bit of game music to play an important role in my life, but it certainly taught me to appreciate all the aspects that make my entertainment come together. Shame I learned it so late in life.
This is cliché, sure, but the Ocarina of Time soundtrack really made the game for me and will always give it a special place in my heart. Maybe it was because I was a kid, so there’s some permanent level of nostalgia that goes with it, though everyone needs to always remember that the game was titled and centered around an instrument!
Tunes as simple as Zelda’s Lullaby and Saria’s Song have become recognizable by 90% of my gaming generation and, because they are so simple, will never be forgotten. I can’t imagine that game without music. In fact, it would not be playable since you need to toot that Ocarina a million times to progress anywhere.
As a long time lover of music and video games, I usually tend to remember music that can evoke some kind of emotion with its audience. The first to have hit a chord with me was Mirror’s Edge. Not just the memorable theme song by Lisa Miskovsky, but the score that rings throughout the world as you are running for your life is simply stunning. It was the first game where I purposefully had to restart or just stopped playing at all so I could sit there and listen to the music.
It is rare for a song to take over the experience of something interactive –excluding the Harmonix titles– but when it does, it becomes more than just a game. When the visuals of a title shine the most, it is seen as art, and when music takes the stage, it becomes acutely reminiscent of your favorite artist playing your favorite song just for you. Mirror’s Edge is one of the few titles whose tentative sequel has my attention based solely on what I heard in the first game.
Since then, there have been other games where music was an integral part of the experience. The Yakuza series is not known for its audio tenacity, but when the music is present, it adds a depth to the story which is unforgettable. As time goes on, music will continue to play a larger part for everyone who takes the time to slow down and listen.