Thursday, 23 May 2013

The circuit boards are alive with the sound of music!

When I was 8 years old, just like any other self-respecting gamer I owned a Super Nintendo; and dear lord did I love it! I would enjoy the ludicrously catchy level themes from Super Mario World, the nostalgic tunes from Street Fighter 2 and the bizarrely, beautiful child-like lullabies from Yoshi's Island. The music was just as important to me as the game itself; they described the game and defined emotion before characters had voices.

Anyway I digress; at the time I lived in Egypt and the housing in the area had a bad reputation for letting sand in. So during the summer I made my annual trip back to the UK with my parents and when I came back I discovered the window in my bedroom had blown open and everything was caked in sand. Apparently a sandstorm had passed through and made its way into my bedroom. Well long story short my SNES still worked but the sound was completely knocked out. After that experience I found I no longer enjoyed my games as much. Without the sound they were nowhere near as fun and immersive as they once were.

The above only proves how important sound in games is to me, however I believe video games are severely underrated when it comes to music in general. In a lot of ways I think video game music is more sophisticated than many film soundtracks.

When writing my love poems on the Silent Hill series a few blog posts back I didn't have the oppertunity to gawk about how much I love the music from Silent Hill. But now I do! Huzzah! But I will keep it short and sweet for the sake of whomever may be reading.

Something I feel Silent Hill 2 did particularly well was sound, or more accurately, the lack of sound. It wisely chose not to use music throughout the world. The dead silence was intended to put you on edge and make you feel completely alone. The sound effects made little sense; the noises some of the resident monsters made were so bizzare they were shocking in themselves. However, this isn't to say the game lacked any music at all, on the contrary it has some of the best music across the board. Memorable theme songs and depressing tracks blended with that tinge of angst, yet undeniably seducing at the same time. Who doesn't get pins and needles when they hear this playing?

However, music also plays a role in defining the game the moment you hear it. A well composed theme song is crucial to making your game a winner. When a prospective gamer hears the theme tune playing they need to be told what sort of game they are playing, whether its an action packed adventure, a light-hearted excursion or a chilling horror story. A skilful composer can convey the precise emotion they wish to evoke.

One piece of music I feel provokes a sense of mystery and discovery is the nostalgic theme from Tomb Raider. Even though I never personally played the games when I was younger I knew precisely how the theme song went.

A composer today who is receiving wide recognition and merit is Jack Wall; the man responsible for the soundtracks from Mass Effect, Splinter Cell and the Call of Duty series. He is famous for utilizing a complete live orchestra for his recordings and producing music of such a high calibur it can stand shoulders with the most prolific of movie soundtracks.

He has won several awards for his sweeping scores and is even recognised in media outside of game. Here's one of my personal favourites from the game Mass Effect 2.

Now for a few of my personal favs. Music which to me is so much more than the games they come from. Tunes which represent a feeling or emotion and runs with it. But of course, something which helps me relive how enthralled I was when playing the game.

Now I have never played this game before; personally the gameplay looked a little dated to me. However, the story and its characters are compelling and likeable. Ico, a young boy who was banished from his tribe for growing horns (a sign of a bad omen) and locked within a fortress. Inside here he meets Yorda, a young woman trying to escape her mother, the queen who wishes her dead. Instantly the unlikely protagonists form a friendship and work towards the common goal of escaping their prison.

Whats interesting is there is no form of story-telling apart from through the characters' actions and the music accompanying them. Neither character speaks an audible language; they cant even understand each other. Somehow though, they are endearing and you want nothing more than for the two innocents to escape the dreaded fortress. I feel the music expresses their predicament to a T.


Kaine is a young woman who is possessed by a particularly sadistic demon. She has a bad temper and foul mouth, but underneath she still a young lady. Her emotions stay bottled and she goes through more inner-torment as the game progresses. 

The song is sung in a made up language; something that cannot be understood. This is intended as Kaine herself cannot be understood by the player (at first) or the main character. It represents her struggle and desire to be free.

A game which I always felt had extrodinary music was the Soul Calibur series. Ever character's theme described them without a need for words. "Fearless eyes" describes the young Greek oracle, Sophitia. A young woman and a mother whom will stop at nothing to protect her children from the cursed blood of Soul Edge.

However, in the end if I had to pick one piece of music that has stuck with me and described my young childhood as a gamer it would without a doubt be this song here. Undoubtedly the most iconic piece of music in gaming history.


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