28th Feb2009

Push Play: The Music Behind the Games

by Eric Bouchard

Gaming music has always had a place in my heart. I remember grabbing my boom box and taping the intro to One on One: Jordan VS Bird and playing the drop ship level from Aliens over and over again because I was entranced with the music. As systems and sound cards improved, so did the music, and now I find myself adding game soundtracks to my glowing collection of Anime and Movie scores.

Does that sound a little strange to you? Maybe you think there just isn’t enough good game music out there to make you want to buy a soundtrack. If that is the way you feel, let me challenge you to listen to the games you play. Notice how the music adds to the experience, much like a good score adds to a great movie. Think about the driving sound of the battles in Gears of War, and the great relive you felt as the music changed and dropped out, your audio clue that the battle was over…for now. Remember the haunting music that plays in the wraith mash in Fable 2, setting you on edge as you looked around each corner, trying to spot the banshees before they spotted you. Good music adds to the atmosphere of the game; we just tend to be so wrapped up in making sure we don’t die that we tend not to notice.

So maybe you’re considering starting a soundtrack collection of your own, but you have no idea where to begin. The following list, while in no way comprehensive, might help give you some ideas.

Video Games Live Vol 1

If you have no idea where to begin, consider picking up Video Games Live Vol 1. Video Games Live is a series of live performances of music from some of the most well known video games ever. The first CD is a compilation of fantastic video game music, including greats like Kingdom Hearts, Myst, Medal of Honor and a rocking rendition of the Castlevania theme that is a definite crowd pleaser.

The great thing about this compilation is not only is the music masterfully performed by great orchestras and choirs, it will give you a chance to experience music from multiple games. After listening to this compilation, you will hopefully get some ideas for some other soundtracks you may want to consider. Just remember that the older games aren’t going to quite sound as good as they do on this compilation.

video games live Push Play: The Music Behind the Games halo cd Push Play: The Music Behind the Games gears of war cd Push Play: The Music Behind the Games

There is one other good reason to buy this CD. It contains a suite from a game that has made several people decide that video game soundtracks may just be worth buying:

Halo

It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of the series or think it is overrated, one listen to the main theme for Halo will have you geared up to play. The combination of classical and rock influences make this score, composed by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, one worth owning.

All you need to do is listen to the main theme to see what I mean. It starts with an ethereal chorus, building up to the first strings of electric guitar. Before long, you are completely drawn into the music.

If you are looking to build a video game soundtrack collection, Halo is a great one to pick up. Some might even argue that the soundtrack outshines the game. Might be a bit of a stretch, but it is rather well done. It’s not far fetched, however, to argue this soundtrack was what made many people actually start considering the possibility that game scores could be on par with movie soundtracks.

Gears of War

Forgive the pun, but an epic game deserves and epic soundtrack. Gears of War definitly delivers. Composer Kevin Riepl is a veteran of gaming soundtracks, with credits ranging from Twisted Metal Black to the Unreal series. For Gears, he took a more movie-like approach, writing a score worthy of any war drama.

The theme sets the tone early, with a driving tempo and militaristic feel that fits the game perfectly. This is followed by the haunting overture “14 Years After E-Day,” adding the eerie feel the to the background of the story. Other tracks are also reminiscent of some of the major battled in the game, like the high pitched and fast paced “Miserable Wretches,” the overpowering “Running With Boomers,” and the powerhouse “Train Ride to Hell,” which builds to the finale, leaving just a hint of more to come in Gears 2.

Mass Effect

Anyone who played the game knows just how good the music of Mass Effect is. Jack Wall, Sam Hulick, Richard Jacques and David Kates combine to create one of the most unique soundtracks in recent memory. Borrowing heavily from the older electronic sounds of 80s Sci Fi, this soundtrack ranks up there as one of my all time favorites.

Just lietening to the theme will be enough to remind fans of the great atmosphere of this game., complimented by tracks like the powerful “Spectre Induction” or the uptempo “Uncharted Words.” With 37 tracks, there is plenty of music for fans of the game to enjoy.

None of the tracks on the CD are as good as “M4 Part II” by the Faunts. I remember listening to this song as it rolled with the end credits of the game, just being amazed by the fact Bioware found a song that actually fit the game. As a matter of fact, I found myself almost sad once the credits were over because it was that good. Of all the tracks on the CD, I have listend to this one the most.

So far, all of the soundtracks I’ve been recommending are from the last couple of generations of consoles. While gaming music has really come into it’s own in these generations, there are great soundtracks from earlier consoles worth purchasing.

Metal Gear Solid

I bet that if you are a fan of Metal Gear Solid, you probably have the theme playing in your head right now… or at least a clip of it with someone screaming “SNAKE!”

The music of MGS really helps set the tone for the game, and the soundtrack brings some of the more memorable set pieces of the adventure to mind. Just try not to remember franticly trying to find cover while taking out Sniper Wolf when you hear “Duel,” or lining up shots with the missile launcher while avoiding the attack of the “Hin D.” The soundtrack even includes the soulful “Mantis’ Theme” and sorrowful “Enclosure” (plays after you kill Sniper Wolf), which remind you of the serious undertone of the game.

Metal Gear Solid is definitely a great example of a soundtrack worth picking up from an earlier generation of consoles, but it’s still a CD based game. Earlier games relied upon midi synthesizers and other programing tricks to make music. It doesn’t mean these earlier game soundtracks are not worth tracking down, however. As a matter of fact, my favorite game soundtrack comes from the pre-CD consoles.

mass effect cd Push Play: The Music Behind the Games mgs cd Push Play: The Music Behind the Games chrono trigger soundtrack Push Play: The Music Behind the Games

Chrono Trigger

If you have been listening to the podcasts, you should have seen this one coming. I was lucky enough to find the Chrono Trigger soundtrack a few years ago at Bookmans, and I have never regretted the purchase.

Composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, Chrono Trigger is considered by many to be one of the best soundtracks done on the SNES. Beginning with “Premonition,” it is clear that Mitsuda was able to get past the musical limitations of the system in a way most could not. Each area in the game has its own unique music, and yet they all blend together to make a great CD.

I’m not the only one who likes the music of this SNES RPG. In fact, the next Video Games Live CD is going to have music from the game in it, and those of us who preordered Chrono Trigger on the DS got a CD with fully orchestrated versions of music from the game.

So that’s my list of video game soundtrack recommendations. It is by no means all inclusive, and I intend on getting many more soundtracks to add to my collection, but hopefully reading about these soundtracks will get you thinking about some of your favorite gaming music. You might even think about tracking down a soundtrack or two for yourself. You might be surprised by just how good they can be.

Leave a Reply