One of the most powerful and emotionally moving forms of art has always been the simplicity of music. It can paint a picture, tell a story, bring up an old memory, or dance along a new one all through sound. Music has always played a role in moving the game along and pairing with the scene. All too often, the music goes unnoticed; we only take note when the soundtrack is on either end of the spectrum.
Over the years there have been numerous exceptional video game soundtracks to come about. It is almost as if someone realized the importance of music in digital entertainment all over again. Santa has brought us a load of great soundtracks that could stand-alone. Here, on this final day of Christmas, we will look at twelve of the greatest soundtracks to come out of video games.
BUILD THE TENSION
Resident Evil 4
The fourth installment in the survival-horror franchise from Capcom has one of the most in-depth and varied soundtracks in gaming. Originally set to release as part of the Capcom five exclusives for GamCube, Resident Evil 4 shortly made its way to PlayStation 2 and eventually PlayStation 3 in the HD collection. From powerful orchestral pieces that build the sensation of discomfort to upbeat, cultural tracks this soundtrack touches on it all. Composed by Misao Senbongi and Shusaku Uchiyama, there are dashes of all genres included.
First coming to PlayStation 2 in March 2002, Kingdom Hearts has built a loyal following. Regarded highly for its role-playing elements and smooth mechanics, fans loved the crossover or universes; characters from Disney, Final Fantasy, and The World Ends With You all come together. The soundtrack plays exactly like you would expect. Powerful orchestral belts peter to solo, drowning piano playing off in the distance. A whirlwind of woodwinds pushes along. It is like magic in the noise.
Silent Hill 2
Konami released the awaited sequel to Hideo Kojima’s franchise Silent Hill 2 in September 2001. Not only did this title bring one of the most iconic horror characters in gaming, but it also gave us a powerful and down right daunting sountrack. Composed by Akira Yamaoka, the Silent Hill 2 soundtrack flows from moments of post-modern indie rock to the whimsical piano bleeding hope and wonder. Before you know it, the industrial grinding leads way to a powerful symphony, breading anxiety and uneasiness.
Metal Gear Solid
Another case from the classic Konami and Kojima pairing, Metal Gear Solid was first released in 1998. This action-adventure stealth franchise quickly picked up a loyal fan base and lead to sequels, prequels, and spin-offs including comic books, novels, and even a radio show series. The soundtrack for the original Metal Gear Solid was created by a team of composers: Kazuki Muraoka, Hiroyuki Togo, Takanari Ishiyama, Lee Jeon Myung, Maki Kirioka. The soundtrack moves along from the fast, happier 90s jams fueled by electric keytar, to the grittier, more industrial lulls. The pace of the game is complemented near flawlessly by this track list.
TELL A STORY WITH SOUND
The anxiously awaited sequel to Valve Corporation’s Orange Box entry was released in April of 2011. This firs person puzzle-platformer was quick to develop of devoted following and even gain regard as one of the best video games of all time. From composer Mike Morasky, the soundtrack to Portal 2 may be one of the longest game soundtracks released. It was available for free .mp3 download or as a 4 disk collectors edition labeled Portal 2: Songs to Test By. The often gritty and sometimes joyous electro-beats are both familiar to modern EDM and dubstep as well as indicative of the games content.
Final Fantasy VII
One of the highest ranked video games of all time, Final Fantasy VII re-made big waves with the announcement of a remake coming to current generation consoles at E3 2015. The indicative turn based role-playing game from Square was first released in January 1997. The soundtrack that accompanied was composed by Nobuo Uematsu. The overwhelming cacophony of whimsy spirals in the initial orchestral movements, which are quickly pulled to powerful drulling undertones as the tables turn.
Yet another example of Square’s wonderful role-playing games, Chrono Trigger came to the public in March 1995. Composer Nobuo Uematsu teamed up with Yasunori Mitsuda to create this soundtrack of epic proportions. The 90s electro-synth is coupled heavily with a small, yet strong symphony lead by forcefully pushing floor toms, keeping pace throughout. The wonder and drive of the game are perfectly encapsulated in this soundtrack.
This spinoff from the Drakengard was released from Cavia in April 2010. Taking on the role of the titular character, you ace down everything from monstrous shadow beasts to robots. The sountrack was composed by the team of Keiichi Okabe, Kakeru Ishihama, Keigo Hoashi, Takafumi Nishimura. The soundtrack features a heavy mixture of orchestral, symphonic, and choral arrangements fit for center stage presence.
SOMETHING MOVES A LITTLE DEEPER
Journey is an independent game created by Thatgamecompany released for PlayStation 3 in March 2012 via the PlayStation Network. The artistically inventive adventure game wasted no time is building a loyal following. The soundtrack was composed by Austin Wintory and follows a call and response of sorts between a flute and cello. The rest of the ensemble builds the tension and release throughout this musical conversation feeding into the emotional arc of the game.
The Last of Us
This Naughty Dog masterpiece hit PlayStation 3 in June 2014. The Last of Us wasted no time in earning a whisper as one of the best games of the generation and holding a spot in the following with a remake. The soundtrack to The Last of Us was composed by Gustavo Santaloalla and centers around a single, slightly donw-tuned six string guitar. As the steel string slides and chord rings fade behind the accompanying instrumentations, you can’t help but think about Joel and the trials he faced. If this were to be released as a new wave southern rock ep, it would likely reach the same success.
This two-dimensional, top down action game centers around two protagonist receiving phone calls instructing them to massacre local mafia members. Originally released for Microsoft Windows in October 2012, it was less than a year before Hotline Miami made the jump to consoles. The soundtrack received almost as much recognition as the game. Keeping the traditional use of instrumentation and electro-pop sound loop in check with a 1980s spin, the soundtrack to Hotline Miami sounds more like a post-modern indie album than a second rate complimentary work.
The fan favorite puzzle platformer released by Team Ico in September 2001 surprised fans with the less is more approach that shaped the game. A team of Michiru Oshima, Koichi Yamazaki, and Mitsukuni Murayama designed the soundtrack. The soundtrack, much like the game, waves back and forth between simplistic, upbeat periods of a lone instrument building momentum and lengths of drowning, dark, almost gothic inspired power movements. Each track can incite a completely separate emotion or memory, dream or feeling while building together into one fluid story. This is the mark of a true masterpiece.
Music in itself is a staple of modern, mainstream entertainment, but all too frequently the pining works of soundtracks are stuck taking a backseat. The musical accompaniment is all too often looked at only after judgment has been passed on the gameplay and story. The soundtracks associated with some of our favorite games work on their own to weave a marvelous tale of nostalgia and feeling along side the games we play. Luckily, there has been a rise in the importance placed on game soundtracks in recent years. We can only hope for even greater things to come.