Even those that aren’t overly enthusiastic about music, in general, will be hard pressed to argue against its ability to get the feels going, whether it be based on its nostalgic factor or, simply, the catchiness of its beat. This rule applies to all musical facets, but I feel it is most important in gaming because it can easily make or break the entire experience for you.
I am a huge proponent of quality music in games, which is why I’ve decided to list out a few things that I feel are directly impacted by its design. As I’m sure there are others reasons worth mentioning that I did not list, be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
While viewing a screenshot or gameplay footage of a title like Final Fantasy VI can evoke the same sense of nostalgia as listening to its soundtrack alone, the latter is something that, I feel, is easily carried with you. What I mean by that is it’s not always easy to reach into your mind’s eye and dig out a vision of a game, but recalling the attached music is far easier, in my opinion.
Although I think most would agree that Final Fantasy VII is a classic JRPG, I don’t think anybody is going to look at images of it today and legitimately get excited. However, asking the same person to listen to any track in its compositional repertoire and we’re bound to have a totally different conversation on our hands.
Let’s face it, it doesn’t take an audiophile to conclude that a game’s soundtrack plays an integral part to its overall immersion factor. Area-specific music has the ability to totally kick you out of a game when it is bad or doesn’t fit right, while carefully crafted tunes can help facilitate the immersion process. In short, any individual piece of music can bring out the best in a game while questionable ones have the tendency to bring out the worst in it.
Consider an example with Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Chrono Trigger. Just listen to Crazy Chocobo from Final Fantasy XIII-2 and ask yourself if it makes any sense as a chocobo riding theme.
I like metal just as much as anyone, but that makes no sense given the activity itself. Now maybe if it was, say, a bike race like found in Chrono Trigger, that would be a bit different. As you can hear from the below sample, it fits the whole ” racing through a futuristic, ruined world” vibe to a T.
There is only so much a story, characters, and an aesthetic canvas can do to rope you into its goodness without supplementary, quality soundtrack. This was especially the case back in the days before 3D graphics and heavily scripted events, but can just as easily apply to more modern games as well.
Music has the unique capability of surpassing innate hardware/software limitations by invoking thoughts and feelings within you that might otherwise not be possible. It speaks volumes about a musical piece when you are able to experience the history of a specific zone by just listening to the track alone. There are many famous composers we, as RPG fans, all know and love, such as Nobou Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda, Michiru Yamane, and Jeremy Soule, to name a few.
But I want to spotlight a lesser known composer by the name of Naoshi Mizuta because I feel that his work exudes this concept perfectly. If you played Final Fantasy XI, then you will likely be familiar with his work already as it’s arguably his best known project to date. And I’m going to attempt to paint a picture with an example of his work and what it is capable of, though it might not be entirely effective if you haven’t experienced the game before.
Naoshi’s compositions for Final Fantasy XI are very much slow burns. If you don’t have the patience to listen through the entire track, you can easily miss what he is trying to accomplish. This is because he literally tells a story through the song itself. He captures the historical background of a given area with immense precision, all within the confines of a single track of music.
The first piece below, titled Tavnazian Archipelago, is the perfect example of a complete musical package. It is a song that plays as you discover a land that, 20 years prior, was utterly decimated in war and dominated by antagonistic Beastman tribes. Because of that, there hasn’t been a reason, until now, to explore the area since its demise. It perfectly embodies an area thats innate beauty was tragically lost to both war and time.
This is further solidified by a follow-up piece that plays upon discovering Tavnazian Stronghold, a last bastion to the, much to our surprise, survivors of the same war 20 years prior.
While Mizuta certainly excels at these more somber, thought-provoking pieces, he is equally skilled at more upbeat tunes. The track below is one of the battle themes from the Seekers of Adoulin expansion, which is an unexplored land that entices both explorers and treasure hunters alike to its shores of infinite possibilities. I feel like this track encapsulates the excitement and potential dangers of delving into such unknown territory nicely.
Although none of these specific Mizuta pieces are on my list of most favorite tracks ever, they encompass the idea of going beyond limitations so well that not mentioning them would be a crime.
Hopefully, some of this will make you think deeper about the music behind your favorite games. What are some things you look for or consider when processing a game’s soundtrack? What are some of your favorite gaming soundtracks of all time?