GameCentral readers discuss their favourite video game music, with classics ranging from Chrono Trigger to Journey.
The subject for this weeks Hot Topic was suggested by reader Ishi and was focused on the best overall soundtrack and not just individual songs. How much difference do you think a good soundtrack makes to a game and have any been ruined by a bad one?
We had plenty of suggestions from all eras of gaming, but a few names did come up repeatedly, including OutRun, Streets Of Rage II, and Tony Hawks Pro Skater.
Blue skies/grey skies
I loved the OutRun soundtrack, which featured some nice chilled out tunes, which really suited the game. Driving your Ferrari with your blonde girlfriend by your side and taking in the changing scenery was such a great experience at the time, and the games soundtrack was absolutely spot on. Magical Sound Shower, Passing Breeze, and Splash Wave were the tunes I remember and hearing them again brings back fantastic memories of visiting the arcade when we went on holiday with my folks.
Another soundtrack that deserves a mention was the Silent Hill series by Akira Yamaoka, with its mix of mandolin, guitar, piano, and all sorts of industrial noises, which was both beautiful and unsettling. It really helped craft a sense of dread as you wandered around the misty towns and streets of Silent Hill, not knowing what you were going to encounter next.
After the cancellation of Silent Hills it looks like well be waiting a while for a new entry in the series, but with Capcom remaking Resident Evil 2, I do hope that Konami do a similar job with their iconic horror series.
Cubes (PSN ID)/SW-3654-9259-0500/Kevin M
Potentially controversial opinion here but video game soundtracks are better now than they have ever been.
And really thats saying something as there have been some great soundtracks over the years. Sega were particularly good with OutRun and, further controversial opinion alert, the superior soundtrack for Super Hang-On (Winning Run beats Magical Sound Shower!). The music synched perfectly with the games and other honourable mentions have to go to Street Fighter II, Lemmings, and Shadow Of The Beast. This one in particular is good example of how the soundtrack can help elevate an otherwise average game.
However, as good as these are they still fall short of todays games. The Uncharted series, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Skyrim all have amazing scores that Ill happily have as background music when Im doing other stuff. They perfectly suit the games too and when they kick in can really add to the atmosphere and immersion whilst playing. I cant think of any examples where a soundtrack has actively ruined a game but a good one definitely enhances the experience.
Keeping it going
Theres loads of soundtracks that instantly come to mind for me, from Streets Of Rage II, through WipEout and Jet Set Radio, with Final Fantasy VII and Shenmue thrown in.
But the one that impressed me most, and enough to actually pay for the soundtrack which Ive never done before or since, was NieR – the last gen one. The music in that blew me away and I think it actually kept me playing the game which I didnt really like until it got going after about 10 hours.
I absolutely love the game now and its one of my faves from the last gen but not sure Id have played it long enough to see how good it was without the soundtrack willing me to keep going to hear what song they had up next. Id urge anyone that hasnt played it to give it a go, its also one of very few games to ever make me cry. Very underappreciated game to my mind, although it does have a lot of faults.
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The cowboy zone
I have a few soundtrack CDs that Ive got with some special editions of games but havent felt the need to listen to most of them, however two game soundtracks that I go back to again and again are Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag and Red Dead Redemption.
They are both brilliantly atmospheric and take me straight into the pirate/cowboy zone respectively.
The Red Dead Redemption soundtrack also benefits from including José Gonzales Far Away which features in one of the most memorable moments in the game as you explore Nuevo Paraiso for the first time; as well as Compass, Deadmans Gun, and Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie which I think were all recorded especially for the game.
Heres hoping that Red Dead Redemption II has an equally stunning soundtrack!
Old timey music
I loved the soundtracks of the Fallout games, particularly Fallout 3 which was the cause of many an untimely death in the Wasteland because I was too busy singing along when I should have been paying attention to what was lurking around the corner. Most of them I had never heard before and some of them werent exactly politically correct but that didnt stop me enjoying them. Times certainly do change though, and I remember wondering how Bethesda got away with giving them an airing. Perhaps we gamers are a more liberal bunch.
Honourable mention to Halo if I may, especially Halo 3. One track, The Unforgotten, is as fine a piece of orchestral music as youll find anywhere. I liked it so much that I bought the CD with it on.
Best soundtrack overall? Pretty easy to answer: Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1 to 3. Great music, great memories and I still have them on my MP3 player today. Great music to do garden work to or cycle along humming it avoiding the strange looks that come my way. I know most of the songs word for word but dont ask me to name any of the tracks, except for Amoeba but that is due the fact that I always thought he was singing Tony Hawks on the chorus bit. Anyway, great games that make me sad how badly the quality dipped off toward the end.
For an original soundtrack Id have to go with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon but thats because I have been loving the 80s synth mood it provides.
GC: Were not sure wed classify Blood Dragon as original, considering most of it was obvious rip-offs of 80s movie tracks.
Would you turn that radio down, GC? Im trying to get some sleep! Yeah! Now – lets look at the funk…
It wasnt that long ago that I mentioned… Jet Set Radio! Easily the best radio station in video gaming and hosted by the one, the only, DJ Professor K! I dont know if he has a real doctorate or not, all I know is that he understands, understands the concept of love! Okay, that was the sequel. But let me have it. Free love is too tame for me.
I will say that this is not as easy for me as Im making you believe. Street Fighter II, Rez, Skies Of Arcadia, Streets Of Rage II, and Shenmue II all cut it very close – all have soundtracks that are almost uniformly excellent, where I would pretty much happily listen to the whole thing. But the first Jet Set Radio edges them all out.
I havent gone as far as to own a hard copy of the soundtrack on either CD or vinyl like a hipster d-bag – I dont even know if such a thing exists for Jet Set Radio. It was nearly 20 years ago and neither the Dreamcast original or HD re-releases for last gen consoles were an overnight sensation. And hey, isnt this what YouTube is for?
So let me wax lyrical yet further on this soundtrack. Its still entirely appropriate for the action and characters. Whether youre leaping across the billboards of Grind Street as Goth Girl Cube to the sound of Rob Zombies Dragula or literally painting Grind Square red as her friend Combo to the sweet beats of Improvise by Jurassic-5, its all so perfect.
Youll fight rival gang Poison Jam to the tune of Super Brothers by Guitar Vader in a sewer level that is actually a fun place to be or avoid a beating by the silly (yet quite horrifying) Tokyo police and their bumbling, Columbo-loving captain Onishima.
Okay, Thats enough…
25 year guarantee
Really tough one for me but Im going for Super Probotector on the SNES. The soundtrack is absolutely fabulous and creates a blood-pumping, adrenaline filled atmosphere that I still havent tied of 25 years after originally playing it.
Honourable mentions go to the original Resident Evil, Sega Rally, Donkey Kong Country, the infamous scrapyard level on Earthworm Jim, and of course OutRun.
Lifetime of music
The journey I have had on my way to find great sounding music comes from my folk and melodic metal and progressive rock interests. The first computer games I remember with great soundtracks are Mickey Mouse And The Castle Of Illusion and Revenge Of Shinobi on the Mega Drive, and I just hummed away all day with the music involved as they were just so catchy and easy to remember.
The Super Nintendo though, and its sound chip, just blew the competition away with the Mario and Zelda adventures and with one of my all-time favourites Terranigma. I basically just got a cassette recorder and pressed record to tape the tunes from my mono television and played it whilst I was in bed, just magical.
Sonys PlayStation came next and the soundtracks for all genres of games turned music into something which can cope with live recordings and not just synthesised keyboards or a mix between the both. Resident Evil 2 to this day is my favourite Resident Evil soundtrack of all time and the part around the corridor leading to the train carriage lift and the start of the industrial laboratory area is so disharmoniously beautiful that it literally chills me to a smile.
Then from out of the mind of a legendary composer called Nobuo Uematsu a soundtrack was released which was the game changer of soundtracks for me. I had not heard any Final Fantasy or full-on Japanese role-players yet and Final Fantasy VII was my first proper venture into this genre. Everything about this game was mind-blowing! The soundtrack though was just out of this world and I think it must have had a psychological effect on my music tastes. After this I dont think I saw music the same way again. A bit like listening to Pink Floyd for the first time and trying to adjust to a new musical experience and type never explored before.
The game to this day has one of the best openings to a game ever and always brings a tear to my eye. The rest of the music makes the game such an emotional journey that calling it groundbreaking is just one of many words to describe the game and its music. J.E.N.O.V.A is not only an awesome boss tune but a number of bands from the metal and progressive genres have used the beginning notes in a load of their music in a variety of amazing ways. There are no filler tracks, as all match the storyline and characters emotions and the epic feeling you get from this awesome experience.
Valkyria Chronicles 3 and 4, especially 3, I think are some of the most ambitious and epic heart-tugging pieces of musical delights of modern video games. Final Fantasy X and the Contest or Battle of the Aeons right at the end, when you take on each Aeon one after another, is a case example of why music just fills the world with mana and celestial power to just raise your way of thinking about life.
Along with some of Final Fantasy XIII tracks like Mysteries Abound and Bloodbornes amazing soundtrack, including the Daughter of Cosmos – Ebrietas boss tune, there is one track which would have to be my all-time favourite single track. It is track number 23 from the Secret Of Mana and its called Eternal Recurrence.
Eternal Recurrence encapsulates all I love about games, music, life, and emotions in general and how I view them all. When I first came across a cave near the water palace and battled my way to Undine the mana spirit of water, a tune started which kept building from something interesting to epic and then just left me gobsmacked and enchanted at what I just heard, as the rumbling groans of a living spirit of nature was heard in the background, which manifested itself into this atmospheric tune of a lifetime.
I dont think humans will ever run out of great tunes, its only the limits of a mind which stops this but composers and musicians seem to raise the bar all the time and we will never run out of soul-inspired soundtracks or music in general and my collection of great music will continue to expand my mind on my journey through life.
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