Being a child of the 80s, gaming has become a large part of my life…past, present, and future. I can remember being excited about powering up my Sega Genesis, waiting in line to purchase Halo 2, being scared to death while playing Doom on my PC, being astounded by Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64, as well as many other moments. With that said, it should be elementary that my love for music has occasionally been coupled with memorable games.
With games quickly becoming interactive movies (go and play Metal Gear Solid 4 and experience a 45 minute cutscene!! I dare you!), gaming soundtracks are easily the next ‘dimension’ for composures of various genres of music. For a time, it was asking too much of a game to actually have John Williams’ music when flying an X-wing fighter in a video game. But now, it is expected. This has also brought to light some amazing and memorable compositions for groundbreaking games. With most of these games now seeing Hollywood treatments, gamers are also looking for as many realistic ties to the game as possible and the soundtrack is definitely a part of it.
For instance, one of the best game-to-film adaptations ever was Silent Hill. Japanese composer Akira Yamaoka crafted an amazing and haunting score for this series of games that managed to have a fairly ‘true-to-the-game’ Hollywood treatment. The movie itself featured exact pieces from the game as well as some new or redone pieces. The result was a movie that had the same creepy feeling as the survival horror game it looked to mimic.
Knowing that music is essential to creating mood, music lovers can actually find some great stuff coming from the realm of video game soundtracks. Though I’m not familiar with ALL of the good ones, here is my take on some of the notable game soundtracks and composers that I’ve come across:
Akira Yamaoka – Silent Hill series: As I said before, Silent Hill is a fantastic survival horror video game that has seen a lot of success and a number of sequels. The soundtrack is creepy and combines an electronica feel with live instrumentation (sometimes even classical or jazz) to bring to life the moods of the game. The music was even used as a score for the movie released in 2006.
Nobou Uematsu – Final Fantasy series: Considered the John Williams of the video game industry, his work on Final Fantasy alone has been featured at sold out orchestral concerts around the world. For a series that has seen at least a dozen games, this composer has managed to create some of the most memorable scores to one of the industry’s legendary game series of all time. Most of these soundtracks are your traditional orchestral compositions but the early work are from the old ‘beep boop’ 8-bit era. Still, the harmonies are moving and epic-sounding.
Jesper Kyd – Hitman series, Assassin’s Creed, Freedom Fighters, MDK2, and more: With a resume that boast numerous awards for his soundtrack work and over two dozen games dating back to the early ‘90s, Jesper Kyd is certainly a legend in his field. Born in Denmark, his style tends to incorporate electronica, ambient, symphonic, and orchestral styles to project the mood into a game. His fame was essentially acquired through the creation of the Hitman series and the Freedom Fighters game.
Jeremy Soule – Elder Scrolls III & IV, Guild Wars series, Harry Potter video game series, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars:Knights of the Old Republic, Dungeon Siege series, and more: One of the few video game composers to win a MTV Video Music Award (for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), Jeremy Soule has crafted some of the more memorable soundtracks to a number of great video games. With a flair for a dramatic score to accompany storyline-heavy games such as the Elder Scrolls and Star Wars series, he has managed to carve out an impressive career. Though his style tends to excel in composing for background music that can be looped (while adventuring for instance), he has no problem crafting pieces that take the forefront.
Yasunori Mitsuda – Xenogears, Chrono Trigger series, and more. The strength of these two games were forever enhanced by the addictive quality of the soundtrack that Yasunori composed for them. The overly dramatic sense of each story seemed to be enhanced by their amazing soundtracks. While Chrono Trigger was his debut Super Nintendo blockbuster that saw him working with legendary composer Nobuo Uemastu of Final Fantasy fame, the majority of the soundtrack was his. Later on, his amazing talents were displayed on the original PlayStation with Xenogears. Either way, both soundtracks are timeless with or without the games.
There are certainly more great composers in the industry but these standouts seem to have found a way to transcend just the soundtracks they’ve composed for games since they could easily stand alone as landmark musical achievements. Still, gamers are forever thankful for the memories they’ve already provided.
– Jack Wall – Jade Empire, Mass Effect, Myst IV
– Martin O’Donnell & Michael Salvatori – Halo series
– Winifred Philips – God Of War series
– Multiple composers – Castlevania series
– Multiple composers – Onimusha series