Any self respecting gamer will tell you that the only way to fully enjoy the gaming experience and have the feeling of being completely immersed in a game is to wear headphones. Not only will it give you the edge in games like Call of Duty as you hear the footsteps behind you, but just like any movie, a fitting song in the right scene will make it unforgettable. I believe this is why gaming soundtracks are now more important than ever.
Sometimes a gaming soundtrack can not only enhance the game but ensure that it stays with you for the rest of your life. Before you say that’s pushing it a little far, mate, we can all listen to a song or watch a movie and twenty years from now recall the first time you encountered it and the memories that go with it. Gaming is no different, especially if experienced at 2am on a cold and dark Thursday night and you complete the game that has taken over your life in glorious HD and complete surround sound headphones.
Game music is an integral part of the game playing experience and as I love gaming and music, this is a subject I’m quite passionate about. So I thought it was time to share my favourite soundtracks of my many years of gaming adventures.
Ask anyone the question, “what is your favourite gaming soundtrack?” I would imagine one of the first answers would be Super Mario Bros, which is where I will start way back in 1985; the musical score was written by Koji Kondo and is famed for the tempo of the music increasing when the timer reaches 99. It is quite possibly the most instantly recognisable song from any video game ever and a hook that will remain in your head after hearing it. There were even reports of people playing the theme from Mario using a remote control car with a wire attached line of over 100 bottles filled with various amounts of water.
In 1986, in my misspent youth, a young Neil spent his pocket money on an arcade game that blew me away; a game called Outrun. This was a game I loved so much that it would eventually make its way to my home on the Commodore 64. For me this is where gaming soundtracks came into their own, as the game was bundled with a cassette tape featuring the original arcade versions of the much loved tunes which were “Splash Wave“, “Magical Sound Shower”, “Passing Breeze” and “Last Wave”; all composed by Sega man Hiroshi Miyauchi. In the comfort of your home you could imagine you were in an arcade, only without the thick cloud of smoke and a pocket full of 10 pence’s.
My memory is a little vague, but I seem to recall that Mega Man 2 had a very addictive soundtrack, but my experience of this was only when playing at a friend’s house many years ago, so I’m unable to offer too much else, but I know it deserves a special mention. As the technology began to improve, the polyphonic soundtracks replaced simple monophonic melodies and compositions were starting to be written specifically for video games. The popularity of CD technology began to grow and grow and a huge change was on its way.
Before the days of FIFA (hard to believe I know) there were two guys called Jon Hare (A.K.A. Jovial Jops) and Chris Yates (A.K.A. Cuddly Krix) who formed Sensible Software, and they ensured that fun was here to stay in gaming. Any gamer of a certain age will even now be able to sing every word of the popular themes to Cannon Fodder “War Has Never Been So Much Fun!” and “Goal Scoring Superstar Hero” that featured in the massive game Sensible World of Soccer on the Amiga back in the 90’s. The release of Cannon Fodder also coincided with a music video of the song. Yes these games had fantastic playability and were hugely addictive, but I am convinced another major factor in why we have such memories of them lies with the soundtrack.
I am afraid due to my Amiga addiction I missed out on the SNES, which means I also missed out on the classic Donkey Kong Country, which thanks to David Wise, has a soundtrack that stood the test of time. In 1995, gaming began to get exciting. A 32-bit fifth-generation video game console entered my life, which went by the name of the Sony Playstation.
The 1997 release of Final Fantasy VII, a game that even now remains at the top of many people’s “favourite gaming soundtracks ever”, thanks to the genius that is composer Nobuo Uematsu. Not many would argue that most of the Final Fantasy franchise has an amazing set of songs, but this epic four-disc soundtrack set a precedent that all other RPGs worth the salt would follow, in fact I would go as far to say that Nobou is a musical genius.
“Aerith’s Theme” will forever stay with me and remind me of when Aerith was killed by Sephiroth, and a quick look on the internet revealed that I’m not on my own with this, which once again proves the power of music when used correctly in a video game.
Even when kicking back to some Gran Turismo on my beloved PSone, the title track was a Chemical Brothers remix of “Everything Must Go” by the Manic Street Preachers. The Manics are not famed for letting people remix their songs, never mind letting it be used in a video game. Games were then the new rock ‘n roll, no more so was this evident when Quake came along, and Doom fan Trent Reznor, and helped record the soundtrack which created a truly intense experience, and even the Nine Inch Nails logo appears on ammunition boxes in the game.
The first time I have ever been scared playing a video game is the first time I put Resident Evil in my Playstation. From the menu screen the evil voice saying “Resident Evil” was pretty scary for its time, but nothing prepared me for playing in the dark with a pair of headphones at 2 am!
Yes, the game intends to be scary, but the soundtrack alone is enough to make you have an accident in your pants. Each song conveys the lonely feeling of isolation. The follow-up scared me even more, and even now I get flashbacks of the Raccoon City theme playing as I’m stuck inside the Police Department.
Metal Gear Solid raised the bar even further, and the “Best is yet to Come” by Harry Gregson Williams will forever remain close to any gamers heart especially combined with screaming “Snaaaaake!”. I have already mentioned that Resident Evil was scary, but nothing prepared me for Akira Yamaoka’s score for the Silent Hill series. The intense and almost suffocating atmosphere regularly got under my skin and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up like no other game I have ever played. If the main theme doesn’t stir any emotion in you then “Theme of Laura” certainly will.
The late nineties were golden times for video game soundtracks, with titles such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Parasite Eve, Command & Conquer, and the magnificent The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which on its own has helped the ocarina become the third most popular musical instrument in schools.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was then released, and the soundtracks went all MTV on our ass. Sure there were good and bad sides to this; the good being it felt good in a wrong kind of way to be running over helpless pedestrians whilst listening to NWA singing “Express Yourself,” and the bad being of course that MTV were fast becoming too corporate for their own good and killing the spirit of Rock n’ Roll. As a rebellious gamer I didn’t want them destroying our games as well as music. My concerns were unfounded though, and the game was fantastic and gamers were finding themselves buying the game’s soundtrack on CD.
MTV, however smelt a winner and even created an MTV Video Music Award for “Best Video Game Soundtrack”. This went on to be awarded from 2004 to 2006 in a vain attempt to tap into the video gaming community and gain greater audiences for its VMAs. The men in suits didn’t seem to get what exactly constituted as a good game soundtrack and when the event was revamped in 2007, the award was never to be seen again.
Games went on to sell more and more and budgets increased, and they now have the feel of movies about them. The soundtrack for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was menacing, and could have been placed in any Hollywood espionage thriller. The biggest thrill however, came from Bungie when Halo arrived on the scene with an eerie, ancient and incredibe atmosphere thanks hugely to the main theme which contained Gregorian chant.
The evolution of game soundtracks regularly now brings a movie-like experience, and the music included in games such as Oblivion Elder Scrolls, the Halo Series, Gears Of War and Call of Duty could appear alongside any Hollywood blockbuster. This alone makes you realise just how far we have come since the simple yet addictive tones of Super Mario.
Have you ever found yourself suckered into watching one of those list programmes late at night that seem to be on for three hours and feature Z-list celebrities trying to talk knowledgeably about the 100 best films, adverts, TV Shows etc, when in reality they were probably shown a video only a few moments before to spare their blushes? At the end of the three hours, you stare in disbelief at the screen as the countdown finally reaches the greatest form of media of all time, and it’s a load of rubbish. Most times you’ll find yourself reeling out a list of ten other things that should be in the run down. The problem with these lists that seem to dominate the media on all subjects is that they will always be limited to what the authors have been exposed to, and this is why I could never call this article “the world’s best game soundtrack” as it’s simply my opinion from my own gaming experiences.
This is where I hand it over to you; please tell us what gaming soundtracks have gotten under your skin and will stay with you forever. Will there ever be a unique gaming soundtrack that will challenge the legendry soundtracks from Hollywood such as Indiana Jones, Superman or Star Wars? Please comment and let us know.