The Unrecognized World of Game Music!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
And now, to counteract the actually pretty depressing posts from the past few days and to make up for the lack of a New Music Tuesday for the second week in a row, I figured I'd post, in what must be my most link-heavy and researched post yet, about what I believe to be a wonderful if not overlooked medium of music in our day and age: Video Game Scoring. Let me start by musing on how far video games have come in my lifetime. As a youngin', I remember games like Commander Keen, Lemmings, Doom, and Sonic the Hedgehog with great fondness. Those were simple times for gaming music, which had to work with being 8 or 16 bit midi-file quality. Still, it's not like it was bad, it was adequate for gaming purposes back then. Hell, this was background music for a game about a blue hedgehog in running shoes who defeats a fat man's robots to free tiny animals. This was all you really needed.

But alas, games have come a long, long way since those days. Now, games take hundreds of people to make, with credit sequences that are often as long as those for major motion pictures. Games have evolved into a visceral, immersible, and powerful moving form of entertainment that, while still not considered "art" by certain critics (*cough* Roger Ebert *cough*), certainly contain powerful artistic elements. Music being one such example, most notably in the rich original scores made for modern games.

Now, I know soundtracks aren't as recognized as a form of music as other mediums, but there are still two categories at the Academy Awards that are designated to reward and recognize great music for cinema, including one for best original score. So who don't we, as a culture, recognize the scoring for gaming as well in any way? I mean, I can't even find 90% of the game soundtracks I want on iTunes, even for American-made games like the Elder Scrolls series. Also, if you don't believe me on the whole "Video Game Scoring is never recognized" thing, how many of you reading would roll your eyes if you discovered that the major symphony orchestra you were dragged to listen to live announced that they were going to be performing video game music? I think its awesome that some places do, but it's in the minority. The point is, while I disagree with Mr. Ebert, a lot of people don't. Most don't consider games an art form, which unfortunately tosses great original game scoring to the wayside as well.

Well, it's a bunch of bologna. Game scoring, like games, have come a long, long way and now games contain powerful and emotional music that really pushes the game itself. Did you listen to the 1991 Sonic theme I linked above? Good, you'll have something to compare my offerings to.

To shorten how much of the first page this article is eating, read the rest of the article, links and all, after the jump:

The first composer on my list is Nobuo Uematsu. He's been the composer for almost all of the Final Fantasy games, meaning that back in the early single roman numeral days of the franchise he, too was making beepy 8-bit music. Then, as gaming consoles gained great sound output, he was given an orchestra. This is the result:

That is a rendition of his most recognized song: One Winged Angel from FFVII. The song in the theme for the game's primary antagonist, a, well- one-winged angel-like figure named Sephiroth. Just listen to it. How could the fight with him be anything less than epic with that kind of scoring? This version is the remix of course, and really I chose it to show off what Mr. Uematsu can do with an orchestra and a bunch of people chanting faux-Latin. All of his scoring is consistently impressive and moving.

Now, when people want to point out games that CAN be considered art, they usually throw out a game called Shadow of the Colossus as one example. So, it makes sense that my second example is from Shadow of the Colossus, composed by Koh Otani:

This particular song is played as your doomed young hero faces down the last colossus, having just lost the only living companion in the game, your trusty steed Aggro. You are alone. Its rainy. And there is a giant thing throwing fire at you and the wind blows you down like an impotent rag doll. The music really just sells the atmosphere of gloom.

It's not just Japanese games that field amazing soundtracks, either. My next two picks are from Western games: The first is the theme to Morrowind, the third installment of the Elder Scrolls series by Bethesda Softworks of Maryland. This theme, composed by Jeremy Soule, is a beautifully moving track that never fails to compliment the game's unique, fantastical world:

Also, there is the theme to Wrath of the Lich King, the second addition to the gaming juggernaut that is World of Warcraft. Say what you will about WoW as a game; the scoring by Tracy Bush, Derek Duke and Glenn Stafford is extraordinarily well done. Wrath of the Lich King's 9 minute long mini-epic is a good example of such a claim:

Still not convinced that game music is an impressive medium for music? Well, here is the hard-rocking Halo 2 theme composed by Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori:

AND here is the orchestral rendition of Kingdom Heart's theme song Hikari, originally written by Utada Hikaru, as adapted by the game's composer Yoko Shimomura, which I think is a perfect song written for the climax of a game that mixes Final Fantasy and Disney (oh yes, this game exists):

I'm not trying to argue that games are art, or anything like that (well, not yet, and not in this post anyway). I am merely showing you all a world of music you were perhaps unfamiliar with. I hope you enjoy these tastes of modern game music! I included all the composers in case anyone feels like following up on their other work.


  1. Well I'll admit this is my first exposure to gaming music...not being a gamer. I liked the Kingdom Hearts one a lot, it was all music-y and stuff! :)

  2. I think as an old guy who played games in an arcade, we are more likely to turn the music off. I am conditioned to hear bleeps ands bloops as game keys, so I don't ever hear the great music in modern video games.

    Maybe I should rethink that strategy.


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