Video games never seem to get the respect they deserve. A quintessential art form, gaming is an audio-visual feast of visceral creativity. Those who don’t see games as art, need to look closer, because there is so much to see. But sometimes you don’t even need to look to understand the artistry involved in creating a great piece of interactive entertainment….all you have to do is listen.
One of the most criminally ignored aspects of gaming is the music. Not only does nearly every singles AAA-title include an original soundtrack, even small indie games have music to die for. Needing to engage the gaming to keep on playing, the score of the title must be catchy, emotional, relatable, and fun. With Austin Wintory (Journey) being the first ever video game composer to be nominated for a Grammy, it seems that mainstream culture is finally catching wind of the not commonly discussed aspect of gaming.
With that being said, we might as well start with Mr. Wintory himself. Journey was a gaming experience like no other, relying purely on atmosphere to compel the user to continue on this silent pilgrimage across a vast desert. While the visual draw the players in, and the puzzles keep them engage, it is the music that makes the experience so memorable. Longing sounds and soft voices, combined with emotional strings, bring a sense of wonder to the gamer, and encourage them to trek on and find all of the secrets contained within the endless landscape.
On the other side of the coin, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon brings the heat with a synth-heavy offering of catchy beats and dark tones. A retro title in every way, Blood Dragon is an homage to the 80’s action star, letting gamers take control of Sergeant Rex Power Colt, and the music is about as perfect as it can be for such an outrageous situation.
A hall of famer in the truest sense of the word,, The Legend of Zelda could cruise to gaming greatness on the fun of the game alone, but the sounds of the series were what truly helped catapult the mega-popular series into the pantheon of video game immortality. The title screen, the fairy fountain, the plains of Hyrule and everywhere in between is supplemented by music as endearing as the silent hero himself.
Electronic heavy soundtracks meet epic space opera in Mass Effect. The first game in the series also includes the best sounds and music from a now iconic audio experience. Bringing what one may call a “cyberpunk symphony” the soundtrack relies heavily on synth sounds and keyboards, while backing up the electronic foundation with traditional string and wind instruments. It is is mixture of high-tech and high-culture, making Mass Effect a top-quality title in every respect.
While we have mentioned some great examples of gaming audio, no video game soundtrack list will ever be complete without giving Nobuo Uematsu his propes. The composer behind the Final Fantasy series, Uematsu has consistently brought the highest-quality song-writing to his games since the first FF in 1987. If you listen closely, the evolution of his sound is readily apparent, and he proves to be in the masterclass when Final Fantasy 7 was released. In fact, it would not be too big of an assumption that the music was what has made FF7 such a lasting experience. While 7 and 8 are the best of Nobuo, the stretch from FF5 to FF9 will be considered his magnum opus, with all five being of the highest order.