Does video game music belong in the Classic FM Hall of Fame?

Video games are typically musically associated with retro midi files and the ‘bleeps and bloops’ of Pacman and Tetris. There’s even an online documentary series celebrating video game music right from its birth, all the way up to the modern day.

Some may think that video game music hasn’t changed much since the 80’s, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, as it’s being increasingly developed for and performed by classical orchestras in concert halls worldwide.

Pacman

The retro sounds of Pacman are familiar to most, generating undeniable nostalgia, but video game music has grown far beyond this

The Classic FM Hall of Fame was introduced 22 years ago, but it’s only recently that video games have been acknowledged within, somewhat controversially.

Some classical music purists might argue that video game music doesn’t belong alongside the likes of the mighty Chopin or Tchaikovsky, but to that I say; why not? Video game music is just as spectacular and emotive as some of the well-respected classics and should be recognised as such.

With the 2018 winners of the Classic FM Hall of Fame announced this past Easter weekend (see the full list here), including Banjo-Kazooie at 239, Kingdom Hearts at 188, and Final Fantasy at 99, here are some of our favourite examples of video games using orchestral scores to influence and craft their stories, bringing happiness to gamers everywhere.

The majority of famous video game composers hail from the land of the rising sun, with Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo, responsible for the Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda series’ respectively, celebrated by millions for their musical masterpieces.

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Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu is sometimes referred to as the ‘Beethoven of video games music’

Uematsu’s work was recently celebrated at London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall, in honour of the 30th anniversary of the Final Fantasy series. I’m not ashamed to admit that after snapping up tickets for myself and a group of friends to the Distant Worlds 30th Anniversary concert, conducted by Arnie Roth and performed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, I cried with happiness for the first three performances.

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Hands down, one of the best nights of my life

Uematsu is perhaps best known for a very dramatic Latin-sung boss battle theme. One Winged Angel, from Final Fantasy VII, is an adrenaline pumping delight, getting players in the mood for a long, epic battle at the end of the game. You can’t help but smile as the first notes play out, preparing to give it your all. Pretending you can sing in Latin is also pretty fun.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Koichi Sugiyama’s orchestral score for Dragon Quest VIII is the perfect accompaniment to a rich and vibrant world. The battle music offers an up-tempo ensemble, once again getting the energy pumping for some turn-based monster bashing, while presenting a much more soothing composition for exploring the world map and local towns. The change from slow and calming to frantic isn’t anywhere near as jarring as it sounds, blending perfectly from one to the other, adjusting the players mood to fit.

Dragon Quest

One of the few Japanese RPGs I know that includes an orchestral only soundtrack, I never tired of listening to Dragon Quest VIII on my journey to save the world from evil

A more recent example from the world of Final Fantasy comes in the form of Apocalypsis Noctis. Composed by Yoko Shimomura, rather than Uematsu, I had the pleasure of witnessing this perfectly intense piece in the flesh at the Distant Worlds concert, and could feel my adrenaline surging as I leaned forward in my seat in sheer delight.

There are Western composers to celebrate too of course, such as Martin O’Donnell, recognised for his work on the likes of Halo and Destiny, also celebrated by fans in live concerts. Renowned film composer Danny Elfman also dabbles in the world of video game music, and is noted for his work on the action role-playing game series (RPG), Fable.

Garry Schyman is known for his haunting soundtrack to underwater first-person shooter, Bioshock. An eclectic mix of genres, the sequel to the first game even came bundled with a vinyl of the full orchestral score for those who forked out on the collector’s edition. I don’t own a vinyl player, but that didn’t stop me from buying it and heading over to my grandparents’ house to initiate them into the world of video game music.

Rapture

Bioshock’s underwater world of Rapture was accompanied by a dark but wonderfully composed musical score, immersing players into the abandoned dystopian world

Other notable examples from Western composers include Austin Wintory, responsible for the Journey soundtrack, a voiceless, textless and isolating adventure through a vast desert. And of course, I have to mention Jeremy Soule’s work on the Skyrim soundtrack, receiving awards from the Game Audio Network Guild, and even a BAFTA nomination.

Lastly, Polish composer Frédéric Chopin is curiously celebrated in Japanese RPG Eternal Sonata. Alongside original pieces from composer Motoi Sakuraba, each chapter reveals more about Chopin’s life and legacy, featuring a classic from his repertoire. Since playing this game, I’ve even been inspired to listen to Chopin in order to concentrate at work or relax at home.

Eternal Sonata

tri-Crescendo’s visual take on a young Frederic Chopin was somewhat androgynous, but this doesn’t take away from the musical brilliance of the game itself

While video game music in the Classic FM Hall of Fame will continue to be a bone of contention as both fan bases struggle to find common ground, I would love nothing more than to see these scores celebrated more by mainstream audiences. One day, it won’t be labelled as video game music, and composers will be known by name alone, not just for the games they have composed scores for.

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Increasing Human Happiness Through Video Games

Donald Trump. At best, he’s a bit like Marmite. Some love him, and some wouldn’t put him anywhere near their morning toast.

Whatever your feelings towards America’s current president though, it’s hard to ignore his recent attack on the world of video games, and his misappropriation of big titles as a scapegoat for gun crime and violent attacksThe issue of video games and violence is nothing new, nor is it exclusive to Trump. It’s a debate that’s been raging for years, and while there are certainly games that have pushed things too far in the name of entertainment (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, I’m looking at you), these are in the minority.

The ‘No Russian’ mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, while optional, took things too far, forcing players to mimic a terrorist attack in an airport, killing countless innocent civilians

There is a huge catalogue of games that bring joy to people around the world in a variety of ways, many of which don’t resort to violence, or at least not the excessive and gratuitous violence you might associate with the world of gory horror films.

But just because a video game is violent, doesn’t automatically mean they make people violent. This has even been proved by German scientists, but that’s a bigger debate for a different blog.

At Unity, we’re all about increasing human happiness, and we firmly believe that video games are one of many entertainment mediums that provide this. Here are just some of the ways we think that video games promote happiness, encouraging play and learning in our increasingly busy lives.

First and foremost, video games are a form of escapism, allowing people of all walks of life to forget about the stresses of work, helping many relax after a long and taxing day at the office. You could even argue that, despite the misconception that video gamers hole themselves up in a dark room away from the real world, they actually help us make friends.

What’s more there are genres available to meet all needs. Do you wish you could command your own space fleet and visit distant worlds? Then why not fire up something like Mass Effect for some sci-fi antics, harvesting vital materials from planets and moons. Have you always wondered what it would be like to run your own farm? Well, indie farming simulator Stardew Valley may hold the key as you calmly tend to your crops and livestock on a daily basis, balancing crop cycles and weather patterns to your advantage. In fact, they should really use this game as a stress and anxiety therapy tool, it’s that peaceful.

To some, the idea of running a virtual farm fills them with nothing but boredom, but for others, it’s a chance to escape to a different life, and practice time management and even budgeting

I remember as a young gamer, wishing that I could one day escape the real world and transport myself into the life of a Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG), losing myself in the rich and beautiful landscapes that seemed to go on for miles, and save the world from evil. I know now that this isn’t possible, unfortunately, but playing the hero in these JRPGs offered me the ultimate feeling of escapism, and they still do.

Outside of the luscious environments, these games teach players key skills in strategy, tactics and team management, without making it feel like hard work. Facing off against the three giant dragons that make up Final Fantasy XIII-2’s final boss-battle made me rage-quit several times, but the feeling of winning once I’d re-evaluated my tactics is one of the best feelings in the world.

Big and scary? Yes. But no match for the right tactics

Under the umbrella of play, video games teach us skills that many don’t realise. Even the simplest of games, such as restaurant simulator Diner Dash, teach us time management and multi-tasking, while appealing to our competitive human nature. Even real-time strategy favourite Age of Empires teaches us team planning and strategy, while also educating us on key historical dates and landmarks.

Morality is also used as a creative plot device and fun gameplay mechanic in video games, with titles such as Fable physically transforming your character based on your good or bad decisions, and novel-style games from developer Telltale present us with difficult choices that will impact the ultimate outcome of the story. These are similar challenges we may face in our daily lives, but they’re presented in such a way that makes them fun and rewarding.

Will your character look like an angel, or more like a devil? Only you have the power to decide

Games also provide joy to people with physical disabilities. Thanks to the fantastic work of organisations such as Special Effect, games of all genres are being made accessible to everyone, and you need only watch one of their YouTube videos to see just how happy playing games makes people; I make no apologies for the inevitable tears of happiness.

Lastly, games are a creative platform that don’t always get the credit they deserve, allowing people to express themselves and tell their stories in unique and interesting ways. They are full of emotion, with titles like That Dragon, Cancer offering an outlet for the creator as he went through the unimaginable grief of losing his young son to cancer. Even first-person adventures games like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture evoke a certain level of emotion through their unique storytelling, and it’s a breath of fresh air.

Yes, this is a video game, and yes, it’s beautiful

While some games are violent, and we can’t escape that, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day they’re not real. Instead of focusing on the amount of blood and gore in them, we should be giving game creators across the globe kudos for the ways they help us relax, the happiness they bring, as well as the key skills they teach us.

So, keep playing Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty if it makes you happy and helps you switch off after a long day, but if you feel yourself getting too angry, perhaps try something more soothing, like Stardew Valley, or even Candy Crush, and hone your life skills in a fun, and playful way.

This piece was originally published on the Unity blog, here.

Tales of Hearts R is the JRPG I’ve been waiting for

It’s been way too long again, and life has been super busy. Since my last post, I left my retail job, moved to London, and started a PR internship. From November, I didn’t have any time for gaming, as I was concentrating so hard on doing well at the internship, which would hopefully turn into a full time, permanent position. Thankfully, from January 5th 2015, I am a permanent, full time graduate trainee, and I’ve started to make some time for my favourite things again. Of course one of those things is video games.

And now that Christmas has been and gone, new games have made their way into my life, and for the first time in a while I’m trying to make my way through one game before moving onto another, and Tales of Hearts R is that game at the moment.

13929800394_942a49d208_zTales of Hearts R has really taken me by surprise. I’m a fan of the Tales of series anyway, but there’s something special about this one. One of the things I’ve noticed, is that I’m actually using the battle system properly, instead of just button bashing. In the past, I have never used the guard function, so I just went in all guns blazing, and it usually worked in my favour. However, this time I find myself guarding a lot more often as it has a real function, instead of just reducing damage.

1119639573The story is also pretty damn good too. It’s totally generic, and the characters are huge JRPG stereotypes, but I’m absolutely fine with that. Readers of this blog will know that I’m a sucker for an old school JRPG, and this serves old school style up in droves. I’ve not been bored for a single moment, and even the random encounters battle system hasn’t frustrated me too much. The character conversations are cheesy, but I’m genuinely invested in how party relationships are evolving.

Tales-of-Hearts-R-FMV-Footage-1-747x309I’m about 15 hours into the game at the moment, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. If you’re a fan of classic JRPGs, and are looking for a great PS Vita game, you can’t go wrong with Tales of Hearts R. Unfortunately the DLC is ridiculously expensive at £7.99 for each set of costumes, but the outfit additions you get throughout the game satisfies the need for humorous character customisation, without the hefty price tag.

Other games I got for Christmas were Borderlands The Pre Sequel and Danganropa Trigger Happy Havoc. After I finish Tales of Hearts R, I’m planning to move onto Danganropa, as it’s something I can dip in and out of on the way to and from work.

Am I missing any amazing games on the PS Vita? Let me know in the comments!

Murasaki Baby is all I wanted, and more

Murasaki Baby was released yesterday, and I picked it up for the more than reasonable sum of £6.39 with PS+ discount.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Murasaki Baby for quite some time, as it looked like just my kind of game. It looked dark, creepy, and involving. It really reminded me a lot of LIMBO, which is one of my favourite games on the Xbox 360.

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I’ve stayed away from reviews mostly, as I wanted to form my own opinion of Murasaki Baby. I did manage to see that it only lasts about three hours, and a lot of players thought that the touch controls get in the way of the graphics. I’ve only played the game for a short period of time, but I’ve really enjoyed it so far, and while I appreciate what many reviewers are saying about the touch controls, it’s nice to find a Vita game that actually makes good use of both the front and back touch screens.

The back touch screen is used to change the environment you’re in. Some environments scare monsters away, while others may produce rain or wind. Each environment serves its purpose, and it’s a nice little extra, and as I said, a welcome use of the back touch screen. It also really helps bring colour into a game that otherwise could be quite bland by default.

The front touch screen is used to control Baby, and her balloon with simple finger swipes. It’s not just Baby you have to look after; her balloon is just as important. If her balloon pops, then you’ll have to start again from the last checkpoint, and believe me, there are so many things that can pop that balloon. You will shout, and you will swear if that balloon pops. Not just because it’s frustrating, but because Baby will start to cry, and it’s just heartbreaking.

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The lack of any actual voice acting, aside from the odd creepy exclamation of ‘Mummy!’ from Baby every time she thinks she’s getting that little bit closer, make it a really unique experience. This is why I compare it again to LIMBO. LIBMO didn’t need voices. It didn’t even need a soundtrack, and the story came across beautifully.It really is a challenge to create a story with no voices, and Murasaki Baby does it just as well as I was expecting.

I for one am loving the innovative idea of Murasaki Baby, and don’t regret spending the money I did on it. It looks stunning, plays well, and makes you think about what to do next without frustrating you too much and making you rage quit.

If you’re not a PS+ member, you can grab Murasaki Baby for £7.99. It might seem expensive for an indie game, but if we don’t support the indie devs, we’ll never get anything different.

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My picks from the PlayStation Retro sale

PSN are doing some pretty amazing sales at the moment. If you read my last post, you will see that I purchased quite a few games from the Rising Star 10th anniversary sale. I traded in my old Xbox 360 at CEX and got a £47 credit voucher after buying a few games in store, so I decided to get myself £50 worth of PSN credit once I saw all the sales. So it would be rude not to grab a few things from the retro sale. Here’s what I’ve got my eye (and wallet funds) on:

Grandia (£3.29/£2.96 PS+)

Grandia is an absolute classic JRPG in my opinion, and even though I already have it on PS1, I might just get it on the PS Vita for a bit of portable JRPG magic when I’m travelling to and from London. If you love JRPGs and you haven’t had the pleasure of playing this, get it. You won’t regret it. The characters are likeable, and the battle system is classic. It would be nice if Grandia 3 would appear in the UK now though…

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Pandemonium/Pandemonium 2 (£1.49/£1.34 PS+ each)

Both of these games bring back childhood memories. They are memories of love and irritation, as Pandemonium is not an easy game to play. I remember the hours of frustration, but there’s something about them that makes me want to give them another go, and at that price I can hardly say no.

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Motor Toon Grand Prix 2 (£1.69/£1.52 PS+)

This is probably my favourite racing title of all time. Again, I already own this on PS1, but it’s one of those titles I wouldn’t mind buying again. As I type this, I have the opening song in my head. It looks so dated now, but I remember the hours of fun I used to have playing this. Along with the hours of frustration when I attempted to ride the completely uncontrollable bike.

Motor Toon Grand Prix 2 (2CD) (SCPS-10018-9) (Front)

Klonoa Door to Phantomile (£1.69)

Klonoa is another classic game that brings back childhood memories like Pandemonium. Klonoa is a weird bunny type…thing. Judging from his character design, he’s taken a few cues from Sonic & co. Regardless, it would be nice to play as this little fluff ball of frustration again.

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Spyro The Dragon Trilogy (£3.99/£3.59 PS+)

That’s a pretty amazing price for an entire series, and the Spyro series is really enjoyable. I think I still have all these on disk somewhere, but I can’t be bothered to rifle through the memory cards I have to find some empty space when I can just play them on the PS3/Vita. It seems like only yesterday I was playing these actually, so we’ll see if I get a nostalgia hit.

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Now the only problem I have, is that storage on my 500GB PS3 is rather lacking, and I need to take out a small loan for a bigger memory card for my PS Vita…

All of these games are on sale until 12am GMT 25-09-2014. The full list of games can be found here. Which games are you going to be picking up?