I love Final Fantasy VII. I live it, I breathe it and I’ve been obsessed with it for as long as I can remember. If you’ve read my (long neglected) blog before or you know me personally, you’ll know that … Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you read this blog, you will know of my absolute love for video game music. It doesn’t matter whether it’s orchestral, metal or retro midi files. I love everything about video game music, and I spend a good chunk of my time listening to it and reliving associated moments from each song in my head. The battle music for Devil May Cry 4 pumps me up and makes me think of destroying demons with a huge sword. The boss battle music for Baten Kaitos makes me think of having a little mini rave to myself while I quickly flick through battle cards. Even listening to The Song of Storms from Zelda makes me remember the hours I spent changing the weather in Hyrule, just because I felt like it.
Video game music is great, but it’s not very widely recognised as a popular genre outside of its niche. For the past two years though, the Classic FM Hall of Fame has welcomed some new names and faces to its ranks, some of which have been video games. This makes me so unbelievably happy, I can’t even begin to describe. To see my favourite entertainment medium get so much recognition is just wonderful to see, however there have been some who have ridiculed their well-earned places. There has always been, to me anyway, an element of elitism from the classical music world. It’s called classic for a reason, and love it or hate it, Classic FM play homage to some of the best composers out there, living and dead. I have attended several outdoor classical concerts, and there is no reason why these compositions from more obscure media cannot be included.
Do the Final Fantasy Series and The Elder Scrolls series deserve their place at 5th and 3rd in the hall of fame? Yes, of course they do, and I would never put them anywhere else. Do they have a place amongst some of the greatest composers we have known? Yes. If Eternal Sonata is a game based on the life of Frederic Chopin, featuring his very own compositions, then of course video games deserve a place. In fact, I became interested in Frederic Chopin after playing Eternal Sonata. I have always enjoyed a small selection of classical music anyway, alongside my obscure taste in Japanese hardcore trance and Japanese rock, so video games featuring classical music was an instant win for me.
Another example of a time when classical music and video games worked in perfect harmony is Dragon Quest VIII. Koichi Sugiyama composed a beautiful score to this wonderful Japanese RPG, and I think if it was composed in any other way it wouldn’t have worked. I will definitely be putting in a fresh vote for Koichi Sugiyama, and encouraging others to do the same.
I can understand the hostility from those outside of the video game fandom, but I do wonder; have these people listened to the songs that they are slating so much? My Aunt listens to Classic FM a lot, and I played her one of my Distant Worlds CDs and she loved it. It’s played by an orchestra, and just because it’s from a video game does not de-merit it in any way at all in my mind. The brilliant Lord of the Rings soundtrack is allowed, but why not video games? Perhaps people need to open their minds a bit more.
Now, I’m not for one second suggesting that video games should start to dominate the Classic FM airwaves, but I think they should be given a chance, because Nobuo Uematsu, Koichi Sugiyama and even Koji Kondo are magnificent composers who deserve to be heard, and deserve to be acknowledged for their talent.
What do you think? Should video games have a place in the Classic FM Hall of Fame? Which composers do you want to see there?
Can Music Make or Break a Game – Posted 16/08/2012 on Megabits of Gaming
The importance of music in a video game is often overlooked. We all have our favourite tracks from our favourite games, but how does music really add to our gaming experience? With the exception of games like LIMBO, I believe it has a massive impact on how we experience each game world.
The music of Tetris and Pacman is something that will remain with many gamers. Play these in a room full of people, and it’s guaranteed that most of them will know what these little midi files are from, and they will even be able to hum along to it. The music is part of the nostalgia for some gamers, part of the playing experience and each game may perhaps not have enjoyed as much fame as they did without these iconic sounds.
Video game music has become a lot more complex since the early days of arcade machines though. With composers like Nobuo Uematsu, famous for the Final Fantasy series, Koji Kondo, the genius behind The Legend of Zelda soundtracks, or Shoji Meguro, a more obscure composer famed with composing some unique music for the Persona franchise, video games are a land filled with magnificent composition. Of course the magic of video game music is not just limited to JRPGs. The Halo franchise boasts a fan base with a passion for the orchestral music contained within, and Metal Gear Solid fans sing praise to each instalments soundtrack.
Even action games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta have a certain something about their battle tracks that are designed to get you pumped up. I bet you never thought that a version of Fly Me To The Moon could get your adrenaline rushing in order for you to kick some angel butt, but it really works. In typical Devil May Cry style, the main battle music is written and performed by the lead vocalist to heavy rock band, Hyonogaja, and really gets you in a button bashing mood. Without these key songs would you really have had as much desire to pummel those enemies and finish off the game? Perhaps not.
Fallout 3 is a rare example where older songs are used for the soundtrack, and Galaxy News Radio is a pure stroke of genius that left me riveted with every song, no matter how often they were replayed. Fallout New Vegas featured a similar soundtrack, but for some reason it just didn’t hit the same chords for me.
The true test of video game music though, is when you decide whether you want to listen to it outside of their game worlds. The music of Final Fantasy has its very own concert touring the world at the moment; Distant Worlds. The giant Halo series has even had a concert hosted in its honour, with fans flocking to listen to the live soundtrack and relive some of their favourite moments. If that doesn’t tell you the quality of what we are caressing our eardrums with, then I don’t know what will.
I can personally spend hours playing Persona 3 and not get bored of the battle music. I even listen to the soundtrack in my iTunes library when I start to get a bit of withdrawal. There are however some games that demand you mute them and create your own soundtrack. The music in Blue Dragon was one of these games. Every boss battle had the same annoying heavy rock track on an endless loop. There was no way I could sit through that, so I had to make my own amusement. I also did the same with World of Warcraft whenever I got stuck into a day-long session on the epic MMORPG because chirping birds does get a bit boring after a while.
MTV has dished out awards for the best video game soundtracks in the past, and of course the BAFTAs have recognized the medium of the game soundtrack in their annual video game awards. Music is just as important in games as it in film and television it would seem.
My point is without the music, gaming may not be what it is today. Without background ditties to hum along to and dramatic battle sounds, games might feel static and lifeless. Sure, some hit the mark where others fall short, but let us take a moment to appreciate what we so often forget is a vital cog in the gaming machine.