Music serves an important function in movies and video games. It emphasizes the feeling of certain scenes. It makes us feel sad when a character dies. It gets the blood pumping during an action scene. It puts us on edge during a tense scene in a horror story. Some people don’t like music in that sense. They say it’s too manipulative. I say they’re just no fun.
So today I wanted to take a brief look at some soundtracks in video games specifically (I might do movies at another time). Like movies, video game soundtracks tend to emphasize the feeling of certain scenes. But along with that, video game soundtracks also try to keep the player in a certain mood while playing. Video game soundtracks tend to be more ambient than movie soundtracks, but they have their fair share of memorable tracks. So now I present to you six video game soundtracks that I found memorable. Why only six? Shut up, that’s why.
Ah Halo, the immensely popular first person shooter series that everyone at my high school just could not stop talking about. I will admit that I am not as big of a fan of Halo as most people are. I had a lot of fun with the multiplayer portion of the games, dueling with friends while sitting on the same couch. But when it came to the story and the campaigns, I never saw the appeal as much as most everyone else did. I enjoyed playing through the games, but I always thought the story was mediocre at best. The main character has the personality of a cardboard cutout, and the plot is just ridiculous at times. Also, there’s a giant plant monster that talks like he’s from a freaking Shakespeare play (yeah I know it’s not actually a plant but it certainly looks the part). Basically, I feel like the game tries too hard.
But putting aside my quibbles with the story, the soundtrack is really well done. It’s orchestral, sweeping, and oftentimes just downright epic. So why did I choose to put this one first?
After playing through the campaigns again in the Master Chief Collection (a remake that combined Halo 1-4 into one game essentially), I realized that the music is very repetitive. It uses the same few bits of music over and over and over again, only with little tweaks to it (such as a piano version and then a guitar version). I mean, the music is good, but there’s no real reason for it to repeat itself like that. Usually when music repeats it’s because of some kind of motif or recurring theme in the story. But in Halo, there’s no real recurring theme aside from “this is an epic battle scene” or “this is a sneaky stealth scene”. The music fits the action nicely (for the most part), but it just doesn’t have much meaning behind it. That’s why I put it first, because despite how good it sounds it just doesn’t have the same impact anymore.
Below you will find one of my favorite tracks from the series. It is a version of the main battle theme, entitled “One Final Effort”. Enjoy.
Dark Fall: The Journal
This is a game that I have mentioned several times before on my blog. It came as a bit of a surprise to me, because I basically stumbled across it on a site called Good Old Games (GOG). I picked it up for like five bucks, played it for a while, and found myself enthralled. The game might not look like much, but the atmosphere is incredible (at least to me). It’s styled after one of those good old point and click adventure games like Myst.
The soundtrack of this game is interesting in the sense that there really isn’t much in the way of standard music tracks. Certain areas of the game have different ambient tunes, but the game also has some audio samples that it will decide to play at random (such as a faint piano tune). But there is one actual track that sticks out to me.
It’s the main menu theme of all things, a very simple little piano track. Despite the fact that this game is billed as “horror”, it doesn’t have the same type of horror feel that most games do. Instead of throwing scary monsters in your face all the time, Dark Fall focuses on atmosphere, and I feel like the menu theme reflects that. It’s a melancholy little tune that draws you in with how simple it is. The song isn’t trying to put you on edge with dissonant sounds and harsh noises, but rather give you a gloomy feeling. It speaks to the fact that the game isn’t about in your face horror, but rather a quiet brooding unease.
The version below is not the exact version from the menu, but rather the extended version you get if you buy the soundtrack from their website. I uploaded it to Soundcloud for the purpose of sharing it here. I hope you enjoy.
Dark Fall 2: Lights Out
Whoa two entries from the same franchise? Is that some kind of cheat? Probably. Do I care? No, not really.
Lights Out is an indirect sequel to Dark Fall: The Journal. What I mean by that is the story of the first game isn’t necessary to understand the story of the second. Some of the characters from the first game are referenced, and you do interact with someone from the first game, but it tells its own self-contained story. This one takes place at an island lighthouse instead of an abandoned hotel, and delves into science-fiction territory by the end of the game.
The soundtrack in this one is different from the first game in that there are a lot more ambient tracks. The game is also punctuated with ocean noises such as crashing waves and foghorns. Much like the first game, atmosphere is key in Lights Out, and I think this game actually has a more engrossing narrative and atmosphere. The first game was more of a straightforward ghost hunt with a vague H.P. Lovecraft twist to it. This one is definitely more sci-fi flavored, and actually ends up sounding more like old Star Trek than a horror story. It’s a very interesting little game that I highly recommend if you’re into point and click adventures.
The track below is a version of one of the ambient tracks found on the game’s soundtrack. You hear it most often in the top room of the lighthouse (hence the name “Lamp Gallery”). The track doesn’t actually pop up in the game in this exact version, but the gist is the same. Enjoy.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Ah we’re back to this game. This is a game that I talked about at length in my first story analysis piece on this blog. Like Dark Fall 2, it is an indirect sequel to the first game in the series, Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
The game is different from its predecessor in that it focuses more on atmosphere and storytelling than it does on “blarg scary monster”. A lot of people were not fans of the game because they felt like it wasn’t a good sequel to the first one. I have played both, and I enjoy both quite a bit. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
The soundtrack to this game is extremely well-done. It’s full of clanking, metallic sounds which really sells the steampunk style that the game is going for. There are also several motifs going in the soundtrack. Any time something dealing with the main character’s children pops up, you can usually hear a faint music box in the background. As well as that, there is a song that plays several times in the game, and it is that song that I chose as my sample.
It’s called “Dieses Herz”, German for “this heart”. The song appropriately deals with the theme of children, and directly ties into one of the major plot points of the game (which you can probably guess if you read the translated lyrics). It’s a soulful, emotional piece that shows up several times, usually altered to sound distorted and make it echo (you know, for that whole creepy factor). You’ll find it embedded below.
And now we’re back to this gem from my childhood. As I’ve said before on this blog, Myst was one of the first games I ever played as a kid, which probably explains why I’m so fascinated with atmosphere in video games. Myst was the top-selling game for almost ten years straight before it was finally outsold by The Sims.
Myst is a game that focuses on atmosphere and exploration first and foremost. It’s all about discovery, about fiddling with things and reading other things until you find those two things that go together. Then you put those two things together and maybe figure out a way to another area. The game is definitely a brain-teaser, but when you actually manage to solve a puzzle you feel like you’re on top of the world.
The soundtrack of the game is fairly unique. It has this certain ethereal quality to it that makes it hard to pin down. It’s very evocative and nostalgic for me, as it is for a lot of people. Myst was one of the first games a lot of people played, so they have very fond memories of it.
To that end, I have embedded a track called “Planetarium” below. There’s only one specific location where this track plays in the game, but I very vividly remember it (mainly because I called the chair in that room the dentist chair, because that’s what it looked like). It seems to evoke feelings of wonder and discovery as you use the screen to search the stars for a clue. If you had the same experiences with the game as I did, you’ll know what I mean when you hear it again.
Transistor is a game I only had to play for about thirty minutes before I found the track that I wanted to share with you.
The game is a very stylized one with a strange story that doesn’t hold your hand, but rather leaves it to you to figure out bits of it as you go along. The soundtrack is full of eerie, pulsating electronic tunes (which fits the game perfectly). Most of the game is full of songs that are used for ambiance, but the one I want to share with you today was actually used in t
It’s called “We All Become”, and it’s a haunting tune. It’s one of the few tunes in the game that actually has vocals. It shows up early on in the game for a brief moment, but it leaves its mark. Honestly, I can’t really do it justice so just listen to it and you’ll see what I mean.
(Also the video has about 30 seconds of nothing after the end of the song, so the song itself is actually about two minutes and thirty seconds, not three minutes long.)
I hope you enjoyed this look at some video game soundtracks. It’s interesting how often I actually find music I like through video games. One of the bands I listen to a lot, Poets of the Fall, I found through the end credits song of Max Payne 2. It just goes to show you that despite the fact that games are primarily seen as little more than “toys”, they can have just as much of an impact as a movie or a book. It’s a point that I keep making on this blog, but I feel like it’s worth making so long as people keep wrinkling their noses at games just because they haven’t taken the time to try and understand them. It happens all the time. Some new thing pops up, and the newer generation latches on to it while the older generation just scoffs at it and assumes it has no benefit to society. And both sides do this before the ramifications of this new thing are even realized.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that even if you don’t understand something, don’t fear or dismiss it. You may not “get it”, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to prevent others from enjoying it.
Well that’s all I have for this week. Tune in next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week everyone.