Video Games Live has been performing and promoting video game music in the concert setting since the company was founded back in 2002. Video games have been around for over thirty years but their soundtracks often get little or no attention. As the popularity of video game music is proliferated, more audiences will become acquainted with this kind of music, which is heavily ingrained with modern music’s stylistic and compositional elements.
While you may have heard the music from some of these games, most people haven’t listened to the soundtracks on their own. The experience is extremely different from when you are playing the game. With the prevalence of looping and memorable structural elements in modern music and in video games, one can draw clear similarities between the two. Like with the Netflix show Stranger Things, the popularity and demand of soundtracks has reinvigorated appreciation of the difficult duty of accompanying visuals with sound. These following video game series are excellent sources of inspiration for the casual listener, fan, or producer looking for content to sample or archive for a project.
Role-playing games are an incredibly popular genre of video games. An often overlooked but striking part of RPG games are their beautiful and bountiful soundtracks. Final Fantasy is one of the best-selling video game franchises of all time and its crew breaks this mold. The series is notable for its gameplay innovation, visuals, and especially its famous music, composed by Nobuo Uematsu. This series is also well-known for the proliferation and promotion of the musical accompaniments in these games.
Check out the soundtracks from some of the older games, like Final Fantasy III (composed by Uematsu). The simple yet striking arpeggiations, rhythm and songwriting are incredibly emotional and nostalgic. Whilst listening to FF3’s soundtrack, you’ll feel as if you’re transported back to the beginning of nineties.
The “Tales” series
The least known series of our list, the Tales series, has been touching our hearts with its musical accompaniments since its debut in 1995. This cult classic series is known for its unique real-time battle system, unlike the systems featured in Pokémon and the earlier Final Fantasy games. The main composer for the Tales series is Motoi Sakuraba. His first work on the series was for Tales of Phantasia (1995), and has since contributed to nearly every main entry since then in the capacity of an independent composer. The music feels like a mix between spacey Wii music and a fantasy anime. There’s something melodically or rhythmically memorable in practically every track,although they’re often minute-and-a-half loops.
Sakuraba is the principle composer for Tales of Symphonia, which is often considered to be the best RPG game ever released for the Nintendo Gamecube. He is also credited for Tales of the Abyss and Tales of Vesperia, two lesser known but equally compelling games in the series. Tales of Berseria, the most recent title, was also composed by him. If you’re interested in getting into Tales, it’s an excellent starting point to get comfortable with the game’s unique style.
The Legend of Zelda
Ocarina of Time is perhaps the most well-known game from The Legend of Zelda series. It also has one of the most memorable video game soundtracks in history. Throughout the game, the main character Link plays his ocarina to summon forth changes in his world. A metaphor of music changing the world is clearly apparent in this game. Koji Kondo, the composer of OoT, is also incredibly famous for his work on the classic Super Mario Bros. soundtrack from 1985. He’s one of the most accomplished video game music composers of all time, with sixty-plus games under his belt. Many of his songs remind us of a synthesis of medieval-sounding rock melodies and folk music. The songs are orchestrated with cheesy retro synthesizer sounds. Once again, the simplicity of these songs gives them an unforgettably classic vibe.
This game stars a familiar Nintendo character, Ness, but it’s often forgotten in its entirety: music, characters and all. The only reminder we have of Ness is his appearance in the Super Smash Bros. series from Nintendo. EarthBound (1995) is an absolute masterpiece. There are an innumerable quantity of great things about this game; it is deep, thought-provoking, unforgettable, spooky, exciting, timeless, beautiful and above all, musical. It’s more of an experience than a game.
So why does this game get so little consideration? Who knows. Probably because it was before its time. At least Nintendo realizes this and includes Ness in the fun.
The recent resurgence of the Pokémon series, spurred by their phone game Pokémon Go, has brought Pokemon back to the forefront of popular American culture, despite its deep roots in Japan. Here’s another time portal back to the 90’s, for all of you wanting to escape the dull reality we exist in. Plus let’s face it, we all wish we had a Pokémon of our own. The nostalgic qualities of such simple compositions are striking, especially with the restrictions imposed by the prevalent music synthesis processes used at the time.
VGL is coming to Seattle’s Paramount Theater this year on July 8th, 2017 and you can buy tickets here. You can certainly expect to hear some of these series’ music at the upcoming Seattle show. What music do you want to hear at VGL? What other video game soundtracks should we check out? Let us know in the comments below!