While I have already posted a little about some of my favorite game soundtracks, I thought I would use this post to quickly go over some others I frequently listen to. I don’t feel each warrants a long review (at least at this point), but I hope this will be sufficient to pique your interest for some new music ideally suited for background listening. As an aside: these days I’m much more interested in music that can be listened to as background, so that means vocals (esp. screaming, etc.) and “harsh” tones are not my ideals anymore…
One of the first great CD-ROM adventure games for the Macintosh, Myst provided not just a great story but an immersive world that was inviting for all, even if it was only traveled one screen and click at a time. To go along with ground-breaking graphics, Robyn Miller composed a soundtrack full of lush strings and harmonies. If you’ve played the game, this music will instantly take you back to those worlds. For anyone else, the music for this game is a wonderful backdrop for a session of writing. This is available from Amazon here.
While Robyn Miller could have gone the same route as he did with Myst’s soundtrack, for Riven we are given something completely different. Reflecting the darker tones of the game, the music of Riven is much more subdued, taking its time to fill the air with sounds that can be both wondrous and nerve-wracking. This is available from Amazon here.
In a world of cybernetics and conspiracies, the soundtrack of Deus Ex was a perfect compliment. Alexander Brandon crafted a wonderful mix of synths and strings to support a big game with levels spanning the globe.
Starting the tradition of using near-cheese rock/meta in id games, the soundtrack to Doom is a classic MIDI sampling courtesy of Bobby Prince. We have drums, keyboards and guitars all used to give us a wide variety of music. There are some nice atmospheric pieces, followed up by the stereotypical MIDI drumming every kid sitting at a synthesizer could come up with.
In contrast to Bobby Prince’s music to the original game, for the Playstation port Aubrey Hodges gives us a soundtrack that is far more subdued and darker. This is music that will slowly creep up and help make the gamer feel uneasy. The soundtrack is available on Bandcamp here.
In stark contrast to games before and after Quake, Nine Inch Nails produced a subdued and creepy atmosphere (along with the game’s sound effects) that went a long way, along with the games ground-breaking 3D graphics, to showing the world what a computer game could do.
One of the earliest soundtracks to come from Sonic Mayhem, Quake 2 saw the pendulum of id games swing back from ambient to near-cheesy hard rock. That’s not to say the music of Quake 2 is bad; the drums are outstanding, and the guitar tone is pretty good. There’s not a lot (or even any) of bass guitar happening (a universal problem it seems) but that’s not the least of my criticisms for this soundtrack. While there’s a little bit of variety, utilizing some guitars and synths for brief periods of ambient sounds, overall it can be hard to distinguish most tracks from each other.
I had heard about this game, but like so many others I just didn’t pay much attention to it. I can’t remember if I finally watched a video of the game or such, but while what I saw didn’t interest me much what I heard certainly did. The music, with its outstanding production, is a great listen. Utilizing synths in a way that resembles female vocals, the tracks present a wide variety and is well worth the purchase. This is available here.
One of the first games to feature a truly movie-like score, utilizing instruments and percussion more than standard rock fare, the music of Halo was as much a landmark as the game’s action for Microsoft’s entry into the console field. Listening to the music now it sounds like a composer who had access to a synth and sampler rather than being able to record a symphony live. Whether that could be blamed on technological limitations of the time (goodness knows the power of synths and storage capacity of software samplers have sky-rocketed), the working budget that Bungie had, or what the final product could fit on an Xbox disc and in what format was optimal (still a problem for current consoles; I’d like to see the next generation put some focus into sound rather than graphics) I don’t know. The Halo soundtrack is available from Amazon here.
Final Fantasy 7
Nobuo Uematsu. Any fan of video games, JRPG’s, etc. should know that name. The biggest name behind some of the biggest games in video game history (honestly, I couldn’t even tell you the names of the producers/writers/creators of the Final Fantasy games), his soundtracks have helped put these incredibly detailed worlds into our minds.
While I had heard his music before in Final Fantasy 6 (3 here in the US on the SNES), it was with the debut of Final Fantasy 7 on the Playstation, along with new 3D graphics, that showcased this man’s talents. Utilizing CDs rather than cartridges, the Playstation allowed Uematsu to write hours of music for a game that took dozens to complete.
Squaresoft didn’t just rely on Uematsu for outputting incredible music for its games. For another popular line of JRPG’s they turned to Yasunori Mitsuda to create an incredible score. Just as the Chrono games offer a refreshing difference from the Final Fantasy ones, so does his music. In contrast to the strings and synths of Final Fantasy, the music of Chrono Cross utlizes more guitars, bass and percussion. It’s a refreshing change, and many of the tracks are quite evocative.
The Longest Journey
While I never played the classic adventure games from Sierra Arts or Lucasarts, I did play many of the “2nd-generation” ones such as Myst and Syberia. One of the more recent adventure games, and what’s referred to by many as the last great adventure game, is The Longest Journey. This game has all of the signature items of a near-perfect adventure game: an engaging story, beautiful graphics and environments, hilarious dialogue, and a frustrating interface. Complementing all of that is a wonderful soundtrack by Bjørn Arve Lagim and Tor Linløkken. The soundtrack is included with the game on GOG.
Mass Effect (1-3)
For a series of games in an expansive and detailed world, it needed a soundtrack that could more than hold its own. In the first game, being an introduction to the world and setting up a great confrontation, the music has a wide range of tones and tempos. In the second and third games the tension and action are ramped up, and so is the music. While all three soundtracks are incredible, the first one will always be my favorite. They are available from Amazon here: 1, 2 and 3.
It wasn’t enough for Alexander Brandon to create the amazing soundtrack for Deus Ex and its sequel. His composition skills were demonstrated again for a ground-breaking soundtrack for a game known for its corresponding ground-breaking graphics. While Deus Ex had a more cyberpunk in-your-face sound-stage, in Unreal we hear a lot more subdued pads, wind pipes and more worldly sounds.
Jeremy Soule is the Hans Zimmer of games. I guess that is both a compliment and a slight, as they do share the trait of having a “signature sound” for better or worse. Of course, more often than not they write exactly the kind of music needed for the project, and when I first played Guild Wars the music was beautifully integrated. This soundtrack is available on Jeremy’s site here.
Fastfall: Dustforce OST
It was during a sale on Steam that I even heard about the indie game Dustforce. While platformers aren’t generally my kind of game, I was enamored with the look of this game, and then when I heard the soundtrack my mind was blown. The variety of sounds, the production, everything about it is top-notch. I cannot wait to hear more from Fastfall, and it looks like he’s working with Hitbox Team on their next game as well! The soundtrack is available on Bandcamp here.