Musical Masterpieces in Gaming

Video games are primarily visual in their artistry, featuring vast detailed worlds and distinct art styles that draw players deeper into the digital experience. However, it must be acknowledged that music in gaming is just as important as the  graphics, art style or plot. Music is as important to the game’s atmosphere and tone as any visual brushstroke, as music has the ability to captivate people and color the world with emotion. Certain video game franchises are not only revered for their characters and gameplay, but also for their legendary melodies that become instantly recognizable to gamers (and sometimes non-gamers as well). The Super Mario Bros. theme is one of the best examples of a universally recognizable video game theme that instantly calls to mind images of the stout Italian plumber hopping his way over chasms and Koopas to save his beloved princess.

Aside from the series-defining themes, some of the most memorable and powerful pieces of video game music are those that perfectly match the atmosphere of the game, tug at your emotions and accompany key moments of the plot. There are so many great songs that could be discussed, but I’ll just stick to a few examples. These songs also happen to be among my top favorites.

  1. Dancing Mad - Final Fantasy VI- First up is the final boss theme from Final Fantasy VI, which played as you faced off against the insane Kefka Palazzo. Composed by Nobuo Uematsu, this masterpiece of synthesized pipe organ is also the longest boss theme in the entire Final Fantasy series with a whopping 18 minute run-time. The piece has four distinct parts, each symbolizing a different level to the mad designs of Kefka and detailing his ascension to godhood.
  2. Song of Healing – Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask- This next piece by Koji Kondo is a great piece that tugs at your heart strings. As the name suggests, this is the melody that Link would play on his Ocarina to help soothe and heal the bodies and souls of those tainted by darkness or sorrow by turning their afflictions into masks. The song is slow, gentle and melancholy with just a small dash of hope lingering on the edge of the notes.
  3. Earth – Assassin’s Creed 2- This is a triumph of atmospheric sound. Jesper Kyd brings back the soft synth, instrumentation and chorus that he dazzled us with in Assassin’s Creed. This time the track has an extra sense of mystery about it, as well as a sense of urgency. The song is a audio characterization of the Assassins and their struggle to maintain truth and justice against the Templar Knights. A struggle that can especially be seen through the newest Assassin that we are introduced to in Assassin’s Creed II: Ezio Auditore da Firenze.
  4. Aqua’s Theme- Kingdom Hearts : Birth by Sleep- This is a somber piece that serves as the theme for the Keyblade Master Aqua. Yoko Shimomura crafted a theme with heavy tones of sorrow and weariness that matched the sacrifices and struggles that Aqua endured while trying to ensure the safety of her friends from the dark plans of Master Xehanort. Unfortunately, she was unable to prevent either of her friends from falling into darkness and her song reflects her ill-fated journey as she attempted to find and protect her friends.
  5. The Sun Rises – Okami- This is one of the most uplifting pieces I have heard in a video game. Playing as the goddess Amaterasu with all her powers restored, you take on the Emperor of Darkness, Yami. The quick , upbeat tempo perfectly embodies the heroic final struggle that Amaterasu makes against the ultimate antagonist that has been plaguing the world. Masami Ueda and Hiroshi Yamaguchi’s use of traditional Japanese instruments here shines alongside Amaterasu as she battles Yami to determine the fate of heaven and earth.
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About Preston Sotelo

I am a videogame journalist with a passion for the artistic expression and unique experience that videogames can offer. I also have a passion for sci-fi, fantasy and Japanese anime.

Posted on September 20, 2011, in Game Art, Game Music and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hey man I really like your blog. You should check out geekRevolt. Perhaps try to be a writer! I am also a writer for the geekRevolt and I have not seen anyone like you writing for them.

  2. Ah, another pick/view I can heaviy agree with! Aqua’s theme expresses the things you mentioned!

    It might not be the main theme of the game, but it certainly is the “Birth by Sleep” theme as it plays while the phrase is said by “You know who”^^. For me the theme in the moment represented the agony of Aqua and furthermore the agony of the trio as well as the downfall of “you know who”. A perfect match for such an emotional scene.

    • I’m glad you agree! Kingdom Hearts is a series that produces a great deal of wonderful music. It seems that in every game Yoko Shimomura outdoes herself. I especially love how Dearly Beloved changes a little bit in tone each game and yet still gives you a feeling of wonderful familiarity as you arrive at the title screen.

  1. Pingback: Music in Video Games « Videogames: The Digital Odyssey | industry, blog, iphone, app, creative, games, programming, project, various, criminalminds

  2. Pingback: The Zelda Symphony is Coming to Town « Videogames: The Digital Odyssey

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