30 Days of Video Games: Day 8, Best Soundtrack

I don’t feel like the creator of this meme really understood what he/she was asking when they put this prompt in it. Or maybe they did, and it’s just me getting overwhelmed. Because you see, music is a huge part of my life. It always has been. I started playing flute at the age of 10 and played through elementary, middle, and high school. I took music theory classes in high school. I currently take voice lessons and am a member of the local auditioned choir. My iTunes library has well over 4,000 songs on it. Music adds ambiance, it adds power, and it creates atmosphere. Some moments in movies would not be nearly as powerful for me had it not been for the music. Music captures me and carries me away. It makes me feel in a way words cannot.

So needless to say I love the musical aspect of video games. Having grown up training in music, I feel I’m able to appreciate it more than if I had not had that background. From the recognizable themes of the 8-bit era to the sweeping orchestrations of Skyrim, it adds so much to the game I’m playing and the world in which I am playing. My game scores playlist has 526 pieces on it: over 10% of my library (and 2.87 GB). And Bard has way more game music than that! But how do I go about figuring which is the best?

I love the electronic sound of the Mass Effect scores; I love the epic grittiness of Gears of War. The heavily orchestrated Dragon Age Origins score is a nice contrast to the slightly Mediterranean flavor of Dragon Age 2. Skyrim’s sweeping orchestral sounds evoke mood beautifully. And I love how the composers of Metroid’s music take the recognizable and classic themes of the old games and weave them into the themes of the new ones.

But I’m going to have to go with Halo on this one.

From the very beginning Halo’s music captured me. The solemn vocals combined with the driving drum and bass lines make for a strong introduction to a series of soundtracks that is as varied as the many worlds Master Chief visits, and the many creatures he comes into contact with. The score evokes mood and nicely blends electronic musical sounds with acoustic and/or vocals. The themes are solid and clear, and it’s evident that you’re in the world of Halo when you hear them.

However, that’s just the first game. The composers incorporate the main theme into new music for Halo 2 and 3, both of which have new and different settings and thus require new and different music. Very rarely do I find the music of the first three Halo games to be repetitive.

But wait, there’s more! Halo 3:ODST, which comes between games two and three, is done by the same composer, and yet has a very different sort of sound. It’s a different protagonist in a different world, and the music evokes that beautifully. Rather than the super-soldier Master Chief, the protagonist is the human Rookie, an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST) separated from his crew in the city of New Mombasa on Earth. He must fight the covenant, but he has to do it in a different way because he lacks Master Chief’s armor and arsenal. The music conveys these differences by omitting the usual chant-style vocals and opting for a smooth, jazzy feel by incorporating saxophones as the predominant instrument. There’s still great percussion, and a couple lovely flute solos, but overall the feeling is far different from the ‘normal’ Halo score.

Finally, Halo: Reach calls for a different type of score as well. With no Master Chief, and on the doomed planet Reach, there’s a need for new music that conveys all Reach and the new group of Spartans has to offer. Syncopated rhythms give a sort of swing feel to the music, making battle more of a dance than an all-out bloodbath. The music is at times driving and relentless, at times sad. Vocals are either eerie or dramatic. It provides a lovely intensity that serves as a great background for the game.

Overall, what I love about the Halo scores/soundtracks is that they create mood and they’re made to enhance the game, but are awesome on their own. I love putting “Tip of the Spear” on my iPod and feeling epic; but I also love the haunting melancholy of “Ashes”, or the sheer beauty of “Unforgotten”. Most of all I’m sincerely hoping that Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori are going to be the ones behind the score for Halo 4. Halo, for me, has more than a gaming legacy. It has a musical legacy.

Tomorrow: Day 9, Saddest Game Scene. Oh this one’s a doozy.

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5 comments on “30 Days of Video Games: Day 8, Best Soundtrack

  1. Halo wins for me just for epic title of a song: “Rock Anthem For Saving The World”

    I mean, come on!

    • Yeah, that one’s pretty awesome as well! I love the Halo music because when you hear it you know you’re playing Halo; but it differs for each game, and even within the games. It’s so diverse that there’s always something new.

  2. I am going to have to go with the epic evolution of one gaming experience that spans the game generations. My winner goes to the Mario Brothers evolution, picking Super Mario 64 as the pinnacle of Mario awesomeness.

    From the dire, dire, docks to the metal Mario theme every single song was made of win. Stand back Charlie Sheen because Mario is winning and you just got owned!

    • Great points there. Mario 64 has some great music. And it is an awesome evolution from the classic 8-bit themes of the original, through the new music in games 2 and 3, up through Mario 64. Nice choice!

  3. I think Super Metroid wins for me. I recently managed to get all the levels’ theme songs onto my iPod, and I can’t stop listening! Each song so matches so perfectly with its world, from the haunting melody of Brinstar to the simple beats, highs, and lows of the Wrecked Ship. Still so memorable after all these years.

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