A lot of attention is generally paid to a video game’s graphics – people want to know whether the newest AAA title is taking full advantage of the system’s graphics hardware, and how well game developers can narrow the Uncanny Valley. Fair enough; gaming is, after all, a visual medium (the term video in itself being a strong indicator).
But gaming isn’t all about pixels and cel-shading. Ever since the most archaic video games, bleeps and blips have aurally accompanied moving images on-screen. Oftentimes, the picture alone only tells half the story. In this edition of our Top 5, some of the BNBGAMING staff has dusted off their personal record players and 8-track machines (I imagine some of you may not even know what these are!), and has selected our personal all-time favorite songs from gamedom. So don your favorite pair of slippers, pour yourself a nice glass of wine, sit back, and prepare to be treated to the best sounds gaming has to offer! ‘Cos, you know, we’re pretty cultured.
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5. Main Theme, Skyrim
Few games have such epic scores that I can’t stop myself sitting through the main menu until I’ve had my fill. I can honestly say that I’ve spent probably just as much time staring at the game’s logo on that black background, absorbing this epic song, as I have slaying frost spiders. Which is to say: lots and lots.
4. Mad World, Gears of War 3
Not sure if this counts, because it’s not an original score, but despite this, and the backlash of the scene in question (let’s avoid spoilers), I absolutely thought this was so very right. It’s got an odd resonance, and despite Gears of War not being praised for its depth, this was one moment that stuck with me, and the music is the reason for that.
3. The Pokemon Tower, Pokemon Red and Blue
There’s something incredibly scary about this song. Despite its simplicity – its polyphonic simplicity – it still haunts my dreams as much as Cubone’s mother does… Even listening to it now, I can’t help but marvel at my ability to avoid a nervous breakdown as a child.
2. Main Theme, Canabalt
Composed over the space of a night by Danny Baranowsky, Canabalt‘s music is a perfect accompaniment to an addictive game. Spurring you on as you leap over obstacles, it’s simple enough that it doesn’t detract from the overall feel of the game, but instead reinforces its simplicity.
1. Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums, Rage
I seem to have an unhealthy obsession with pretty much every aspect of this game. The music was no exception. I’d like to clarify, this isn’t the kind of music I normally listen to, and yet within the parameters of Rage, I can totally get on board with it. Aggressive, head-bangy, and pretty much a personification of the game itself.
5. Kyle Katarn’s Theme, Star Wars: Dark Forces
Clint Bajakian was one of LucasArts’ go-to composers back in the day, and it’s not hard to see why. In Dark Forces, he manages to provide hero Kyle Katarn with a theme that sounds like it belongs right alongside John Williams’ already existing Star Wars themes. His ability to emulate other composers would also be successful in the Spaghetti Western-styled Outlaws.
4. Highwind Takes to the Skies, Final Fantasy VII
No list of game music is complete without some Uematsu. This one is exciting, and it underscores the freedom of finally having your own airship and being able to navigate the world at will. It’s a very cool theme.
3. Whirlwind, Shinobi 3
This is the music that plays while Joe Musashi, the ninja master, surfs and fights other ninjas. That is all you need to know.
2. The Traveler, Crusader: No Regret
A harder-edged remix of the first Crusader‘s theme, Andrew Sega’s techno-rock score absolutely captures the dark cyberpunk atmosphere of the totalitarian future. This is a soundtrack that’s one of the best and most catchy you can imagine, and one of the reasons CD audio was such a huge leap forward for games.
1. UNATCO Return, Deus Ex
Deus Ex in general has some great music (including its awesome opening theme) but UNATCO Return sticks out. It starts out relatively sedate and builds to a fever pitch as you fight your way out of your former employer’s offices.
5. Old Snake, Metal Gear Solid 4
This track pretty much describes the entire game. We have the solo guitar that symbolizes the lone Snake traversing the battlefield. The rest of the orchestra is the onslaught of enemies that stand in his way. The climax of the piece is when the orchestra crescendos and it feels like something just jumped off the cliff, and then it ends with the solo guitar once again symbolizing Snake’s victory against the enemies, then he finally gets the rest he deserves.
4. Ethan Mars’ Theme, Heavy Rain
This piece just evokes sadness to anyone who hears it. It’s the beginning of the game following the incident of Jason’s death; this music plus the dark and rainy environment creates the sad atmosphere where we meet Ethan Mars. As the game progresses, it morphs into a desperation song in which Ethan is trying as hard as he can to find his lost son. In addition, there is a small part of the piece that has this mysterious feel to it that foreshadows the things that Ethan has to endure in order to see his son again.
3. Main Theme, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
One word describes this majestic piece: power. Not only does it show the strength of the citizens of Skyrim, but also the might of the dragons that reside in the region. But more importantly, it praises Dovahkiin, the Dragonborn who will destroy the fearsome dragon Alduin. I remember when I first heard this song along with the trailer and my mind was just blown with what was in store for us in the game. It didn’t disappoint.
2. Nascence, Journey
When a game does not convey its story with words, the visuals and music take the challenge and attempt to give us an amazing experience. Journey did well on both fronts, but I felt that music such as this immersed players into the game. It gives us this picture of a lone wanderer in the sands attempting to reach his destination, but unexpectedly meeting many wonders and friends along the way that make the journey unforgettable.
1. Leaving Earth, Mass Effect 3
The scene where you first hear this piece is short, but it sums up the gravity of the situation in which Shepard finds himself. As he boards the Normandy, he looks behind at the carnage and destruction that has been brought to Earth by the Reapers. At that moment, he realizes that this mission is the most daring challenge that he has ever faced, and he cannot fail. The fate of his planet and people are in major jeopardy, and Shepard must gather as many forces as he can to take out the Reaper threat. And don’t even get me started about the child in this scene. His death just brings tears to my eyes and that is all the motivation that the player, and Shepard, needs to get the job done.
5. Title Screen, Faxanadu
You know I’ve got to show some love to ol’ fashioned 8-bit musical goodness on here! Faxanadu embodies some of the best the NES had to offer musically just within its first few moments; promises of grand adventures and mortal dangers awaiting. The stellar Land of Mist and Land of Dwarf themes are not to be missed, as well!
4. Main Theme, To the Moon
Although it appears in various forms throughout the game, the theme to last year’s indie surprise (and my personal GOTY) To the Moon is quietly touching, a perfect fit for a game that’s all about reflecting on your time on Earth and treasuring the little things that make life worth living.
3. The Happy Song, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare
This song made me a true fan of Finnish rock band Poets of the Fall, who had contributed to the previous Alan Wake game, masquerading as the game’s aging rockers, The Old Gods of Asgard. In American Nightmare, they’re back with an over-the-top hair metal anthem, as well as the deliciously hilarious Happy Song. As the theme song of Alan’s evil alter-ego, Mr. Scratch, this song absolutely has to be listened to while watching Mr. Scratch in action, killing and dancing in that cartoonish way of his.
2.Dear to the Heart, Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is many things, but to me it’s first and foremost a tale of loss and heartbreak. Perhaps that is why Dear to My Heart (otherwise known as Holding My Thoughts in My Heart), in my mind, represents all the poignant moments of the game, and transports me with ease to my original playthrough of the game. It may be a bit sappy and dramatic, but I feel it goes hand in hand with the game’s overall sense as one of the most emotionally involving games in the series.
1. Celes’ Theme, Final Fantasy VI
The second pick from Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy catalogue, Celes’ Theme is without a doubt going to mark me as a FF fanboy. That’s all right, though, ‘cos damn near the entire score of this game is incredible; there’s a good reason why Kefka’s Domain was the first gaming soundtrack I ever purchased, and I haven’t looked back since. Celes’ Theme marks that perfect moment of lonely despair after the world breaks apart and Celes finds herself stranded on a deserted island, with no one by her side save the inventor Cid. Once Cid dies, there’s seemingly nothing left for Celes – her home destroyed, her companions lost or perished -, and so the only recourse left for her is to climb the tallest cliff on her island, and throw herself into the waves below. That moment of final consideration before the plunge, that moment when even the song seems to be holding its breath, makes this one of the most memorable moments in a game packed to the brim with memorable moments and characters.
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Share Your Thoughts: Did we leave off some songs you particularly love? Think you’ve got an ear for greatness? Let us know in our comments section!