With the ever increasing complexity of games, it is not much of a surprise that some of the most heavily advertised features of games are their graphics, followed closely by promises of unique and exciting gameplay mechanics. After all, such things are fairly easy to show in a video or screenshot and are incredibly noticeable features of games seeing as how they are the reason why games are such a unique form of entertainment to begin with. However, some of the greatest games of our time weren’t considered memorable simply for having the prettiest graphics or how many people they could cram into a multiplayer lobby. Instead, they were immortalized for the experiences that they delivered, and part of that experience often involves a game’s music.
Take, for example, the Warthog run during the final mission of Halo: Combat Evolved, where the appropriately named Halo is played throughout the sequence. You would still play through the Warthog run in more or less the same manner if you decided to go through the whole thing without sound, but the combined effects of the strings and the drums of the iconic track gave the situation a sense of urgency and excitement, amplifying the danger that the Master Chief was in, making it seem like the player was the star of their own action movie. By the end of the run, you are greeted by a cutscene where the Chief is propelled into space, where the music becomes slower and more somber, a reflection of the price that the crew of the Pillar of Autumn paid to keep the universe’s darkest secret a secret for just a little while longer.
Of course, Halo isn’t the only game that featured a soundtrack worthy of recognition, as there are plenty of games and game series that came before and after it that possessed music capable of stirring up emotions and enhancing the gameplay experience, some of which are listed below in no particular order.
Super Mario Bros.
While the Super Mario Bros. theme may be simple compared to the music that is produced for more modern games, there is no real debate over its status as the most iconic video game theme in existence; it would be safe to assume that virtually everyone who considers gaming to be a hobby of theirs can recognize the catchy tune. The rest of the game’s soundtrack is equally stellar, being one of the earliest and most notable instances where the music in a game complemented the gameplay experience.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
For the most part, open world games that feature a lot of unskippable traveling sequences need something to keep the player engaged, especially if the game revolves around sailing. In the case of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, this distraction comes in the form of the various sea shanties that you can order your pirate crew to sing, providing an immersive way to make your ship seem more lively as well as providing an actual incentive for players to chase down collectibles. Whether or not it is realistic to expect a bunch of possibly drunk pirates to sing a rousing song in chorus is another issue, but it definitely added to the atmosphere, hearing your crew singing along while attending to their various duties on the high seas.
The Witcher series
It seems to be an unspoken rule that whenever a game delves into a medieval-fantasy setting where magic and mythical creatures run amok, then the game’s music must have at least one track that involves a vocalist or chorus singing something that sounds a bit like a chant. Thankfully, some games can pull this off well, and the Witcher series does this in spades. While personal preference means that you can spend hours upon hours trying to decide which game of the series had the best overall soundtrack, you don’t really need to look further than The Witcher 2 to find a fairly definitive soundtrack for the series as a whole, as it has a wide variety of tracks that are rather fitting for all the crazy situations that Geralt finds himself in throughout the games.
For example, The Witcher 2’s main theme starts off with a chorus and sounds relatively upbeat compared to the latter half of the song, which slows down and eventually appears to eschew the chorus for a single vocalist, receding into a very soft, but ominous tone during the last few seconds of the theme. This is fairly reflective of Geralt’s adventure during the first few hours in the game where he is held in rather high regards, leading an assault on a fortress as King Foltest’s right hand man, until of course Foltest is killed and Geralt is imprisoned, gradually finding himself in the midst of one conspiracy after another.
Child of Light
With a game like Child of Light, which revolves around having a beautiful aesthetic to help tell a story, you need an equally wonderful soundtrack to complement whatever’s happening on the screen. The music in Child of Light thus relies upon the use of instruments like the piano and flute to a great degree, delivering a mixture of soundtracks that, with the right tempo, were used to effectively convey sadness, joy, danger, and a fair degree of other emotions. There are few other games that can be used to demonstrate that games, despite primarily being a form of entertainment, can also be considered to be art in its own right.
The Halo series
Anyone who has played a First Person Shooter knows that the genre is far from elegant, seeing as how screams, gunfire, and explosions are some of the most common sounds that you can hear in such a game. Halo is no different in that you can definitely hear lots of gunfire and explosions when you play the game, but it did popularize the space opera genre, thanks in no small part to its music. To this day, Halo’s theme is considered to be one of the most iconic video game themes of all time, combining the effects of vocalists, various string instruments, drums, and other instruments to produce the series’ signature anthem. Once again, you can pick and choose your favorite soundtrack from the series based on personal preference, but it is rather clear that the music of Halo showed that FPSs can stimulate a relatively wide array of emotions as well.
That 343 Industries saw it fit to redo each and every song in Halo CE and Halo 2 for the anniversary editions of both games is further proof that they consider Halo’s music to be just as large a part of the series’ gamplay experience as the weapons and campaign levels themselves. They could have simply decided not to do such a thing and save a bunch of time, money, and effort by using the original scores from both games, but that was thankfully not the case, and we all know that companies tend to not commit resources to something unless they feel like there is some kind of payoff from it.
The Elder Scrolls series
The Elder Scrolls series has come a long way since its inception, evolving from being a fairly decent RPG to this worldwide sensation that has since won numerous awards with its more modern releases, especially with Skyrim. As each game became more and more technically impressive, so too did their respective musical accompaniments. Interestingly, the music of each game also shifted according to the region of Tamriel that they took place in, which created some rather interesting and diverse soundtracks. For example, the music in Oblivion was presumably inspired by medieval Western European styles, featuring plenty of sting and brass instruments and the like, while Skyrim’s music had a more primal feeling, incorporating choruses that had an emphasis on producing deeper, more booming chants. Even The Elder Scrolls: Legends, a card game based on the series, has some pretty decent Skyrim-inspired music with its Heroes of Skyrim expansion, which is a testament to how important music is in augmenting the gameplay of the series.
Needless to say, there are plenty of video games that have amazing soundtracks, with something for just about every kind of taste if you look hard enough. If there were ever any doubt that games are now capable of delivering cinematic experiences that rival those offered by big-budget movies, then such doubt has since been swept away by the impressive variety and quality of the music that games can possess.