Editor’s note: As the Bitmob staff’s de facto DJ, I couldn’t agree with Eric more: A game’s aural choices are just as important as its visual choices. Also, a good story will only get you so far if a title’s soundtrack cues fall flat. Eric’s cites examples from several top-tier franchies that present a strong case. -James
You’ve just saved the princess after slaying hordes of monsters, and she requests one last deed to end evil forever and ensure the safety of the kingdom. You pack up your belongings, scabbard your mighty sword, and mount your trusty steed in preparation for one last quest to kill the final boss. The drums are beating, the gongs are chiming, and the horns are roaring. “Epic” has never sounded better. But what makes it legendary?
More than one factor plays a role in creating ambiance when exploring a hidden temple, experiencing a emotionally moving cutscene, or going toe-to-toe with that final boss in the end — it’s not just the story. It’s the power of music.
The soundtrack of a video game can create a profound sense of player immersion that depends on the scenes matched with it. Take Bioshock for example: Rapture’s beautiful and creepy corridors, ball rooms, and apartments are the perfect complement to the games eerily memorable ’40s tunes. The sense of being a part of a great cause in Mass Effect 2 shines due in part to its music, too — the songs are full of orchestrated melodies mixed with synthesized beats that fit the setting of a sci-fi epic.
Other games such as Shadow of The Colossus (with its mighty battle themes), Final Fantasy (with its elegant piano pieces), Metal Gear Solid with (with its tense spy tracks) feature context-appropriate sounds that help drive thier respective stories. Even games that choose popular music over cinematic sound — like Grand Theft Auto 4‘s everyday kind of music — make us feel connected to a game’s environment. Grand Theft Auto is all about recreating the look and sounds of a downtown, urban setting. The No Russian sequence in Modern Warfare 2 didn’t feature a guitar rocking out in the background for a reason: it would completely kill the mood and it would also kill the player’s ability to suspend disbelief. Music always serves the purpose of extending a game’s believability.
I think that music in video games creates emotional connections as much as story does. Neither one can survive without the other. I find myself completely in love with the sound design of the Silent Hill games because of the balance between the horrifying ambiance and trippy beats during cutscenes. I’ve played my fair share of games that made me drop the controller and just to listen to the beautiful tunes. The music of Half-Life 2, Assassin’s Creed 2, Mirror’s Edge, Halo, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid all spring immediately to mind.
These games show that soundtrack choices can be just as important as narrative choices.
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!