Many candidates sprang to mind when I saw to pick a bit of music that affected me. The anxious Collector base/Normandy wreckage music from Mass Effect 2, Brad’s ringtone from Comic Jumper, Aqualung from Rock Band 2 (no positive association with that one, though), the kick in the nuts that is God of War’s main theme.
But the most possibilities definitely came from my favorite game soundtrack, Shadow of the Colossus, a work so evocative it could relate the story by itself. My favorite song came pretty easily. Maybe it’s because I heard it sixteen times during the course of the game, but even replaying the game in Hard or Time Attack Mode, “The End of the Battle” is a piece I just can’t skip.
It’s almost just a musical cue, chiming in as a colossus falls and bowing out just as quickly before Wander passes out from black tendrils slamming into his body. However, the length falls in line with how the whole game operates, communicating a whole lot with very little, and there is a whole lot to hear in 1:42.
The song is intensely morose and simultaneously tranquil, which was very jarring when juxtaposed with the elation I’d felt at finally taking down the first colossus. I wasn’t sure what to think of it. It was certainly beautiful, but it sounded nothing like the Final Fantasy-style victory fanfare I’d expected.Why was the song so sad? I'd just defeated an enemy so huge Wander could barely keep enough strength in his grip to get to the head! Why did this song instantly generate pathos for something I’d worked so hard to kill?
Regardless of why, something was being mourned here, and it was important to the game. After a few more colossi fell, my guess became the song acted as a dirge, a lament for the creature that had to die so the girl could live. A majestic beast that, while dangerous, possessed a terrible beauty, articulated through the mournful strings, and accompanied by the cautiously triumphant choir. I surmised the game felt something so rare should have its passing marked (and not just the corpse becoming a hill).
The genius of the song is that my first "understanding” was revised multiple times. It unfolds almost in lockstep with the game’s progression; some of the later colossi’s death throes take longer, so more of the song is heard. There’s a hint of dissonance introduced. Within one or two colossi, Wander looks noticeably different. Darker, haggard. The quest is definitely taking its toll, and maybe the song is about him. Even later, as the game reveals Wander is actually working towards a goal that will have consequences reaching far beyond bringing a girl back to life, the song imparts the calamity of Wander’s decision.
Everybody playing Shadow of the Colossus eventually goes from wondering if they should be killing the colossi to knowing that Wander is the one who should probably be stopped. Of course, the game is Wander’s story. He’s never going to quit, and there’s really nothing we can do about it. When the sixteenth colossus is brought low, and the player knows everything is coming to a head, “The End of the Battle” finally shows that it’s mourning the entire tragedy of the situation. As in the best noirs, no one is coming out clean.
I’ve heard the phrase that film is 60% video, 40% audio. The exact ratio is debated, but when they work in absolute concert, the combined impact on the viewer is far higher than 100%. “The End of the Battle” is one of those instances. A modified version of “Revived Power”, or an extended version of the first colossi’s battle music could have been used instead, but the resulting scene would not have connected with me in the indelible way that “The End of the Battle” does in under two minutes.