Five Incredibly Important Game Soundtracks
There’s no getting away from it – the world of gaming edges into everyday life more and more. Game characters as diverse as Pikachu, Hitman, Zelda and the Mario Bros. are household names across the planet. Games create worlds as rich and complex as any novel, and are as visually arresting as any Oscar-winning film.
But the medium’s reach doesn’t stop there. Game soundtracks have become an essential factor in a game’s success, as music and sound plays such an integral part in creating the immersive world that the game player steps into when they play.
Here, we discuss a mere handful of some of the most well-known game soundtrack composers and their themes, songs and leitmotifs, which you will have heard somewhere, and not necessarily coming out of a gaming console speaker system.
So, in alphabetical order (by the composer’s surname):
- Bill Elm & Woody Jackson – Red Dead Redemption
The release of Red Dead Redemption was a massive event in the gaming world when it launched in 2010 after five years in development. It’s rumoured to be one of the most expensive video games ever made and it definitely looks it. Playing the game is like being in a western movie. The scenery is breathtaking: the gameplay is especially designed to let the player take as much time as they want as they travel around the narrative and the world that it inhabits. The soundtrack is in sync with the look and the feel of the game every step of the way. And on top of that, it spawned a hit song, ‘Far Away’, by José González which lingers with you long after you’ve completed the game.
- Koji Kondo – Legend of Zelda
Koji Kondo is the grandfather of game soundtracks. Not only has he penned the themes to some of the most famous titles ever produced, he’s been part of the game development scene for over three decades. Before the Legend of Zelda titles, Kondo had already carved himself a place in gaming history as the composer of the Super Mario soundtrack. One of the main reasons why the Zelda themes have been so enduring is because harmonies and motifs are incorporated into the story and the actual gameplay. Even though Kondo’s career has been mostly limited to composing for these two titans of the gaming world, he has created the soundtracks for over 60 Mario titles alone. Take a listen to some of his music for Legend of Zelda here.
- Yoko Shimomura – Kingdom Hearts
Apart from having the honour of being the only female composer in this list, Yoko Shimomura is a true game soundtrack prodigy: she started playing the piano at age four and started composing for video game developer Capcom while she was still at university. The soundtrack for Kingdom Hearts, which is a collaboration between Square Enix and Disney, features a range of Disney and Final Fantasy characters. The soundtrack has a wide emotional scope, which carries the player on the characters’ journeys, and features a mix of orchestral pieces and specially written pop songs. Shimomura’s other notable compositions include soundtracks for Final Fantasy XV, Parasite Eve and Street Fighter 2.
- Jeremy Soule – The Elder Scrolls III
All of Bafta award-winning composer Jeremy Soule’s soundtracks are beautiful, but his composition for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowmind, is often cited as the best. Described as the John Williams of video game music, Soule has composed soundtracks for over 60 games titles. Not content to be to typecast, Soule has sought to spread his wings beyond the gaming world. In 2013, he launched a Kickstarter project to fund an album of classical pieces. He was originally seeking $10,000 for the project but the contributions kept coming in and Soule ultimately raised over $121,000. Looks like the fans will want to hear what Soule composes no matter what it is or what it’s for.
- Nobuo Uematsu – Final Fantasy VI, VII, VIII
The debate over which of Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtracks for the Final Fantasy series is the best will rage on forever. It’s fairly safe to say that Final Fantasy VI, VII and VIII are in the top three. Uematsu’s soundtracks for these titles have, collectively, made such an impact on the mainstream world that he has placed at No. 9 in Classic FM’s annual Hall of Fame. That’s No. 9 in a list of 300 composers including people like Mozart, Bach and Beethoven – the rock stars of the classical music world. But Uematsu’s music explores all kinds of music genres from classical through to new age, Celtic and heavy metal. It’s said that the intro to a piece for Final Fantasy VII was inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. Other than that, Uematsu has said that, rather than listening to other music, he gets inspiration while walking his dog. Rock on.
- Austin Wintory – Journey
Five wasn’t enough, so here’s No. 6. Fans, reviewers, critics – everybody waxes lyrical about this one. Not a lot happens in the game, and there is no dialogue or written instructions; the player just has to go on the journey. The soundtrack plays an integral part in the game’s gameplay in that, by creating musical chimes when the character touches glowing symbols which appear, these sounds merge into the tones and harmonies of the soundtrack which constantly glides along, under and above the gameplay. Hauntingly beautiful in everybody’s eyes (and ears).