I get the feeling that we often have different standards for the music we listen to on a daily basis (on our ipods, radios, what have you) and the music we listen to in games. Sure, I might like a track in Super Metroid, but only as background filler or as a mood setter. You probably won’t catch me blasting it in my car. Some of this is due to the fact that many of these songs were created with atmosphere and mood in mind, and just don’t stand up on their own, much like many movie soundtracks. Often good, but rarely worthy of being played outside the theater.
But I think there’s also a perceived inferiority to the medium among some people, or at least an embarrassment of being caught listening to a song from a “kid’s game” when they could be rocking out to an “actual band.” This is a shame, not just because it’s an unfair generalization, or that many people poured their hearts into these tracks, but also because there’s good deal of video game music that really does stand up on it’s own when compared to other mediums. Here are some examples.
Donkey Kong Country – Aquatic Ambience
This is a track I could easily see being released by an electronic shoegaze group like STS9 or Ulrich Schnauss. Haunting and elegant. Maybe it’s because it accompanied an oft-dreaded underwater level, but I don’t see it mentioned a whole lot.
Chrono Cross – Dream of the Shore Bordering Another World
Along the same lines, this is another song that really knows how to build atmosphere with strings. The fact that it was used on an overworld screen would have been a crime if it wasn’t for the context that it fit with perfectly (entering a mysterious parallel world), and the fact that this meant the player got to hear it more often.
Plok – Main Theme
Picking things up a bit, here’s one that was way ahead of its time with what it managed to coax out of the SNES’s hardware. Preceding, and perhaps influencing, the similarly happy-go-lucky soundtrack of Banjo-Kazooie, it proves what many folk rockers have known for years: the harmonica rules.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Gerudo Valley
But speaking of folk rock, I think it’s time for some sweet acoustic guitar work. Eat your heart out, Rodrigo y Gabriella: this is how you do latin flair. (Not really, I love you guys too.)
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift – Nightmare Fiction
Finally, here’s a little something for you hard rock / metal fans. Arc System Works’ new fighter may not be so overtly inspired by these musical genres as their last one was, but Daisuke Ishiwatari’s songwriting style hasn’t changed one bit, and I love him for it.
Of course, while I tried to stay away from chiptune here, as I was trying to showcase music that competes with contemporary fare, there has been a sort of retro gaming revolution in music lately. Just look at Scott Pilgrim’s soundtrack, or the work of Anamanaguchi or Nullsleep to name a few. Early limits in technology forced some pretty great melodic innovation in the NES years, and nostalgic bands are reexploring the capabilities of these soundboards in modern electronic and rock settings. So video game music and contemporary music are both reaching out to one another, which is pretty cool to see. Boundaries be damned – good music speaks for itself.