Sunday, 11 September 2011

Video Game Music: An important Piece of the Puzzle.

Video games are an interactive audio visual experience. You see, you hear, you feel and you react. Very few games today are silent . . . And by silent, I refer to the lack of sound effects, Background music e.t.c.. Audio plays an incredibly vital role in any game irrespective of genre, and its vitality is often overlooked because it's a part of that experience that mostly registers subconsciously. What the eyes absorb and the player feeds back into the system usually take precedence. Admittedly, there are titles designed to deliver solely musical experiences, and the game mechanics are focused on musical cues (for example Rock Band, Guitar Hero e.t.c.).  But games under that genre will be left out of this piece seeing as the musical aspect is obvious. 

I fully believe that for any game to excel as a whole and deliver as a complete package, it needs to pay careful attention to the audio, background music, sound effects e.t.c and use them as a vehicle to transport the player throughout the experience. A perfect synergy between gameplay and B.G.M. must exist to achieve this. I have found that games I've played more than once and thoroughly enjoyed have all had good soundtracks backing them up. Some of these games were not necessarily perfect by design, neither were they genre defining titles. But the soundtracks/B.G.M were good enough to keep me going . . . Some sort of sub-conscious motivation. The B.G.M. added substance to it all. What is most important is that I was able to vividly remember these experiences even whilst being detached from the T.V. and game console. These subconscious audio registers came into play and began to revive images and scenes from the game. I even have a folder on my hard drive titled   ' Video Game Music ' seeing as music is a very big part of the experience for me. And as you already expect, I blast these tunes on my MP3 player while travelling on the bus, going to work, train journeys, taking the dogs for a walk, and even have them blasting through the speakers while in the shower (is that odd ?).

With that being said, I have compiled a quick list of titles that I personally feel have achieved this synergy between gameplay and the B.G.M (Some admittedly do achieve this more than others). This is just my personal opinion. Seeing as I am yet to play every game on this planet, I am undoubtedly missing some out. Your contributions are more than welcome . . . What games do you think achieve this synergy ? What games are able to suck you in with memorable soundtracks ?

                                                             Here's my list: 

1) Streets of Rage 2 (SEGA Genesis): Come hailstone, wind and fire, Streets of Rage 2 will always be my number one example of a game that achieves this perfect synergy between gameplay and background music. Out of all the tracks on my MP3 player, Streets of Rage 2's B.G.M. gets the highest play counts. I simply can't get over it, and I doubt any game can topple the efforts here. Yuzo Koshiro (composer) must be a supernatural or extraterrestrial entity who some how got the job to bless this game with such an unforgettable and sublime soundtrack. I am convinced he isn't human. EVERY single B.G.M. for each stage or act is not only a perfect fit for the action and events in the game, but they actually sound like tracks you could dance to in a club (even the boss battle music was straight up brawling). I could spend pages talking about how amazing the B.G.M. is, but for the sake of being concise, I can only ask you to play the game and listen for yourself (or head over to YouTube and listen for yourself). Even the title screen track gets you pumped up for the beef. And when I wasn't playing Streets of Rage 2, the music alone brought back those memorable experiences. I cannot imagine having enjoyed this game without such a beautiful soundtrack. Just to give you an idea, here's the B.G.M. from the first stage: 

And here's the boss battle B.G.M. (Imagine getting combo'ed by R.Bear or Abadede): 

Genius isn't it ? I urge you to head over to YouTube and listen to the whole soundtrack from each stage in the game. . Pure Gold. As a matter of fact, I'm thinking of throwing a Streets of Rage 2 party at my house very soon . . . . Should be fun! :-)


2) Ridge Racer PSP (Namco): I'm not a huge fan of racing games. You can call me a racing noob if you like, and I certainly won't argue. Not only do I fail hard at racing games, I am more likely to fail harder in real life driving. I'm sure you get the picture. So the question I ask myself is why I enjoyed Ridge Racer on the PSP so much  ? The music was beautiful and complemented the driving. Simple as. This game literally sucked my attention in. I enjoyed both the Red and Blue discs (these refer to music CD's you can listen to whilst driving) and what I especially liked is the fact that you can select what track to listen to just before the race starts. Considering how bad I am at racing games in general, I was pleasantly surprised to come 1st in most of my races (easy to medium race tracks). Part of that motivation came from the tracks I listened to whilst racing. Adding the music to the Nitro boost in this arcade racer saw me hitting a climax on many occasions (erm . . not the type you're thinking about, dirty minds). It is a huge disgrace to admit that Ridge Racer PSP is the ONLY racing game I was able to play very well, and all attempts to recreate that experience on other racers have failed. In any case, here are my top two tracks from the game:

And Bass Rider:

Hiroshi Okubo (Composer) did a great job with the soundtrack for the game. Well done. 


3) Ninja Gaiden Xbox (Tecmo/Team Ninja): I can safely say Ninja Gaiden is my favourite action adventure/hack and slash game of all time (more on that topic later). Part of what made Ninja Gaiden such an enjoyable and unforgettable experience for me was the fact that the B.G.M. and the gameplay went hand in hand. It was always easy to tell when you were in trouble, when it was time to be smart and when things were a bit mellow (the platforming and exploration aspects of the game). Without saying much more, here are my two favourite tracks from the game:

The Ninja Gaiden theme:

And the ' Alma Awakened ' track. If you snooze, you loose. Seriously, Alma is like a nightmarish ex girlfriend or wife out to destroy you. Merciless:


4) Killer Instinct (Rare/Nintendo): I think with Killer Instinct on the SNES, the Killer Cuts CD did a brilliant Job of providing a higher quality version of the in-game tracks. While the game tracks (during gameplay) were not terrible by any means, listening to the Killer cuts CD is definitely the way to go. You'll end up appreciating the B.G.M. a bit more.  Some times I do feel the B.G.M. rose above the actual game, and I could definitely see a soundtrack like this being a perfect fit for the Tekken series. Two of my favourite tracks from the Killer Cuts CD were:

The way you move (definite club banger): 

And ' The Instinct ' . . . I can Just Imagine Mishimas fighting to this:


5) Street Fighter 2 (Capcom/SNES): SF2 . . . This game brings back memories. Very painful ones I must add. Out of all my friends from back in our early years of video gaming. I was the worst at SF2. I was always looking for the easy way out. I loved Blanka so much, until my friend beat me senseless with Ryu after my pathetic attempt to spam the electric shock and rolling attack (the only two moves I knew). Nevertheless I will always love and remember SF2 (especially those beautiful tracks . . . The Nostalgia). Even after so many years, the soundtracks still echo in my mind. My favourite tracks include Guile's stage theme, Blanka's Stage theme, Balrog's stage theme, Sagat's stage theme . . . . ah I better stop, they were all beautiful. SF2 will always be a classic, and a good part of it being a classic is the fantastic B.G.M. Here are three of my best tracks:

Ryu's theme:

Guile's theme:

Balrog's theme:


6) Virtua Fighter Series (SEGA): Being a huge fan of the Virtua Fighter series, it's no surprise it makes the list. Seeing as all the Virtua Fighter games have notable stage B.G.M.'s (to be honest, they're a mixed bag) I have decided to pick my favourite so far. It's the kind of music that drives you destroy your opponent.

Lion Rafale's " The Fort " from VF4. You simply cannot give up while fighting to this:

Akira Yuki " Statues " from VF5 . . This track ministers to the soul of any warrior:

Akira Yuki " Ride the Tiger " from VF2 . . Enough said:

Jean Kujo " Training Room " from VF5:Final Showdown. This makes the list seeing as the game has just be officially announced for consoles :-). This track was composed for BEEF!!!:


7) Tekken 5 DR (Namco/PS3/PS2): There is only one stage in this game that moved my heart to tears. In this stage I claimed countless victories and painful unforgettable losses. In this stage, I smote my opponents to the bare floor and watched them attempt to challenge me once more. This stage brought out the best in my Heihachi, Kazuya, King and Raven . . . This stage was the ONLY stage I chose to fight in . . . This stage (in my opinion) single handedly defined Tekken 5 DR . . . It was not only Epic, it became a fighting requirement . . . Ladies and Gentlemen . . . I bring you the: . . . .

Moonlit Wilderness:

I hope Tekken Tag 2 can revive this stage ? from the looks of it they have, but it seems you fight inside the uncompleted building . . .    :-(


8) Donkey Kong Land (Rare/Game Boy): The closer I get to completing this list, the more I realize just how much the 90's era of video games brought us some true gems. I remember having to do very well at school to earn a Game Boy. To make things even better, my Dad got me a yellow Game Boy. And the biggest surprise was when I received this game (yellow as well) with the yellow Game Boy. My friends at school were hurt real bad. Donkey Kong Land on the loudest volume was my way of paying them back for making me watch as they tapped their Game Gears ruthlessly. In any case, out of all the games I had on the Game Boy, I enjoyed this the most, and guess why ? The music really sucked me in. I never enjoyed swinging around on trees so much. :-) Oh and yes, there was a handheld called the ' Game Child ' . . . I refuse to discuss how the Game Child ruined a good few years of my life.


9) Revenge of Shinobi (SEGA Genesis): It comes as no surprise, that the extraterrestrial being behind the Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack was single handedly responsible for composing the music behind revenge of Shinobi. At this point, I am convinced this man isn't human. Yuzo Koshiro, what's your secret ? Do you receive intelligence from the GODS ?

The Shinobi: 

And one of my best " Sunrise BLVD ":


10) Bloody Roar 3 (Hudson/Virgin Interactive/PS2): While not the deepest fighting game out there, Bloody Roar 3 was highly enjoyable. Part of that was down to the B.G.M.'s not being bad at all. One of the most notable is the final Boss fight with Xion . . . He really hurt me bad. Very ruthless he was. Head over to You Tube and Listen to the B.G.M. I personally think it was the best in the series.

Beast Legacy:


So what do you guys think ? What video games do you think hit the nail on the head in the music department ? Your comments and contributions will be much appreciated.

Many Thanks

Shadow Master