Last year I talked about some of the pieces of music in video games that I enjoyed the most for one reason or another. The problem with doing something like that is I spent the next year coming up with music I forgot or wished I could’ve put on that list, it took all my brainpower but eventually, I came up with an ingenious solution. Write a second list.
Last time I didn’t include any tracks that featured a singer because it could often lead to confusion between the Soundtrack and the Score of the game which are two different things. This time I’m disregarding that rule and songs with lyrics are allowed, the only condition is that the song has to have been produced specifically for the game it was featured in, otherwise any song EA used for a game in the mid-2000s would be on the list.
Apart from that, the same rule as last time applies, which is just one track per franchise for obvious reasons and this isn’t really a ranked list because what I prefer in music shifts depending on my mood and such like. Also, there’ll be no tracks from Octopath Traveler on this list as I did a whole separate list on just that topic. So now all that’s out of the way, let’s listen to some tunes.
The Moonlighter – Moonlighter
Moonlighter is very much a game of two sides, which is exactly what makes it so compelling. You can have plenty of fun diving into the dungeons and collecting all of the loot you could ever want, but you can have just as much fun with your day job selling all of that precious loot in your shop.
Similarly, there are two distinct layers to this track that plays as you tend to your shop and serve your customers all day. There are the quiet and peaceful tones of the Marimba that comes in and out of the track nailing the peace of running a shop in a small town, it puts me in such a good mood as I wander around my shop, watching how people are reacting to my prices and serving customers.
Then there’s the guitar that comes in which further conveys this sense of happiness, but also brings in a small sense of excitement that comes from the nature of obtaining all of these valuable items that everyone buys for…well I’m not entirely sure what they’re used for, but the point still stands.
This is the track that best encapsulates the feeling I get from playing Moonlighter, that sense of adventure and contentedness in both sides of the game.
Tetris Theme – Tetris
No explanation required. You know you like this one. Even if you don’t like it, you still like it a bit.
Jump Up, Super Star! – Super Mario Odyssey
There are very few games that can bring the same sense of joy out of me that I get from playing Super Mario Odyssey and this song is the perfect representation of that feeling. It’s loud and proud and absolutely brimming with personality and charm, which is exactly what Odyssey is all about.
The festival sequence in which this plays is easily one of the most fun parts of the game and once I had the option I found myself playing it frequently during several other sections of the game too. In SMO there is nearly a thousand unique challenges to complete and every single one of them was an absolute blast to collect thanks to the sheer joy that this song is absolutely brimming with.
Not only that, but it brings a sense of adventure to the world as well, not so much in the melody but in the lyrics. I’ve never been the biggest fan of the lyrical style of swingin’ jazz songs, but it worked for me here because of exactly the emotions that the game and the melody of the song bring to me. Nintendo has always been great at understanding the fact that games should be fun above all else and this song clearly communicates that philosophy in every beat.
Honor For All – Dishonored
From a song that’s all about having a great time, to very much the opposite.
The world of Dishonored is a horrible place, it’s worn down, grey, corrupted and riddled with disease, arguably the game’s biggest strength is showing you every nasty corner of Dunwall as you seek to destroy at least part of what makes it so horrible. I honestly didn’t think it would be possible to distil that feeling into a song and have it be pleasant to listen to, but I just can’t help but adore this credits song for Dishonoured.
The way the bass and the drums come together with the violin create a simple but incredibly powerful tune that fits in fantastically with the rest of the soundtrack, capturing what has over the course of the game become the sound of Dunwall. It sinks to such grimey depths in places but still keeps the melody sounding smooth only to rise up into some really beautiful sounding peaks, showing the progression of how you can affect the city depending on your choices throughout the game.
What I think takes this from a good song to a brilliant one though is the lyrics. I don’t know much about the production of the song, but it feels to me like Jon & Daniel Licht had a perfect understanding of how the game’s story worked and exactly what points it was trying to get at because they come out so powerfully in these lyrics. Lines like “We live for today, but we die for the next” and “The darkness, it rises, as the sun glows” captures the feeling of the world so brilliantly and it shows an unmatched understanding of Dishonored was all about.
The Amaranth – Towerfall Ascension
When talking about SMO I talked about the music amplifying the game’s sense of fun, well for my money, they don’t come any more fun than Towerfall Ascension.
This track is loud, bombastic and doesn’t slow down for anyone or anything and it only adds to the experience of the game. When playing on this map in the multiplayer versus, it created such an epic sense of scale to the battle, that kept the match moving at all times. I found matches on that particular map to move a lot faster and be a lot more fun because of that music adding so much to the experience.
Even in the singleplayer, it adds so much, these are your first steps into the Dark World and immediately upon hearing this music begin you know that this place isn’t going to mess around. Its melody reminds me subtly of the Pirates of the Carribean theme in some ways, which appropriate for the ghost ship setting, the way the pace speeds up and slows down at a moments notice very much mimics the idea of a stormy sea as you do battle.
Towerfall Ascension is an incredibly fun game as it is and a track like this serves only to enhance that feeling.
Still Alive – Mirror’s Edge
No, it’s not that other video game song called “Still Alive”, it’s the one that’s actually good.
Baiting Portal fanboys aside this song is absolutely beautiful. What you see in Mirror’s Edge as you run around the city is a pristine city with with the sun shining brightly down on it at all times and this song does a brilliant job of capturing the feeling of standing in that city with its melody, while capturing the strong contrast of the corruption and tyranny weaved into the city’s culture with its lyrics.
Talking about how the city’s changed along with Faith herself, lamenting how everyone’s being silenced, as the city remains almost lifeless; the place is for intents and purposes, a veritable utopia, but the people pay a heavy price for that life which most probably don’t even know about. She’s fought against everything the city stands for, for so long; pretty much all her life as we later learn in the sequel. Yet, after all, she’s been through and everything she’s lost, all she has to say to this city, is that she’s still alive.
Even without all this meaning, the melody would still make it a joy to listen to, but the lyrics are what gives this song so much power and emotion.
Confronting Myself – Celeste
I really struggled to decide which track to pick from Celeste and let me tell you “Reach for the Summit” was a very close second here, but in the end, this felt like the right choice.
Celeste isn’t a very story-heavy game, but what little there is goes quite deep and if you ask me the emotional peak of the story was in Chapter 6 – Reflection, during the “fight” with Badaline, which is where this song plays. This is the closest Celeste comes to a boss fight and that’s very important. You meet plenty of characters along your journey, some of which Madaline is at odds with, but the only person she ever actively has to fight is that part of herself.
I could ramble on for hours about how good Celeste is at capturing that sense of living with anxiety and how brilliant of a personification Badaline was for that, but we’re here to talk about the music.
Everything about this track screams with inner conflict to me. There’s chaos in the background of the track at all times, with the percussion and lower-pitched synth melody, it doesn’t let up at all. This whole sequence in the game is about Madaline trying to reach this part of herself, to make them whole again while Badaline is desperately trying to push her away and reject it and that feeling comes across so well in the main melody of the track.
The main synth is so similar to the sound effects used for Madaline’s voice throughout the game, to the point where it sounds to me like it’s Madaline herself who’s singing over the chaos in this track, almost screaming at certain points trying to get through to Badaline that they need to become whole again.
The end of Chapter 6 is where everything comes together for Madaline before she makes her final ascent, but before she can get to that point she has to go through this existential struggle with this living part of her psyche and this track is so perfect for bringing all the emotions Madaline would be feeling in that moment right to the forefront, creating one hell of an emotional climax for the game.
Pursuit ~ Cornered – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
While the Ace Attorney games do have a level of depth that most in the genre don’t, they are still at their core, graphic novels. Don’t get me wrong I absolutely love investigating the crime scene and finding the contradictions in court and it’s what makes the game so special, but the crux of the game is its story, which generally advances regardless of the player. What this means is that you have to create a very specific atmosphere to make the constant stream of twists and turns that feature in an Ace Attorney case feel special, that’s where the music comes in.
The music in the Ace Attorney games is fantastic at setting the mood for any given scene and the designer’s knowledge of exactly what is the right time to change tracks, cut to silence or bring the music back in is what brings such strong emotion to every line in these games and this track, in particular, is one of the most powerful. Often in the Ace Attorney games a court session can become an exhausting uphill battle, it almost always feels like you’re on the back foot and the whole world’s against you when it comes to proving your client innocent and it’s all that build-up of emotion that makes the moment when this music hits so powerful.
This music hits when it comes down to the last-ditch attempt, it’s do or die and by God, you’ve done. This is the indication that after all your arguing and desperate attempts to clutch victory from the jaws of defeat, you’ve finally turned the tide. After all, you went through to get to a point where you have the advantage this music makes it so satisfying to lay your claims and watch as the prosecution falls to pieces as you effortlessly brush aside all of their baseless accusations.
In those moments nothing makes it sweeter than the feeling of pure vindication as you state you irrefutable claims while this intense and triumphant track plays at your back the entire time.
Weight of the World – NieR: Automata
As I’ve said previously, NieR: Automata is a game that continues to weigh heavily on my mind, even this far out from finishing it and over time all of those feelings of uncertainty and introspection that the game instilled in me, is exactly what this song has become representative of to me.
The entire track has such a sense of melancholy to the whole thing and yet the lyrics have such a weird way fo being simultaneously depressive and triumphant. Thay idea of standing up and fighting for what you believe in, no matter how impossible victory comes through so powerfully and creates that mix of feelings because, at the end of the day, it’s what I came away from NieR: Automata feeling.
As far as I’m concerned, NieR: Automata’s story is unmatched and this song is the perfect encapsulation of all the emotions that I feel across the game. I’m not even sure how to describe the emotions that NieR: Automata instilled in me, but somehow this song captures them beautifully. This is also a case where I would recommend listening to both the English & Japanese versions as they both bring such different emotions, especially in the final chorus.
In the English version, the singer gives it all her power, bellowing the lyrics to the point where I can imagine her standing on top of a rooftop in the ruined city, singing out at loud as she can to the world, regardless if anyone’s listening. Then on the Japanese version, it’s much the opposite, the singer audibly brakes down and is singing the final chorus through tears which makes it just as powerful in a different way. In a way, they’re the representations of that depressive and triumphant nature of the song I referenced.
NieR: Automata has an almost infinite number of layers to its story and the meanings behind it and very similarly this song has just as many layers to its lyrics and melodies that it’s something I truly never get tired of hearing.
And that’s it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, I’d love to hear which tracks from games means so much to you either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo! Finally, make sure you come back here this time next week for a rundown of my favourite video packages in WWE history!