The birth of video games in the fifties brought about an innovative outlet for entertainment. Early video games had no sound nor music and it would have to take almost another two decades years for technology to improve before something was finally heard. Video game sound effects were originally bleeps and bloops, with music coming shortly thereafter. One of the earliest games purported to feature music in it was Gun Fight from Midway – which played a short monotone rendition of Chopin’s Funeral March whenever a character was killed.
Following this, video game music transited through several phases. Chiptunes (made via sound chips) were predominant in the eighties, while the nineties brought digitally synthesized music, MIDI, and pre-recorded music that could be streamed during gameplay. Today, video game music has matured like fine wine; you can now have beautiful soundtracks presented with a full orchestra and even couple that with Dolby Stereo playback.
Let us dive headlong to explore some of the most famous video game soundtracks and at the same time find out more about their composers. This first part shall explore some of the music from the role-playing game genre.
Role Playing Games
Often having a memorable storyline, role-playing games (or RPGs) feature a central game character who must complete a series of quests and overcome near insurmountable adversity before everyone “lives happily ever after”. It is possibly the RPG genre which features some of the most iconic music in video games.
Most gamers are familiar with the Final Fantasy series, but there are truly a lot of RPGs out there featuring quality soundtracks. Some games are exclusive to certain platforms, for example the Phantasy Star series was originally released exclusively for the Sega line of consoles before it was ported to the Playstation, so getting your hands on Phantasy Star IV and listening to the soundtrack in-game can sometimes be quite an expensive challenge. Luckily today, game companies are also releasing “Official Sound Track” (OST) versions for their games.
Mention Nobuo Uematsu and most gamers would be able to name him as the composer of the Final Fantasy series; he is that acclaimed in gaming circles. Uematsu, a self-taught musician is sometimes referred to as the “Beethoven” of video games music, and if you were to explore his music, you will be surprised by how he continually reinvents himself in almost every game; there are elements from classical, rock, heavy metal, opera, and even techno-metallica.
As an introduction to his music, let us explore Uematsu’s music from the Final Fantasy series, the Blue Dragon series, and Chrono Trigger – all of these are stellar games featuring great soundtracks. Adored universally are the Wagnerian situational and character leitmotifs that remind players of the events occuring in-game. Some of the more iconic tracks include: Mambo de Chocobo (FF5), Terra’s Theme (FF6), Aerith’s Theme (FF7), Fragments of Memories (FF8), Vamo’ Alla Flamenco (FF9), At Zarnakand (FF10), Waterside (Blue Dragon), and Corridors of Time (Chrono Trigger).
Having composed for more than 60 video game titles including the Elder Scrolls series and Guild War series, Jeremy Soule is definitely no stranger to role playing games. In fact, he has also earned the epithet of “the John Williams of video game music.”
When composing a game’s soundtrack, Soule would first get to know more about the game by asking to see storyboards of it. From there he decides the tempo, and then injects the right energy into the melody for each piece of music. After composing the main themes, Soule then starts work on supporting themes and makes sure they match the game.
Some of Soule’s works include: Nerevar Rising (Morrowind), Auriel’s Ascension (Oblivion), Gwen’s Theme (Guild Wars: Prophecies), Land of the Golden Sun (Guild Wars: Nightfall), Age of the Dragon (Guild Wars: Factions), and The Charr (Guild Wars 2).
Ken Arnold, Dana Glover, and David R. Watson
Both Arnold and Glover composed a number of pieces for the Ultima series including the Intro Theme from Ultima 6, Rule Britannia! and Sea Shanty – the latter two being fan favorites.
Watson on the other hand, has but one piece of music to his credit – Stones. This piece has been continually featured since Ultima V; it features a simple calming melody backed by a simple left-hand broken chord accompaniment, but it is this winning combination has made it the most iconic piece of the entire series.