It’s no real secret that I am interested in video games beyond that most merely see on the surface; I like to explore the meanings, motivations, inspirations, and genuine artistry that goes on in some of the better quality titles that grace consoles and computers every year. In the past I have explored why I think movie-to-game or game-to-movie properties always fall flat on their faces (It’s in the “Games” category of this website) and have also explored a particularly high quality title that I claimed passes as the first game to engage the player through the exploration of a mental state rather than what is superfluous.
In this article I will share with you some of the scores found within games both new and old I believe are remarkable for various reasons. Out-sourced scores and songs performed by artists (mainstream artists, sorry for sounding like a hipster) on behalf of the production studios unfortunately do not count and if I accidentally include such a track in this feel free to call me out. Also, this article is in no way definitive or reflects a collective consensus in any way shape or form. So, if there is a score you feel I should have included or recommend I listen to then by all means tell me!
‘Ezio’s Family’ – Assassin’s Creed II (2009)
Assassin’s Creed is a phenomenal franchise no matter how one slices it. The entry in the series this score belongs to, Assassin’s Creed II, was such a landmark not only for this series but for video games as a whole. There’s just something incredibly somber and evocative about this tune, a tune that has become synonymous for the franchise. This is a tune that I think embodies the emotional turmoil the protagonist of this story, Ezio, undergoes throughout the events of Assassin’s Creed II as he wrestles with an intense anger at the loss of most of his family while gradually putting his own grief in the perspective of a much wider picture. This tune gains an even greater impact when one understands the context of the scene it first appears in and all that follows shortly thereafter; it signifies innocence lost and a family torn asunder.
“It is a good life we lead, brother”
“The best. May it never change”
“And may it never change us”
‘Halo’ – Halo (2001)
I’ll be the first to admit that I never was much a Halo player. I can certainly understand the appeal of it and appreciate the fact that it has such a cult following for a reason but it never quite grabbed me as other franchises have. I always remember this song however. Even those unacquainted with the franchise will probably recognize this tune instantly and for good reason: It’s freaking amazing. The beginning utilizes a choir that would probably not sound too out-of-place at a church, possibly drawing a correlation with the title of the game and sounding pretty daunting at the same time. Then the song picks up pace and just snowballs from there, a great big glorious snowball. Come to think of it, I think Halo was a pioneer of using orchestral scores in video games considering this game came out in 2001 on the original Xbox and at the time I remember it sending shock waves through the gaming community for many reasons – it’s soundtrack being one.
‘So Far Away’ – Red Dead Redemption (2010)
The moment, and the only instance in Red Dead Redemption, that this song appears is nothing short of breathtaking. Jose Gonzalez’s now-legendary ‘western folk song’ quietly begins as John Marston crosses the American / Mexican border in search of a notorious bandit; stepping out of where he knows and into the complete unknown. Imagine it, galloping across the Mexican plains on horseback with this song gradually increasing in volume until it ends – all set against the backdrop of a ‘Mexican Sunset’. Surely one of gaming’s best moments and incredibly cinematic for a genre of media that has often struggled to gain respectable recognition in that field.
‘Dovahkiin’ – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
Here’s a famous song that is the perfect compliment for an even more perfect game, a game that has consumed ungodly playing hours from each gamer and that has destroyed as many relationships as . As a song unmistakably sung in a manner similar to that of the old Nordic sagas and folklore legends this incredibly epic score compliments Bethesda Studio’s masterpiece so insanely well it’s mindblowing. Such is the force and allure of this song urban legend has it that whenever a gamer in possession of Skyrim hears this song it stirs them to compulsively put their copies of the game into their systems…
When you get to 2:22, brace yourself.
‘Snake Eater’ – Metal Gear Solid III: Snake Eater (2004)
Hideo Kojima has made it no secret that he’s a huge movie buff and that he has a real love of spy movies in particular. Upon hearing this rending song from Cynthia Harrel and seeing it in conjunction with the music video that love becomes very apparent very quickly. Seriously, it’s like the video gaming tribute to the Ian Flemming / James Bond movies of old. The fact that the story of this entry in the famous Metal Gear Solid series is set during the Cold War and that it therefore adheres to the themes prevalent in the song and in the visuals only makes it resonate stronger. The origins of the ‘Snake Eaters’ are sketchy at best but many testimonies pinpoint the term, incidentally enough, to the US Marine Special Forces soldiers who underwent covert operations in tropical regions – the exact setting of this story.
‘Prelude’ – Final Fantasy XII (2006)
Here’s where I think I might get some flak from some gamers. The Final Fantasy series has so many quality scores to it’s name but I think you really cannot beat what I think is the best rendition of the iconic theme of the entire series, the tune that has known many incarnations but has nevertheless shown up in practically every entry in the series. This particular incarnation ironically comes from the only entry in the series I never completed but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating a decent track when I hear it. The following scores from the series also deserve some recognition.
‘To Zanarkand’ – Final Fantasy X [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3eDcInFHwE]
‘A Place to Call Home’ – Final Fantasy IX [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hskl2dTHYdk]
‘Devils Never Cry’ – Devil May Cry III: Dante’s Awakening (2006)
Although I have gone on record saying that I prefer the controversial new reboot of the Devil May Cry franchise over the entries of old I hold Devil May Cry III on a very high pedestal nonetheless. Fast, frantic, humorous, serious, dark, light-heartedness… It’s got it all. This song is the theme of not just the story but also of it’s protagonist, Dante. The song actually tells us a lot about him when one stops to really think about it in the context and content of his character and personality. The phrase ‘Devils Never Cry’ is itself a comment on Dante’s conflicted nature as, despite his brash and confident demeanor, is actually very insecure. The shifting tone of the song also tells us a bit about Dante’s personality as it begins with something of a religious tone before snapping to aggro-tech/rock and then combining both. This identifies both his demonic nature and his wild-side but when the two tones combine they suggest that Dante’s brash front he puts on is actually a coping mechanism as he is actually very damaged but would be caught dead before he revealed he was.
Thanks for taking the time to read/listen to this!