We all know how important music is in video games. Sometimes, a game’s soundtrack is a character in and of itself, bringing life to a game in ways that a character can’t. Sometimes, a game’s soundtrack plays a supporting role by imbuing scenes with emotion, being a presence without overwhelming the action. Sometimes, a game’s soundtrack can be nearly nonexistent, popping up only when absolutely necessary in order to make the players react. And, no doubt, there are games without soundtracks. When done right, the lack of music plays a key role in forcing the player to focus on the game itself. When done wrong, lack of music in a game can make it feel hollow and incomplete.
So a game and its soundtrack often go hand in hand. We play great games and are rewarded by great soundtracks. But could it ever be that the soundtrack itself is the reward?
I recently started up Fable Anniversary, a remaster of Fable: The Lost Chapters, itself an extended version of Lionhead Studio’s original RPG Fable. I credit 2004’s Fable with making me shift from a virtually Nintendo-centric life to one more accepting of other consoles, and it was one of my first Western RPG experiences.
I had a pretty good time the first time round in Fable. But more than anything in the game itself, and character or mechanic, what really stuck with me after completing the game was its soundtrack. In fact, the Fable soundtrack eventually became one of only two game soundtracks that I would own, the other being Super Metroid. (As much as I like games, I must sheepishly admit that I am no game soundtrack connoisseur.)
Upon starting Fable Anniversary, I had a hazy idea of what to expect, but what I most looked forward to was hearing its music, again, in context. Sure enough, as I started my hero’s adventure, the dulcet tones of the game’s soundtrack wafted steadily through. And it felt good. It felt so good to hear that music again, and to once again match up each town or place with a particular theme. From the warm and welcoming sounds of the hero’s hometown, Oakvale…
…to the mysterious, swampy area called Darkwood…
…to the expansive forest known as Greatwood.
One of the most enjoyable themes is that of the town of Bowerstone.
Not only is the theme bright, poppy, and a little bit silly-sounding, but it reminds me of a favorite piece from the brilliant Peer Gynt suite by Romantic composer Edvard Grieg. The song is called Anitra’s Dance, and it sure does sound incredibly similar to Bowerstone’s theme!
Far and away, my most favorite song from the soundtrack is the serene and ethereal theme of the Temple of Light, which I’ve noted here before. It’s a super simple, looped track, but it is ever so lovely.
While I’ve been having a fun time in Fable Anniversary, it remains a relatively generic, medieval-esque, hero-based RPG. In it, you seek to save your family from the clutches of a villain, as well as restore peace to the world (Albion, in this case). A main story drives the action and there are and handful of sidequests that can build up or tear down your resolve. The addition of allowing players to choose from “good” or “evil” paths, as well as interact with NPCs in different ways to illicit different reactions, was supposed to separate the original Fable from the rest of the RPG crowd. Playing Fable Anniversary now, the mechanics hold up, but they no longer feel different from most other games.
After regaining my bearings in the game, I wondered if doing a full playthrough again was worthwhile. As I now near the end of the story, I realize that is it, but truly, only for the music. The soundtrack is the reason why I’ve stuck with it. Regardless of whatever else is going on in Fable Anniversary at any given moment, the songs in the background are what I seek most. To hear, once again, those fantastically composed pieces of music that make my heart and mind soar far beyond the game itself.
What are some your favorite game soundtracks? Are there any games you’ve played simply for the soundtrack itself?