Can Music Make the Game?

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?

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Yes, video game soundtracks are a powerful tool for keeping players engaged and for manipulating them into feeling whatever the developer wants you to feel at a certain moment. That’s why if you’re at a scary movie, you should cover your ears and not your eyes if things get to be a little too horrifying 🙂 When used effectively, it can also help to quickly and easily solidify the setting of the story, like the style of the bard’s singing in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Not only is the music style reminiscent of middle-age England, but she also sings about events happening in the world/heroic accomplishments/people she knows, the way real bards would.

    So many games now are leaning toward fully orchestrated soundtracks, and I’m a fan of many of them, even if I haven’t played the game. And I’ve talked about Zelda and Dragon Age ad nauseum, so I won’t even so there 🙂 But in regards to a game I have specifically played *because* of the soundtrack… Would you believe it was Mega Man II on the NES? I remember setting up the game and playing certain levels over and over again because I like the music. In particular, I LOVED the Woodman Stage music, and would enter the stage and just sit on the first screen, poor Mega Man standing there not going anywhere, while I bopped along to the 8 bit tune.

    I also loved Tetris, because they used real classical music and I just thought that was the coolest thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      You’re so right about Mega Man II…in fact, the music might be the only reason I stuck with any of the Mega Man games! They’re all so difficult, but their soundtracks are second to none. I think I could hum the Cutman theme from the first game in my sleep! Another favorite of mine is the Chill Penguin theme from Mega Man X. And Tetris is an excellent choice as well! I had completely forgotten just how wonderful its soundtrack is.

      It’s really amazing just how manipulative (and not always in a bad way) music can be. You mention it’s use in horror movies, and I think the same goes for heavily dramatic movies. If someone is dying on screen and it’s quiet, that’s sad. But if someone is dying on screen while a beautiful and sweeping melody plays in the background, that can heighten the sadness by leaps and bounds. The same is undoubtedly true in games.

      Having playing DA: Inquisition, I don’t recall encountering a singing bard. Huh. I might have to go back into the game to find her now that I’m curious!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Those are good ones, too! And regarding the bard, (spoilers?) she’s in the tavern! My favorite is Nightingale’s Eyes…

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  2. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    With as many games as I’ve played, one might think that I’d be more into gaming soundtracks than I am. Which is to say I’m not at all into gaming soundtracks. At least not to the point that I have them filling up my iPod. But the soundtrack to Fable breaks that mold. And as I round up work on Fable Anniversary, I’m reminded why it’s one of the only game soundtracks that I do own. More on this and other musical recollections are here in this United We Game post.

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  3. My favourite is the ubercatchy Super Mario soundtrack from the days when I played it on my first console, the Nintendo Gameboy. More recently, the Elder Scrolls series has provided some top class orchestral accompaniment. Doesn’t get much better than that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      I agree with you on the Elder Scrolls. Though I can only speak to Skyrim as far as the series goes (it’s the only one I’ve played), its soundtrack is top notch. And it matches so well with the on-screen action, from the quiet moments of exploration, to the massive dragon battles. It’s awesome.

      I take it you might mean Super Mario Land as the Gameboy game? (I could be wrong. Did another Super Mario series come out for that system?) In any event, as far as Super Mario games, the soundtrack to Super Mario World (NES) is one of my all-time favorites. I played that game so much I can practically bring up any of its songs on queue! Never played Super Mario Land…I’ll have to head over to YouTube to take a listen to its music. I’m sure it’s great, as great music pervades the Mario games generally.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. music affects the game. Final Fantasy VIII became classic because of their nostalgic their music such as Eyes on Me, Liberi Fatali, Balamb Garden, Force Your way, and lot more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Good point, there. I’ve not played FFVIII, but I have listened to its soundtrack, and it’s really beautiful. It hearkens back to previous FF games, while also introducing a little something new. Really great stuff!

      Like

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