In returning to play a spot of co-op in Fable III, I was reminded that though that game possesses some heavy flaws, its sounds remain top notch. The series’ soundtracks are among my most favorite of any game soundtracks, and it has some excellent sound effects, too. Even better is that many of the games’ sounds span the series, which adds the welcome sense of comfort and familiarity that comes with sequels of any sorts. Fable has its share of familiar chimes and chirps, whirls and whooshes that mark magic use, for example; and I do enjoy the very simple “pop and sparkle” sound that accompanies the action of making a selection in Fable III. As well, the growl that one’s dog makes upon seeing enemies in both Fable II and Fable III is not only helpful but it lends a nice immersive quality to combat that’s about to ensue. (Because, hey, at least your dog is paying attention even if you aren’t!)
To a degree, the sounds of Fable III make it bearable to play even when everything else falls by the waist side, and this got me thinking about other sounds in games that satisfy above and beyond the games themselves. The kinds of sounds that not only persist from game to game in a series, but those that comfortably nestle inside one’s memory banks when the games are long over. Some of these sounds become part of the pop culture landscape generally (think: the Metal Gear Solid “gotcha!” sound, complete with its on-screen exclamation point), and others rest solely with the individual. My Top 5 list here spans both camps, because even I can’t deny the happy existence of some of the most memorable sounds in games.
#5 – The opening and closing of power armor in Fallout
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Though I’m not an avid power armor user in Fallout titles, I like the “vacuum seal” sounds that accompany the action of getting into and out of one’s suit of steel. Granted, the sounds don’t make a sense when one doesn’t have a full, five-piece suit of armor equipped — power armor frames are full of holes, at least visually — however, I can suspend my disbelief long enough to believe that I’m still being “sealed” into my armor nonetheless. The clunky machine sounds that play along with the release and sealing of the supposed vacuum add to the feeling that that armor has weight and substance. Sure, the lumbering footsteps that go along with being in power armor helps considerably, but the heavy walking wouldn’t be as effective if the sounds of getting into the armor didn’t properly set the stage.
#4 – Batman: Arkham’s “knockout”
We all know that sometimes, in some games, combat scenarios can become tedious, especially when said combat involves battling large groups of enemies. Such battles can become chaotic and hard to follow, so I absolutely appreciate it when, within these crazy combat scenarios, a game offers sound queues that let me know one enemy is defeated so that I know to move onto the next. The “knockout” sound effect in the Batman: Arkham games is one of my most favorite examples of this, whereby upon fully knocking out an enemy, a distinctive thunderclap plays. (Visually, a group of bats will spawn, too.) I’m a very inelegant brawler in these games; mashing buttons within two dozen thugs usually gets the job done, sure. The knockout sound helps me stay focused within a mob when needed, because it’s far too easy for me to keep punching and kicking thin air, and that’s not very Batman-like, now is it?
#3 – The Legend of Zelda item fanfare
Since the beginning time…or rather, the beginning of video games, we have been inundated with the sounds of what it means to get something special. From the power-up sound that goes along with obtaining a Power Pellet in Pac-Man to, well…another example of this that will appear later on this very list (spoilers!), there’s nothing quite like the aural joy that goes along with getting that Very Special ItemTM, especially if the search for such is hard won. The fanfare that plays when obtaining a special item in a Legend of Zelda game is the perfect example of a game sound effect that’s become more than just a sound effect. It’s one of the sounds that defines the series, and it’s a sound that’s been well copied by plenty of games with special items to find that came after. Though The Legend of Zelda item fanfare varies from game to game, it is as unmistakable as it is satisfying to hear.
#2 – The Reaper Destroyers’ laser beam in Mass Effect 3
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While many memorable game sound effects support pleasant moments – finding items, finding safety, becoming stronger, etc. — they don’t necessarily have to in order to be memorable. Case in point: the terrifying sound of a Reaper Destroyer unleashing its laser beam of death in Mass Effect 3. As far as video game enemies go, the Reaper Destroyers are as unforgettable as they come. The Reaper Destroyers appears in several battles throughout ME3, and each one sends my heart racing upon engagement. Not only do the “creatures” possess excellent movement and action sound effects (evident if you listen to the entire video above), but the sound of their laser beams is the stuff that keep me up at night. When fighting them, the deep, dark bass of their lasers resonates so strongly, it’s impossible to not feel totally overwhelmed by their presence. This is the one game sound effect that I love and hate in equal measure.
#1 – Metroid item acquisition flourish
Yes, here it is, the sound that I spoiled a couple paragraph back. It is, indeed, the flourish, fanfare, orchestral melody, whatever you want to call it that plays when obtaining an item or upgrade in the Metroid games. In as much as one can’t make a Legend of Zelda title without item item fanfare, the same goes for Metroid. My choice to place this sound at number one is simply personal. While I do enjoy plenty of game soundtracks, Super Metroid‘s OST remains my all-time top pick, and along with that goes the game’s varied sound effects. They are all music to my ears. In an among all the trepidation and unsureness that came with exploring in Metroid Dread, for example, the one thing that always put a smile on my face was hearing the familiar item acquisition tune upon finding an special item.
What are some of your favorite video game sound effects?
Lede image was captured by author during Nintendo Switch gameplay of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019), (© Nintendo).