Man, technology sure is amazing! With the latest technological advances you can do tons of things: awesome HD graphics, online playing, and all sorts of bells and whistles that enhance our gaming experience... except our ears.
Allow me to elaborate a bit more.
Music was half of the appeal of this game
It's no hidden secret that for a long time games have been trying to emulate movies.One example of this are the cutscenes in the NES Ninja Gaiden. And one crucial way in which they try to do so is music. And what most movies have in common? Orchestras! Having lots of people playing tons of different instruments: the violins, chellos, pianos, trumpets, they all give a single theme that bigger-than-life quality that is just plain awesome.
The movie wouldn't be the same if the soundtrack was played in a MIDI format.
But until the PS2 era, that just wasn't possible because of technology restrictions. In fact, during the NES era, you only had seven possible sounds you could make (I don't know the technical details), and the sound quality is something we could call "shit" nowadays. Yet the number of instant classic tunes it generated is astounding.
Don't believe me? OK everybody, exercise time! What is this song?
Recognized it? If you didn't, I'm sorry for my awful music skills, it was Mario's theme. Now, I only need to mention "Mario" and you already have the melody in your head and, what's better, you also IMAGINE the game in your head, with the goomba, the clouds and bushes that just were the same sprite, and your memories of level 1-1 in your head.
That, my friends, is the true power of a legendary theme song. But the question: why we remember it so much, if the technical quality of the song was awful?
Simple: it had personality.
In this case, the technical capacities were so low that for games to stand out, composers had to get really creative and make a theme so quirky that it would distinguish itself from the crowd. Now, let's not get romantic, for a lot of the music on the NES was pretty shit, but the standout themes (Mario, Zelda, Castlevania, Sonic, Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, etc.) are really amazing, and each of them are really distinct from one another.
If you can't sing the tune, I'll take your nerd badge away :P
But what happens today?
We can finally put movie-quality in our games! YAY!! That means that the power of themes like the Star Wars or Back to the Future will finally be ours, right? Right? RIGHT?!
The thing is, a lot of composers today think that is so important to be like a movie that believe that they need to use an orchestra and presto!, your game is "cinematic". The problem is, most people are doing precisely that, and the end result is that most AAA games sound exactly the same: big, epic, but without a quirkyness, without personality, without a SOUL.
Do you remember the main theme from this game? No? Don't blame ya, neither do I.
Can you distinguish the main theme from Bad Company 2 from Splinter Cell? Or the latest Prince of Persia? What about Kane and Lynch? Any of the recent Tomb Raiders (haven't played The Guardian of Light so I can't say)? Heavy Rain? Sure, they can fit the situation perfectly, but can you distinguish one from another?
Now, let's be fair. There's still great music being made today. All I'm saying is: if your music doesn't have balls, if it's not quirky, if it doesn't have CHARACTER, not even the best orchestra in the world will save it from being mediocre. And also, orchestras don't have to be mandatory. Honestly, we'll be perfectly fine if our games don't sound like Hollywood blockbuster #33.
Really, we love this kind of music :)
An example of a game that uses orchestra to great effect.