Games are a big mess of bits and bobs that all work together to create a great experience for the player. Characters, music, plot, and gameplay are the major markers for a great game. Not all games get everything right. Arguably, no game gets everything right and certain elements in a game will almost always be done better than others. That's why this blog is here; to tell what the best bits of a good or bad game are. And going by the title and using your brain, you'll know that the "Best Bit" topic for is music. So! Let's go on this.
Music, for me, is the second most important part in a game. Its main role is to reinforce whatever is being expressed on screen. How well it expresses itself, directly impacts how I react to the characters and plot. A boring or sporadic soundtrack can sink a game. Well that's a bit extreme, but I will say that it can make playing through a game a plodding experience. An over abundance of violin and piano pieces won't work either since a soundtrack overridden with those tend to stick out as much as crater on the ass of the moon.
Time for a test: Think of your favorite videogame. Next, think of your favorite moment from that game. What song plays during this sequence? What sort of emotions does the piece bring out? Would you be able to hum or recall its melody without having to run to Youtube to look it up? Now, do the same for your soundtrack of the year for 2012, if you had one. Memorability plays a big role in choosing the best soundtracks. I mean, how can we label them "the best" if we can't even remember their tunes or the situations they envelope. This is why I couldn't get into Journey and it is why could not I understand people calling it the best OST of the year. So I asked a friend of mine the same questions as above regarding Journey. Annnnd they failed, so to speak. They couldn't name hum a tune aside from the one found on the main menu and they could not associate any sort of unique atmosphere or events with the music. Now, I don't doubt he enjoyed the music in the game, but come on. We have to put up some kind of railing to prevent us from falling into the "it's pretty" trap that most games lay out. If we're going to judge what gets game of the year by iron standards, why can't we judge a single aspect the same way?
Let's look at listen to things and talk about how they effect the game and player and stuff.
Bask in this song's greatness. BASK IN IT!
All done listening? Good. Now pick yourself up off the floor and pay attention. That was Grandma from the game NieR. It has a quiet minimalistic melancholic and yet defiant lullaby tone that can immediately be related to what's transpiring on screen. The game's leading lady bolsters up and remembers why she fights. Her grandmother is what spurs her to continue and it shows heavily here. The character speaks, but instead of disrupting what you hear, her voice resonates with the music and, more importantly, the player. "But Wait", you cry out. "Isn't there a piano in that bit of music? I thought you hated that". Well... Yeah you're right I do dislike the use of piano, but on the other hand I absolutely adore vocals and that's where this piece gets it for me. The soundtrack in this game is by far some of the best music I've heard in any form of media and vocals in this track serve to emphasize the lullaby feeling given by the melodic piano.
Now we'll listen to something that doesn't work. For the sake of fairness, I'll post something that's trying to convey similar emotions of despair and determination. And well... Just listen.
Try not to fall asleep! Though, I wouldn't blame you...
The music itself is fine, even if a little boring,at least at the start. It's very light and doesn't immediately feel like it's trying to pound your head in with a "this is how you should feel" hammer, which is nice. It has an empty space feel that works well with the setting of the game and it's simple. Simple is always nice. Then things start to get a bit shaky when the composer, who probably thought you had fallen asleep by this point, felt the need to pound on all of the keyboard keys at the same time in an effort to wake you up. Then he does it again, as though the first banging wasn't enough. Having this happen is the equivalent of attending your typical piano recital and then having someone jump out and yell "REAPERS!!" fifteen seconds into it. It's distracting and just does not fit together with the mood of the scene. After all of that, you're drowned in some of the most homogenized piano and violin swells you'll ever face.We're not done yet folks, we still have one more question to ask: How well does it enhance the experience? Well, it goes about as nicely as one would expect. Even if the music doesn't come across as "You must feel sad now" to you, you're beat in the head with a "REAPERS" club so quick and stealthily that you honestly don't know what to feel. By doing this, the track doesn't give the player anytime to reflect on what's happening. It's like being thrown from a museum for looking at an exhibit and after being thrown out, someone drops a piano on your head along with several violins. This early impression of the music holds a bad omen for rest of the experience since it tells the players that the game designers and music composers have two different things in mind about any given scene's direction.
And that's all for today. Hopefully, I'll post a second part to this pertaining to custom music in games and how to not confuse nonexistent music with creating atmosphere. But that won't be for a long while. The next "Best Bit" will be on characters. Specifically, differentiating between the good and the bad, but only party members. Oh, post your test results down below so I can read them and mock you for them.