This week we're talking about the musical aspect of games.
The more elements a project has to juggle, the more important it becomes to make the whole feel like a coherent and dynamic combination of all of the parts. For a movie to captivate us, to make us believe in the world we’re watching and contemplating for a couple of hours, the sound component is, at least, an essential indicator that highlights the tone of each scene, that conveys the challenges the characters have to go through. In a video game, where the player is interacting with a world and his or her participation is much more active than passive, that engagement relies heavily on that same component.
So let's get to it! These are in no particular order, I'm just writing as they come to me. In my sleep. Maybe.
Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga – Muladhara
Let's move away from the main SMT series, to gem where the narrative is divided into two parts, two games, with each one being its own whole experience. But I’ll be focusing only on the first part and its soundtrack.
It’s a desolate world, where a handful of factions wage war as a means to achieve territorial supremacy, on their way towards Nirvana. This song is one of the first we hear and it’s used as the background for when we’re at the home base of the player-controlled characters. It’s a place with eternal rain, gray and worn out from the war, and the music complements it wonderfully. On one hand we have a side that reinforces the more military and raw aspect of the confrontations that plague day-to-day life and on the other it conveys certain serenity; after all, this is, effectively, our “home”. While I played this, sometimes I just strolled around the base just to listen to the music and to watch the rain fall.
And a lot of stress due to work and studying was appeased thanks to this soundtrack.
No More Heroes – The Virgin Child Makes Her Wish Without Feeling Anything
“All right, ok – what the heck kind of name for a song is that?” some of you may be thinking. Well, besides the lyrics having been written by this game’s director, it’s another example of his sensibility for the sound portion of the experience. In each of his games, one is able to notice the special attention given to the sound and in this one in particular it exacerbates all of the madness and extravagance that we’re presented with and participate in.
I chose this music because, first of all, the lyrics are great, because I like the way it is sung and how the actor conveys the emotion, and also for its relevance in the big scheme of the game. We hear it when we find a gentleman named Dr. Peace, a doctor/assassin, singing to an empty stadium. After a brief moment of conversation the killing begins, but as with the rest of the game, these small moments before and after the confrontation are what show all the nuance and subtlety (or lack of it) with which the characters are designed; for which the music contributes a great deal. And with the lyrics being related to the major story arc of the game, it has some neat symbolism going for it and for me it's pretty cool.
Hotline Miami – Hydrogen
I really enjoy it when, thanks to movies, shows or games, I get the opportunity to listen to music which I usually wouldn't attempt to. I’ll probably go on not looking for pieces within this musical genre, but like the rest of this list, even if it may be a song I’d listen to by itself, it’s the context it was presented to me in that’s most important.
Hotline Miami takes us back to, well, Miami in the late 1980’s and all of the game’s aesthetics revolve around a vibrant, neon look with bright colors, and the synth music with the always present bass to punctuate the action – with this song serving as a perfect example. And by “action” I mean something absurdly violent and sickening, which in conjunction with the sound and visuals becomes entrancing.
I played this game on a portable console, so I usually had headphones on, and listening to this while I was completely annihilated by wave after wave of enemies and what was expected of me was, above all, speed and precision in constant repetition, the tension it causes it nothing less than hypnotic. And considering the message behind this game – related to the role of the player and what we expect from video games – the soundtrack was a great accomplishment by the developers.
Virtue’s Last Reward – Blue Bird Lamentation
This game tells us the story of nine people trapped in some sort of warehouse, that have to decide if they’ll be trusting or betraying the other prisoners in order to escape; and the soundtrack is really effective when it comes to highlighting this sense of urgency – especially the main theme. Despite that, and although it’s a piece I like a whole lot, I decided to go with something that’s apparently more subdued, but considerably powerful.
Someday I’ll write something more in depth about this game, but for now I’ll just leave you with the fact that, depending on whom you decide to betray or trust, the story takes you down different paths. I was face with this musical score when, after having decided to trust one of the characters – despite having tried to convince me otherwise – there was a conversation, in an artificial garden, that said character calmly shares her story, thanks me for trusting her and I find out, and also realize, what will be happening next.
“Blue Bird Lamentation” unites both the sadness of a farewell, the happiness of friendship and the bitterness of life, of how ironic and merciless it can be. Because if there’s something that each character is forced to face, is the futility (or not?) of their actions, of their wishes and their efforts when faced with overwhelming circumstances; and, to me, all of that is explored during these 3 minutes in a way that is as beautiful and breathtaking as lonely and saddening. It’s become incredibly hard to listen to this and not feel deeply moved.
Share some of those VG tracks you absolutely adore, that fit perfectly in a specific situation or you just find hilariously hilarious. Please tell me your thoughts, your complaints, why it tends to rain more on Tuesdays and whatever else you feel like. I post weekly on my blog (https://themaninthegarage.wordpress.com/category/turbine-philosophy/) as well as other guys who are on it as well, so come check it out.