The lights are on
Power Member - Level 7
So, I've been meaning to do this for a week or two now. I've just been very busy doing important things that could in no way be delayed. But here it is, a little late, but no worse for wear, I hope.
Pictured: Important things.
I've been a big fan of video game music for a long, long time. I
don't exactly have an encyclopedic knowledge of composers, styles, etc.,
but my ipod can usually be found blaring tracks from one game or
another. My parents even have a home video of me from 1991 singing
along to the music to Batman on the NES (luckily, no one has watched home movies since about 1993).
But still, to this day, every time I rip that plastic off of a new game
and start it up for the first time, the music is the first thing I pay
attention to. I get more excited for the music than I do for the rest
of the game, and a good opening title track can really bring a game up a
few notches in my book (and a bad one can really upset me...)
What the hell, Capcom?
as a casual listener of video game music, I've noticed a trend in
recent years that disturbs me. Quite frankly, I don't think it's as
good as it used to be. Or, rather, not as memorable. Seemingly gone
are the days of melodies that continue to play through your head long
after the game is over. That has been replaced by - at worst - droning
noise, and -at best - lovely, sweeping orchestral music that, while
working within the confines of the game for which it was written, is
largely forgettable when the game isn't being used as a backdrop.
listened to the most recent GI Show on Friday, where Reiner was talking
about Darksiders 2. He mentioned that the music was wonderful, and that
he would find himself humming the tunes throughout the day. I have to
disagree, and hope that GI doesn't send large Minnesotan (Minnesotese?)
men to my house with baseball bats to break my PS3/Xbox. Or face.
Whichever they find more valuable.
explain. I'm not going to say that the music is BAD, because it clearly
isn't. Jesper Kyd knows what he's doing, and the
music for Darksiders 2 is definitely a complex piece of work, and within
the game, it works very well (and is also heavily Celtic, which is
always good). My problem with it is this - I put the soundtrack on my
iPod and brought that with me to work, and gave it a listen. I
listened, listened, listened some more... and the music never really
changed, to the point where I was thinking to myself that there were
likely just very long tracks. After about an hour or so, I checked my
ipod, and saw that I was already on track 16. Sixteen! Sixteen tracks,
and there wasn't a single track that had stood out, or distinguished
itself in any way from the others.
This is a
trend that I've seen happening in a lot of recent games. Mass Effect,
Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty. Music that is good while you're playing
the game (or, at worst, doesn't detract from the rest of the game), but
that becomes almost unlistenable when taken out of that context.
Becomes almost unrecognizable.
I don't want
to be one of those people who thrives solely on the nostalgia of games
past... one of those people that believes that newer music is inherently
bad. But it does seem that there has been a shift away from the
memorable yet simpler themes of, say, the SNES, N64 and PS/PS2 eras, and
the more structurally complex yet somehow prosaic tunes of the newer
generation. And I can both understand and not understand how
this has come to be. With newer games, the emphasis has come to rest on
two main things - graphical superiority, and robust narratives. In
older games, with simple (and sometimes cliched) stories, and graphics
that could not fully articulate the action taking place, the music had
to be more memorable, so as to serve as a bridge between the emotions
were were supposed to be feeling, and the faceless, emotionless sprites
(or polygons) that were displayed on screen.
Fantasy 7, for example. *possible spoilers, I guess?* When you meet
Sephiroth in the basement of the Shinra Mansion in Nibelheim, and you
finally realize that he's gone completely insane. The camera in that
area is a pretty horrifying closeup of the character models, with their
giant eyes and giant lack of any other details whatsoever... *shudder*.
Without the characters themselves being able to articulate the emotion
of the situation themselves, you had to rely on the music to set the
tone of the scene. And you get this - with those tolling bells, and those dark midi-vocals, it really drives home the fact that this is one bad dude.
But what's more about the music itself is that it's memorable.
It gets in your head, and is simple enough to be easily remembered, yet
complex enough to convey the feelings that you should have whenever you
hear it. Of course, it's not always about having an emotional
response. Almost every track in Final Fantasy 7 is memorable in one way
or another. And pretty much anything on the NES is almost devoid of
anything resembling an interesting plot, so instead, the music falls to
being just a catchy tune that you find yourself humming hours later. Or
days. Or years. Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, any track
from the first 3 Mega Man games... I haven't played Mega Man 3 in years,
but I'll be damned if I can't hum along to the tune from Spark Man's
stage entirely from memory.
I can't think
of one recent game that had a track that had that kind of staying power
for me. With larger, more memorable stories, and action scenes that
rival those of movies, you would think that you would get music that
would be just as memorable. Instead, though, we get things like this. Or this.
Of course, this is just one man's opinion, but there is nothing
memorable about either of those tracks. And the rest of the music for
each game is largely the same (especially with Modern Warfare 3, which
is basically six hours of that track nonstop, and then end credits...
which sound pretty much the same). That track from Modern Warfare could
be from literally any point in the game (if you ignore the fact that
it's called "Battle for New York"). There are obviously a few exceptions - a few moments of greatness in a sea of mediocrity, a few diamonds in the rough...
but they are so few and far between now that it makes the rest of the
music in the game seem lesser for it. With the larger narrative scopes
and the greater emphasis on the ability to have a game look
amazing, the need to have the music be memorable and powerful enough to
almost tell the story itself has waned, leaning more towards more
generic sounds, more atmospheric music that really isn't important.
that's where I'm seeing video game music going. Despite the who's who
of game music composition (and Hans Zimmer) being involved in pretty
much every new game, the music just doesn't seem as important anymore.
It's there to be passively absorbed while playing the game, and then
forgotten. Which is all fine and good, don't get me wrong - if the
music goes well with the game while I'm playing it, I'll have no real
complaints. I'm talking about it as a listening experience outside the game - that's where
I think it's starting to fall apart. And I really think that it
doesn't have to be that way. Just take those three examples I linked
above... great music is still out there, hidden in the noise. There are
even some tracks that manage to be great despite pretty much going
against everything I've said here. It's clear that they're all trying
their hardest to be great. Maybe it's just ALL great now, and as such,
it's less a matter of picking a diamond out of the rough than it is
picking a diamond out of a sea of diamonds. The problem is, when
everything is great, nothing will be.
Incredibles reference! BOOM!
Of course, I
hardly have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the music out there. I'm
sure I've missed some of the greats, just as I'm sure that some of my
favorites are ones that would make others question my sanity. At the
end of the day, I'm just a guy who loves video game music, and wants to
keep experiencing all the glory that it has to offer, new or old. Just a guy who would never be happier to be proven wrong.