365/365 Day 67: Why I Prefer Japanese Soundtracks To Western Soundtracks - Will Sora Layton Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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365/365 Day 67: Why I Prefer Japanese Soundtracks To Western Soundtracks

The soundtrack of a video game is one of, if not the most crucial underlying element. I think it's safe to assume that most of us will focus first and foremost on how a video game controls, and maybe it's story and graphics, before we think about how good its soundtrack is. Despite the fact that it can be considered a secondary priority, I think that the soundtrack of a video game is still just as important as how the game looks, and almost as important as how it plays. When those tracks end up playing for hours on end while you play, they're most likely either going to keep making you smile, or make you grimace in pain from hearing the same thing over and over again, although it is possible that you may simply ignore the soundtrack altogether. Over the years, I've become more and more obsessed with certain game's soundtracks, and this has led me to a revelation/conclusion: soundtracks from Western video games simply do not compare to those composed for Japanese video games.

Reach Out To The Truth

I don't mean to say that every single Western game's soundtrack is inferior to every Japanese game's soundtrack. There are plenty of great Western games that have memorable, well composed soundtracks. To me, though, those games barely make a mark compared to the games we've seen come out of Japan. There are several reasons why I have come to this conclusion, and considering the pedigree that some people attach to some recent soundtracks...I feel as thought I need to speak out, and give Japan the credit I feel it deserves. Simply put, the fact that some games like The Last of Us get praised for their soundtracks hurts my feelings a little bit.

Let's first take a look at some of the more popular Western games of the last few years. The Last of Us, Grand Theft Auto, Far Cry 3, and the Assassins' Creed series have all had their soundtracks receive universal acclaim, but I don't understand why this is. I greatly enjoyed The Last of Us, but the only track I can remember is the somber one that happens when some sort of conflict happens between Joel and someone he knows, and that's really it. That game was pumped full of emotion, but the soundtrack didn't stick with me for some reason. With Far Cry 3...well, the two tracks I remember are Make it Bun Dem and Rise of the Valkyries, which are both licensed tracks not made for the game. Grand Theft Auto employs a mostly licensed soundtrack, I believe, and I'm only aware of a couple tracks really being famous from Assassin's Creed, like Ezio's Family. Sure, a lot of people like these game's soundtracks, and they win awards and everything...but, do they actually come off as memorable? Do some gamers actively listen to this music almost everyday? I know of people who adore these soundtracks, but to me there is simply no comparison to be made. I play a good amount of Western games, and I'd say that about a fifth of them I actually go and look up tracks for. And, several of those are indie games, like To The Moon and Thomas Was Alone. 

It seems as thought most Western soundtracks fall into either a somber category, or a "run through explosions" tone, if they're not licensed. I love Left 4 Dead's Tank Theme, but I don't go actively listen to that track everyday. Most of these tracks are "in the moment" ones, where they simply only work in that part of the game. Don't get me wrong, that's perfectly fine from a video game standpoint: if the music enhances the video game, and fits, it's achieved what it was meant to do. But, that then makes that music not really engaging outside of the game. I might listen to a track like Hydrogen from Hotline Miami, but that's because it's catchy. I looked up Nathan Drake's theme from Uncharted 2, and the only moment I could recall it playing as actually on the title screen. The track may be well composed, but I don't see myself listening to it ever in any situation outside of the game itself. Simply put, Japanese soundtracks are not limited by that barrier for some reason: I actively listen to and enjoy several Eastern games' soundtracks.

One Winged Angel.

This is not only caused by nostalgia, as some may try to claim: I'm including both tracks like the original Zelda Overworld theme, as well as recent hits like the Persona series and The World Ends with You. The old classics that we all like to hum every once in awhile are still great, and I don't think it's any secret that those tracks are regarded as some of the best of all time. Even ones from the late SNES/early PlayStation era, like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII, are still regarded as some of the best soundtracks of all time. Although, I don't ever see anyone ever praising the original Fallout, Myst, or any other famous Western games from that era for having great soundtracks. Simply put, it's only been recently that we've started to see Western composers take the spotlight for the soundtracks they put out for their games: their "in the moment' soundtracks. I can honestly not recall any instances where I listened to a AAA Western game's soundtrack for recreational purposes, unless you count Alan Wake's Old Gods of Asgard or the ending theme of Dishonored, Honor For All. If you ask some people, they will say they do listen to it everyday, but to me, that's difficult to enjoy: Japanese soundtracks contain something that manages to move beyond the game itself, and not only makes me remember the game, but also just enjoy the music.

I guess the main reason I've personally always enjoyed Japanese tracks more is that I've had many more emphatic connections with the tracks, and have had almost none with any Western games, save indie titles. If you look at my favorite games, most are Japanese, and most are ones that I've connected to personally. That's why I listen to their soundtracks over and over. Because they elicit emotions within me that few Western games have ever been able to do. To The Moon and Thomas Was Alone were emotional, but Alan Wake and Dishonored were more along the lines of "I really enjoy the themes and story that these games are using". Listening to Persona 4 Golden's soundtrack over the last month has made me feel a wide variety of emotions, just thinking about all of the moments in that game. 

There's also the fact that most of the Japanese games I play are role-playing games, and their battle themes are always distinctive and usually engaging. For example, I can recall the exact moment when I first heard Mechanical Rhythm in Xenoblade Chronicles, because it felt so different from any other battle theme I'd ever heard, and it was used only in one area of the game. Conversely, in Persona 4, the battle theme was almost always the same, but was different if you managed to get a player advantage against the enemy: that made that specific kind of battle distinctive. I can't recall any different battle tracks from any Western games, nor any tracks that really play in specific portions of certain games, except maybe Half-Life 2. I don't know what it is, but really, Western games have never had that emotion come packaged with their soundtracks. 

I originally thought that this was going to be a longer blog...but it sort of lost some steam towards the end their, so I apologize for that. Hopefully I'll have more ideas some other time, and I can revisit what I presented here. Sorry that this ended up being a mediocre day...I'll see you all tomorrow then.

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