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Awful Music Ruins Video Games

Could a video game involve your emotions without music? Could a video game share with you the story and the feelings involved without music?

“Age of Magic” video game OST
Composed by Nikita Sevalnev
Performed by Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Peter Pejtsik

What then is the point of a story in video games if was music less videos?

Music since the beginning of known history has had a strong influence on our basic emotions. In reality the emotions being shown through gameplay and cutscenes can’t be described with just words on top of the pictures because words are primarily meant for books. When words are on paper we use our imagination and experiences to assist us in creating the right emotion to fit the story.

Video games are different because we are shown the scene so there is no room given to us to use our imagination. When it comes to dialogue in games we know the motive, emotions and pretty much everything else because we are literally told what they are or should be so we can’t easily relate to it because we are being told and or nudged in a specific emotional direction.

So then music, is very important to creating the proper feeling needed to be conveyed while playing the game whether it’s creepy, joyful, depressing, etc. and without music that’s very hard if not impossible to do.

So then let’s get into the areas we’ll be talking about. Why should music exist in video games and what makes it important? We’ll look at 2 areas.

  1. How music can help improve the game feel,
  2. how music helps us understand the game.

How music helps improve the game feel

Dark room with mannequins — Silent Hill 2

When we talk about game feel we’re usually talking about how the game makes you feel while playing it.

Creepiness while walking through the misty dead town, walking through a deserted house looking for clues of why a possessed doll is trying to kill you, an open world where you’re wandering around aimlessly looking for fun things to do or running into hordes of enemies looking for a massive fight.

All of those contribute to the game feel but the way to make sure the player is feeling it is by using the right music.

Boss fight — Dark Souls 2

For instance you wouldn’t want to play a joyful tune in Dark Souls because for it to feel right they require that you are always worried about whether the next monstrous enemy around the corner will kill you. You also wouldn’t want to be playing calm piano music while charging through a massive group of demons in the Diablo series because you wouldn’t get the thrill of fighting in an epic battle.

You see music itself needs to be curated to suit the environment, situation and overall game theme in order to maximise it’s effectiveness. Let’s take a look at the Final Fantasy games.

Final Fantasy VII for instance relied on creating music that would suit the punk dystopia feel while still making clear that things were exciting which was a clear split from the traditional style. The music for the most part ended up having some rock music in its track but mostly kept the more serious music of Final Fantasy. The rock elements were kept to battles for the most part to create the intense upbeat feel for battling. But for the more serious boss battles especially those that were vital to stopping Sephiroth and Meteor you’re given more serious epic themed music to make you feel that the battle can’t be lost or the world is finished.

Heroes look to the Fal’Cie Carbuncle (offscreen) — Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII also has a soundtrack that relies on keeping you engaged with the story because it is in my opinion structured very similar to a visual novel. To capture the more than half the game sadness and hopeless theme the music focuses on being mostly melancholy and depressing up to the point where the entire group finally decides they’re not going to go be a pawn of the Fal’Cie. At this point the music becomes lighter, serious and focused.

What can be said is that the flow of the story changes from fear, depression, regret, defiance, hopelessness, resolve to peace. The music follows these changes throughout the journey and makes sure you know those are the changes your heroes are going through in order to make you empathise with them as you join them in the lead up to the fateful battle.

How music helps us understand the game

Again we’ll look at FFXIII.

Promotional Artwork during the FFXIII Festival — Final Fantasy XIII

The game itself is forcing you to look at the determined fate of our heroes as they are given an unbreakable focus by the gods of their world. Breaking from their focus’ would lead to them become L’Cie until they are ultimately killed. By choosing to break from their focus and create their own, gave them the freedom to choose your own destiny. This is the ultimate theme and as was previously stated you follow series of changes throughout the game with each character themselves facing their own problems through those changes as they all finally find their resolve to challenge their gods.

Now the music is needed in order to facilitate the moments Snow and Serah are separated in the beginning but reunited in the end. Pain when Hope watches his mother die fighting along N.O.R.A.. Regret when you learn Fang and Vanille failed to become the true Ragnarok during the War of Transgression. Depression and hatred when Sazh learns his son was branded a L’Cie because Vanille made contact with him and finally became crystalised. Faithlessness when Lightning gives up on herself because of how powerless she was in the face of ultimate power, the Fal’Cie. The music made sure that we could follow their emotional struggles from beginning to end.

Music brings that out and without it all we would have would be bland dialogue and though we could know what emotions we should be feeling, we wouldn’t be able to feel those emotions as strongly as if there was no music alongside them.

If you’re looking for more articles like this check out my publication: @Gaminglinkmedia or @ryanvelasco.

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Ryan Velasco

Ryan Velasco

I love gaming especially old-school jRPGs, I love them to this day. Now I’ve come to love automating everything and placing things into databases. Super fun.