The Siren Song of Gaming Music

…every track perfectly conveys the emotional undertones present in the game. This is music felt, not just heard. Every track takes my mind to a pivotal story moment that shaped the lives of each character.

The soundtrack to The Last of Us is brilliant. Simple melodies are expertly executed with a flair for musical minimalism. This is not a grand score with a full orchestra. No, it’s a musical narrative of a harsh world crafted with only the essential instrumental voices needed to convey an idea. Every track on the album evokes emotion. From the eerie premonition of ‘The Outbreak’, to the moment of intense resolve present in ‘The Hour’, and the absolute horror of “Infected”, every track perfectly conveys the emotional undertones present in the game. This is music felt, not just heard. Every track takes my mind to a pivotal story moment that shaped the lives of each character.

At least, I think they do. See, I’ve never played The Last of Us. It’s been on my ‘want to play’ list for ages, but as I don’t own a Playstation and don’t use Playstation’s streaming service, the game has remained out of my reach. I’ll get around to it one of these days.

It takes a special composition to forge an emotional resonance to a piece of music when the listener only has a limited context for the piece. This is especially true when the music is only an instrumental score and no lyrics are involved.

Judging from the soundtrack, The Last of Us seems to be an intimately horrifying glimpse into the life of a makeshift father / daughter relationship in a harsh and cruel world.

Mirror’s Edge is another title where I’ve devoured the soundtrack by Solar Fields, but have yet to spend any time with the game. Clocking in at more than four hours, you’ll get more than your money’s worth out of this one. There are a variety of sounds and moods present here, from calm ambiance to breathless but harmonious tempo; this is the perfect background music for thinking or working.

‘The View District’ is my favorite track. A gentle but upbeat intro sounds to me like the musical version of potential; like we’re being introduced to some new opportunity with potentially huge payoffs. Around the seven-and-a-half minute mark the track shifts to an airy and energetic melody that compels my body to react in some way; either by tapping of the foot or bobbing my head. This is the musical equivalent of success. In the game I imagine this is a section where your running abilities allow you to leap across rooftops with ease in the exhilaration of parkour. In my more grounded pursuits of spreadsheets and data analysis, this section makes the numbers flow a little bit easier.

Mass Effect: Andromeda continues the musical excellence of the original trilogy, presenting themes that are new and familiar at the same time. The score seems a bit more polished to me than that of the original trilogy. ‘A New Beginning’ sets the stage well, capturing musical elements of hope and discovery without feeling overly dramatic. And that’s the key thing to this score for me: the tracks emphasize action, exploration, or danger without feeling like the fate of the galaxy rests on what’s taking place. They’re dramatic, but they don’t feel dramatized.

If I was able to travel the galaxy, kicking alien butt and taking names, I’d want the Andromeda soundtrack playing on my spaceship. While ‘Uncharted Worlds’ from the original Mass Effect trilogy is as close to perfect as you can get for map music, it makes me feel content to sit and explore a map for hours on end. Comparatively, ‘Heleus’ takes the undertone of charting an expedition and puts a sense of purpose behind it. Rather than just look at a map, I want to look at a map and then go somewhere. It’s difficult to explain.

The music of Mass Effect: Andromeda gives me the sense that the game is as much about the journey as it is the destination. We’ll see if that holds true or not.

Last but not least, I’ve stumbled upon the score for Ori and the Blind Forest. The game was described by my buddy Bryan as “a nicer Hollow Knight”, and that’s the vibe I get from the soundtrack. There are recurring themes of magic, wonder, discovery, and a bit of whimsy. Wherever the game takes place, I get the sense that holds a special significance to the main character. Something about the world is worth discovering, worth pursing, worth saving? I have no idea what happens in the game, but there’s a lot of emotion bound up in these musical notes.

One of these days, I’ll have to see if my musical impressions were right.

What are your favorite video game soundtracks? Leave a comment and share below; I’d love to take a listen!

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