Show of hands, how many of you actually listen to the music in the games you play? Hmmm… wow, that’s more than I was expecting. If you’re not, though, you should really start as video game music is already it’s own artform with known and highly sought after composers like Jeremy Soule, main composer of the Elder Scrolls and Guild Wars series. No longer are we in the age of simple MIDI compositions, but full orchestrations take center stage. This is a good thing. A very good thing.
There is even a new podcast, recently started, called Battle Bards that showcases the music of our favorite MMOs in a roundtable discussion. The podcast is hosted by the quartet of Steph from MMO Gamer Chick, Syl from MMO Gypsy, Dodge from A Casual Stroll to Mordor, and Justin from Massively and Bio Break (and since I’m link-dropping, Tesh from TishToshTesh did the artwork). I listened to the pilot episode, and it is fantastic and I highly recommend it. Especially if you’re a music aficionado like myself.
So, in honor of the Battle Bards newly minted podcast, here are my top five favorite video game musical compositions of all time. In order of simply how awesome they are.
#5 – Guild Wars – Lakeside County – Jeremy Soule
When I first started playing Guild Wars, it was as a quick break from the game I (and everyone and their mother) was addicted to, World of Warcraft. Because of my addiction, I never gave Guild Wars a fair shake and have always been disappointed that I never really played through the storyline. From what I can see of Guild Wars 2, the story from Guild Wars 1 seems superior, so it’s even more of a shame. Anyway, after the introduction and the stroll into town, the first zone you visit is Lakeside County in Ascalon. I could listen to this music over and over again, and frequently did. The beauty of the landscape, the autumn foilage slowly falling off the trees, the picturesque sky and valleys, and then this hauntingly beautiful flowing melody that didn’t quite fill you with hope of a new adventure, but set the tone of “everything is not what it seems”. Perfect foreshadowing for the trials to come.
#4 – Lord of the Rings Online – Shire Hills 03844 – Chance Thomas(?)
When I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy back in 7th grade, it was my first real foray into medieval-style fantasy fiction and the writings of JRR Tolkien was one of the best places to start. The culture presented of the Hobbits was instantly likable as one of curiosity and adventure. Whether that adventure was a full fellowship or just an adventure down the river to visit a neighbor, Hobbits, to me, always represented movement, motion, and progress. Even shoes held them back, they were always on the move. Why do you think they needed so many meals? For being such small creatures, their metabolism was through the roof and adventure was the way to burn off all those calories. They were the beginning of something much larger than themselves (as everything was much larger than they were), and this song with its upbeat guitars, light drum, and clapping gives the feeling of that forward movement. The song revolves around a single theme, but is intertwined periodically with other melodic phrases and joined by many other lines, like all the different sights to see and friends to meet while traveling down the road.
#3 – Skyrim – Main Theme – Jeremy Soule
I won’t lie. I played the EFF out of Skyrim. I didn’t stop playing because I grew tired of the game, I stopped playing because at level 65 I RAN OUT OF STUFF TO DO! I had completed every faction’s quests, the main storyline was done, and aside from grinding every skill up to 100 I was already maxed out in my favorites. Some guard would want to tell me about an old injury or something, but really there was nothing left to do. However, the theme song makes it sound like there’s always something to do. It’s got that grand, majestic feel with the chanting and horns that makes you feel like shouting from the tops of the mountains.
It starts out like a thunderstorm, bass drums and chants, and then slowly gathers steam until you’re in the thick of it. The horns pick up the main theme, and then take it over. The vocals pick up like thrums of lightning, then crescendo like gathering bursts of wind. A slight break, with a falsetto line leads into a joining of the chorus with the horns into the heart of the piece. After a couple more crescendos, the song lightens and ends on a clear and crisp note just like the storm having finally passed. With Skyrim being a land of harsh climate, both politically and physically, creating the music around a coming storm just ties it all together nicely.
#2 – Ultima IX – Stones – David “Iolo” Watson
I know I’ve been posting a lot about Ultima lately, but what can I say, it’s a big part of my own gaming history. And if there’s one song that would represent that history, it’s Stones. Encountered in the game sometimes at random, it was always a song that made me stop in my tracks. Say what you will about Ultima IX (and it’s all justified), but this is hands down my favorite version of Stones yet. Starting with that slow lute and then being picked up by the flute, it presents a haunting melody that feels very melancholy. And then, suddenly, there’s a burst of hope. The song lightens and the skies part. However, just as quick as they part, the melancholy comes back in the final strains of the piece. It’s like saying “yes, there are times when you will be down but remember there is always a ray of hope to lift your spirits”. Even if, in the end, you’re still sad, that ray of hope has a way of melting it away if only for a small time.
#1 – Civilization IV – Baba Yetu – Christopher Tin
Trivia Time! What was the first piece of music made for a video game to ever be nominated for and win a Grammy? You’re looking at it. I can’t say enough good things about Baba Yetu that I’m not even sure where to start. The Civilization series of games is all about building an empire to stand the test of time from humble beginnings and this song shows that by just not letting up on the hope and majesty, constantly building on itself over and over again until your goosebumps find goosebumps of their own. And just when you think it can’t build any more, it smooths out and ends on the main theme that puts that extra faith in humanity’s future. Plus, the fact that the song is the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili just adds that extra spark of faith that wraps the entire thing together into just an amazing piece. Christopher Tin ended up winning a Grammy for this song, and although I don’t agree with those that pick the winners of the Grammys usually, I couldn’t help but applaud their choice here. Simply amazing.
And now, thanks to making this list, I’ll now have these songs stuck in my head for the rest of the week.
PS – There could be a lot worse songs to have stuck there…
PPS – Think I missed any, please post them in the comments!