Within my first few hours of playing Death Stranding, I noticed that the game did something truly spectacular. It actually uses its music to set tone and elevate events that would usually be meaningless and forgettable to some of the most memorable of the past years for me. The exceptional use of music made these forgettable scenes go from something boring and repetitive, to something I actually came to love.
Oddly enough, this isn’t something that is new to games, it’s just dwindled to a point where it is rather rare. If you go back 10 or even 20 years and look at older games, the music is wonderful. They actually seemed to put time into making the music fit the world or add to it. While this may be due to the lack of technology of those ages it is still something that worked, it was something that should not have been forgotten.
If you’re a fan of Final Fantasy you know how much music can effect a moment, no doubt even bring up it’s name brought many to your mind, but for this example I will go with one of the series most famous moments (Final Fantasy 7 spoiler), that moment being Aerith’s ending fate. Now let’s just get this straight, a character’s demise can be traumatic pretty much handled in almost any manner, but in Final Fantasy 7 they seemed to want to just make you sad, and it worked. After Aerith is stabbed by Sephiroth and you start the ensuing Boss battle, her theme starts to play and it brings back a horrifying amount of memories; that music adds to the moment, amplifying it and just making it far more effective. Without the music it would still be sad, but with it the moment was made far better and brought a sense of nostalgia to her death that made it hit much harder then your average character death.
Another example from Final Fantasy is from Final Fantasy 9. This one is a bit more comedic; after having escaped this doomly forest you get an invaluable lesson from “Mogster”. The overly dramatic and serious music being blasted at you while you are getting a tutorial-like explanation from a Moogle is just hysterical.
For my last example I will use Metal Gear Solid. While the series has plenty of amazing moments I could choose from I am going to stick with the one that to this day gives me chills. That scene is in Metal Gear Solid 3, when you climb the long ladder. Yes, you read that right, climbing a ladder. Now I bet you people who haven’t played Metal Gear are thinking I am a bit insane, but I’m not. Every single person I have ever talked to about Metal Gear Solid 3 Always brings this moment up. This moment when you first reach it is just stunning, as you begin climbing this long ladder the games main theme starts to play, and for the next two or so minutes you are treated to one of the series most memorable moments.Now just take away the music and what do you have? A dang Long ladder, and that’s all! But because the theme is perfectly synced with the ladders length this scene works out to be something amazing.You can watch it online, though it isn’t the same as playing it, so I would recommend playing it if you haven’t already.
With music having so much variety and can add to moments so easily, I find it disturbing to see so many games go about abandoning it. But, it’s not all bad. There are a few games out there holding onto this amazing legacy, games like Final Fantasy XV and Metal Gear Solid V show in their trailers alone how music can make something better, but beyond these AAA games we have indie games bringing music back to the front.
A prime example of this is Journey. The music was especially important for this game, since there’s no dialog of any kind, so they needed some way to draw the player further into the experience. And what a job they did! Along with masterful use of color and visual stimuli, the music accompanies the game perfectly; swelling into a crescendo with the highs and sinking slightly into the background as the experience calms down. Even though the game itself is absolutely beautiful, a large portion of what makes this journey so great (ahem) is that the music is intrinsically linked to the entire experience. That Game Company’s previous effort, Flower, used music and minimalist visuals and controls to the same effect, but it was polished to an absolute shine in this game; I highly recommend both games because of their artful presentation.
While there still are some games that use music excellently, the amount compared to years ago has definitely become lower and lower. This may be due to the trends of over orchestrated music, or the modern love of ambient sound\music which instead of building a moment attempts to blend with the world and moment. In any case, I would love to see more games attempt to use music as something more than simple background noise.