When I was younger, I scoffed at the notion of soundtracks and sound design being an important aspect of video game development. I’d never taken the time to appreciate what it adds to the atmosphere, to the aesthetic, and therefore dismissed it as a minor piece of the puzzle. But growing older, as I came to learn more about what’s behind the screens (sorry) of video games, I finally realised why playing a game on mute makes it less enjoyable.
I can actually remember the first time I sat up and took notice of soundtracks. I was watching Youtube Let’s Player Chuggaaconroy making note of the soundtrack in the game he was playing, and it occurred to me for the first time to pay attention. (I think it was in his Super Mario 64 Let’s Play, but this was a very, very long time ago, so I may be wrong.) I must have been about thirteen or fourteen. I don’t know why, but it acted as some sort of switch, because every game I’ve played since then, I’ve picked up on whether the soundtrack is good, or even good enough to listen to independently of the game. I’ve even bought a few soundtracks; Robot Roller Derby Disco Dodgeball’s soundtrack isn’t my typical choice of music, but it’s very nevertheless much enjoyed.
One of the great things about a good soundtrack is the way it stays with you, eventually drawing you back to the game. I’m sure most of us will be able to hum Sonic’s Green Hill Zone under our breaths with hardly a moment’s hesitation, revisit Pokemon’s Lavender Town or evoke the Legend of Zelda with a good ol’ rendition (see: butchering) of the Song of Storms. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been dragged back, kicking and screaming after being hit by waves of nostalgia or that creeping realisation that you never truly 100% completed that game.
And then there’s those soundtracks that stand on their own. I’ve not played any Final Fantasy games, but one dosage of One Winged Angel was all I needed to become interested in the character and story of Sephiroth, a character whose demonic tendencies were introduced to me immediately through the frankly outstanding soundtrack. It led me to find the somewhat more metal version of the song, found amidst the Advent Children animation of Cloud vs Sephiroth. (I’d go ahead and listen to the original game soundtrack first. It’s excellent by itself, but the metal version adds a whole new layer of sound that will make the original feel lacking if you listen to them back to back.) In fact, in writing this, I’ve now become addicted to the damn song again! It’ll take an absurd amount of time to break out of this.
Right, well, if you survived that sea of hyperlinks and still have the remaining attention span to finish reading this blog post, then I have the ability to finish writing it.
Whilst I have my issues with narrative-driven game Life Is Strange (some of which are born from the fact I’m not exactly the target audience), I also have many commendations for it, one of which is the soundtrack. Without it, I’m not sure I would have been interested in the story so much; the songs chosen to portray emotion in the game are sometimes whimsical, sometimes deeply resonating and usually a combination of both. Whilst I may not have liked Chloe and didn’t identify with colloquially-defunct Max, something about the setting and plot of going through life challenging issues during teenage education reached out to me, and the soundtrack was the rope that tied me to it. And for all of its flaws, both critically and personally founded, I’m glad I was able to experience it. Again, the soundtrack to this game isn’t the kind of music I’d usually listen to, but I highly value it and regularly go out of my way to listen to it outside of the context of the game.
Well, anyway, I believe I’ve left you with enough music to listen to should you be so inclined. If you’d like to hear more about my typical choice of music and thoughts considering the matter, click here. Or, if you’d like to read up on my thoughts considering narrative driven games such as Life Is Strange and its contemporary counterparts, click here. Or do none of those things. It’s up to you, honestly. You’re probably all hyperlinked out by now.