If you’re interested in participating in the Geek Out Challenge, read this post here! Each day I will be posting a question for that day for the next 30 days. Follow along each day with your own post or feel free to wait until the entire challenge has been released and take it on when you like! Be sure to link back to the master post at the end or link back to each post for each day.
Day Seventeen: Favourite video game soundtrack?
I’ll reveal my bone of contention from the offset, I do genuinely believe, with no malice or ill feeling due, there aren’t many genuinely good or great soundtracks in their entirety. I could name a dozen individual themes I enjoy but for a soundtrack in its purest term, I just don’t believe there are many greats, even extending this beyond gaming into film and television. I wrote about my personal favourite gaming themes last year specifically focusing on individual tracks from specific games as I feel they serve as a great reflection of the evolution of gaming music from its simplistic early days of to the full orchestral scores we hear today. I always believe its important to approach discussions around favourite media with a certain degree of humility and to recognise whilst it may be a subjective, favourite of mine this in no way endorses or elevates it above another piece of media. Put simply, I can find endearing charm and quality in a score others may look down on for my own personal reasons, and for me, that’s the best place to answer this question from, a personal favourite enjoyed for personal reasons irrespective of critique or review.
For me, that soundtrack is from Mass Effect, the first game in the BioWare trilogy and to this day remains the one score I can listen to and enjoy in its entirety without feeling a level of disconnect from what I’m consuming. Here in lies my central issue with soundtracks in general, quite often they are scored around a specific moment or scene in a game, as such key moments are reflected in the score that feel artificial in nature when listened in isolated. For example, let’s say you are listening to a track where in the game someone jumps out at you or through a smashed window, the music will reflect this with a low crescendo or symbol crash perhaps. This isn’t a criticism of gaming soundtracks specifically, I’ve come across this in film and television scores, that moment in a soundtrack that breaks the immersion to such an extent it breaks you from the moment. I’ll accept this is a personal biases, my personal preference tends to be towards the more symphonic sweeping melodies, the Superman theme or Raiders March by John Williams, the Motion Picture suite from Jerry Goldsmith for example. All bold, strong themes in their own right which inspire and delight their audiences.
For me, and I can only comment on this as a fan unaware of the development process or sequence, it’s one of few gaming soundtracks that feels close to replicating that singular encompassing soundtrack heard in movie scores. There is a definitive opening track that is memorable and builds up to a full orchestral piece, equally a bookend final scored piece that uses similar musical riffs that complement the opening tune. Where I feel as a soundtrack it perhaps, breaks down to some degree is the focus on individual planetary themes. It works in the sense you can listen to the background music that plays when you arrive on these planets, that was nice to be able to do and listening back now, it does evoke certain memories and feelings from when I first encountered them. That said in discussing consistency, it does come across somewhat disjointed, there isn’t an overarching theme, like say the Avengers melody that permeates and plays at various intervals in that film series and ties the soundtrack together. At best, you can observe and hear some beats that play at the beginning and end, and from a subjective standpoint I enjoyed the individual themes because of their emotional resonance I just don’t feel it makes a particularly good soundtrack, only the one I enjoy the most.
A wider discussion could be had on analysing whether we truly enjoy anything beyond our formative years, certainly as someone that games as an adult in my mid 30s, there is often that self awareness of chasing that sensation of youth, trying to recapture that memory, that feeling when you first loaded up a certain game. Trying to capture the magic of playing Ocarina of Time as a teenager before school for example, or my first session of Goldeneye with my friends at lunch time. It would serve to answer that question on why people return to certain games over and over, trying I would say to capture that feeling of innocent enjoyment they once felt to it, the economic notion of diminishing returns as every playthrough reveals certain restrictions and repetitions you may have overlooked at first. I can readily say Mass Effect is probably my favourite video game soundtrack, it has some great opening and closing themes and certainly, ‘From the Wreckage’ by Sam Hulick is a beautifully written track that starts with such a forlorn sense of resigned sadness and loss before elevating into this moment of triumphalism. Closing then on the one lyrical track by Faunts was a nice touch, differentiating from the rest of the score and repeated to a certain extent in the soundtrack for Mass Effect 3. Is it great? no, is it my favourite? probably. As high a level of commitment as I can give to a media form I genuinely have issues with.
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