Have you ever had a moment while playing a video game that felt amazing? I’ve had plenty of those over the years, and the one thing that always leaves an impression on me is what music was playing in that moment. When it comes to epic showdowns, characters passing away or moments of joy, I think nothing sets the tone like music. To back this up, I’m going to give you a few examples of soundtracks that appeal to me and explain why they’re so great.
To tell you the truth, this game started off as mediocre to me. The story took a while to build up and get really interesting. But from the very beginning of Boneworks, the music stood out to me. As soon as you launch the game, you are greeted by composer Michael Wyckoff’s heartfelt and technically impressive “Bone Rhapsody”, a piece that I think is one of the best musical openings to a game in recent memory. Have a listen:
For Boneworks, Wyckoff created a soundtrack that is consistent, captivating, and memorable. Much like the game itself, Wyckoff’s music is synthetic and surprisingly moving. One thing I particularly enjoyed about Boneworks’ soundtrack was the use of motifs. Various songs employ the same melodic motifs throughout, ensuring that players remember them and can recognize when they appear. It also helps that the motifs Wyckoff composed are touching and purposeful, and are often used alongside specific turning points in the game’s story. “Analog Sunrise”, another song from the soundtrack, uses the same motif as “Bone Rhapsody”. Give it a listen, and see if you can spot where the motif appears:
While Boneworks is hardly the first title to employ a soundtrack of this kind, I think it’s one of the more successful titles to do so. Creating a soundtrack that’s consistently memorable and that doesn’t stray too far from its purpose is more difficult than you might think. I know this because I’ve tried to make a soundtrack before; after that, I began to idolize composers such as Wyckoff even more.
If you know anything about video games, odds are you know what’s coming. Undertale is arguably one of the most famous independent video game releases of all time, and its soundtrack is as iconic as the game itself. This soundtrack, created by the game’s creator, Toby Fox, never fails to move me. I’d go as far as to say that Undertale‘s soundtrack is the most successful example of a game using music to appeal to emotion. Undertale is another video game that uses motifs to great effect. But where this game differs from its peers is in the emotional weight that comes with the music. Whether its hope, determination, or sadness, The music of Undertale is designed to tug at your heartstrings. Take “Home” as an example:
I find that “Home” echoes the sense of comfort and safety that comes with a familiar place. I always think of the song as a representation of a childhood home. Many people have fond memories of growing up with their family and the places they enjoyed as a kid, but it isn’t forever. Eventually, everyone has to face challenges and forge their own path (including the game’s protagonist).
It’s a little hard for me to explain why this soundtrack is so good without spoiling the entire game, so I’ll say this: if you haven’t already, you should play Undertale. It has impeccable storytelling, engaging gameplay, humor, and amazing music to its name. I can’t recommend it enough. Before I move on, here’s one of the many battle themes from the game:
When I think of a good soundtrack, this is always one of the first things that comes to mind. Hotline Miami‘s soundtrack was approached differently than the other two that I listed; instead of hiring one person to make the songs or applying motifs, developers Dennis Wedin and Jonatan Söderström hired various electronic artists to create the game’s music. The result is a soundtrack that works amazingly well while allowing each artist to apply their unique creative choices. Hotline Miami is the closest game to a “period piece” on this list, and the music showcases that. In the same way the game takes place in the 80s and visually represents this, most of the music takes inspiration from the 1980s (i.e. vintage synthesizers, electronic drumkits) and blends it with modern production techniques. “Knock Knock” represents this perfectly:
Generally, the soundtrack is electric and perfectly complements the game’s intense, violent gameplay. Occasionally, however, the music shifts between psychedelic songs or even unnerving and scary ones, a detail that really matters in this game’s dramatic story progression. For example:
Looking back at these soundtracks, I feel that the main reason they are so memorable to me is that they work so well in context. These soundtracks aren’t out of place in the environments they were designed for; they fit in perfectly. They also amplify the experience of playing the game. I doubt I’d enjoy an intense game like Hotline Miami as much if I was listening to lo-fi hip hop, unless you count me getting a laugh out of it as enjoying the game. Either way, these soundtracks (along with the many others I’ve come to love) are a testament to the importance of music in video games.