One of the most overlooked aspects of a video game is its music. While most appreciate a good score in a game, I feel that the music in a game can completely change the player’s experience.
The value of music is especially important for indie games. Oftentimes, the music makes up for less detailed graphics in setting the atmosphere for the game. “Hotline Miami” (2012), for instance, utilizes synth-heavy psychedelic music to complement its bizarre and twisted story. The fast-paced sections of the soundtrack mirror the game’s brutal violence, whereas the slower sections starkly contrast the fast gameplay.
In “FTL: Faster Than Light” (2012), Ben Prunty’s incredible soundtrack does an amazing job of setting the tone for the game. Tracks such as “Space Cruise” capture the emptiness and isolation of space far better than any lifelike visuals. Consequently, the game’s graphics can be functional, leaving its atmosphere up to the soundtrack.
A strong soundtrack is not only important for indie games, however. Even high-budget titles are impacted by their music. “Skyrim” (2011), one of my favorite games of all time, would not be nearly as beloved without its score. The gameplay is middling, the graphics were never top-tier and the story was mediocre. But the experience of exploring its world was magical. This magic, however, would not have been so strong without Jeremy Soule’s score. From the grand title track “Dragonborn” to the peacefully haunting “Frostfall,” the soundtrack of “Skyrim” perfectly captures the feeling of exploring its world.
On the same note, the “Fallout” series would not be as charming without its 1950s soundtrack. Exploring the Mojave Wasteland in “Fallout: New Vegas” (2010) would not be the same without Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?” playing in the background. Even “Fallout 4” (2015), which is a game I do not love, is improved by Dion’s “The Wanderer” contrasting a post-apocalyptic Boston.
Just as music can add to a game, it can take away from a game as well. While many may love the largely music-free exploration in “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” (2017), I did not. I found that the lack of music took away from the experience, making the world feel less atmospheric.
The few times where music did play, however, significantly added to the game for me. The moment when epic music began playing while enemies surrounded me in an empty field stands out as one of my favorite moments in games from 2017.
In contrast, both “Dark Souls” (2011) and “Bloodborne” (2015) are games that largely eschew music. While a lack of music hurt the epic world of “Breath of the Wild,” it added to these games. The fear and intensity in the “Soulsborne” games is increased by not having music, letting their decayed worlds speak for themselves. The boss fights have music playing, mirroring the intensity of the fights themselves.
Although the way games can utilize music varies, it has an immensely important impact on the experience. In many games, their soundtrack is what elevates them into greatness. For others, however, their music, or lack thereof, hurts the experience.