Video game music is a large part of the game creation process. The soundtracks for some of the most beloved games of all time have been known to immediately generate nostalgia (such as Final Fantasy VII’s theme for example – which may have been the best video game music of all time) and create a wistful memory of the experiences within the game itself.
Yet some games can become bogged down by repetitive soundtracks or even annoying sound effects, to the point that a stellar game experience can be reduced to merely decent. So where do we draw the line? How important is music in video games, and when is ambient noise more than enough?
I find that in narrative games like Gone Home, or Portal, where the experience is tied more to the voice acting and the ambient sound of the player’s surroundings; music isn’t entirely necessary, or it can be used to enhance the experience. Whereas there are games that are more arcade focused or action focused that can utilize music in a way that pumps up the player and reinforces the action and intensity of the game. Bayonetta does this very well, using a variation of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly me to the Moon” to enhance the gameplay and the overall atmosphere of the game.
I find that there are many games that I turn the music off rather than play with music, either because of a lack of proper volume control for the game itself or because the music is distracting rather than a suitable addition. There are also some games in which by default the music is so much louder than the voice acting (this goes for sound effects as well) that it becomes difficult to understand the voice acting without proper subtitles.
There are also gaming experiences such as Dragon Age: Inquisition who use such a fantastic musical score that it turns an RPG adventure into an epic journey, setting it vastly apart from other games because of how much detail and time has gone into the music and atmosphere. It is the same difference between the music in a romantic comedy film, and the music in a film such as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. They both have their place, but sometimes more music can make or break an experience.
There are other games in which the music doesn’t fit the game itself, such as the Nocturne track from the Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood which disregards the tone of the game’s events entirely. These inconsistencies can be confusing for players who would most likely enjoy a story element better if the proper music was included. Ambient sound can add life and vibrancy to any experience, but where developers can go wrong is when sound effects and music take away from the experience they are presenting.
Another problem that can arise is when a game does not have music and sound control other than a toggle. This causes you to have to choose between no sounds at all, or loud obnoxious sound that may prevent you from hearing dialogue or hearing sound cues that the game might give in order to lead or warn you during gameplay.
As with film and television, video game music can be a large part of a video game experience, but as with anything, there are instances in which less is more. Knowing when and how to use music and sound effectively can help developers to create a more artistic, memorable experience rather than just an average game. Don’t cut budget and dream of making the best game music of all time!