Video Game Music Spotlight #3: Beginnings - ArticleTaneli Palola , posted on 14 January 2019 / 1,135 Views
It's the start of a new year and I'm using that as a flimsy excuse to talk about some of my favourite opening themes in video games. One of the most important sections in any video game is often the first few minutes, be it the opening cutscene or the first few minutes of actual gameplay. Whatever the game presents the players with the moment they press play is often crucial in hooking them in, and in many cases a huge part of that is the accompanying music that plays during those first few moments.
(from Dark Souls III)
When it comes to setting the tone of a game from the very beginning, very few have done a better job at that than the Dark Souls trilogy. The dark and oppressive atmosphere of the games is immediately apparent from just listening to their opening themes, and in my opinion the best opening in the series belongs to Dark Souls III.
The theme has a feeling of finality to it, appropriate for the world of Dark Souls III as it slowly moves towards its end. The song itself is also masterfully woven into the game as a whole, as parts of it can be heard throughout the experience, accompanying significant moments and boss fights. It essentially serves as a sign of things to come as you journey further into the Kingdom of Lothric and its dark past; a perfect opening note for what might be the final chapter in the story of the age of fire.
Pilgrims On a Long Journey
(from Child of Light)
At a time when Ubisoft seems increasingly focused on making nothing but massive open world titles plagued by the 'Live Services' model, it's refreshing to see that even Ubisoft can occasionally still make straightforward single player games with a clear beginning and end. Child of Light was one such title, and it features one of my favourite original video game scores of the last decade, along with a charming visual style and story.
Composed by Canadian singer-songwriter Cœur de Pirate, this marks her first (and so far only) video game soundtrack. A largely piano-driven score, it is filled with numerous absolutely beautiful tracks, among them the theme 'Pilgrims On a Long Journey'. If I was to describe the sound of the game I would call it melancholic. The soundtracks isn't necessarily sad, but there's seemingly a constant undercurrent of quiet mourning in every song.
(from Final Fantasy VIII)
I've made no secret of the fact that Nobuo Uematsu is my favourite video game composer of all time, and his work in the Final Fantasy series is absolutely sublime as far as I'm concerned. Out of all the opening themes he has composed for the series over the years, the best in my opinion is the song 'Liberi Fatali' from Final Fantasy VIII. The game itself might have a very mixed reputation among series fans, but the soundtrack is still excellent.
'Liberi Fatali' is also another example of an intro song that permeates much of the rest of the soundtrack, with elements and sections from it appearing later in other tracks at various different points of the story. For that reason it's a perfect introduction to the game, as it gives the player glimpses of things to come both visually and musically.
(from Assassin's Creed II)
Assassin's Creed II still remains the game I have the fondest memories of in the series, and part of that reason is the score, which was composed by Jesper Kyd. A number of different composers have worked on the franchise, but Kyd's work is still my favourite. His acoustic and orchestral soundtrack fits perfectly into the story of Ezio and the Renaissance Italian setting. The track 'Earth' sets the stage for Assassin's Creed II, capturing the foreboding atmosphere and in a certain way warning the player of the tragic scenes that are about to unfold.
Scars of Time
(from Chrono Cross)
For the last 25 years, starting with his work on the SNES masterpiece Chrono Trigger, Yasunori Mitsuda has garnered a deserved reputation as one of the most talented composers in the business. Picking a single track as the best from a career spanning such a long period of time and dozens of different video game soundtracks would be extremely difficult, but one very good candidate for such an honour would in my opinion be 'Scars of Time', the intro theme to the PS1 JRPG Chrono Cross.
It's a beautiful theme that encompasses the dual world idea of the game, starting out slow and serene and eventually becoming faster paced and more powerful as the tune progresses. The entire score for Chrono Cross is wonderful, but 'Scars of Time' is perhaps the single best track in it, and coincidentally among Mitsuda's best individual compositions ever.
(from Command & Conquer: Red Alert)
We've covered quite a lot of somber and quiet songs this time, so I feel it would be appropriate to also feature some more energetic and faster-paced opening songs, and I can't think of a better track to fit that description than 'Hell March' from Command & Conquer: Red Alert. Composed by Frank Klepacki, the theme has since become one of the most iconic pieces of video game music of all time, and is undoubtedly the composer's most recognized work.
According to Klepack he initially began working on 'Hell March' with the idea that it would be used as one of the themes for Brotherhood of Nod in the expansion for the original Command & Conquer, but upon hearing the track Brett Sperry, one of the founders of Westwood Studios, decided it would instead become the main theme for the next entry in the series. As we now know, this was a very good decision as 'Hell March' has since become the main theme for the entire Red Alert series of games.
(from Hollow Knight)
To say that Dark Souls has inspired a lot of games in recent years would be something of an understatement, and unfortunately most of them don't really understand what makes that particular style of gameplay so great. However, one of the few that managed to not only take the basic template from Dark Souls but also use it to create something entirely special in its own right was Hollow Knight.
Besides being a mechanically great and rewarding game to play, Hollow Knight is also an audiovisually gorgeous title. The score in its entirety is among the best I've heard in recent years, and the opening theme – 'Enter Hollownest' – serves as a perfect prelude to both the rest of the soundtrack and the game as a whole.
Prologue ~ To the Ancient Land~
(from Shadow of the Colossus)
There are few games that have successfully captured the feeling of isolation and solitude as well as Shadow of the Colossus did nearly 15 years ago on the PlayStation 2. The vast, desolate lands, coupled with the game's very limited use of music made the experience different from practically every other game even today. The music that was used, such as this introductory piece, served only to enhance this feeling.
Composed by Kow Otani, the score for Shadow of the Colossus is among the greatest ever created for any video game as far as I'm concerned, and while the tracks that often get the most attention from it are the various colossus battle themes, many of the other themes found throughout are among the highlights of the entire soundtrack. Otani hasn't composed all that much music for video games, but this one score alone ensures that his work in the industry will be remembered for many years to come.
Question of the Month:
What Video Game Has the Best Opening/Intro Theme?
For me, it's still 'Liberi Fatali' from Final Fantasy VIII. Some part of that might be due to nostalgia, but it's the one opening theme that always brings me back to the moment that I started playing the game for the very first time almost 20 years ago and being blown away by the gorgeous CGI cutscene.
Again, if you have any suggestions for possible future themes those are always welcome. Next month's theme is already locked, however; we'll be celebrating the history of a certain long-running franchise that is finally about to make a return in a big way.