Video Game Music Spotlight #1: The Old West - ArticleTaneli Palola , posted on 15 November 2018 / 3,225 Views
Welcome to Video Game Music Spotlight, a new series of articles focusing on highlighting some of the great music we've been able to experience over the years in the world of video games. The only goal I have with these articles is to feature a number of great tracks from a variety of different video games that we can listen to, enjoy, and appreciate for a moment.
Each of these articles will be centered around a specific theme, whether that's a style of music, a specific console, or just something completely different. Also, at the end of each of these articles, I will pose a video game music related question on something usually related to the theme of the article, which you can answer in the comments below if you so wish. Each article will highlight between five and ten different tracks from various games, in no particular order.
With that in mind, let's start with a theme that's quite timely and relevant right now thanks to the recent release of Red Dead Redemption 2. The American old west has inspired countless different video games and produced some amazing pieces of music over the years, so let's have a listen to just a few such tracks.
(from Red Dead Redemption)
Before we dive into the deep end of video game Westerns, let's start with one that pretty much everyone is at least aware of at this point. Red Dead Redemption is a game that proudly shows its love and appreciation for the old west and the Western genre in general, and nowhere is that more obvious than in its excellent soundtrack.
For me, the music in Red Dead Redemption is easily among its finest points, capturing the style and tone of the 1960s Spaghetti Westerns in particular. Tracks like 'The Shootist' (above), 'Dead End Alley' and 'El Club de los Cuerpos' would feel right at home in a Sergio Leone western. The entire score is a beautiful homage to the Western genre
(from Sunset Riders)
Going back almost three decades now, to a time when the name Konami on the cover of a game was still generally seen as a positive thing. One of the many arcade to home console conversions of the early 90s was Sunset Riders, a side-scrolling run-and-gun game set in the American old west. The SNES version in particular was an excellent version of the original arcade title. This is a game that is just plain fun to play, especially in co-op with a friend, but we're talking about music here.
The soundtrack for Sunset Riders is this wonderfully weird mix of classic western style music that you would hear in old American Western, and the kind of fast-paced electronic music that was so typical of Konami in the early 90s. It makes for a really fun and memorable score that just oozes nostalgia for me. The music tries so hard to emulate the sound of ”the west” that I can't help but love it, despite how cliched it may be.
Before Red Dead Redemption there was a game called Gun, which tried to make Western styled video games a thing again, and to be honest it wasn't a bad attempt at all. The game is stylistically more of a revisionist Western, rather than a straight old-school American Western. Its music captures the darker tone of this particular subgenre very well, eschewing the heroic tunes that would often accompany many a classic Western film in favour of a more sombre style of music.
The composer, Christopher Lennertz, did an admirable job with the soundtrack, creating a score that contains quite a few different styles but mixes them together expertly. From quiet guitar and harmonica-driven tunes like 'Law Approach' to louder, orchestral tracks such as 'Allied Battle', the soundtrack effortlessly jumps between different styles to create a nicely varied score.
Into the Wilderness
(from Wild Arms)
Wild Arms is the answer to the question ”what if Japan had invented Westerns instead?”. A JRPG that takes much of its inspiration for its setting, tone and themes from the American old west, while also adding its own flavour to everything. The soundtrack is one of my favourites on the PS1, and is heavily inspired by Spaghetti Westerns, to the point that some of its tracks contain direct references to famous pieces from films such as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West.
Notable examples are 'Lone Bird in the Shire', which takes much of its basic melody from Ennio Morricone's 'The Ecstasy of Gold'; and the main theme, which you can hear above, and contains sections that are almost identical to the song 'Day of Anger' from the film of the same name. Also, the arranged soundtrack for the game's remake on the PS2 is excellent, and you should definitely go and listen to it.
The Mystery and the Chase
(from Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath)
Another game that took more than just a little inspiration from the Western genre, but then went in some really weird and fascinating directions, is Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath. The fourth, and so far final game in the Oddworld series, Stranger's Wrath is quite the departure from the earlier games in the series.
The Western inspired setting is evident in nearly every aspect of Stranger's Wrath, and its music is no exception. However, the soundtrack isn't limited to just the traditional Western style of music. That style is certainly present, but mixed in with it are elements of dark ambience and tribal music as well. It makes for a curious overall sound for the game, but one that is very effective and fitting for what is a fairly unusual title anyway.
(from Final Fantasy VI)
You bet I'm going to fit a Final Fantasy track somewhere in here, but in this case how can I not when it's so obviously inspired by the music in Spaghetti Westerns, particularly by the works of Ennio Morricone in Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy? Of course, the game as a whole has very little if anything to do with Western themes, but this particular track still stands out to me as one of the most memorable tracks, inspired as it is by those themes.
It perfectly suits Shadow as a character. When you first meet him, he is described as a loner by nature, with very little regard for loyalty or anything but money. He's a bounty hunter and an assassin, and a very dangerous one as well. This track encapsulates all of that. It's a genius stylistic choice, telling us so much about a character just by the sound of his personal theme song.
Escape from Arkansas
(from Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood)
Before the series took a nosedive with the much maligned Cartel, Call of Juarez was actually a fairly respectable FPS series, and Bound in Blood is generally seen as the apex of the franchise. I have not personally played any of the games in the series, but I can still definitely appreciate the music in them, and Bound in Blood has some really good themes to its name.
You may have noticed already that Spaghetti Westerns have had quite a significant influence on video game Westerns, and Bound in Blood is no different. The developers have even mentioned that when having to choose between historically accurate guns and what they had seen in Spaghetti Westerns, they went with the latter because it was just more fun to play. The music clearly takes much of its influence from the same source as well, though it mixes in other elements as well to great effect.
(from Wild Guns)
Just to ensure things don't start to feel too boring, here's a space western shooting game with steampunk elements added just for good measure to break up the monotony. Wild Guns is a straightforward shooting gallery game, and sometimes that's really all you need to have a good time. As far as the music goes, it's exactly what you would expect from a game of this kind on the SNES.
The soundtrack is largely made up of fast-paced, almost techno-like tracks, with elements of classic Western styled music added in for flavour. It's almost as if someone at some point during development wondered what would happen if you mixed a Mega Man X soundtrack with an Ennio Morricone score and this is the end result.
Hide & Seek
(from Westerado: Double Barreled)
Let's end with a different kind of game. Westerado: Double Barreled is an indie open world Western with a gorgeous pixel art style that feels like a loving homage to classic Spaghetti Westerns. It has the dark tone and ambiguous morality of the genre down perfectly, and underneath it all it also happens to be a very good game.
The soundtrack just accentuates the game's themes and tone, fitting absolutely perfectly together with the setting and narrative. The 'Westerado Theme' does an excellent job setting the mood for the game to follow, and the rest of the score is filled with great themes. Particular favourites of mine are 'So Long, Cowboy' and 'Forest Theme', among many others.
Question of the Article
What is your favourite Western-inspired video game song/soundtrack?
For me, it's the score for Wild Arms. I'm a huge fan of Spaghetti Westerns in general, so when someone combined that with my favourite video game genre and made music that fit into that mix perfectly I couldn't help but love it. How about you? Share your favourite tracks and soundtracks below.
Finally, feel free to suggest possible future themes for these articles below. I've got quite a few already planned, but only the next one is already set in stone, so if you'd like to see any particular kind of video game songs highlighted in this series then I'm open to suggestions.