Video Game Music Spotlight #18: End of the Journey - ArticleTaneli Palola , posted on 16 December 2020 / 1,942 Views
Endings can have a profound effect on a person's opinion on any story in any medium, from film and TV to books and video games. A great ending can elevate a story to new heights, while a disappointing one can instantly undo all the work done in the story before that one moment. Sometimes, the element that ties everything together at the end can also just be a piece of music, as proven by the following games.
Note that there will be spoilers for what happens at the end of some of the games listed below, so proceed with caution. I will give another spoiler warning in the text below whenever I intend talk about specific plot points, so that you can skip over them if you want.
I Was Born For This
Journey is without question one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced, video game related or otherwise. There's just something wonderfully serene and calming about the journey the game takes you on over the course of just a few brief hours. The landscapes it paints in front of you as you slowly travel across the world remain among the most visually stunning I've ever seen, and when those are combined with the game's gorgeous music the result is simply magnificent.
The song 'I Was Born For This' plays at the very end of the game, after you've made your way to the top of the mountain. A detail most people probably missed about the song is that the lyrics are actually comprised of quotes from various famous people and works of fiction, including Joan of Arc, the Latin epic poem Aeneid, and Beowulf, among many others. Each quote concerns the idea of a journey and an end of some kind, fitting the game perfectly.
In recent years there have been many games that have touched upon and dealt with themes of depression, anxiety, and other issues regarding mental health, but for many people the game that did it better than any other was Celeste. On the surface it's just a straightforward, highly difficult 2D platformer, but once you start getting into the game proper the layers beneath begin to unveil themselves, revealing a touching and ultimately hopeful story about a person's struggles with mental health.
The music, composed by Lena Raine, plays a big role in conveying the game's storyline and themes to the player, and the track 'Exhale' that plays at the end of the game's story is a great example of this. After a long, emotionally and physically draining experience, the characters have a chance to simply rest and relax, and finally (and fittingly) exhale after everything they've gone through.
On the opposite end of the spectrum as far as gameplay experiences are concerned, though no less memorable, is Bloodborne. If Journey and Celeste are ultimately positive and uplifting stories about overcoming obstacles and finding a way through to the end no matter what, then Bloodborne is here to tell us that some stories just don't have any happy endings in store for us.
The song that plays over the ending credits is titled 'Bloodborne', and for a track named after the game itself I think it does an exceptional job of capturing the essence of the game's tone and atmosphere. Not only does the song convey a wonderful sense of horror and dread, but it also captures the other-worldliness that runs through the entire game.
(from Enslaved: Odyssey to the West)
*Spoiler Alert* Sometimes it's the endings that don't give us any concrete answers which are the most effective. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West ends with the protagonists destroying the main villain's plans, but by doing so they also drag thousands of people away from their illusory but also happy lives. The only thing that then remains is the uncertainty of whether the main characters did the right thing or not. People are now free, but they're also doomed to a life in the wilderness of a post-apocalyptic world. *Spoilers End*
The music for Enslaved was composed by Nitin Sawhney, marking the second time he collaborated with Ninja Theory (the first was for Heavenly Sword). He hasn't worked on any video games since, but the two video game scores he has under his belt are both excellent. The melancholy of the track 'Pyramid' perfectly embodies the feeling of loss, of both the world before the apocalypse and the lives people once had.
(from A Plague Tale: Innocence)
I won't spoil the story of A Plague Tale: Innocence, but I will say that this song, which plays over the game's final scene, does a great job of hinting that perhaps there is still more to the tale of Amicia and Hugo than we've seen so far. The scene shows that there are still things left unresolved and unrevealed to both the player and the characters, and the music matches that feeling exceptionally well.
The score for A Plague Tale was composed by Olivier Deriviere, whose work in the game was genuinely excellent. The dark, often somber music is interspersed with moments of light and hope, complementing the game's tone and themes superbly. It often improves various scenes and key moments that the player experiences over the course of the game's excellent story. 'Freedom' is just one of many great tracks from this soundtrack.
Weight of the World
(from Nier: Automata)
If I'd had to pick just one video game soundtrack from the last ten years to represent the best the medium has to offer then it may very well be the one from Nier: Automata. The score is a masterpiece, matching the emotion, style and tone of the game in every single location and moment, from the epic boss battles with gigantic robots to the smallest introspective moments with characters as they work their way through the game's numerous plot threads.
'Weight of the World' is an absolutely beautiful vocal theme featured in several different languages in the game, both real and made up ones. The English version you can hear above was sung by J'Nique Nicole, with another sung by Emi Evans in an invented language, while the Japanese version featured Marina Kawano on vocals. The lyrics themselves, written from the perspective of the game's main character 2B, are bittersweet and poignant, particularly for anyone who has played the game to its true conclusion.
(from The Longest Journey)
Sometimes the final song isn't necessarily hinting at more things to come or alluding to potential future storyline developments. In some cases it simply acts as a device to bring all the themes and elements explored in the game together one last time. The theme that plays during the end credits of The Longest Journey does just that, evoking the style and atmosphere of the game's two divided worlds.
The intriguing story and wonderfully written characters are what ultimately make The Longest Journey such a memorable experience, and the music gives the game a highly effective backdrop that - without fail - amplifies the mood and effect the story is aiming for regardless of the context or situation.
(from The Last Guardian)
The Last Guardian is in many ways a flawed game, with issues surrounding its gameplay, controls, and the AI of Trico, but that doesn't change the fact that I still thoroughly enjoyed almost every moment I spent with the game, thanks to the bond it slowly forges between the boy and his companion. In that sense it is very similar to Ico, and the effect is much the same. The emotional attachment that develops between the player and Trico is still powerful, and real.
*Major Spoiler Alert* The song 'Epilogue' plays over the final scene of the game, where the boy, now all grown-up, finds his old shield. Raising the shield up sends a beam of light through the sky towards his old companion Trico's nest; Trico is revealed to have survived the ordeal from years before and have developed some new emotional attachments of his own. *Major Spoilers End* The joyous music that accompanies this final scene leaves the player with one final emotional note to go out on, and for me at least made the whole journey feel complete.
(from Horizon Zero Dawn)
*Spoiler Alert* One the most beautiful and heartfelt moments in Horizon Zero Dawn is also one of the final scenes of the whole game. By that point Aloy has learned of her origin, of the past, and what caused the world of humans to collapse. She also learns of the woman in whose image Aloy was created, centuries after her death - Dr. Elisabet Sobeck. In the scene where the song 'Homecoming' plays, Aloy travels to Elisabet's childhood home and finds her dead body sitting on a bench nearby, where she presumably died as her suit's life support systems ran out of power. Elisabet had sacrificed herself to ensure that life on Earth would not become extinct, leaving behind a legacy that would continue on within Aloy. *Spoilers End*
Horizon Zero Dawn is easily among my favourite games of this past generation, and overall the best open world game I've played in general. A part of this is the excellent soundtrack, composed mainly by Joris De Man and an English musical duo going by the name of The Flight. Their work in Horizon is exceptional, and had it not been for Nier: Automata it would have been my choice for the best original music score of 2017.
Question of the Month
What is the Best Video Game Ending Theme?
As is often the case, it's really difficult to pick just one theme from all the different choices available. Some of the best ones that come to mind are Final Fantasy VI's epic 21 minute ending theme, Shadow of the Colossus' beautiful 'The Farthest Land, as well as the track 'Succeeded Wish' from Valkyria Chronicles. However, I think I would ultimately have to pick 'The Weight of the World' from Nier:Automata. It simply hits all the right notes for me, both in terms of the music itself and the emotions it evokes.