Music: Its Effect on Video Games
“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” -Victor Hugo
The purpose of a video game (besides to entertain) is to immerse. If a gamer can feel like he/she is truly in the world that they’re playing, then the developer accomplished their goal. A very large aspect of immersion in video games is the soundtrack to them. If one would come across a dark, fire level in Super Mario and REM’s “Shiny Happy People” began to play, the experience would most likely be spoiled just a bit. So, on the other hand, Xenoblade Chronicles and Sonic Unleashed have two of the most fitting soundtracks that enhance their respective games the most, both for different reasons.
The soundtrack to Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the most fitting because its music perfectly matches the scenarios and events in the game. To briefly summarize, the entire game until a certain point the player has been traveling on very grassy, forest-like, and natural environments. Appropriately, the music during these moments matches the feeling the environment, like the example of the song Gaur Plains.
To have the player feel like they are indeed in the plains, the song uses deep, percussive instruments that provide a fast beat, which enhances a feeling of being released in an open area and being exhilarated by that freedom. The song also incorporates rhythmic guitars and a melodic violin part. The melody, carried by the violin, hits various high notes throughout the tune, giving the song a larger-than-life feel, corresponding with the mountainous, open green plain. At one point in Xenoblade, the tone completely shifts away from the thrilling instrumental melodies. This point is called Mechonis Field.
In comparison to the very orchestral sounds of the rest of the game, the technology-generated rhythms and beats establishes a very new and different tone for the soundtrack. The song is very mechanic, utilising a heavy techno melody and practically no live instruments. This matches Mechonis Field perfectly because the scene at this point is a large, man-made tower which contrasts the natural environments of the previous setting.
Like Xenoblade’s soundtrack enhancing the events, Sonic Unleashed’s soundtrack is also one of the most fitting because each song is fit and perfected to match the environments throughout the game. The basic plot of the game is Sonic running around different sections of the world, so the songs are meant to capture each country and continent with both its visuals and especially its music. A perfect example is the level based on China or the Far East, titled Dragon Road.
To match this setting, the soundtrack uses a moody and diminished piano to imitate the cloudy skies of the level, as well as instruments like xylophones and flutes recreate the cultural music of the Far East setting.Another song that demonstrates the connection of music to the culture of the setting is the level created to resemble Africa, also known as Savannah Citadel.
(Via Deviantart user itsHelias94)
Like Dragon Road, the song that plays during Savannah Citadel does its best to recreate the style of music found in the area it resembles. Savannah Citadel was designed to look like Africa, which is shown through the use of Baobab trees, the dirt paths, and the earthy, mud houses with natural decorations. Because of that resemblance, the song has various wind instruments and hand drums (like the bongo) to imitate the musical stylings of the continent. The song also incorporates a very involved, fast, and energetic electric guitar piece to further exemplify the point of Sonic’s speed in the game.
Some might argue that The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds has a more fitting soundtrack than the two games previously mentioned. This is due to the three different versions of the overworld theme (beginning of the game, later on in the game, and even later on) which increases the power and amount of instruments in the song to show that the gamer is progressing throughout the game, as well as creating a feeling of immersion. However, that is just one song in the entire game, whereas Xenoblade and Unleashed have their fitting soundtracks for every setting in them.
Soundtracks in a lot of ways impact the player just as much as the game itself. It defines the tone, creates atmosphere, and immerses the player inside the game. Due to this, fitting soundtracks like in Sonic Unleashed and Xenoblade Chronicles help create a path for the, “ultimate gamer immersion” idea that has been thrown around often. So the songs created can be just as loved or revered as the games created too. “The ultimate goal for me in making music, or at least one of the main goals for me, is to create memorable melodies. That goal is there regardless of the tools we have.” -Koji Kondo, Super Mario 64 composer