It was once again, dear LusiSlaves, a short experience with an indie game that made my nerd rage boil enough to become a topic for one of my editorials. I acquired Bastion through a recent Humble Bundle and finally sunk a decent amount of time into it. Like many, I was struck by the game and its unique voice. Like many, I was especially drawn to the soundtrack. While it made me happy at first, it soon caused me to wonder why so many other game soundtracks do not pay the same amount of attention to creating something as distinctive and well-suited as Bastion‘s OST.
It is a problem I have with modern movies too, there are many talented composers who know how to compose to fit a mood, but distinct arrangements and melodies are fading to obscurity. Indie games are helping to diversify the landscape, but the trend does not seem to be spilling over yet.
Full orchestra soundtracks can be powerful and moving, but the advent of such soundtracks in gaming has caused composers to get lazy. Games can hide behind a generic string arrangement and not get criticized for the soundtrack.
That being said, there are a select few examples of strong tracks using a full orchestra. Starship Mario presents a distinct melody, and each section plays a role to make the song more rich. While the Uncharted games are normally a perfect example of my frustration with modern gaming soundtracks, the main theme goes against the rest of the OST to give something more memorable.
But why is full orchestra (plus the occasional guitar) the default? A game like Assassin’s Creed II is oozing with potential for an unforgettable soundtrack. Combining futuristic technology and European history should make for an eclectic mix of instruments, clever use of leitmotif, and inspired melodies. Instead, the game is left sounding like a modified Gears of War. The soundtracks are not interchangeable, but both certainly play it safe.
Video game music used to make statements. Melody used to be king. A soundtrack would tell a story just as grand as the cutscenes. Now the mission statement seems to be “match your instruments to this picture” when instead it could be “let your music set this mood” or “let your music be a counter-melody to these pictures”. Music is such a strong story-telling device, but recently it has been nothing more than a background character.
As divided as fans may be about Final Fantasy XIII‘s soundtrack and that of its sequel, I applaud their choice to try something unique. The series is certainly not in its musical heyday, but it is nice to see them not fully fall victim to Forgettable Orchestra Syndrome. Plus, this experimentation led to the only non-Nobuo track in the series to contend for a spot among the best Final Fantasy tracks ever.
Do you feel the same way, fellow nerds? Do you think that modern games are missing out on interesting and varied soundtracks? Settings are so varied in gaming, it seems silly to me to set them all to the same sort of music. Sound off below!