This post is intended to highlight great modern day video game music for anyone interested in music. Prior video game knowledge not required!
Originality in big budget commercial video games has steadily lowered in the last decade but that trend has been offset by an explosion of independent games that started around 5 years ago. It is now a huge burst of creative energy with expertly designed independent video games released in numbers every month. This has gone hand in hand with the quality of music in video games being raised exponentially in the same period. Not all games that have great music are independent…the overall quality has been raised throughout the industry, but the roots of the change are quite obviously located in the independent scene. Many recent soundtracks for games I would count along with some of my favorite music albums from the last few years….in any genre. That is why I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites in a series of blog posts with 3 great modern day video game soundtracks from the last 5 years being highlighted in each post.
I’ll start with 3 of the more famous indie games: Braid, Fez and Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. Each one of these has won multiple awards and had scores in the 9’s and 10’s almost universally. I can personally say that each of these games are absolutely amazing, with Fez being the personal favorite…but all of them are worth buying and each one provides a very unique and original experience not found anywhere else. You can get Braid on Steam or Xbox live arcade, Fez on Xbox live arcade and S&S on iTunes or Steam. You can also purchase the soundtracks for each from various outlets, although I recommend going straight to the source websites since it’s usually the cheapest option for you and best option for the musician. Each one of these games has really good music and none of them sound even remotely alike.
Braid is a gorgeous 2d game about regret using innovative time manipulation mechanics. Its presentation is really first class and the music is no exception. Unlike many other games there are very little electronic sounds in this soundtrack, if any. Here the music wasn’t made for the game but rather picked from music libraries. That doesn’t hurt the overall quality one bit because there’s a uniquely distinct and sophisticated feeling surrounding it.
Fez is another gorgeous 2D game. It’s a very original game with a great world spinning mechanic. The most interesting thing about it are its exploration (there are no enemies) and the fact that its optional puzzles are really quite different, breaking the 4th wall between the game world and the actual world on occasions. This game was an obsession for cryptography fans and the internet had to attack it with all its brainpower in the end to complete the last puzzles, but it still took time.
The best thing about the soundtrack is that it follows its old-school pixel graphics with a similarly old school soundtrack…however with a very modern twist, similar to the game itself. The game designer had one outline for the musician…make it sound like 8-bit Vangelis. In some ways that was a success but I personally think it sounds most like Boards of Canada, one of my all time favorite bands.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
S:S&S EP is a very different game. It doesn’t follow any game design tropes and its story and world are dreamlike. It’s hard to describe and it really just has to be played . On the iPad it absolutely shines. Its soundtrack is in my opinion one if its best features. Even though it uses predominantly samples and electronic sound it doesn’t feel mechanical, but rather very organic. It’s also a huge part of the narrative of the game.