Whether it’s a calming melody that puts you at ease or a rapid fire rhythm that pumps you up, music is an essential part of our favorite video games. We asked some of our Geek to Geek Network contributors for some of their favorite tracks and sound bites, and here’s what they had to say:
Final Fantasy, Victory Fanfare
I don’t remember exactly which was my first Final Fantasy game (though it was likely 1 on the NES), but I do remember the victory fanfare in FFVI (or FFIII at the time on SNES) sticking with me.
Dun dun dun dun dun DUH DUH DUH DUUUUUUUH (doesn’t translate well, does it?)
Nearly 30 years later, whenever something good happens that’s a win for me. I actually sing the fanfare. It has been my text tone and my ring tone. It just makes me happy. Because it’s full of not only the nostalgia from my childhood and adolescence, but also because it sounds so cheerful and uplifting.
The best part, though, is that even Final Fantasy games do what I do. The two most recent entries, Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy VII Remake, both have characters who, when something great happens to them outside of battle and they hit a milestone, they sing the fanfare like I do!
If there ever was a way for a game company to validate your fandom, to indicate that you just straight-up belong, it’s to have characters do the exact same thing you do outside of the game. It’s meta-recognition at it’s best and absolutely why the Final Fantasy victory fanfare is the single most standout music in gaming for me.
World of Warcraft, Lament of the Highborne
I started playing World of Warcraft during Burning Crusade. I rolled a Blood Elf pretty early on and I made my way through Eversong Woods and the Ghostlands. One of the last quests that you do which brings you and the other Blood Elves officially into the Horde starts when you return a delicate silver necklace to the then leader of the Forsaken, Sylvanas Windrunner. She responds to the necklace saying, “It can’t be! After all this time, I thought it was lost forever.” And after realizing that you are still there she composes herself and lets the necklace drop to the ground. “You thought this would amuse me? Do you think I long for a time before I was the queen of the Forsaken? Like you, it means nothing to me, and Alleria Windrunner is a long dead memory!”
What follows this interaction is one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of music in video game history. Sylvanas, backed by a chorus of banshee, sings the solemn Lament of the Highborne. It took me by surprise the first time it happened. Here was the stoic undead ranger singing to herself about times long dead. The lyrics are in Thalassian… the language of the elves. But you don’t have to speak the language to understand this song of pain and suffering.
Composers Derek Duke and Russell Brower intended the song to be the reward for the quest. Instead of a sword or a piece of armor, the player is rewarded with this amazing piece of musical art. There is a lot of amazing music in World of Warcraft. Entering any major city immediately makes me feel like I’m in an epic world. Hanging out in a Pandarian tavern with its playful energy and unique instruments always puts a smile on my face.But I have never had a more visceral reaction than the first time I heard Lament of the Highborne.
I played a lot of Halo back in the day, but it’s a franchise I haven’t spent much time with in years. That being said, nothing amps me up more than hearing the choral singing of “ohh oh ohhhhhhh” in the main Halo theme, right before the rest of the music kicks in and goes “duhn da duh duhhhhn! Duhn da DUH DUHhhn!”
There’s a quiet calm in the moments between the peaceful singing and the head-banging notes that follows that takes me back to spending hours in blood gulch when I was a kid. As I anticipate the guitar kicking in, Master Chief himself may as well be reaching out of the screen and saying “hey kid, you ready to blow some stuff up?”
Portal, Still Alive
My real choice was also the opening theme for Halo, but since Troy stole it I’m going to go in a completely different direction: “Still Alive,” the end credits song from Portal. While we all tend to remember the triumphant score and heart-thumping action music that gets us ready and raring to slaughter space cyborg zombie mutants or whatever, we can’t forget some of the brilliance that is the tongue-in-cheek genre of comedy video game music.
Minor spoilers, but this game came out 13 years ago, and context is key. “Still Alive” plays at the end of the game, after the final boss has supposedly been defeated and the credits roll. As you see lyrics start to appear on screen the airy, robotic female voice of our antagonist sings them to us: “This was a triumph. I’m making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.” Who knew a computer-generated voice could drip with so much sarcasm?
I’ve been at cons where full crowds of geeks have sung along to “Still Alive.” It’s not just a great video game song; it’s a pivotal tunein the ever-growing soundtrack of geek culture.
Resident Evil, Save Room
When roaming the spooky environments of Capcom’s Resident Evil games, you can cut the tension in the air with a knife. However, every once in a while, you carefully open a door and instead of bearing witness to yet another unspeakable horror, you’re granted a fleeting bit of respite in the form of a save room.
Before your eyes can even focus on the scenery of the save room itself, a calm yet still mildly haunting tune hits your ears to inform you that everything will be ok… for the next few minutes at least.
While Resident Evil’s save room music is unremarkable on its own, in the context of the game, the power it has to immediately change how the player feels is profound. Listening to it in preparation to write this piece, I could just feel my neck and shoulders relax a little as soon as I hit play, purely based on my memory of this music’s impact in the game.
When I think about what sets video games apart as an artform, one of the most distinct examples I can think of is the relationship between a player’s emotions and just a few notes of music, a relationship that is expertly demonstrated by Resident Evil’s save tune.
These are some of our favorite video game tracks, but what about you?
Sound off in the comments below! Or join in on the discussion on Slack or Discord!