It can be hard to understand in life what exactly strikes a chord with us and the reasoning behind these reverberating instances. We attach extended value and meaning to all the interactions that barrage our daily lives by constantly constructing a memory web of connections and connotations. It is this hidden value that strikes me so wonderfully whenever certain video game songs reach my ears. I like to think of all relationships in my life as being little node computer folders in my memory and, like that little plus we use to expand a folder, certain senses kick these nodes open where I can see the story behind each of these elements (this is for literary metaphoric value only, talk to my brother if you ACTUALLY want to know how the brain works). Well if each of these nodes has a story to tell, video game songs hold the secret to some of the most elaborate and emotional stories in my mind.
No songs can evoke an emotional reaction in me the way certain video game songs do. Not only do these melodies make me think of the game, which I probably think of fondly, but also the moments of beauty that the song helps to create within the game, and even more, these songs evoke my actual interaction with the game; perhaps I shared an epic struggle with a friend trying to defeat a boss or maybe the song is one of completion that brings about memories of a valuable lesson learned.
Let me throw out a quick SPOILER alert here. Nothing particularly game shattering, but descriptions of the emotions and interactions with these songs requires some kind of spoileresque detail. Since each paragraph is about a specific game, perhaps skip a game if you still intend to play it. Here are some songs and stories that stop me in my tracks smacking me with emotional power when I hear them:
Reminiscence (or an OCRemix version I often listen to) from Suikoden 2 is a perfect example of powerful gaming music (I actually get goose bumps thinking about this song). This is the song that has the most plays on my iTunes (mostly because it was the only song that could help me fall asleep when I got badly sick at one point). But beyond that, it is the only song on my playlist that I cannot bring myself to skip.
I doubt many will know the song or have played the game, but it is one of the best RPGs I have played and this song has a simple yet powerful, melancholy theme that holds within it the eloquently deep story of a corrupted friendship through diverging values. It is one of the few games I can recall with a post game scene not for the sake of challenging the gamer, but instead simply to touch the gamer with a poignant end to this relationship which permeates through the game. Every time I hear this theme it touches me in a way that no other song can.
To Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X is another great one. This song is simply beautiful composed; on top of that, it tells the story of a forgotten city, and Tidus’ struggle to understand who he is and what his purpose is. But the kicker (sphere shot?) on all of this, is that it is one of the only songs in an RPG that plays on when you enter a battle, leading to one of the most heart wrenching RPG moments in gaming.I am pushing forward, fighting King Behemoths, in search for answers and the continuity of the music just pulls me onwards making me yearn for answers just as Tidus does.
I’ve had a major beef with interrupted music ever since Kingdom Hearts 2 managed to make some of the coolest renditions of songs that last 5 seconds before battles are over and the exploration theme kicks in. I found myself just not killing enemies from time to time so I could jam out to there imaginary boomboxes. Is it that much to ask to hear the cool Pirates of the Caribbean redux song?
Another song that comes to mind is Fog (I’m linking to it but would suggest not listening to it until you play the game if you plan to), in Persona 4. Fog is the perfect example to me of a song that perhaps is not as grandiose as many final boss themes (I’m thinking One Winged Angel or Dancing Mad among others) but had its moment to simply blow me away with epicness.
Because of that, the song will always be one of the greats in my book. It plays during the final battle in the game. If you are like me, you may have put in 70+ hours already and you know this is it. The slow build up of the song starts off and you are not sure exactly if this tune is really going to capture the grandeur of the battle that lies before you.
Then second 29 hits and BAM, an amazing re-imagination of a very familiar melody hits and shivers run down your spine. You are on the seat of your chair and you have never wanted to win any battle more than this battle right now. That remixed style makes it such a powerful closer to the game.
I recently played Radiant Historia, an amazing DS RPG that I highly recommend, and it holds another great example. Anyone who has played it should see this coming. Where the Wind and Feathers Return (most epic name in my humble opinion) plays at the most poignant moments. But this game has a twist on the whole poignant moment aspect, because the main character has limited time travel!
When as a close friend dies or a hard decision brings about disaster, I can only sit there hoping… praying that there is something I can do to change that. Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t and I am just stuck with what I have been given. Thus the song becomes not only one of sorrow but a possible beacon of hope as I scramble for alternatives.
All of these have been examples of the storytelling of the game but often songs in games take on unique value from how I interacted with the song. Two examples of these are the soundtracks for Tales of Symphonia and Secret of Mana. All of the songs from these games take on some added value from the times shared with friends.
One song that sticks out from the former is Sheena‘s theme. My friend and I were determined to win the 1v1 battle against Kuchinawa, and neither of us ever used Sheena so playing with her was pretty new. We tried and failed numerous times, but her theme as she sailed across to the island for the dual kept our spirits high as we laughed and cried with close battles and complete failures. That song will always be a reminder of the struggle and ultimately triumph that I fought through with a good friend.
As for Secret of Mana, nothing especially sticks out in the soundtrack at the moment, but that’s likely because the entire soundtrack just reminds me of amazing times. Some combination of my mother, brother, and two of my best friends growing up must have played through that game at least 5 times. Songs like the Title Theme, Boss Theme, this little theme, and this melody too just bring back memories of multitapping it up with the crew. Seriously, I just went through the whole soundtrack and they are all pretty amazing and memorable.
Overall, it astonishes me how much video game songs, from 8-bit Mega Man to Underworld in FF X, have touched my life and taken on a world of meaning beyond the games. I like to use this strong attachment to the music to help strengthen my interactions in my life.
One simple way I have done so is by giving individual ringtones for good friends on my phone with some game song that ties me to that person. For example, I used To Zanarkand for a friend that learned to play the song on the piano, and I used Sheena’s theme for the friend in the above anecdote. This adds some flare when I am called by friends.
It has been invaluable to look at game music to help broaden how I attach meaning to moments and relations in my life. What elements of a moment solidify in my mind and in my heart and why.
I’m curious to hear about what songs pop out in other people’s mind as especially poignant and the stories behind them. Or perhaps other aspects of life that have created these similarly lasting memories? I feel like comparable attachments often come from attending concerts. It creates that physical interaction with the music that helps form a strong memory with lasting power. Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for stopping by. Until next time, game on and learn on!