And when you weren’t looking, they made Masterpieces

So, the title was a bit ambiguous, agreed, but the idea behind the article is to present you with an art form that (you may or may not) have been previously aware. Hopefully, you will do one of two things: Gain a new found appreciation for music you were not privy to before, or I will have taken you back to childhood memories. Either way, I succeed, granted that you actually listen to the music.

Video games are great. Unlike, it’s counter-part the Television and its programming, video games engage us to use our minds, solve problems, harness and enhance our hand-eye coordination, think critically, or in its simplest form transport us and our imagination, to world we weren’t aware of previously.

But what makes a game what it is? Why is it when we pull out old cartridges that say ‘Golden Eye’, ‘Super Mario 3’, or ‘Mario Kart’ does our mind begin to wander to the memories of our childhood? Or when we pull out an old Final Fantasy 7 disc, we think back to some of the best gaming we have ever experienced. Why is that? I would argue that there are a lot of aspects of gaming that go in to making a video so memorable.  Iconic imagery (ex. the Tanooki suit,) the plot, the characters, the music, the antagonists (Kefka,) how difficult it was, and at its base level, I suppose even graphics. (Remember how blown away you were with the first Halo, and how cool everything looked?)

At the inception of gaming, the games were simple. Usually far harder than anything you probably play now, and not always because the programmers purposely made it that way. It was full of faulty glitches that many people employed simply to get farther in those games, mainly because if you didn’t, you were screwed. As the industry grew it morphed in to an art form. Some games are much more artistically apt than others, but on the whole they have the markings of an actual piece of art. They are visually stunning, have unique and interesting story lines, plots, and character development that rival most famous novels today. But one key element ties the whole experience together, and for me, it’s the music in these video games.

Note: The following list is completely subjective, you may completely disagree with me, or you may want to show me another piece of music that you think has mine beat. Great! Not only do I accept that, but I encourage it. This list will be comprised of NES, SNES, N64, Xbox, Xbox 360, and computer games. These are the consoles I had available growing up, and in my later years a computer to play games in college, so I apologize beforehand Sony fans.

To start, we have the bread and butter and arguably the catapult to modern gaming, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and its iconic music. Music from this era was in 8-bit form and often times erred on the side of annoying, rather than enjoyable, but that doesn’t make it any less iconic. Let’s take for example, the introduction theme to Zelda — The Overworld theme (Legend of Zelda — Overworld Theme). Regardless of if you know this game, and even if you haven’t played the franchise this theme is famous enough to evoke feelings of nostalgia… or at least make you think… Huh, I’ve heard this before… That was somewhat the motif of the music from the NES. It was made to grab your attention and associate it with the product it was attempting to promote.

Fast forward and you get people attempting to make real music in this form…

Battletoads

Mega Man

Final Fantasy III

With battletoads, you no doubt feel the awesomeness coupled with the dread of this fucking game theme. Great game,but dear lord… it kicked your ass. I remember countless hours spent trying to play this game, and in hindsight… I did really well for a seven year old me. With a little luck, a lot of praying, and only a quarter of actual gaming talent, I could get past those surfing levels.

Mega man and Final Fantasy start to bring things up a notch. Not only do you begin to feel the game with this, you also get in to the scenes they are portraying. Mega Man, you feel the ferocity of the scenario you’ve been dumped in, and with Final Fantasy you Feel that wind of the Eternal Winds.

Then we move on to the Super Nintendo, and for those of you around my age (nearing 30, or past) this one will hit home. This was the first real console for me in all aspects. The first one I became decent at console gaming with, the first console I spent countless hours on, and this console still holds my favorite game of all time (Final Fantasy VI.) So, I can sit here and tell you what fun my first RPG was, I could also go on and on about how great games like Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, and Donkey Kong were, but the real thing that drives home those games to me now is when I revisit the music from these games.

FFVI — Terra’s Theme

Mega Man X — Storm Eagle

Donkey Kong Country 2 — Sticker Brush Symphony

Now with all of these themes, I made sure I went with the original version from the games so that you get the feeling that gamers did when we first played it. These songs all have various versions from which they deviate (orchestral versions, acapella, etc.) and I encourage you to look them up if you like them, but I want you to experience them in this ‘pure’ form.

Terra’s theme, compels you and transports you to travel and move forward. In Final Fantasy VI it is one of the first major themes you are graced with, and even though it is simple it is moving. After having experienced all of the hard ships Terra goes through, for the gamer, this theme hits home for this particular character. A perfect piece for capturing this character’s elements.

Mega Man X in general just is an awesome game, and I could not honestly pick one theme I liked more over the other. I went with the Storm Eagle theme. It’s very up beat, epic, very iconic for the franchise, and sadly will be the last Mega Man piece I’ll talk about in the article.

Lastly, and my favorite, is the Stickerbrush Symphony piece from Donkey Kong Country 2. First of all, if there is a game that encompasses my childhood, this would be it.This piece of music, is so soothing, coupled with this particular level is spot on. It makes you feel the level… it even invites you to sit there and just take it all in. I will listen to this song in the car, at night trying to go to sleep, or in any other capacity that I see fit (I’m listening to it now while I write, for example.) It’s just a damn good song, and for how old it is it still definitely holds up. If you ever want an original gaming experience but don’t want to break the bank emulate Donkey Kong Country 2 and have a blast. It’s seriously worth everyone’s time, you will not be disappointed.

For the last portion of this particular article, because as usual when I get involved and excited about something I write too much, I will showcase the N64 gaming console. The older brother to the SNES this console really started to show the world what it had to offer in terms of gaming. Better graphics, more in depth plots, and with this comes better music to help set the mood for you.

Mario Kart 64 — Rainbow Road

Ocarina of Time — Gerudo Valley

Super Mario 64 — Water Levels

These three songs really start to take off in terms of quality. The audio is so much better and the complexity has gone up as well. With all of the new generation properties the N64 brought to the plate, it also helped with promoting that music. All three of these themes you should be familiar with, if you are not, I am sorry you did not have a better childhood. No, I’m only kidding, but really if you’ve ever even nonchalantly played a Mario game or been at a party and watched people play Mario Kart then these themes should be roughly familiar to you.

Rainbow Road and Gerudo valley are hallmarks of those games. Not necessarily the best level or part of the game, but in my opinion are the catchiest themes these games offer. And much like the Stickerbrush Symphony, the Jolly Roger Bay (water levels) theme from Mario 64 is just a well done piece of music.

Each song invites you to the place it inhabits. Gerudo valley sounds like a getaway, fast paced, albeit eastern influenced type of song. When paired with the end level and desert portion of this Zelda game it helps capture the severity and amp up the seriousness. Rainbow road is just a fun loving, ethereal sounding clip. It simply oozes Mario and Nintendo. The last piece with Jolly Roger Bay from Mario 64 is the most peculiar because you do not expect such a peaceful and beautiful piece. It’s reminiscent of an ocean side or beach to me, which is exactly what they wanted to capture.

Hopefully this helped to broaden your horizons a bit. Hell, if you want a tl:dr just click the links enjoy the music for the 2-3 minutes it plays before it may loop, give it a chance. I promise you in all of those links there is a song for everybody. While video games may not be for everyone, music certainly is at the heart of most people’s souls. We, generally, can all find common ground within music. Some may argue video games are only a fool’s attempt at an art form, but I hope I helped show you just how wrong that assumption can be. Couple great music with artistic graphics, a compelling story and your imagination and you now understand a bit why so many people love to game.

Next time we’ll get in to computer games… old and new, and the newer console games. Thanks for stopping by…

-Shay