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Thread: Video Game Music: Make or Break? - Editorial

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    RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff InstaTrent's Avatar
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    Video Game Music: Make or Break? - Editorial

    Music is one of the more downplayed aspects of video game design, but how important is it to the overall experience? Is video game music make or break?

    http://www.rpgamer.com/editor/2012/103112ts.html
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  2. #2
    I say it's purely a matter of taste. I look back at my collection now and I see nearly every game I own has an excellent soundtrack or sound design, so I clearly prefer sound over graphics. A lot of other people couldn't care less about the music and would rather play their own stuff, yet refuse to play a game that doesn't have superb graphics. I know a lot of people that still think video game music isn't "real" music. Technically speaking, it really isn't necessary, certainly not more so than key sound effects or dialogue when no subtitles are present.

    It basically boils down to whether or not you care.

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    I agree with your editorial that videogame sound is underrated. I personally don't remember having an issue with Grandia 3's soundtrack (though it definitely wasn't great), but then again the thing I had issue with most was its plot. I do wonder if the music is one of the reasons why going through the Tartarus in Persona 3 Portable feels like such a grind; I almost always have something else playing in the background.

    I also think videogame sounds can really conjure those nostalgic feelings as much as visuals. As much as I hate the synthesizers used in FF7's soundtrack, I would find it incredibly strange to play that game with "better" sound.

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    Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderator ChickenGod's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TG Barighm View Post
    I know a lot of people that still think video game music isn't "real" music.
    Same here, TG. I've had people ask me what I was listening to before because they thought it sounded pretty decent. When saying it was from X game, they would just completely dismiss the song and act as if I was strange for not listening to a "real band" or something. Of course this was back in high school, though.

    Trent makes some excellent points here, particularly when he describes combat as less enticing or cutscenes and dialogue as emotionally imbalanced without the accompanying sound. For me, a good soundtrack helps the words and actions on screen. There are plenty of examples I can think of. Standalone, the music in Devil Survivor or 999 is not all that incredible to listen to. However, when you put the soundtrack together with the art while you're reading, those pieces work to create an incredibly strong atmosphere that may not have captured my interest so heavily otherwise.

    Most of my absolute favorite games all have soundtracks I'm very fond of. Besides those two mentioned above, Persona 3, FF13, TWEWY, and Ar Tonelico 2 are all games I love where for me the soundtrack played a crucial role in my enjoyment of them. In Trent's example, even though I didn't like Nier much as a whole, I doubt I would have even finished it without some of those somber tunes. That Melancholy vibe Nier emanates just wouldn't be the same, effectively killing what in my opinion is the main focus of that title.
    Last edited by ChickenGod; 11-01-2012 at 01:02 AM.
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    Angel-Possessed Priestess Administrator Strawberry Eggs's Avatar
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    I have yet to play a game with music so terrible I had to turn it down, or even note. At worst, a game's soundtrack is forgettable. Music can certainly make a good game better, or even make a mediocre game more memorable, but I also don't think it can break a game. I do greatly enjoy video game music. Not only do many of my most favorite games have great OSTs, I also own many CD soundtracks. I can still enjoy a game with a forgettable, even if I don't enjoy it as much.
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    Knight Errant Typho's Avatar
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    Yeah, Nier is definitely a great example of a game that wouldn't be the same without its soundtrack.

    To be honest, I don't know if I've ever felt like a game was broken by lack of a great soundtrack, although my favorite games tend to have great soundtracks. This is one thing I find lacking in most WRPGs that I play.

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    Ysy St. Administrator Macstorm's Avatar
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    Music can totally make an RPG. Nier's a great example and case in point for Japanese developed games. Fallout 3/New Vegas are great examples on the Western side.

    As far as breaking one, I've never had that happen. I've had games that I wished had better music, but it's never caused me to stop playing. I just turn down the volume and am fine.

    So basically, good music can make a good RPG into a great one...but bad music just makes it quieter around the house.
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    A Witness to Destruction Moderator DarkRPGMaster's Avatar
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    I have never once played a game that had its entire soundtrack annoy me to no end. The only game I can think of that I thought was dead annoying in terms of the music playing was Home in FFX, but that was because of that annoying voice. Sounds like it says "I'm annoying, huh!?" Yes mysterious voice, YOU ARE ANNOYING.
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    Member Ryumoau's Avatar
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    i used to enjoy listening to the background music in rpgs back in the ps1 and early ps2 era. But i began to not be very interested in game soundtracks anymore. I find myself just muting the TV and listening to a podcast instead. The stories in most of the rpgs i've played recently aren't interesting enough to pay attention to, so i don't feel bad listening to something else while i just play the games for combat (most recently Graces F).
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    複線ドリフト!! RPGamer Staff Quin's Avatar
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    To me, a good OST can definatly add to a good RPG experience. Both FFIX and FFXI would feel pretty strange without their soundtracks. However, the lack of a memorable OST doesn't detract much from an RPG. I highly enjoyed ME2, but the OST was mostly forgettable, with a couple of exceptions.

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    The Comeback Kid Frozenbabylon's Avatar
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    Doesn't even matter to me. On portable games I always always have the sound turned down, even at home. On consoles, it really depends on if I'm home alone or not, If I'm home alone, I sometimes just play my own music while playing, other times I have the games music on, but it's always just background noise to whatever I'm doing in the game. Even with Nier, I just didn't even care about the music.

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    Member flamethrower's Avatar
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    Dragoon X Omega is a romhack of Dragon Warrior [NES]. Everything has been changed, including the music. The game has a terrible soundtrack. Guaranteed, this is the worst soundtrack you've ever heard. That's about the only one I can think of. You can search for it on Youtube to see what it sounds like.

    At a minimum, developers will usually hire the music done. Developers usually have graphics and programming expertise and not music. And it's easy to hire it done. Even indie developers seem to be able to scrape together the cash to hire a composer (or whatever they call game music developers these days). The horrible soundtrack quality in Dragoon X Omega almost certainly comes from the developer trying to do everything themselves. Developers should avoid that approach.

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    Member Slayer's Avatar
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    I think V.G.M. is important, but it doesn't make or break the game. Nier was a great example of an OST elevating a game.
    Special songs can really make difference. I was really blown away by FF6, especially the long ending music.
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    I simply must say this: I wish RPG's would let me change the battle music to any track in the game. Or shuffle different tunes. Its long overdue.
    Cool editorial.
    Last edited by Slayer; 10-31-2012 at 10:41 PM. Reason: loco

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    A Serious Man Drav's Avatar
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    It mostly depends on what kind of game it is. Good music adds a lot to the more simplistic genres like 2D action games, platformers and JRPGs, but the more game trend towards virtual reality (free-roaming games, WRPGs, the horribly named "immersion sim" genre), the more important it becomes for the music to seamlessly blend with the rest of the experience. The less you're reminded that you're experiencing something obviously staged, the better.

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    New Member bmesick's Avatar
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    Video game music is very important, although any game will have music that serves different purposes, like what Drav said.

    Movie soundtracks are more likely to be more integrated with the action on the screen (like the famous Jaws theme that builds suspense while the shark is homing in on its victims, or loud and abrupt sounds during a surprise event, etc). Movies also can have a traditional song that plays during a long sequence of shots with no critical dialog or sound effects... this is more like an anthem that sets the mood for whatever is happening.

    Traditional music doesn't need to fit a mood for a scene and has a lot more freedom to build to a climax and then slow down, then build to a climax again (like a chorus) or do whatever the musician wants.

    Video game music is inherently a style of its own. It's can be both cinematic at cutscenes and more ambient at long stretches. Game music used to have very short melodies because you didn't spend hours on the same screen like you do in newer games with more fluid mechanics. The way a song in an older RPG seems to immediately pick up tempo is kind of unnatural sounding when listening by itself. While I do enjoy those songs (like old final fantasies) they tire on me quickly, but I think they were good for the medium. I think music in general is very under-appreciated in all media for setting the tone of whatever it is.

    If the music is bad in a scene, it will affect the story for me. A game with good story and bad music is very unfortunate. Good dramatic music can really ramp up my enjoyment of a game. In a game like Chrono Cross, I think the music is so important to the enjoyment of the game that I could not even imagine enjoying it without it. Bad music would make the game unplayable to me. It doesn't necessarily make or break every game, but it certainly can greatly enhance the game. Every once in awhile, it actually becomes one of the strongest points of the game and makes a mediocre game more interesting.

    ...did any of that make sense? O_o;

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    Member Cidolfas's Avatar
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    Music is not a "make or break" thing, but there are several games whose music almost ruined the experience for me (the one that comes to mind is Xenosaga II, although Professor Layton games also grate on me) and several others which were mediocre but were elevated thanks to great music (Valkyria Chronicles, Chrono Cross, Valkyrie Profile). And other good games were just constantly enhanced by excellent soundtracks (Chrono Trigger, FF6, Okami, Phoenix Wright, Mega Man games).

  17. #17
    For me video game music is the most important aspect of a game. If I like the music, I usually also like the game. If the music is really bad, the chance that I quit the game fast is very high.
    Even worse than "not so good" music is "no music", though.

    It can indeed ruin a game. A horror game for example can be incredibly boring if it doesn't use sound effect and music properly.
    Also an RPG that is pretty grindy -> if it has really amazing music I can grind for hours, if I don't like the OST, I can barely endure to grind even 10 minutes.
    And generally my playtime per day also depends on the music strongly. The better the music, the longer I can play a game without taking a break.
    I even caught myself quitting most games in regions where I didn't like the music as much as in previous regions.

    Switching off the music and playing some other music is usually not a good option for me. The music needs to fit the game and the scenes after all.

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    Member Kiralyn's Avatar
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    The one that bugs me on this topic are the people who say "Oh, I turn the music off. It's more realistic and immersive - you don't have a soundtrack following you around in real life after all!"..... and they're saying this about the Elder Scrolls games. The ones with the fantastically awesome & atmosphere-enhancing music. ._.


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    Personally, I've always found music to be an important part of a game. Yeah, bad music can be annoying. But good music can really improve the atmosphere & experience. The only times I turn off music - let alone play other music - are when it's really, really repetitive and/or over long periods of times. Long tower defense flash games, or the fifth hour farming the same mobs in one corner of a grindathon RPG/MMO, for example.

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    RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff InstaTrent's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kiralyn View Post
    The one that bugs me on this topic are the people who say "Oh, I turn the music off. It's more realistic and immersive - you don't have a soundtrack following you around in real life after all!"..... and they're saying this about the Elder Scrolls games. The ones with the fantastically awesome & atmosphere-enhancing music. ._.
    I'm going to have to agree with this. I'm not quite sure why people would deliberately mute a Western RPG. It's not as though the music is terribly invasive.
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  20. #20
    Member Ethos's Avatar
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    Music is part of the story. If story is important to you in an RPG, then music is important to you. It has an important a role in world-building as the graphics and art style and as an important part in story-telling as the words. It is integral to a good RPG. I do not believe a great RPG can exist without great music.
    Last edited by Ethos; 11-01-2012 at 12:57 PM.
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