To be honest, although I’m still an artist rather than a musician, I’m definitely more of a music nerd than an art nerd. As such, I see music in games as being actually pretty important to the game- just as much as the visuals, sometimes more so (definitely more as far as graphics’ quality goes). The audio is what changes the entire feel of an area or specific moment.
I think I’ve already ranted about Majoras Mask enough in past posts, specifically the ‘Last Day’ track, so I should really shut up about Majoras Mask this time…
Instead, this is an opportunity to babble about the Shin Megami Tensei games’ music, composed by Shoji Meguro, starting with Digital Devil Saga. Something many games do often is create a rendition of the same track but with a different feel to it- this ambiently creates an association without using words. For example, by using a sad version of a character’s leitmotif to convey their importance, or more often, a battle rendition, ballad version, etc. of the games theme song. Meguro uses this to great effect- take the main theme of DDS, ‘Pray’. You hear this throughout the game a lot, each rendition conveying a different emotion, from the overworld menu theme, ‘Junkyard’; an energetic, fast-paced track that gives the player the feeling of important events about to unfold, to the mournful ‘Aurora’; the track that plays in the first (of many) heart-rending deaths, to ‘Surely Again…’ (skip to 2:15); a brief track that plays during the ending. It starts out calm and serene, until the climax, when suddenly a much happier melody than would appear to fit the scene kicks in- this hints that it isn’t over yet, foreshadowing the sequel. The same technique is used to even greater effect in the sequel, in which you hear the main battle theme ofthe first DDS in one particularly epic boss fight.
Another game series that uses sound interestingly is the .hack// series, using audio almost as part of the narrative, supporting the players suspension of disbelief. The series in a nutshell is about an online game called ‘The World’ which becomes the source of a virus that spreads across the internet worldwide, putting players who encounter monsters in the game infected with the virus into a coma in real life. Throughout the course of the series, the player visits entire areas infected with the virus, along with areas of The World that were never put there by the creators, and the game does incredibly well in driving home the feeling that you really shouldn’t be here.
The music in most of the game is pretty standard RPG music (and pretty good listening in its own right). When the player visits a restricted or corrupted area, aside from the broken graphics, the music is interrupted frequently by blasts of static, and in some areas there is no music at all. But the biggest change is when fighting one of the main bosses of the game, responsible for putting players in comas; here, the music takes on a completely different tone, suddenly turning to some kind of industrial/techno music, ranging from having no co-ordination or rhythm to some kind of dirge or hymn and back again in the same song. This style of music is used in all illegal areas of The World, even in the leitmotifof one character who is later revealed to be part of the virus herself, and droves home the feeling that you’re not in Kansas anymore. The whole effect is just haunting.