Again, I’m unrepentant that I enjoy video games.  But one of the things that has always been high on my priority for games is the musical score.  Games that have a bad score (or worse, no score) I can usually only play for a few minutes before having to put down and find something else to do.

Music, for an interactive activity like a game, is part of the art of the whole presentation.  The music helps set the mood, backup the action, add tension to the moment, and so on.  If you don’t have a good score, you aren’t getting the full potential from the game.  And, sadly, a lot of games seem to think that the music in unimportant.  Either it’s missing entirely, it’s a short score of keyboard noodling, or it’s just the occasional track that feels more like an afterthought.

Some games can get away with this, like the SIMS which has it’s own built in MP3 player.. or a flight Sim game where music actually is unimportant.  But for most video games you can’t have a good game without a halfway decent score.  Luckily, even though it’s a common oversight (though it’s getting better so far as I’ve seen), there are a lot of very good scores out there.  So good in fact that the soundtrack itself is worth a purchase (and anymore soundtracks are starting to come with the games).

5 of the best that I own are as follows in my order of preference:

5. Chrono Trigger:  Chrono trigger is probably one of the best RPGs ever constructed, and arguably one of the best video games ever made.  Top 10 material at least.  Anyway, part of the wonder that is Chrono Trigger is its phenomenal score written by Yasunori Mitsuda a composer who’s done more than a few game music scores in his day… and the odd musical.  More so because it’s entirely in 16-bit midi.  The soundtrack is almost entirely without re-mastering and shows that even with the limitations of the 16-bit instruments you can produce something that is not only enjoyable to listen to, but is beautiful in the complex use of what is a rather simple medium.  You can snag it for $30 now that the DS remake has made it popular again, and I think there is an MP3 album for purchase form itunes.  Bad dudes has a pretty decent remix album called Chronotorius that is worth checking out as well.

4. Terranigma:  You’re a rare gamer if you’ve even heard of this game, let alone play it and own the soundtrack.  Terranigma was a game made for the SNES that never left Japan.  The only way for anyone outside Japan to play this game would either to import it and know how to speak Japanese, or to play the tan translated emulation (there is also apparently a Pal version of the game… 1 copy in existence for $300… yeah). I’m not big on the emulation scene in general.  Emulated games are a good way to get your hands on games that either never left japan or can’t be found anywhere for reasonable money (Mega Man x2 for instance).   In this case Terranigma is one of those;  there is no reasonable way for a person in the U.S. to play this game; so until it’s released on WiiWare, go download it.  Anyway.  Terranigma featured a very short, but very good soundtrack composed by Miyoko Kobayashi and Masanori Hikichi, composers who are also not strangers to the video game world. Of note the ending credit music is reason alone to have the soundtrack. Speaking of which, the soundtrack is even harder to get your hands on in a legitimate way. After searching for a few years I broke down and just downloaded it from some website.  It comes with 8 remixed tracks that are very well done in high bit midi.  To date I have never seen a legitimate CD or MP3 compilation of Terrinigma offered for sale.  C’est la vie.

Also, you’ll see US  release- Terranigma games on ebay, those are scams avoid them.  They just made their own sticker and stuck it on a different (probably broken) game cart.

3. Chrono Cross:  The sequel to Chrono Trigger appeared a number of years later for the Play Station and once again featured a musical score written by Yasunori Mitsuda.  Interestingly enough, even with the same composer the music is much different and utilizes a much upgraded 32-bit midi instrument set.  This enhanced instrument set really agrees with Mitsuda as the score is much better than that of the first game.  There is more than a hint of Celtic influences in the music as well, which separates it quite a bit from his earlier work; yet threads of his style are easily found between the two scores.  Even though the game did not seem to attract much interest (despite being very good), the score is no less worth owning an listening to.  Unfortunately, since Cross hasn’t had a rebirth like trigger you would be lucky to find a copy for less than $40 because it’s a Japanese import.  I snagged it for $20 about 8 years ago off Ebay, so maybe you would have luck there too.

2. Eternal Sonata: A very recent addition to my sound track list.  Eternal Sonata was a beautiful game in terms of background and music.  The gameplay was pretty good… once you got pretty deep into the game.  Anyway, the soundtrack is a rarity in the video game world as it is ENTIRELY orchestrated.  That’s right, no midi or synthetic music; all orchestra.  The score was composed by Motoi Sakuraba and Frédéric François Chopin. yes, THAT Chopin, the game featured 7 of Chopin’s piano pieces; which was appropriate given that Chopin was one of the main characters in the game.  The music is beautiful, both well composed and well performed and definitely worth a listen.  Unfortunately, until/unless a regional release is made of the sound track, the only way to get it is to either download it, or to pay huge amounts of money for an import copy.  As of yet, I’ve not seen a copy for under $50.

1. Ar Tonelico Melody of Elemia :  For a game based around music, they really hit the nail on the head with their soundtrack.  Easily some of the best and catchiest music I’ve ever heard in a video game.  It was composed by the Gust sound team (Akira Tsuchiya, Ken Nakagawa and Daisuke Achiwa) who are known for their extensive work in composing the music that appears in the Atelier Iris and Mana Khemia games (Which are also good soundtracks).  Stylistically the music runs a pretty large gambit, which is probably why they use a composing team rather than a single composer.  There isn’t any one style and even if you don’t like it all, there’s probably at least one or two pieces that you’ll like.   The music for this game is difficult to collect because it was released in 3 albums.  A 2-disc OST that was packages with the pre-release of the the game (yay), but also two concert CDs that contain all the songs missing from the OST.  I’ve never seen either of those concert CDs for less than $50 imported; so downloading might be the best choice (It’s kind of a jerk move to put most, but not all the music from the game on the OST anyway).

So there you have it.  Those are the top 5 out of my rather extensive video game soundtrack collection.  It’s also what I listen to most days on the way to work or during long trips.  Yeah, TacoMa’am is just thrilled I like the music so much.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?