Context is important to video game music, but what happens when you switch off the system and the music continues playing? I have been listening to a lot of game music recently, independently of gaming. It’s the first time I’ve seriously dabbled in music from games, much of it from games I’ve known for many years. Other game soundtracks are recent discoveries, while some soundtracks are from games I’ve never even heard of, let alone played. This has made me reflect on the role of music in games and the impact of listening to videogame music independently of games.
Castlevania is a series I was barely familiar with in gameplay terms, but I’d heard some music. Pretty decent, I thought, but no need to investigate further. However, I’ve been on a Castlevania kick, starting with Rondo of Blood on the Turbo-CD through to the original NES Castlevania and Castlevania III. Suddenly, hearing the music in context, it all made sense. The combination of action platforming with the classical rock sound is perfect, splendid, stupendous *mwah mwah kissing sound*. Now I’m listening to music from other entries in the series that I haven’t played, games like Castlevania: Bloodlines and the Castlevania games for GBA and DS. I’m enjoying the tracks a hell of a lot more because now I understand broadly the style of the series as a whole, and the type of gameplay the music is complementing.
However, sometimes gaining experience with a particular game can have the opposite effect when it comes to music. Definitely for me, repetition is a big culprit. In a genre like RPGs which require large time investments, you often find only a few pieces of music scoring battles, the world map, towns, etc. And more often than not those pieces will be so seared into your brain by the end of the game that the prospect of listening to them independently is just… no.
Persona 4, for example, has an excellent soundtrack and a great many hours of gameplay to hear it in. There are only so many times you can hear a piece like Your Affection before it loses all meaning and becomes mere background noise – the best I can say for it now is that it’s not annoying. (By the way, judging from the Youtube comments I’m not the only person unable to make out the lyrics to this song. Personally, I hear “oppression” – sung with irony obviously because the song is so darn happy.)
Persona 4 is not alone in this; many games have music which over the course of a playthrough goes downhill from great to merely tolerable. In extreme cases music that starts off decent can become ear-gratingly annoying with extended repetition. With games and series I’m overly familiar with, I’m far more likely to listen to the rarely repeated, or one-off pieces: music that plays during a specific cutscene, a final boss or the end credits. Those are the kinds of pieces far more likely to do well out of context for someone intimate with a game or series.
Those are just a few quick observations about listening to game music outside of gaming, hope you enjoyed them! I’m hoping to introduce some more posts and ideas about videogame music over time as it’s not something we discuss very much on the blog! Do you listen to game music? If so, how much? Do you tend to prefer music from games you’ve not played, or games you know well?