Music is an important factor of my life. I started playing music at age nine in my fifth grade band and stayed in the music program up to my senior year. I remember in my junior year of high school, I told my mom that I had no interest in becoming a doctor anymore, and wanted to go to college to study music instead. A normal parent might have said that was a terrible idea, but my mom is super cool and always supportive of my decisions. So after high school, I went to college to study music full time…and quickly noticed that I was unlike most of the other students. As a music major, it was expected that you would be familiar with classic composers like Beethoven, Mozart, Scarlatti, Chopin, and current composers. Everyone also had their favorite genre of music from rock, pop, jazz, etc.; and our professors would expect us to know different aspects of each genre even before coming to college. That is where my oddity came in as my favorite music didn’t come on the radio or featured on top billboard charts that everyone was familiar with. My favorite music came from video games.
I remember my high school band director always turning down my pleas for playing band arrangements of popular game tunes. Their obvious response was that we did not have the instrumentation to play some of the things, but the harshest response they ever gave me was that video game music wasn’t “real” or good music. It wasn’t an uncommon thing for someone that old (I think they were in their 30s) with no concept of video games outside of the “beeps and boops” to say something like that. That comment made me upset (as it should have) to the point I wanted to question their music degree since they must have missed the lesson that all music is music regardless if you like it or not. This mindset didn’t end for me in high school. While my collegemates would talk about their favorite artist and music they listened to, some would raise an eyebrow when I would mention that my favorite genre were soundtracks from video games. I couldn’t begin to tell you who wrote some of the most well-known music out their, or who is currently trending. What I can tell you however is when one song plays at a particular part in a game just by listening to the first few notes of the song.
Video game music is my forte. What makes these soundtracks so great is that they come in various genres and follow the same basic music theory principles that all music follows. Take Final Fantasy XIII’s soundtrack for example. Most of the tracks follow the form of theme and variations (you establish a main theme and then create different variations around that theme). Even before that, the Tetris theme A-Type is taken from a Russian folk-song that originated in 1861. To say a folk-song is not music because you only recognize it from a video game does not invalidate itself from great music (augh those old farts!).
But this post is not about proving to my music teachers that video game soundtracks are great (I’ll do that another time). This post is about how good I am at identifying music from different games. I by all means do not know every single song written for every video game out their, but I am good enough to listen and make a good guess to where they come from. At this point, I can almost guess correctly every track from every mainline Final Fantasy game and almost distinguish them if they are arranged differently. Nobou Uematsu will always be one of my favorite composers since he knows how to turn the music into art. Even composers of the series after his departure like Hitoshi Sakimoto (the god behind Tactics and XII‘s soundtrack), Masayoshi Soken (XIV), Yoko Shimomura (XV and Kingdom Hearts), and Kumi Tanioka (Crystal Chronicles) have shown time and time again how their music can stand tall as modern classics. I think it is a combination of listening to each game’s soundtrack countless times and playing through the games that it has left a big impression on me. Even for some of the games I haven’t played or finished yet, I can at least tell you which game it comes from just from listening to the style of the track and comparing it to the rest of the games soundtrack.
A fun game that Kat and I play when we are on long car rides is to guess music tracks. For her, it takes her maybe a moment to guess it correctly if she is really familiar with it. For me, it sometimes takes hearing the first few notes in the first measure for me to know exactly what it is and where it came from. This infuriates her. When we are doing Final Fantasy music she will try and trip me up by playing the Dissidia arrangements of songs, but I can for the most part distinguish those as well. Outside of Final Fantasy, I am working on other series that I’m familiar with like Persona, Tales of (which is hard since Motio Sakuraba contributes to a lot of other series), and others that I can find on Spotify and YouTube. Another weird thing that I can do but don’t understand is telling apart each sound of a chest opening from each Zelda title. I haven’t played most of the Zelda games, but for some reason I know the chest sound from each game.
I’ll end this post with places where you can listen to some great soundtracks. Spotify and other music streaming sites have been adding a lot of video game soundtracks lately, which is great for someone like me who likes listening to them all day. There is also this website that plays video game music all day called NoLife-radio. If you have the Tunein app on your phone you can find their channel through that and listen to it on your phone. If you have other places that you like to listen to your favorite video game soundtracks, tell us about it in the comments. Tune in next time when I go to my old high school band director’s house and have a debate over their opinion of video game music.
Thanks for reading,