Gamers rejoice! For the first time in the 55-year history of the Grammy awards, a video game has been nominated. The honor of being placed alongside Katy Perry and Maroon 5 now goes to the Playstation 3 surprise hit, Journey, which has been nominated for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.
Even if you don’t care about awards, all gamers should be happy with this achievement because the hope of similar recognition should inspire developers to actually start paying attention to soundtracks. Most major franchises don’t do much more than to blaze some guitars (Gears of War, Uncharted, etc.) while others mostly employ existing tracks (Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto, etc.). However, while this nomination is a positive sign, it still shows that the keepers of the coveted music award may not have been aware of that video games have always had great original musical scores. Therefore, to spread some musical awareness, here are the five best original scores in gaming.
1) Streets of Rage
So what if it’s from 1991? Great music is always great. Streets of Rage was as simple as video games get: you are a cop, so go punch some bad guys. While fans of civil rights probably would have some issues with the game, you just can’t stop yourself from busting out the moves to the incredibly catchy disco tracks. Combining elements of techno with highly pronounced noises of bare-knuckle boxing made this a game that you wanted to play and dance to at the same time. Play it today and watch as the nineties roll back into your mind.
2) Halo: Combat Evolved
The game that defined the modern first person shooter also defined the standard by which we judge modern video game music. The chants terrified us, rock riffs inspired us to charge into battle, and the serene moments of minimalistic instrument use forced us to contemplate all that we had lost by the end. The music made our hearts race and no other game has been able to continuously replicate the tension Halo maintained for its entire adventure.
3) Shenmue II
A musical score that transcends culture. In Yu Suzuki’s tragically shortened saga, the Asian instruments accentuate Hong Kong’s cultural surroundings, techno music completely places the character in the time frame, and the intimidating raps make the gangsters absolutely terrifying. To this day, it’s easy to imagine Ryo Hazuki standing over his dad’s dead body, elegiac music in full force. Whether Sega ever finishes the series or not, the music already ranks as the best gaming has to offer.
4) Super Mario Galaxy
If you think it’s overkill to have entire orchestra for a video game, Super Mario Galaxy will change your mind. It’s natural to expect that the game would have remixes of classic Mario tunes; that it would have an entirely new soundtrack with legitimate masterpieces is nothing short of amazing. Every single galaxy had its own melodic atmosphere, such as the joyousness of "Toy Time" or the serenity of "Wind Garden." There has never been a Mario game with more personality and nothing since has matched its greatness. For a game that is about nothing more than saving a princess, that’s pretty impressive.
5) Mass Effect
The Reapers were coming; you were going to stop them. As a masterpiece in both voice acting and musical composition, Mass Effect was music to your ears. In just 2 minutes, the tense intro composition pulled us in and didn’t let go until the very end. Whether you were in battle, speaking to someone while enjoying the scenic background, checking out nightclubs or making an impassioned political speech, the game had music for every mood. It took Star Wars at least 2 hours to really have people start to care; the music in Mass Effect did that in seconds.
Congratulations to all the makers of Journey; the game really is a beacon of light for the industry. May video games keep growing as a medium and, maybe someday, your friends will actually know what you’re talking about when you hum “doo doo doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.”
(It’s Mario after he’s eaten a Star, by the way).