When a new game hits the scenes, we’re quick to focus on its major attributes—the graphics, the physics, the lighting, the controls, and the premise—and all of those things are rightfully important to the gameplay and greatly reflect how a game will turn out. But there is something that we tend to overlook when first introduced to a game, and that thing is just as important as a game’s other attributes when judging the game—the music.
Music is a special attribute that doesn’t exactly determine how good or bad a game is—but can reflect whether or not we enjoy playing the game. Name any game, and it will have that one area with decent gameplay but mediocre music, and cause players to rush past it rather than enjoy it. For me, it’s the Wonderland stage in Kingdom Hearts; I was never very fond of that music, and I did my best to get through that world as quickly as possible. On the other hand, even if gameplay is mediocre or monotonous, a good track will make the gameplay more bearable or even enjoyable, despite its shortcomings. In this way, music can make or break a game—and all too often, it gets overlooked in discussions or reviews.
Just like the other critical factors in gameplay, music needs to show its own flavor or style. It’s certainly a lot to ask of one or two people to exemplify the game through their music, but perhaps it’s time to upgrade from a simple composer to a music team. The tracks should sound unique and set it apart from different games, but lately the tracks in previews have been lacking.
Many trailers sound the same, with a strange war-time brass solo leading into quick battleground drums. Others don’t use a track from the game at all, and instead use a promo track full of lyrics (the Assassins Creed games come to mind, although they at least show good taste when picking their songs). And lastly, some commercials forgo the tracks entirely, and just focus on gameplay and sound effects during their trailers. The first and last of these tactics are unacceptable and show a poor attachment to the game’s music—it means that the developers settled for the minimum rather than expanding and exploring into a new genre or style of music, as they do with the other factors of their games. The second tactic is just disappointing and leaves gamers who are eager to hear the music hanging.
Perhaps the lack of focus on music has allowed developers to skirt the minimum when it comes to gaming—but given its importance to gameplay, it’s unacceptable that soundtracks are starting to sound the same and high-budget companies are just settling for status quo. The music helps to give a game depth and just a few solid tracks could define the style of a game and make it unique—so why is it getting overlooked? Why isn’t it discussed more? And why are most developers settling for the minimum when it comes to music, instead of exceeding the bar? With the next generation consoles on the horizon, it’s about time we start raising the standard for something that has been around since the dawn of gaming.