So today, I went to a wedding. To my pleasant surprise, I found this in the program:
Eyes on Me – Nobuo Uematsu
Final Fantasy Theme – Nobuo Uematsu
Awesome. And of course, the processional was awesome. I mean, when I read it, I was trying to picture it in my head. When the actual thing happened, though, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself how absolutely perfect the choice in music was. Eyes on Me was played for the first part of the processional with all the bridesmaids and stuff walking in. The Final Fantasy Theme was the replacement for the traditional Here Comes the Bride thing and when the violin kicked in as the bride walked in, it was an amazing moment.
From what I know of the bride and groom, neither of them are particularly gigantic nerds or gamers. So what does this mean? It shows, that gaming as an art (in this case, the music) is gaining legitimacy in the mainstream. Gaming has some unfortunate connotations that are attached to it. One of the ways to legitimize gaming as even a normal hobby is to legitimize its influence on culture and to raise awareness of the artistic value in games.
Music is one of the artistic parts that games have. The most famous examples of gaming music are Mario and anything that Nobuo Uematsu has composed. I wouldn’t exactly call the Mario theme great music; I suspect its popularity has more to do with the character than the music, although Koji Kondo’s Smash Brothers Brawl mix of the theme and various orchestral arrangements do convince me otherwise.
So we have Final Fantasy as the representative of great gaming music. But, there is definitely other great music. The series that has been doing it for me lately has been Ace Attorney. I was playing the orchestral album in the car and I asked my dad to guess what it was. He responds with a ‘It’s Final Fantasy, duh.’ And then I get to explain that, no, this is music from a game that takes place in court. And you’re a lawyer. And it’s fairly linear. And it’s pretty much a point and click text adventure. Yet, it has an amazing and memorable soundtrack.
Another example of excellent music is The World Ends With You. As I’ve mentioned, everything about the game pleases me greatly. In accordance to it’s unique spin and setting, the music is largely J-pop and electronica. What? Vocals in my battle themes?. Rap in my RPGs? Eurobeat in my overworld themes? TWEWY’s soundtrack represents a significant departure from the established RPG tradition, as does the rest of the game.
But what is it that makes gaming music so special? I’d argue that part of the appeal is the associations that the music establishes. It works particularly well in RPGs and other story-driven games, where music can be tied immediately to various plot points and characters. Whenever I hear the main theme for Final Fantasy VII, I always remember the first time I stepped outside of Midgar and how the world suddenly became much, much larger. When I hear Terra’s theme, my mind turns to the three Magitek armour walking across plains of snow towards Narshe.
But even for games that aren’t as strong in the plot department have something for the music to associate with. The Mario theme is probably engrained in us because of the number of times we’ve been to World 1-1. If you’re playing in the same room, hearing the opening guitar riff from your friend’s computer will probably tip you off that they’re playing Terran.
Of course, this argument could be made for movies, except that movies are much, much shorter than the average game. If we’re looking at a Final Fantasy, we’re talking about forty hours, rushing through everything. A smaller game, like TWEWY is still fifteen hours. Even shorter than that is Portal, but Valve’s storytelling methods don’t translate into movies. As an aside, this is why games with an excellent story can never be made into a good movie. The length of a game is such that you’ll be playing it over weeks (or days if you’re addicted to it) and the associations with the music will be engraved in your mind.
The other kind of music that’s linked with gaming is popular music. Of course, as far as I can tell, this is happenning with any sort of significance in Japan. But let’s look at Japan. The first real theme for a game is Faye Wong’s Eyes on Me, the theme for Final Fantasy VIII. Of course, a theme for a game in Japan isn’t that huge of a deal; they’ve had popular themes for anime for a while now.
The next fairly significant theme for a game was the Disney-Square collaboration Kingdom Hearts, which had Hikari as it’s theme, by Utada Hikaru. The interesting thing here is that Utada Hikaru is the best-selling artist of all time in Japan. And she did a theme for a completely new video game series. Of course, nowadays, virtually any large RPG has a vocal theme. Even TWEWY has a theme by Jyongri.
But back to Eyes on Me. Eyes on Me made sense to me as a choice for a wedding. After all, it is the main love theme as well for FFVIII. What didn’t really make sense was the Final Fantasy Theme. It wasn’t tied to a plot point and it wasn’t a significant character theme. The only explanation then was that the music was used because it fit the occasion and, more importantly, because it was good music.