We, the video game music fans, often get a little nostalgic when listening to our favorite video game soundtracks. It’s hard to resist wanting to pick the game right back up again, regardless of what system it was for, or even if you even still own it. But whereas some soundtracks make you think fondly of an entire game, there are some special songs, which effectively remind us of specific gaming moments. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)
One very dear song to me is “Apotheosis” from the Journey soundtrack (Austin Wintory). Throughout the game, you are trying to reach a mountain in the distance. However, once you finally appear to be close, the journey begins to take its toll. Deep tracts of snow, harsh winds, and terrible creatures are all present to make sure the final leg of your travels are completely challenging. Eventually, all the trials become too great, and you (and your partner) fall into the snow without any sign of effort to get back up. After a sequence involving the ancients, you are suddenly rocketed high into the sky to an area where you are free to fly around and really take in the breathtaking visuals. This is where “Apotheosis” begins to play, narrating your truly joyful and beautiful trip up to the peak of the mountain you spent so long seeking. It is an emotional sequence, and every time I listen to the song, I can imagine that section of the world being unveiled to me for the first time. The layered strings convey each new area you pass through on the way up until they fade away at your arrival. It’s really like listening to someone tell an amazing story with each listen, and I can visualize all of it.
Being a little less niche now, I am sure you remember selecting “New Game” on Final Fantasy VII. The camera pans around the stars before Aerith’s face fades in, and the camera zooms out to reveal the whole of Midgar, the industrial setting of the first chunk of the game. This moving and cinematic moment is accompanied by Nobuo Uematsu’s “Opening/Bombing Mission.” Starting with the simple melody played on a triangle (MIDI, ahem), the entire orchestra flies out of the woodwork to inflate the city’s reveal and the game’s title on the screen. Hearing the song now brings up that feeling of excitement as if I don’t know what’s ahead of me, but I cannot wait a minute longer. And though it may seem an odd transition, the flow from the opening into the actual mission is flawless. My memory of the camera zooming back in to the city and onto Cloud exiting the train for the first time is clear. This theme is so impactful that Nobuo recreated it for opening to the sequel movie, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, minus the bombing mission part.
Moving onto an entire chapter, the mission to retrieve Jack in Mass Effect 2 has an entire theme devoted to it, written by Jack Wall. It is an unusual track because it is divided into two separate music styles that flip-flop back and forth. The exposition moments are backed by the deeper end of the string orchestra, with sweeping melodies and a lot of drama. However, the action moments (when the power gets snuffed out, and the red-orange emergency lights come on) are accompanied by a booming electronic bass drum and radical synths. The juxtaposition is peculiar to listen to, but if you’ve played the game, it makes so much sense and reminds you of an awesome mission where the flow was actually that jarring.
Sometimes, even though I appreciate a whole song, just a tiny portion of it is enough to fill me with nostalgia. That is the case for the ending theme to Final Fantasy X (also Uematsu). Without ruining everything for you, after the final boss is defeated, the main protagonist, Tidus, begins to fade away. Yuna, the female lead, is upset at losing someone she has recently fallen in love with and runs to grab him before he disappears. Sadly, she runs right through him and falls to the floor. The music is mostly simple orchestral flair that leads into a slowly rising version of the main theme, but when Yuna gets up and tells Tidus she loves him, the disappearing hero tries to wrap his arms around her to comfort her (at the 3:25 mark), these trumpets chime in out of no where. From there, the theme becomes louder and way more emotional as you realize the gravity of their plight. Whenever I listen to the track in my car, I always get a little misty-eyed right when the trumpets play because the image of Yuna’s saddened face will always haunt me.
I’ll leave off with something you’ll find silly. Every time I hear “Moonlight Sonata, 3rd Movement” (yes! Beethoven), I think of Earthworm Jim chasing Psy-Crow in Earthworm Jim 2.
What about you? What songs remind you of specific gaming memories? Leave some nostalgia in the comments below!