We talk about a lot of amazing soundtracks here on Music Mondays. The vast majority of the games we cover are notable for music that spans from their opening cinematic to their closing credits. In fact, it is often very difficult to pare down the highlights to fit into this column’s standard format.
This week is different. Today we are talking about one-hit wonders–music pieces from interactive electronics that absolutely overshadow everything else from their scores. SPOILERS FOLLOW.
Max Payne 3 is the perfect place to start. The game is a pretty standard third-person shooter that prizes style over substance, which includes its noise rock OST provided by the L.A. band Health. While the majority of the BGM is appropriate and atmospheric, it is relatively forgettable. At least, that is the case until the finale.
The game comes to a climax as our eponymous protagonist purses the villains through an airport. Their evil organ harvesting plan was just uncovered by Max during the preceding sequence, so the player’s righteous fury is high when it becomes clear that the end is near and justice will be served. However, just before the final showdown, Max must face down an entire battalion of henchman in a sprawling terminal with very little cover. The scene is both very difficult and tonally bleak, which makes Health’s “Tears” a pitch-perfect accompaniment.
Similarly, To The Moon, an indie title produced by Kan “Reives” Gao in RPG Maker, utilizes a fitting but unassuming score for the majority of its run-time. The story follows two doctors as they attempt to alter the memories of a dying man who never succeeded at his life’s wish of visiting the moon. Over the course of the plot it becomes clear that the terminally ill patient only wanted to go to the moon as a result of a childhood promise to his autistic wife, who tragically passed before the game opens.
Laura Shigihara’s “Everything’s Alright” kicks in just as the last pieces of the mystery click into place. It contextualizes all of the heartbreak that you witnessed up until that point, as well as driving home the reality of the situation: Johnny and River were never able to communicate the full extent of their feelings. River died without knowing why her husband forgot their first meaning, while Johnny was plagued by guilt over being unable to comfort her. The song seems to contradict the crushing melancholy of the surrounding events, but as a montage of their lives plays across the screen it’s hard not to feel like the few moments of love and happiness they shared make everything alright in the end.
Unlike the previous examples, Yasunori Mitsuda’s Soul Sacrifice soundtrack has more than one genuinely memorable track. However, the grandeur of “Life Story of a Sorcerer” is such that everything else is dwarfed by comparison. Also, if you stop and think about it for a second, the title of the song spoils the climactic twist. The most impressive part? It’s just the menu music. The game’s greatest musical achievement occurs every single time you pick a new mission or change your equipment. Then again, what else would you expect from the composer who brought us the tunes from Xenogears and Chrono Cross.
Of course, there are plenty of other one-hit wonders from the history of video game music. What are the ones that stand out in your mind? I’d love to hear your choices.
Music Mondays is a weekly column by Austin Yorski and Robert Heck dedicated to discussing the most interesting audio experiences in electronic interactive media. Tune in every week for more original game soundtracks that you need to hear. Feel free to disagree with, add to, or question everything. I welcome your feedback.