Nitpick: Repetitive Music
[Continued] Page 2
By itself the song is a powerful tune. However, combo this in with the atmospheric cutscene featuring the sound of waves, the desperation of characters as they huddle next to a campfire, and our young protagonist looking at a ruinous world that lies ahead. Immediately this song is engrained in the player’s head and I’m sure you would agree with me that when you listen to “To Zanarkand” you often remember this scene. If not perhaps you’ll remember that climactic moment when Tidus has to bid his friends farewell. This song is rarely used in the game at all, if any other time other than its intro or ending. Because it is such a powerful tune, used so little throughout the game, and in powerful moments the game breathes life into the music.
I find “To Zanarkand” a perfect antithetical example to what I want to exemplify. A music is that is not repetitive at all since it was used so minimally and as a result its impact, brilliance, and emotion is much stronger. I don’t want to nag Halo too much so I’ll use Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 as an example. There’s a tune in Final Fantasy XIII-2 called “Noel’s Theme” and it’s an exceptionally moving tune. If it had been used only twice or thrice throughout the entire game with little to no variations then I wouldn’t have a problem. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. I found that there were at least two versions of the song and throughout many points of XIII-2 featuring sad moments with Noel, unsurprisingly, they would play this song or some alternate version.
While the player now associates the song to Noel - and why wouldn’t you, after all it’s his theme song - it loses that strong emotional punch that is felt when you first hear it. Sure the song will grip your heart every time you hear it but the effect is slowly lost over time. Eventually you’ll be numb and possibly apathetic to the song. For me, it got to the point where I could guess when “Noel’s Theme” would pop up. When a player can come to expect what songs will be played and at what times then the audio has become too familiar with him or her. Personally speaking, this is bad since I want my game to constantly affect me in surprising ways. In other words, normalcy can be particularly bad and repetitive music is a contributor to the phenomenon.
The same is said about “Serah’s Theme” in XIII and the “Main Theme” in XIII-2. There are numerous variations whether it be orchestral, vocals, or alternate remixes. While I don’t want to discredit the composer’s hard work and effort for the game’s soundtrack, I can’t help but feel this is laziness. Why not create a soundtrack that has little to no remixes or what not, which would end up creating two very strong products: the video game and its purchasable CD soundtrack. It just doesn’t make sense unless the composer wants the player to be desensitized to the game’s tracks. Perhaps, in reality, that is their goal. To become too familiar with it and as a result, get attached, and buy the soundtrack.
Writing this Nitpick has been both a blast and somewhat of a disappointment. I thought it would best to write this as I listen to the pieces that I mentioned previously, or listen to the game’s entire soundtrack, since it would portray my thoughts and emotions more clearly. Music is an integral piece to making a game great. I cannot emphasize that enough. If something is so important then isn’t it assumed that we should treasure it? I would like to think so. As such, I feel it’s my duty to make it known my own personal thoughts on repetitive music, and others that might possibly agree with me. Whether you realize it or not, I believe all people are lovers of music, perhaps specific genres, so you should care about how music is both illustrated, implemented, and executed in video games.