“Boy, these onions are sure making my eyes water......what’s that? I’m not cutting onions? Well neither are you!”
Music to video games is like Penn to Teller; an inseparable duo. Thanks to the wonderful advances in modern technology, consoles are no longer bound by the requirement of sound chips to produce these accompanying melodies; ushering in a high-level of music composition & production that can match (and in some cases, supersede) the bars set in the most esteemed of movies & TV shows.
Today, my focus will be on tracks from the modern era of gaming that have hit me on an emotional level & proclaiming a statement that the right notes at the right time can garner a reaction that can take your breath away; either on their own or effectively backing the very scene it depicts.
Grab yourself a handkerchief or a box of tissues (just in case) as I present ten of my favourite impactful songs from the modern video game era. Let’s dive in!
Beyond: Two Souls - Treason
Quantic Dream 2013’s title showcased a cinematic experience that raised their presentation bar to new heights; both in visual and audial presentation. For the latter, two renowned composers in the form of Lorne Balfe & Hans Zimmer were brought into the frame; crafting a strong orchestral soundtrack for the game’s tense premise.
The song “Treason” is one of my personal favourites from this soundtrack; a beautifully progressive song that initiates with a pulsing rhythmic bass, slowly building into a crescendo of strings that continually ascends to its conclusion. Whilst I personally felt it could’ve been more effective in a different scene, it’s still a noteworthy track that feels suited for an elevated moment.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1 - Goodbye
Telltale’s The Walking Dead was a landmark for episodic storytelling & its first season crafted one of gaming’s most treasured duos, in the form of Lee & Clementine. Its conclusion was truly moving & the scene is only amplified thanks to the song “Goodbye”. Whilst basic in composition, the slow drawn-out bass notes provide the fitting atmosphere that encapsulates the heartbreaking situation we bare witness to. Sometimes, the simplest of tracks can still hit you right in the feels. Somebody hold me. Please.
Undertale - Reunited
Toby Fox’s 2016 indie gem was an unexpected masterpiece; a charming game that understood its audience & influenced by the renowned RPG titles that came before it. Whilst its soundtrack is a varied affair, a number of its more somber tracks hit home.
One of my more memorable moments on the game was during the final segment of its Passive run; where you are given the option to return back to the very beginning to visit one particular character one final time. Toby perfectly slots his track “Reunited” into this moment; beginning with a Xylophone-esque melody that becomes more powerful as it progresses. The moment made me come to the realisation that my journey was coming to an end; something that I didn’t want to accept. Goddammit, Toby.
Kingdom Hearts II - Dearly Beloved
Kingdom Hearts remains one of my favourite crossover franchises. As a fan of Disney in my younger years, its announcement was a joy to hear & its a thrilling mix of Disney meets RPG. The song “Dearly Beloved” remains a staple track in the franchise; one that can send you into a peaceful slumber with a smile on your face. When its sequel came around in 2005, the song was reworked with an orchestral backing & it gave the song an added level of emotional depth that swooned my heart; taking me back to the journey I first embarked on, about to start a new. Yoko Shimomura, thank you.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice - Shadow
Hellblade’s portrayal of its protagonist journey suffering from psychosis was one of the most refreshing story-driven experiences in recent years. Whilst I remain excited for its upcoming sequel, one of its moments stood out thanks in part to one particular track; “Shadow”. The initial deep proclamations of Steven Hartley provide an empowering build to the song’s orchestral burst of sorrowing energy & those violins tug at the strings of both the heart & the violins themselves, which project this moment of despair.
But through the ashes lies a message of empowerment. As Steven perfectly narrates, “They can break you, but not your promise......in your sword still beats a heart”. It’s through pain that we are reminded of our strength & my interpretation of this message that sends chills down my spine, especially as the song bursts to life. Beautiful.
Demon’s Souls (2020) - Maiden Astraea
The Demon’s Souls remake was the first PS5 titles I played & for someone who previously never dived into FromSoftware’s brutal RPG franchise, it was an enlightening experience that made me truly feel like an accomplished gamer; (umbasa). Naturally, the soundtrack was given a facelift from the original 2009 release & whilst both versions feature some absolute beauties, but one of the highlight songs in this remade soundtrack was “Maiden Astraea”.
As a newly reworked version sampling the original, it opts for a strong orchestral presence, coupled with the powerful vocal work of its backing choir. The higher vocals at the start & finish feel like the sun breaking through a dark cloud. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. What gives this song added weight in the game is when you understand the situation it features. Acknowledging the backstory behind this boss & her bodyguard presented one of those rare moments in gaming where I felt a sense of guilt after accomplishing my goal & this song amplifies the weight of the fight eloquently.
The Last of Us - All Gone (No Escape)
Naughty Dog’s 2013 masterpiece remains one of the most revered games of the modern generation. A tale of endurance & survival where every measurable aspect excelled in my eyes. The choice of Gustavo Santaolalla was a perfect choice, creating some enthralling compositions from drum-heavy battle tracks to sensitive numbers that were breathtaking.
The track “All Gone” has several versions featured in this game; all providing a breathtaking composition of notes that truly elevated its intended scenes. Its final featured version (No Escape) remains my personal favourite with its additional use of somber violins, which added a sense of gravity that compliments the frantic nature of its intended scene. It‘s a song that remains ingrained in my mind to this day.
Death Stranding - BB’s Theme
Despite its criticism for being a walking simulator, Death Stranding was able to pull off a unique experience; a test of endurance in a post-apocalyptic world which dived into themes regarding human connection. In Sam’s final mission, he is presented with a conflicting decision that he is required to complete & the song “BB’s Theme” slots right in to deliver an emotionally memorable moment at the game’s conclusion; consisting of layers of synthesised tones & a gorgeous orchestral range. It perfectly suited this final victory lap of Sam’s enduring journey & presents a rollercoaster that’s both delicate & pronounced, complimented by the sublime vocal efforts of Jenny Platt whose performance does make me well up on the odd occassion.
Halo 3 - Never Forget
As someone who has never completed a Halo game, you can justifiably scold me if you wish but it stands as a bigger statement when I acknowledge that the series’ soundtracks contains some absolutely masterful tracks. Out of all the tracks I’ve listened to, the one that sticks to me the most is “Never Forget”; featured in Halo 3.
Even removed from the scene it relates to, I can tell from the track that it represents a heartfelt moment. The powerful base strings present a dramatic moment & the later introduction of vocal harmonies, coupled with a piano melody, just adds to the track’s prominent nature. It makes me more determined to eventually playthrough the entire Master Chief collection at some point in the future. I may not have endured the journey yet but when I do, I will embrace it with strength & honour.
Steins;Gate - Believe Me
To this day, Steins;Gate remains one of my favourite visual novels & anime shows of all-time. A story that’s able to effectively justify its time-travel premise with a sea of developed characters & a plot full of action, suspense & drama that threw my heart around like a tennis ball at Wimbledon. “Believe Me” is one of its standout tracks; a simple & delicate piano composition that feels woven by a broken heart. Every time I hear this, I can hear Okabe breaking down when he comes to a daunting realisation & after witnessing everything he has endured, it breaks me down as well. Every time.
Out of all the songs featured in this list, this is the one track I can confidently proclaim that you could add to a majority of emotional scenes in any medium & it would not feel out of place nor lose the emotional value of the scene. It’s a testament to the track’s integrity but if I do start hear it more frequently on adverts & TV shows, I might need to bulk buy some towels & home insurance because there’s going to be a flood.
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Well that’s all my tear ducts can handle right now. Whilst there are many songs that can invoke a powerful presence, are there any worthy mentions not featured here? Let us know down below in the comments sections or via our social media accounts, as I’m always happy to read any suggestions.
Thanks for reading & until next time, stay tuned for more upcoming lists & articles here at SkyPunk Media.