I finally started playing Devil May Cry 4 this week. Not bad overall. But after several hours of slashing away at unholy monsters I came upon a sudden realization: Devil May Cry 4's music really sucks. It's really, really horrible. In fact, it was actually getting in the way of my enjoyment of the game. Not only are there very few tracks, but the one track that gets played 90 percent of the time is extremely boring and repetitive. So all of this has got me thinking about the role that music plays in videogames.
For the purposes of this discussion, I'm not talking about music-themed games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band and such. Those are obviously all about music and the music ties right into the gameplay. What I'm talking about is games where the music is there purely for atmospheric effect or emotional underscoring. I'm thinking about games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or God of War, or Resident Evil 4, or the Final Fantasy series. Although the music in these games has no influence on gameplay, it's clear (to me at least) that these games wouldn't have been quite as good if they didn't have such great soundtracks.
When I look back on the games that I've really gotten into over the years, particularly going back to when I was a young teen in the early nineties, I find that a lot of my favorite games became my favorites largely because of the music. Streets of Rage 2, Sonic CD, and Final Fantasy II immediately spring to mind. Those games had really great music, and I can recall wanting to play them again specifically to listen to the songs. But did it fundamentally make them better games, as far as gameplay goes?
In a sense, music can't really make the game part of a game better. As I've said, with the exception of rhythm-based games, music doesn't really have any connection to gameplay. Which kind of begs the question: to what extent is it fair to judge a game by its music? My gut response is to say that it's very fair. If a game has great music, I'll usually enjoy playing it more. Of course, soundtrack customization is becoming increasingly common, making it possible to make a game's music as good as one wants. But there's still the undeniable fact that music is external to gameplay.
I suppose it ultimately depends on the type of game. Big cinematic games like God of War use music in a way that enhances and reinforces its underlying themes and emotional energy. In other words, the music in God of War is an important part of the games art and overall presentation. But a racing game like Burnout, where music is more like listening to the radio, doesn't operate in the same way. All in all, it's a complex issue. In the end, I think that it's still fair to judge a game on its music. It's a part of the package. And although the degree to which it matters varies widely, it's still a factor. But that's just me. I'd be curious to know what other people think.