The Unexpected Musical Masterpieces of Our Time

Music permeates every aspect of my life — whether I’m commuting to work, making dinner, walking down the street, or writing online, you can bet I’m almost always listening to music. My iPod is an amalgam of weird, eclectic tastes, just as likely to land on Slipknot or Avenged Sevenfold as it is on Adele, Eminem, or The Backstreet Boys (I’m sorry).

best musicBut there’s one section of my iPod that encapsulates a few of my obsessions into one: my collection of video game music. As of about two hours ago, I have over 3,500 video game songs and counting, from old-school Nintendo to modern titles like Skyrim and The Witcher.

But to me, the thing that’s weirder than my love of video game music is the lack of knowledge so many other people have about it. It’s understandable that non-gamers don’t encounter it much, but I believe this shouldn’t be the case. There is a palpable emotional component that accompanies powerful video game music, and I believe that’s something everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

So congratulations, dear reader: you’re one of my first converts! Welcome to my kooky little world of fascinating video game masterpieces. For the best immersive experience, sidle up with a pair of killer over-ear headphones (I’d recommend Bose, because that’s what I have and they’re phenomenal) and take a listen to some of my favorites:

1) “Earth” by Jesper Kyd (from Assassin’s Creed)

This song has such varied instruments, yet results in such a hardcore, haunting sound. With softer notes being hit by the acoustic guitar, strings, and piano, backed by primal percussive drums, there is an overwhelming sense of things are about to get real. Match all of this with an eery, lone female vocalist, and you get a strangely emotional piece that will make you want to keep it on repeat.

2) “Answers” by Nobuo Uematsu (from Final Fantasy FFXIV)

Aside from the fact that Nobuo Uematsu is one of the greatest video game composers of all time, this is one of the most powerful pieces he’s ever composed. This piece, sung by Susan Calloway and accompanied by the Kanazawa Philharmonic Orchestra, was composed for a cinematic scene in the game showing the characters’ worlds literally crashing down around them. Susan’s singing is almost heavenly, representing a goddess speaking to her children as they perish with the dying earth. It is ethereal, powerful, and beautiful, and I can’t recommend it enough.

3) “Apotheosis” by Austin Wintory (from Journey)

The main song from an award-winning soundtrack, “Apotheosis” is an adventure in song. The heavy use of strings range from light to heavy, soft to booming, powerful to fragile, and are absolutely breath-taking. The addition of chimes and gongs in the background adds an exotic mystery to the song, then ends with the haunting echo of a lone violin dissolving into the silence… It is an absolute favorite.

4) “Song of the Ancients / Popola” by Keiichi Okabe (from NieR)

This strangely gorgeous song is a beautiful combination of echoing deep strings, a marimba, and the echoing vocals of the female lead. Interestingly enough, the singer featured here created her own language for this video game (which you hear her singing in here); she said she wanted something “as light as a feather in a dream”, which is an oddly accurate description for this beautiful vocal.

It was so, so hard to select just a few songs to introduce you to, but hopefully it was enough to even slightly pique your interest. Video game music is as vast and wonderful as any other genre out there, and if you are a music lover like me, I can’t urge you enough to explore it for yourself! You won’t be disappointed.