Since I play a lot of video games, I have grown to appreciate video game music. A lot goes into composing music for a game, especially with today’s games. Every piece of music gets several different treatments. This is particularly true with sequels, where certain levels’ music must be changed to add something new or reflect a shift in the story. In order to find something on this scale one would have to look at the scores for films like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Composers also have to deal with another problem, namely translating their compositions to work on the consoles they are developing for. What works live or for a recording might be too complex for a system like the PSP or DS to handle. So a piece must be rearranged to work within the limits of the system while still being recognizable. It presents an even greater problem when it is a licensed property because the owners might not want the music changed too much.
One of my favorite composers is Yoko Shimomura. She has composed for several dozen games, but I know her from her work on the Kingdom Hearts series. I am not a fan of classical music, yet Shimomura managed to blend the classical sound with the requisite RPG battle music quite well. She kept it meaningful while still playing on the Disney and youthful feel of the games. She also had to rearrange a number of Disney songs to work on the PS2, PSP, DS, and on cellphones.
Shimomura also released an album called Drammatica two years ago featuring a selection of music from the various games she worked on. She had an orchestra to work with, so some of the songs are much richer than they were in the games.
As I mentioned above, composers have to change songs as they move from game to game. Shimomura did this in Kingdom Hearts for a level called Hollow Bastion. The first game’s version is faster and darker, with the choral sections sung by men. The sequel’s version is slower with more embellishment, reflecting the change of the level from Hollow Bastion to its true form called Radiant Garden. There is also the inclusion of a female chorus, and the women and men’s voices alternate. In the prequel called Birth by Sleep, the cast visits Radiant Garden before it was turned into Hollow Bastion. Its theme song sounds a lot like KH 2’s, but much fuller. It is that kind of subtly I enjoy such much.
Hollow Bastion/Radiant Garden:
While I enjoyed Drammatica (it is one of the few albums I listen to all the way through), a few songs stood out.