The role that music plays in video games is controversial, with strong opinions coming from all ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between. Some might argue that a game is just as good or bad with or without music. Others will preach that if it weren't for good soundtracks, many of history's most popular games would have gone unnoticed. Wherever your opinions may lie, these are the games you felt deserved a nod for an exceptional performance in music and sound.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time was the first of three RPGs released in the fall as part of an unofficial Motoi Sakuraba music blitz. Sakuraba, however, had some help on this project from composers Shinji Tamura and Takeshi Arai. It's the successful collaboration of these three composers that really brings the music of Star Ocean to life. Pieces such as "Till the End of Time," "Lively Step," and "Brass Wings" are all very different, yet brilliantly brought together amidst the variety of the rest of the 77-song soundtrack. This is just a small example of how well Sakuraba's talents can bring elements of orchestral music, traditional Irish dance music, and faster-paced rock music all into one complete package.
The experience that Sakuraba delivers doesn't fall short of what gamers have come to expect from him. The heart-pumping battle themes are still there as are the tear-jerking emotional themes. To help give this soundtrack even more juice, live instruments including strings, saxophones, and electric guitars were used in many of the pieces. The Star Ocean soundtrack proves that music does matter in games, despite what opponents to the theory may say. It breathes life into the characters, scenarios, and environments. It sets off emotions when necessary and it provides the tracks on which the story of the game travels, all the way, till the end of time.
Coincidentally the first runner-up for the best music award is the second title in Motoi Sakuraba's music trilogy, Tales of Symphonia. Furthermore, Shinji Tamura once again was at Sakuraba's side during this project. A lot of things that were said about the Star Ocean soundtrack apply here, as one can expect when two of the same men work on the scores for both titles. The classic Sakuraba sound is here, once again; however, it does fall shorter in some areas when compared with the Star Ocean soundtrack. The Symphonia score isn't as diverse as what gamers have come to expect from the composer, lately. With well-over 100 pieces, this could be part of the reason. Whether the music is a bit redundant or not, the soundtrack still gets a silver medal from the readers.
Pulling up the rear in the best music category is Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Composed by Yoshitaka Hirota, Yasunori Mitsuda, Kenji Ito, Tomoko Kobayashi, and Ryo Fukuda, the music sports many different styles from all over the world. Don't let the number of different composers and musical backgrounds working on the project be daunting. The different styles are seamlessly integrated into the game to produce a successful soundtrack. Unfortunately, the atmosphere of darkness and evil that most tracks have gets a bit tiresome at times.
by Elliot Guisinger