Violin in Video Games: Exploring Favorite Recent Soundtracks (2013-2017)

February 14, 2018, 9:39 AM · As you might know, if you've been reading a lot of this blog, you may know that I love films, and film music is a possibility for my future. I think it was mainly my obsession over the violin back in 2012 that drew me towards the wonderful scores of The Lord of the Rings. You may also know I've mentioned another medium several times throughout this blog: gaming. While I don't actually play many games anymore, there has been one YouTube channel I've been watching for almost four years now (starting with Mario Kart 8 in July 2014!) who has introduced me to not just his own creative art form and fun challenges inside of the game Minecraft, but a whole slew of games with incredible soundtracks I've loved to listen to and get inspired by. I thought in today's entry I'd go over a few of those games and soundtracks if you would like to listen to them too!

And if you're not much of a gamer, check out TwoSet Violin's latest video (very funny!) to celebrate today: Top 7 Classical Pieces for Valentines

review of video game music

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Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (2013)
Composer: Joe Hisaishi
Orchestra: Tokyo Philharmonic

I haven't seen many Studio Ghibli films, but after watching through some of their animations for this game, I've been wanting to watch some! I've only just been watching through it recently, and will have it on in the background as I extract parts for my orchestra piece over break. Anyways, the music of this game is incredible, and sounds so Japanese to me! The composer was a student of a famous Japanese anime composer and worked on Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001), other Studio Ghibli films. There is a beautiful main theme on the piano (that plays during every sad moment in the story, so way too often); the majestic fanfare for the fantasy world, and some nice flute trills when you are in the real-world. The actual story is really interesting and has a lot of clever ideas. It's a large game, and I'm waiting to see if he will play through the sequel - so I'd better finish the first one before March!

The Last Guardian (2016)
Composer: Takeshi Furukawa
Orchestra: London Symphony

This, like most of the games on this list, is another game I would probably never have heard of or seek out if it weren't for subscribing to Stampy's YouTube channel! This game definitely feels very cinematic, and it's nice that there is a mix of Japanese and English musicians putting together the score. The performance of the soundtrack was conducted by Furukawa with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Trinity Boys Choir, and London Voices, and was recorded at Lyndhurst Hall. It feels very cinematic, even more-so than Ni No Kuni! There are so many beautiful strings moments, and times for the orchestra to swell. It's got this really cool feeling I wonder if I'll want to replicate some of in my film (or game) scores in the future...

King's Quest (2015)
Composers: Ben Stanton and David Stanton

Another fantasy game, and this one takes a more light-hearted approach with its music. Lots of wonderful orchestral colors here with the woodwinds; fanfare trumpet moments as one would expect; and some town square music for harp and guitar that really sounds like a lute aria out of the Renaissance era. I think this fits the nature of the game very well. Released in five chapters, the music certainly gets more epic as the story darkens, but overall it seems a lot like Danny Elfman and offers plenty of light-hearted fun to fit in with the game. There are even music-related puzzles! :)

Unravel (2016)
Composers: Frida Johansson and Henrik Oja

My funny story when the first video of this game popped up in my notifications back in February 2016 was "Who would un-Ravel?" As in my favorite composer ever, Maurice Ravel. Of course, the word "unravel" is a real one, and fits this game's character made of yarn well. I also love how much nature fills up the game's world. This whole game feels a lot like a work of art, much like Studio Ghibli or something, rather than focusing on story or on gameplay in shooting people or something. The music combines elements of Swedish folk music (I believe) and traditional instruments - including lots of fiddle moments! (He started videos on this game just before I got my new violin as well, so I like to connect these moments together.) Watching on the Philharmonia Orchestra Esa-Pekka Salonen's mini-series last year on Finnish folk music really helps me make sense of some of the faster fiddle music found in this game, contrasted with slower sustained tones. This game feels incredibly unique, and I'm so glad I got to experience it through my favorite British YouTuber. :)


(UPDATE: 25 Feb)
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (2017)
Composer: Stephen Schutze

I never really noticed the music that well, but tonight I started rewatching the first episode of their series (his first with face-cam!) and discovered the opening solo violin pirate music leading into this beautiful choral and woodwind world. I haven't really listened to the full soundtrack yet, so it will definitely be something I do in the future! I love the orchestral music, and the article above hopefully could be neat to see with his inspiration for the game's score.

(I also just bought the CD soundtrack to 2007's Super Mario Galaxy - another wonderful orchestral score that I might use a bit as a guide for my possible future video game scores actually...)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
Composers: Manaka Kataoka, Yasuaki Iwata, and Hajime Wakai
A link to a playlist of music

This game has meant quite a lot to me throughout 2017 - so much so that when my New Music Seminar class in August came, I chose to write a paper discussing this soundtrack! Full of lots of solo piano in an ambient feel, combined with the large orchestral themes and quiet village themes, motifs from throughout the 32 years of Zelda are sprinkled throughout the score. I've even bought this game for myself to play on breaks and enjoy escaping into its beautiful world and getting to hear the soundtrack in full force in the background while I play. Stampy still hasn't finished it yet at the time of this writing (though he did mention the funky Goron City music in yesterday's episode!). There are even tracks with the koto, erhu, hyoushigi, and shakuhachi, referencing the country this game was made in. The other big Nintendo game recently, Super Mario Odyssey, that released last October, has another fantastic soundtrack with so many styles of music thrown in - I love all the jazz combined with Japanese instruments and orchestral tracks and that! Nintendo is never afraid to take risks, and these scores, Zelda mainly, offered a really unique path that I might take inspiration from in the future as well.

So there you have it! I'm excited to see what other games I will experience in the future - for instance, I've fallen in love with Final Fantasy X's score since last year. It makes me so happy that orchestral music especially is connected with not just the films I see, but the video games I experience, whether on my own or through my favorite YouTuber. I love seeing how parts of my life interconnect, and all of this I'm sure will help me out as more variables in my life (like being an adult) start getting thrown on top of and add more importance to all this entertainment. I hope this will all be helpful for my future compositions as well, especially with my plans to go into media music, so I'm very happy to have shared this on my blog here. I'll continue to share all kinds of music as I continue to discover it in future entries. But for now, thanks for reading, and I'll see you all later! Bye!

UPDATE: Here is a link to Stampy's YouTube channel! Even though I watch his videos (I'm in college!) and I think he's great for all-ages, his family-friendly content makes him ideal for younger children, so parents can trust his channel is a safe place on the Internet. He is also always very enthusiastic which, along with all my musical activities, helps me get through my day - and with all the negativity in the world, everyone needs something really happy in their lives I find, and music, of course, continues to play a large role in almost all art forms creating this happiness! Stampy's latest video was the finale to his Super Mario Odyssey series - which had some jazz songs mixed in with the orchestral music!

Replies

February 19, 2018 at 10:20 PM · If anybody out there has played Bioshock Infinite, they will remember the scene at the end of the pier, where Elizabeth was dancing with abandon to a little band with fiddle, concertina, piano, and guitar. The person doing the fiddle playing for that scene was New England contra dance virtuoso Rodney Miller and his daughter Elvie on piano.

I was so riveted by that scene that I had to pause the game and go to the credits to see who was playing. It was just that good!

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