Games · Opinion

Why Sound Design Is So Important In Video Games (And An Ode To Gustavo Santaolalla)…

Okay, I know I’ve probably mentioned The Last of Us a lot on this blog, but can you blame me? Not only is it one of the best games of all time for a multitude of reasons, but it also goes down in my mind as one of the most impactful games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing through.

One of the main things that stood out to me about The Last of Us besides its compelling storytelling and well written characters was its soundtrack, composed by the great and talented Gustavo Santaolalla. There’s something so haunting and nostalgic and warm and gritty about the way the score is implemented in this game that I just love. Each piece of music is so carefully chosen for the particular scene it’s playing in and is able to conjure up such specific emotions that can only be experienced through playing.

(The Last of US) 2013

So I thought I would write something a little different from my usual posts and talk about why music in video games is so important and how it’s impacted the way I experience my play throughs, enjoy!

Video games have some of the most amazing soundtracks and often times it feels like they can be overlooked by people who aren’t gamers. Take Breath of the Wild for example, another game with a score I absolutely love. I would even compare the soundtrack in BOTW to that in Studio Ghibli films, there are a lot of similar qualities in the way the music is composed that emanate the same sort of feelings.

The sound design in that game is stunning as well. Every object in that world feels like it holds weight and there’s this sensory reaction to how everything is composed. Paragliding through Hyrule with the soft winds and gentle piano music in the background is one of the most relaxing and mindful gaming experiences I’ve had to date.

(The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) 2017

There’s also a lot of contrast in the music that is so effective during gameplay. For example during more intense battles the music will feel epic and orchestrated and give the player a sense of purpose, whereas entering a shrine will feel more mysterious and echoed. Each piece is so vastly different and used in game really well.

Even games like Final Fantasy X exhibit similar qualities. The delicate piano theme during the opening credits makes the player feel somewhat reflective and peaceful, while the fast paced, upbeat music during more intense, combat sections makes the player feel stressed and on edge and is a great example of how this contrast is so effective.

(Final Fantasy X) 2001

Music has such an impact on the way we experience media, whether it be film, television or video games, sound has so much influence on the overall vibe of that product. It decides whether we should feel safe or scared as a viewer. Music in games especially, has such a powerful effect and games with great sound design are often ones that stick with me the most.

For example, in a survival horror game like Outlast, my ears are pricked up even more than if I was playing something lighter like Mariokart. Being able to hear each footstep I’m taking or creepy noise coming from a room in the distance or creak in the door makes for an all the more immersive experience and really adds to the overall atmosphere that the game is trying to portray. The clicker sounds in The Last of Us are also a great example of this.

(Outlast) 2013

Sound design in video games makes whatever world you’re in feel real. It adds texture and depth that wasn’t there before and gives life to things that may not have even been considered prior to adding sound.

And as much respect as I have for all of the soundtracks I mentioned, The Last of Us will always be my favourite. On the off chance that Gustavo happens to stumble across this post I just want to say thank you for sharing your talent with us and I can’t wait to hear what you’ve conjured up for the sequel!

As always, thank you so much for reading!

Let me know what some of your favourite video game soundtracks are in the comments, I’d love to hear your responses 🙂

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