Best VGM Bonus Round – Classical Music In Video Games

Over this Easter Weekend, whilst buried in books for my latest University project, I have been listening to Classic FM – why is this you may ask? Well, over the long weekend the station has been playing its annual ‘Hall Of Fame’; the world’s largest survey of classical music in which 300 pieces are selected via voting from the public.

The list celebrates the best of the best from the classical world (the immortal names of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart et al), but also shows a consideration of popular scores from films and television as well; music from the likes of Star Wars, Pirates Of The Caribbean and The Lord Of The Rings regularly pop up in high positions. Last year, a campaign was started to recognize another area of music – that from video games, specifically orchestral music.

The initial results of the campaign were quite startling to say the least. Jeremy Soule was voted at 238th position for his work composing the score for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and the flagship song of the campaign, ‘Aerith’s Theme’ by Nobuo Uematsu from Final Fantasy VII, reached the incredibly lofty heights of 16th place.

The campaign has returned strong for a second year, and has already scored another success with Viva Pinata debuting in 174th place. With just over 50 tracks left to play on Easter Monday, we are waiting to see if the results of last year can be bettered.

I am interested to see the results, but at the same time the campaign has got me thinking about the inverse relationship – the presence of classical music in video games. In and amongst the bleeps and bloops of traditional game soundtracks, classical music has found itself quite at home in a number of games.

In this article I want to highlight just a small number of my favourite tracks, and the context in which they appear. I hope you enjoy the selection!

P.S I am aware that some games, including Eternal Sonata, feature a heavy amount of classical music (from Chopin in this case), but I haven’t played it personally. Also, I must be the only person in the world who didn’t play Tetris on the Game Boy, so ‘Korobeiniki’ also misses the cut as well.

1)         Tchaikovsky, ‘The 1812 Overture’ (featured in Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time (Insomniac Games, 2009))

A musical portrayal of the Russian victory over Napoleon, the 15 minute 1812 Overture is best known for the barnstorming finale, complete with ringing chime bells and volleys of canon fire (used to good effect in the finale to the film V For Vendetta when the Houses Of Parliament get blown up). What better piece of music then to accompany the RYNO V; the self proclaimed ‘most powerful weapon in the known universe’? When Ratchet fires this gun, near to 3,000 missiles are dispatched to the looping tune of the Overture. Ratchet also gets to utilise the RYNO V as his base level special attack in Playstation All Stars Battle Royale, where the music thankfully is retained.

2)         Dvorak, ‘Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95, B 178, “From the New World”: II. Largo’ (featured in Sid Meier’s Civilization IV & Civilization V (Firaxis Games, 2005 & 2010))

Alternatively known as the music from the 1973 Hovis Bread advert (you know, the one with the hill and the bike), Dvorak’s musical reminiscence of his old country of Bohemia fits perfectly into Civilization’s gameplay, for you yourself are crafting a new world with each turn. It pops up during the Industrial era in Civilization IV, the latter part of a standard game when things heat up, and so it always amuses me that this wonderfully peaceful music coincides with me waging bloody war with a neighbour. Usually Montezuma.

3)         Mussorgsky, ‘Night On Bald Mountain’ (featured in Kingdom Hearts (Square Enix, 2002))

The major influence behind Night On Bald Mountain featuring in the game (albeit in a slightly remixed fashion) is that in the End Of The World, there is a portal you can take Sora through allowing you to fight Chernabog in a special boss battle, and the piece of music was famously used in the quite unnerving sequence featuring the demon overlord from the 1940 Disney film Fantasia. I’ve included it in the list because a) it’s a great piece of music, b) Chernabog was a bastard to defeat, so you get to listen to it repeatedly, and c) it showed how well Disney used its resources for a game that no-one expected to do well at all. Night On Bald Mountain also features in the Earthworm Jim game, as well as the next game in the list…

4)         Verdi, ‘Requiem Dies Irae’ (featured in Project Gotham Racing 3 (Bizzare Creations, 2005))

PGR3 is one of my absolute favourite racing games; a selection of awesome cars and some beautifully crafted tracks set in the most famous cities in the world make it excellent, and the eclectic soundtrack which ranges from electronic to bhangra sweetens the deal. The game actually has a station dedicated to classical music, the choice selection of which is Verdi’s impossibly loud ‘Reqiuem’ (featured in the opening to Battle Royale and most recently in Django Unchained, the chorus is marked as ‘ffff’…musical notation for noise four times louder than ‘loud’). It makes the scramble away from the start line or drag racing along the Brooklyn Bridge far more epic than it ever should be.

It was also used in the introduction to ‘Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup’, if you remember that game at all…

5)         Beethoven, ‘Symphony No.9 In D Minor, Ode To Joy’ (featured in Peggle (Popcap Studios, 2007))

Considered a masterpiece of Western composition, Ludwig Van Beethoven’s choral symphony is perhaps the most famous piece of classical music in the world. It has been adopted by the EU as its anthem since the mid 1980’s, but more importantly it’s the music that meets you ears when you clear all the orange pegs from a level of Peggle, the supremely popular casual puzzle game. Again, a prominent example of a piece of classical music making a moment seem much more epic than it perhaps actually is, and one which combined with the game’s charm is bound to leave you smiling.

Hope you enjoyed reading, feel free to leave a comment if you have a particular favourite which I have omitted.

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