I found out that Aerith’s Theme from Final Fantasy VII has been placed in 16th place in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame from this great article in Eurogamer. Video games, as those who actually play them have known all along, are a rich source of beautiful, exciting and gorgeous music, including those of classical instrumentation. People can and do spend inordinate amount of time arguing over whether game soundtrack qualifies as classical music, but what’s clear is that in an age which no longer produces purely classical composers of popular renown a la Rachmaninov and Barber, orchestral music is finding creativity and public acceptance in the fields of film and game soundtracks. Rather than begrudging this shift, it would be better if the often wonderful works from undoubted masters such as Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore and Nobuo Uematsu were recognized as pieces of art. After all, Mozart and Strauss composed for patrons, played to raucous crowds and relished rock-star status, so it wasn’t as if the classical composers of yesteryears were holy sages writing sheet music in the clouds with sparrows perched on their shoulders.
Here are some of my favourite video game music that’s scored with classical (or at least non-electronic) instruments – just a few out of many dozen pieces that hopefully will find as much appreciation as Aerith’s Theme did with Classic FM.
Yasunori Mitsuda – Scars of Time (from Chrono Cross)
Chrono Cross was the very definition of a divisive game, but where the soundtrack is concerned there are no split opinions. Probably the most universally respected and beloved game score of all time, and Scars of Time is both its opening track and its standout track. Time of the Dreamwatch is another highlight.
Koji Kondo – Staff Credits (from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker)
It’s probably titles like Staff Credits that make it really hard for non-gamers to take game music seriously. Shame, because if there’s a more delightful and lilting melody, I haven’t heard it. Koji Kondo has scored every single mainline Zelda game except The Adventure of Link, is the composer for every single console Mario release, and is possibly best known for this. But as the Zelda games have grown from simple 2D sprites to sprawling 3D adventures, Kondo’s music has become more and more magisterial. This particular piece, however, still retains the nostalgia and whimsy of the Nintendo of old, led by the sweetest of hooks. If I had the choice of any music to be played at my wedding, I would pick this.
Vincent Diamante – Purification of the City (from Flower)
Flower is a minimalistic game with an eco-friendly message, in which you control a petal as it flies through various environments, transforming them from neglected or despoiled landscapes into the full bloom of their natural beauty. Again this description will probably put off a lot of people, but it’s not nearly as wishy-washy as one might fear. Flower’s graphics, themes and music all come together to create one of the most moving and therapeutic gaming experiences ever created. Purification of the City is the best piece, coming towards the end as a truly memorable game reaches its soaring climax. Splash of Color is another outstanding track from the album.
Nobuo Uematsu – Ending Theme (from Final Fantasy X)
This list wouldn’t be complete without an entry from the old master himself. Final Fantasy X was one of the best emotional experiences I’ve had with a game, and the ending over which this track plays is a real tearjerker. Removed from the game, the music still stands strong. To Zanarkand from the same game is probably one of the most popular pieces of Final Fantasy music ever, but I’ve picked Ending Theme because of its orchestral flourish and especially the bittersweet final minute.