Some people say that artistic limitations breed creativity. This could definitely be said for video game music. In the early days of game music, there were plenty of limitations on composers that made it crucial for them to monitor their musical choices in games. Technology in the 80’s and 90’s era of arcade gaming and console gaming was quite limited. The entire Super Mario Bros. game is only 40 kilobytes which is smaller than most PDF or JPEG image files today. Only part of that memory space was allotted to the game music, which made composers like Koji Kondo have to think carefully about their musical choices. These limitations made for some of the most interesting, catchy music that still makes us tap our toes and sing along 30 years later.


Most video game music in today’s world lack the catchy melodies and harmonies that we loved from the 80’s and 90’s. Today the technology for making games has expanded tremendously. Composers compose music for games that include entire orchestras and choirs, filling their musical capacity to the brim. With this expansion in game music, composers came really make their soundtracks come alive. Their music can reflect the breadth and depth that the cinematic cut scenes in games provide. There are two composers that immediately come to mind that I think manage to bridge these two worlds of old school catchy melody writing, and the new style of composing for games; Nobuo Uematsu and Yoko Shimomura have been around through many console generations and through the evolution of gaming to what it is today. These two composers were around for the SNES era, and composed some of the most incredible and highly respected game music from that era. They are also still around today composing for games like Final Fantasy 15, Kingdom Hearts 3, and Bravely Default. These new games have the live orchestras, the electric guitar, and all of the modern tools composers can use for their scores.


Unlike many other composers today, Uematsu and Shimomura still manage to incorporate their ability to write catchy melodies that stick with the player long after they’ve played the game. Shimomura executes this brilliantly in Kingdom Hearts. Night of Fate, Welcome to Wonderland, Hollow Bastion, and many of her other compositions in Kingdom Hearts are highly memorable. You can hear those songs hundreds of times and never tire of it. Many games today call for bombastic, epic, orchestral scores that lack any clear melody. While you can find the melodic approach in the main titles, it is hardly found for much else. Not to say that every single game ever made needs to have a clear, singable melody, it is just a change that comes with the territory of the ever expanding technology in the game industry. This is the reason that we are still singing super mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Megaman 30 years later. The music in these games were often repetitive, but the composers back then used amazing compositional techniques to work around this and create memorable music.


Today orchestral halls are packed with concertgoers who want to hear their favorite music from games long ago. We are the only generations who have gotten to grow up for 30 years with this music. We are the generation of nostalgia, and that isn’t going anywhere. I wonder what game soundtracks we will be singing 30 years from now?

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