In-Game Music

Modern videogames do not provide ringtone-friendly music. It was Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children that started this particular train of thought more than a year ago, so bear with me; there’s a point in the film when a character’s mobile phone goes off, and the ringtone it uses is the opening part of the fanfare music that appears in most Final Fantasy games. For the uninitiated among you, you can listen to that music, in glorious MIDI, here.

Now, the sample I’ve provided there isn’t what appears in the film; in the film, it’s only the opening ‘dadadadaa daaa daaa da DA-DAA’ bit, stripped of all accompaniment and on repeat, and it works not only as a nostalgic nod to the fans but it’s not bad as a ringtone anyway. So, on and off for the last year, I’ve been trying to find exactly that, but I’ve failed — whatever I find is the full orchestral version, which isn’t what I’m after.

While hunting for this very specific version of the fanfare, I found no end of other possibilities, and successfully whiled away, ooh, hours at least by downloading MIDI versions of classic in-game music: the Overworld theme from The Legend of Zelda (click), the theme music from Super Mario Bros. (click), the music from the first level of Sonic the Hedgehog (Green Hill Zone 1, fact fans).

Eventually I gave up on the FFVII fanfare and settled on this — that’s the Secret Discovery jingle from various Zelda games; it’s the sound played when you reveal a secret treasure chest or door or something. I haven’t used this as my main ringtone, but as the noise I get when I receive a text message. Now, whenever I get a text, I not only have the thrill of knowing somebody has something to say to me, but I also have a warming reminder of how much of a nerd I am.

My mum thinks I’m cool

The thought that occurred to me while hunting down all these crappy little MIDIs was this; that these were all for old games, games from around 15–20 years ago, and I thought — what in-game music these days is going to be as recognisable in twenty years as it is now? In fact, is any in-game music now recognisable outside of the game? I remember the music from — for example — Half-Life as being very good, but if you played it for me now I doubt I’d recognise it, and the same is true for music from Pikmin, from Rez and from Sonic Rush.

I’m not saying that modern game music is bad — with modern hardware and modern budgets, many games have excellent soundtracks that you can listen to in such as your car stereo or lounge, but thinking back of the games I’ve played lately, I can’t think of anything that would sound good on a phone. It’s all arranged orchestras and arias these days — all eminently suited to the game, but nothing very catchy, nothing that seems as if it has the potential to be iconic in the same way that the Overworld theme from The Legend of Zelda turns up in one arranged form or another in every subsequent game.

Perhaps it’s just nostalgia talking; perhaps gamers who started gaming only recently will look back 20 years from now and reminisce not about Green Hill Zone 1 but about the music from Metal Gear Solid 4 or Viva Piñata. Or perhaps they’ll also be looking back at the same Zelda theme, except they’ll first have encountered it in the forthcoming Twilight Princess.

Who knows? Who cares? Probably nobody. At any rate, at least now I have a cool text message alert sound. That’s ‘cool’ from my perspective, obviously. I doubt Dazed and Confused would see things quite the same way.