The biggest public survey for classic music in the world is over again for another year. Yet again The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams rules supreme at No.1, but music from video game soundtracks had its best representation yet in the 2015 countdown. A total of twelve pieces from games made it into the top 300 list, with several new entries and (arguably) better tracks being used to represent each franchise.
There were casualties, though. Austin Wintory’s score for Journey fell out of the chart this year, much to my own dismay. While I hope it makes a return next year, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the 4-day playlist was perhaps one of the best ones in recent memory. Before we get to our round-up, a quick honourable mention to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, as Elliot Goldenthal’s score made a surprise appearance at #259. While the film didn’t set the world of fire like Squeenix hoped it would, there’s no denying that tracks like ‘Adagio and Transformation’ aren’t worthy of recognition.
Anyway, on with our countdown, with titles, composers, and links to the official listings over on Classic FM.
Halo 3 – Finish the Fight – #244
Martin O’ Donnell / Michael Salvatori
As ways to kick off a list go, this is probably the best one to do it with. The closing number of the Halo 3 soundtrack perfectly captures the grandeur of the series, as well as the memories of gamers everywhere to, as the title states, finish the fight (until the next one came out, obviously.) O’ Donnell’s themes are some of the most recognisable the games industry has produced, and his place on the countdown is more than justified.
If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t expecting this one at all, but I am incredibly glad it made the cut. ‘All Gone (No Escape)’ is the perfect representative for Santaolla’s beautifully haunting score that perfectly emoted the post-apocalyptic setting and relationship between its lead characters.
Starcraft II – The Showdown – #163
Russell Brower, Neal Acree, Glen Stafford
Here’s another one that I will classify as a welcome surprise appearance. While StarCraft is usually associated with eSports, its single-player campaign plays host to a fantastic score from Russell Brower. Another piece taken from the closing moments of the game, ‘The Showdown’ highlights the blend of styles used throughout the game (with the exception of the space cowboy vibe, admittedly.)
Blue Dragon – Waterside – #118
If proof was needed that Uematsu is more than the Final Fantasy series, this is it. Blue Dragon may not have been universally praised as a game, but its soundtrack certainly was, and Waterside is a great example of why that was the case. Compromising of the usual motifs Uematsu is known for, its music is perfectly capable of being listened to outside of its source material.
The highest new entry in this year’s chart, Koji Kondo’s work really needs no introduction. The Suite that was played is based upon the highly recognisable main theme, with the arrangement by Andrew Skeet being a fine example of formally-electronic music being reborn through live orchestras. That said, that initial build-up is very ‘Superman’, I must say.
If ever there was an example of a soundtrack surpassing its source material in terms of success, Grant Kirkhope’s score for Kingdom’s of Amalur: Reckoning is it. The first of three entries for the British composer, his work was a highlight for the Action RPG, demonstrating that Kirkhope is one of the more versatile composers on this list.
As a big Warcraft fan, it’s great to see the series represented, but there’s something special about the track chosen to represent Blizzard’s RTS & MMO property. Not only is it from the best WoW Expansion Wrath of the Lich King (and I’ll fight anyone who states otherwise) but it perfectly captures the character of Prince Arthas. His journey to save and ultimately damn his people is one of the best stories told in gaming, and his final stand in Icecrown Citadel is accompanied by this track. Utterly breathtaking.
As someone who isn’t a fan of the game, I actually find Viva Pinata’s soundtrack capable of transcending its source material better than anything else of the list. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a forgotten excerpt from Vaughan Williams or Elgar if you didn’t know it was from a video game (a friend of mine even said as much when hearing it on the radio during the countdown.) Visions of sunny fields are always in my head when I hear it, and again proves how versatile a composer Kirkhope is.
The highest ranking female composer in the chart, Shimomura’s work on the Kingdom Hearts soundtrack is as magical as the Disney / Final Fantasy source material. While I wouldn’t necessarily state this is the best example of her work, its use of the main themes from throughout the game are woven with grace and power where needed.
The final entry for Kirkhope yet again it highlights his ability to create a score appropriate for any scene he is given. From the Nuts & Bolts soundtrack, the quirky and off-beat style of the gameplay is matched in tone by the music, creating an ambiance of fun and child-like innocence. I know I’m a broken record at this point, but I cannot say enough good things about Kirkhope’s work, and tracks like this are exactly why that’s the case.
While Soule’s work on the Elder Scrolls series certainly deserved recognition, I never subscribed to the thought that Dragonborn was his best piece, so I’m very glad that something else was used to represent the franchise this year. Taken from ESO, the track still keeps the familiar theme whilst incorporating choral singing and horns to convey the never-ending war for the throne of Cyrodiil.
Unsurprisingly, Uematsu’s work for the Final Fantasy series was the highest placed video game soundtrack in the chart, but what did surprise me was that Aerith’s Theme was replaced with To Zanarkand this year, and I couldn’t have been happier. From a personal standpoint, this track means more to me than most of Uematsu’s work, but from a technical standpoint it highlights his ability to compose exceptional and emotive pieces that can stand on their own away from the gameplay. A well-deserved top ten finish.
In short, it was a fantastic showing for video game music in this year’s Classic FM Hall of Fame, and one that hopefully cements the legitimacy of its place amongst the usual playlist once and for all.
For the full list of pieces in this year’s top 300, head over to the Classic FM Hall of Fame 2015 website, but now it’s your turn to have your voice heard. Did you listen to the countdown? Do you agree with the pieces that were chosen? Let us know in the comments!