Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-05-07 17:46:55
Summoner and Video Game Soundtracks
Sound design is remarkably important to the gaming experience. When you're playing, you sometimes overlook just how much effort goes into making every bullet, magic spell and explosion ring true. Soundtracks in games are at the forefront of importance, and when the soundtrack is good, it can draw a player into a fantastical world. After you finish a good game, more vivid in your memory than your time playing it is your time listening to it. Truly great gaming soundtracks stay with you long after you finish your quest or mission; they linger, enticing you back to the game just to hear them again.
While there are many fantastic gaming soundtracks out there (too many to possibly attempt to list), one that has stuck with me above many others is the Summoner (PC/PS2) OST. Summoner was a truly original RPG with a colossal amount of depth to it. It was popular enough to spawn a sequel but, alas, the series didn't go any further than that. Outside of the stellar gameplay, though, the soundtrack especially is what resonated with me, as anyone who checked out my recent interview with the composer of Summoner's soundtrack, Scott Lee, will know. There isn't much else like it out there, as far as I've heard. It has a very ambient feel to it, similar to something Harold Budd would produce. In many respects it reminds me of his record 'Lovely Thunder', invoking all sorts of ethereal landscapes. The soundtrack jumps between menacing tribal numbers and relaxed city environments, and throughout it remains utterly beautiful and enchanting. There isn't much that can rival 'Wolong Cave' in terms of its sheer haunting creativity.
There's so much variety to the Summoner soundtrack that it baffles me that it hasn't received more credit within video game music circles. The music in the 'Iona' location, for example, is so unlike anything I have ever heard before in a video game that it becomes almost impossible to find a convincing parallel. It begins with a brooding chanting noise and delicate percussion, building up layers of acoustic guitars and bird chirps. It sounds astonishing and sets such a convincing mood for the particular location you're visiting in-game when the music plays. I remember fondly travelling to certain areas of the world and then leaving the game on, so that I could listen to the music in the background. There isn't much else like it, and long loops that constantly shift up in sound and style keep things engaging.
Nostalgia for the game does come into play when examining the soundtrack, but even objectively speaking I can think of no other gaming soundtrack with songs that are anything like 'Ikaemos' - it sounds almost like a Phil Collins track in its synthesised glory, or an instrumental jam session, and it feels great revisiting these tracks years after playing the game and finding that they have lost none of their magic. I imagine lots of players have their own gaming soundtracks that they remember fondly. For some, these soundtracks might be the sort that everyone knows and have stood the test of time and become classics, such as the soundtracks to the numerous Final Fantasy games. To others, the games might be more obscure: I personally adore the Little Big Adventure 2 soundtrack, and, of course, Summoner, and while I understand that plenty of people haven't even heard of these games, those that have will surely agree with me that they had excellent music.
It is important that we don't overlook the importance of video game music. Music often receives a tertiary glance when it comes to games - a middling sentence in a review, if that - and yet it is music that draws us into these worlds that we come to love. When a game's soundtrack really works, it's enough to keep you coming back for more. It is what keeps you clicking around on the internet searching for the specific names of songs you enjoyed, and it is what motivates you to invest in official soundtrack CDs. And when the games are too niche to have official OST releases, it is truly special to locate songs online and to find that there are a bunch of devoted fans who have also sought out the same songs as you for the exact same reasons. It's great to see that level of communication and positivity coming out of memories of songs you heard in video games and never forgot about. Having located songs from the Summoner soundtrack, that exact sensation happened to me, and I couldn't be happier for it.
Check out my interview with Scott Lee, the composer for Summoner, here.