An area of music often highly overlooked is that of the soundtrack to accompany a game. Much like those of film soundtracks, the pieces that can arise from composers dedicated to scoring for these briefs of storytelling can be some of the most beautiful in modern listening settings. Often gone are the restrictions that a film may impose, and instead a lot more creative liberties bestowed upon the composer, in which they are free to interpret tone and enhance and even make up most of what makes a game truly amazing.
Obviously, the video game genre is huge and expansive, perhaps even more so than film and as such every piece and style may be different. However, this also means there may be music in this cached sector that may please anyone and everyone. I’d like to draw attention to a game series that really attracted me, changing my music taste for the better. The mastery involved in these pieces succeed at their job of making a player really immerse themselves in a story subtly yet strongly.
Assassin’s Creed - Jesper Kyd
Jesper Kyd is a Danish composer who has composed not just for games but for film as well, with an impressive array of pieces under his belt. He excels in adapting to different styles and settings required by these games to bring it to life and create authentic sounds with a modern twist. Assassin’s Creed is a series focused around changing settings in countries and time periods all around the world, and as such, Jesper Kyd, the forefront composer, has been one of the main reasons this major series is such a success.
Set in Renaissance Italy, the first few Assassin’s Creed games require this beautiful finesse that represents the architecture, the elegance, the rolling plains of Rome and the ancient echoes of the ruins, and the adrenaline-filled fast-paced conflict. Leonardo’s Inventions (after Leonardo Da Vinci) wonderfully captures the somewhat mournful and spacious feel of the countryside around Monteriggioni, with the minimalist strings in a polyphonic texture with one another ebbing and flowing with the piano and acoustic guitar.
Echoes of the Roman Ruins
This piece builds upon the style imbued by Leonardo’s Inventions, but with strikingly effective percussion and vocals, with the increase in texture and instrumentation reflecting the increased maturity of the character in this next installment of the series. The slow, rubato strings at the start paint a beautiful picture of the crumbling Roman pillars and empty landscape as it is in this period. It gives this impressive ambience that could not be achieved in most other mediums, with the classical orchestration combining with the voices and unorthodox percussion to create a unique yet compellingly intriguing piece.
City of Jerusalem
Much like its title describes, this piece reflects the Middle Eastern setting of Jerusalem, with the Gregorian-like chant harmonically providing ambient accompaniment to the strongly resonant flute. The sudden change from the A minor chord to the Ab major chord at the start of the piece sets the tone of this intriguingly exotic yet authentic piece in this city. Later monophony on the piano with male vocals with colla voce accompaniment perfectly captures the feel Kyd was going for, with reprises of the chord progression earlier reminding us that this piece may have developed but its exposition is ever present fulfilling its purpose as a Middle Eastern backdrop to a medieval holy city.
Set in Istanbul, this game takes a larger step away from the beautiful scenery of Italy or the mysterious cities of the Middle East and sets the player in this vivacious, exotic and colorful landscape of Constantinople, along with a completely different feel to the soundtrack. Core elements are, of course, present from Kyd, including a lot of minimalism but with modern electronic sounds mixing with more traditional percussion. This piece has low strumming strings revolving around the circle of fifths with unexpected modulations, with this upbeat and a tempo piece perfectly reflecting the chase scenes enacted in this busy and crowded city. The strings take a prominent role in the melody riding above the percussion, which is beautiful in its syncopated way, and the chords, while repeated, never fail to impress.
To end on an absolutely triumphantly flowing and thrilling piece that completely embodies the flamboyance of the parkour enacted by the young Italian protagonist, we have Venice Rooftops. This piece starts off with the modern enhanced distortion on the ostinatos with more acoustic and electric guitars quickly building up the texture, key minimalism shown by Kyd again. We then have a sequence playing around the main theme of the piece, with high strings taking a little motif above the rest of the orchestration, with noticeable vocals doubled by strings providing disjunct and excited melodies of their own. The crescendos in the strings culminating with all the other instruments while focusing on this main motif which is presented throughout the game is what generally makes game soundtracks incredible. The intertwining of the pieces throughout the game, with reprisals of leitmotifs in new and creative ways unthought of and surprising the player. The sudden cut in instrumentation and revert to the basic chords is a nice change in pace, before it diminuendos to the conclusion with some sweet bowed strings wrapping up this wonderful piece.
I hope this has given some insight into the brillIant world of game music, and how versatile and pleasing it can be. Jesper Kyd is a wonderful composer, and there are many others out there like him with amazing tracks going under appreciated. If I have sparked interest in anyone, know that these tracks can easily be listened to as ambience, as peaceful background music or as inspiring uplifting pieces by themselves without needing to play the game alongside it.
And of course - this couldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed music article without mentioning Ezio’s Family in some shape or form.
This piece is the best known and most famous Assassin’s Creed song, and has become the main theme and motif for the series, being the basis for many other tracks and completely showing how capable Jesper Kyd is of making wonderful tracks that could rival any film score.
Some honourable mentions (in the case of further interest):
Byzantium - Istanbul
Chariot Chase - Florence
City of Rome - Pretty self explanatory
Access the Animus - A very interesting track with modern distortion and themes which may take getting used to but with this rising sense of shape all the way throughout with thrilling tunes and instrumentation