I love opening cutscenes in video games for various reasons. For one, it’s designed to be a hook to draw me into the video game, either with gameplay or setting the stage for the story. And secondly, normally the theme song for the video game plays, or a piece that incorporates the theme.
My focus with this article is the second part. I love video game soundtracks. Even back in the early days, a lot of promising and talented composers worked with limited tools to create idyllic and capturing melodies. And today, full orchestras and bands bring video games to life. If nothing else, I think a game’s music is a perfect example of its “soul”.
But I came to this conclusion after encountering one opening that forever altered the way I saw video games.
But before I get to that, to set the stage, I’m ten years old, and my love for video games is blossoming nicely. My life consisted of going to elementary school and playing on my PlayStation and N64. I had friends, sure, but I always like retiring to my Grandmothers and continuing a game while my developing mind started grasping more concepts and ideas from games.
Back in this age, gaming magazines such as the official PlayStation magazine would package a disk with various demos on it. I never had a subscription, but my more fortunate friends would give me theirs when they were done with it. It was exciting, but nothing new. I came to realize that there wasn’t playable demos of all the games, so my child mind didn’t much care for the cutscene-only demos. This is actually how I came to love both The Legend of Dragoon and Einhänder.
But out of boredom, I checked out all of the contents of one disk. It wasn’t until I played one named Chrono Cross did I actually pay attention.
And pay attention I did. The cutscene opens with a book opening slowly, and as a flute pierces the dull lull, a poem fills the screen.
“What was the start of all this?
When did the cogs of fate begin to turn?
Perhaps it is impossible to grasp that answer now,
from deep within the flow of time.
But, for a certainty back then,
we loved so many, yet hated so much.
We hurt others, and were hurt ourselves.
And still we ran like the wind, whilst our laughter echoed
under cerulean skies.”
I was ten, but I sat wondering what was this beautiful music I was hearing. Back then, I was limited to the radio, or my Dad’s collection of rock albums. This was something new, something foreign to my musical palette. This violin and guitar, sounding like a sweet lullaby, had grabbed my attention, and made the poem mean something to me even though it was my first time ever seeing it.
Then the song picks up. Oh God does it ever pick up.
At first, it just gets a bit more intense, with some new visuals. I see what would appear to be the protagonist surrounded by mystical light, then a few colorful dragons.
Then the violin really starts. It’s no exaggeration when I say that I got chills down my entire being when I first heard it. I still do to a lesser extent, but not as much as the first time.
The song is intense, the violin, like my pulse, is quickening. Then another comes in and provides the melody. All the while, the (at the time) beautiful graphics illustrate this colorful and vibrant world that looks as if it is being destroyed. Characters flash on the screen, then disappear, intriguing me. The seemingly established protagonist (who I learn much later is named Serge) grabs his head and falls to his knees.
Then everything lifts. The melody isn’t as fast paced and harsh. And the camera zooms in on this figure who had been featured before, but now standing alone, on a beach, looking out into the ocean. With the music, this paints a picture of loneliness. She turns, blinks, smiles softly, then offers her hand out to the screen, and therefore, you.
Then the music kicks back in, and more visuals out of context flash, but it all fits so perfectly that once the string of the violin erupts to signal the end, all you are left with is Chrono Cross.
Listen with your volume up.
I must have watched that opening on that demo disk a dozen times after that. Needless to say the opening struck me. From then on, I could never see video game music the same.
And to this day, I still appreciate, (hell, half the time, prefer) video game sound tracks. My iPod is gracefully dying a slow death, but its life had plenty of meaning by letting me revisit literally over a thousand video game songs. But my love for them all started with one opening cutscene.
The composer for this is Yasunori Mitsuda, who recently composed Kid Icarus: Uprising and the upcoming Soul Sacrifice.