My Favourite Video Game Soundtracks - Part 3
This series of blogs has explored video game soundtracks I've not only enjoyed but taken inspiration from. In each part, I've progressed through the various iterations of consoles I've purchased over the years. This week, I talk about the Fable and Assassin's Creed soundtracks.
FABLE 1, FABLE 2, AND FABLE 3 It's not often you come across a video game with a main theme composed by a world-renowned film composer. In this case, Danny Elfman, music composer for most (if not all) Tim Burton's films. The only other video game series I've played where the developers used a big film composer is Assassin's Creed, which used Lorne Balfe in Revelations and III, then Brian Tyler for Black Flag. Fun Fact: He and Danny Elfman both worked together on Avengers: Age Of Ulton.
Anyway, while the main theme of Fable is amazing, that's all Elfman composed for the game. The rest was scored by Russell Shaw (yes I'm talking about his music again), who had been with Lionhead (the developers of Fable) since their days as Bullfrog (they did Theme Hospital (yay!), Dungeon Keeper, and the Black and White video games among others).
Shaw, who hadn't worked with an orchestra before, cleverly managed to take Elfman's theme and use leitmotifs in the majority of his tracks for the game. My favourites include 'Summer Fields', a positive and beautifully peaceful song where woodwind and harp play melodies and countermelodies above suspended string chords, and 'Witchwood', a darkly romantic and mischievous song used to represent the mystery and eerie beauty of the woods you venture through.
A stand-out song from the soundtrack is the simplistic and yet ethereally mesmerising 'Temple Of Light'. This comes in two versions, one using bell-like synthesizers and the other using harp. Along with other songs from the soundtrack, and similar to the Halo and Gothic series mentioned previously, this is a theme that is revisited in the sequel video games.
While Fable 2 also has a good soundtrack, with 'Bowerlake' being my favourite for it's celtic tone, I prefer Fable 3's soundtrack when it comes to the sequels. The game itself took a more story-focused approach and you can hear that in the composed music too with various themes and leitmotifs for the different characters. The string motif in 'Elise', which reappears in other tracks, is so rich and expressive and, when you know the plot of the story, heartbreaking as well. In a video game where morality is a key feature, having the ability to be grounded and human or horrible and beastly (physically too), this small motif, for me, is a reminder to the protagonist of their humanity in those darker moments of the game.
'Sanctuary' is a new, slower variation of 'Temple Of Light'; creating a sombre and nostalgic tone to a once positive and ethereal-sounding track that is still beautiful and pleasant to listen to. It's 'Reliquary', though, that sends shivers down my spine this time. Harking back to the first game's choral chant used in the 'Heroes Guild', it creates a sparse and despairing ambience that is touched with nostalgia (for me at least).
ASSASSIN'S CREED 2, ASSASSIN'S CREED BROTHERHOOD, ASSASSIN'S CREED REVELATIONS, AND ASSASSIN'S CREED 3
Assassin's Creed is a huge video game series, spanning 12 main games with a number of smaller entries on handheld consoles. While the first game starts off this incredible series, going back to it makes it feel like a testing platform for the later games. The soundtrack is good but it's elevated to another level in the second game.
I remember watching my brother play Assassin's Creed 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations (3 separate games of a trilogy) years ago but I came to this series quite late and so have enjoyed playing these games on the PS4 in updated versions. Jesper Kyd, music composer of the first game, came back to score this trilogy and I think a lot of people are thankful that he did.
Like many others, I have a lot of favourites from this soundtrack that successfully blend musical instruments that include those of modern rock, renaissance Italy (the setting of the trilogy), celtic, vocals, and futuristic-sounding synthesizers, all grounded by a main theme whose leitmotif is reused throughout the score, 'Ezio's Family'. This became such an iconic piece of video game music that it has since been reused many times throughout the series despite Ezio's character having left the series years ago. It is such a beautiful and emotional song that reflects the main character's personality and struggles so well. Each time it is used throughout Ezio's story it brings incredible depth to the scenes.
As I said, I have so many favourites from this soundtrack that include 'Home In Florence', a song that moves from synthesizers, to harp, to strings, to vocals, starting with such hope and happiness and ending with a sombre nostalgia. 'Tour Of Venice', a calm and relaxing vocal, strings, and piano piece with an interesting modulation in the middle. 'Dreams Of Venice' cleverly acts as a refrain of 'Tour Of Venice' with some beautiful main vocals that mix between male and female, and has a wonderful sense of ambience. For something a little more upbeat, the two 'Flight Over Venice' songs really capture the freeing sense of soaring high overtop with acoustic guitar, percussion, and vocals.
In Brotherhood, the second game of the trilogy, 'City Of Rome' is a fantastic introduction, Kyd taking the same musical instrumentation from the previous game and creating a new theme that is reused throughout the soundtrack for this game. 'Echoes Of The Roman Ruins' uses female vocals to inflect a latin roman vibe to the soundtrack while also maintaining a sense of minimal beauty since this is an exploration track. 'Apple Chamber', heard in the final parts of the game, uses only synthesizers to really bring out the sci-fi elements of this story. The tone the song sets is that of mystery and wonder, which is well-suited.
For Revelations, Kyd teamed up with Lorne Balfe (music composer of the recently released Black Widow as well as other great movies, video games, and TV shows) who brought his hollywood blockbuster sound with him. The opening theme begins, however, with Kyd's minimal style and centres around a solo female vocal. This is the final chapter of Ezio's trilogy, he is older and has travelled to a distant Byzantine land. The song reflects his solitude, has tones of sadness, and yet duty and courage when it builds to the ending. It's vocal motif is reused throughout the soundtrack in key moments of the story but this opening version is a song worth listening to if you have the time.
'Welcome to Kostantiniyye' cleverly creates a minimal soundscape of synthesizers, vocals, piano, exotic instruments, and strings. These together give us, the players, a great introduction to this new setting. 'Byzantium' creates a distinct exploration theme similar to the previous games but with added music box, which, personally, gives this a fantastical nature and perhaps that is the way Ezio perceives this new land. 'Istanbul' again uses Byzantine instruments sprinkled into the mix to create a beautiful soundscape perfect for exploring the city. 'Everything Changes' occurs at a pivotal point in the story and mixes both the famous 'Ezio's Family' motif and this game's theme as well. 'The Revelation' uses synthesizers to, this time, recreate the game's motivic theme, adding strings to the texture later on.
I could go into such great detail about this soundtrack as there are loads of great moments both big and small but needless to say, this is a great example of a good music composer duo.
For Assassin's Creed 3, Balfe takes centre stage and it shows. Where Revelations had blockbuster moments sprinkled throughout, Balfe goes all-out here and it is very satisfying. The main theme is one of my favourites of the series and perfectly reflects the protagonist's struggle between american patriotism and loyalty to his native homeland. Again, as in the previous games, the main motif from this theme is reused throughout the soundtrack at key moments.
'An Uncertain Present' is used to underscore a brief recap of the story so far from the previous games. The synthesizer elements here hark back to Kyd's style so well that it's a good nod to his skill. 'Homestead' creates its own unique theme using traditional instruments native to America and features chord progressions typical of the time period's western tonal tradition, all fitting together to make a calm and homely song. 'Fight Club', despite being a fighting theme, is an upbeat traditional irish gigue that is so lively it's a joy to listen to.
So much of this soundtrack is great that, again, I could talk about it forever so a few honorable mentions go to 'Modern Assassin' for its intense synthesized action. 'Beer And Friends' is another upbeat irish gigue that sounds great. 'What Came Before' is a final goodbye to the protagonist, a minimal and somber synthesized song that is so full of emotion.
TO BE CONTINUED
Because the Assassin's Creed video game series is so vast and full of fantastic game music, I can't list it all here so join me next time, in part 4, where we look at the soundtracks of Black Flag, Rogue, Unity, and Syndicate.
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