VGM Playlist #6 – ‘Classical Music Used in Games’

This is a series of posts and playlists showing off video game equivalents to the themes of Classic FM’s Saturday Night at the Movies shows – this week, well-known classical music used in video games

Orchestral video game music as you may already be aware is a huge emerging genre in the classical world, which in the past few years has seen airtime on Classic FM and BBC Radio 3. These shows have focused on the composers who do not usually get the plaudits and adulation that is reserved for the likes of Beethoven, Mozart and the like.

Sometimes though, you just can’t beat the classics – there are a number of games which have used arrangements or remixed versions of more well-known composers to act as the soundtrack to the experience, which has introduced their players either knowingly or unwittingly to the world of classical music and some of the wonderful and exciting pieces that lie within.

To start with, let’s take a look at Little King’s Story. You play as a young king thrust into a colourful fantasy world, managing resources and fighting battle in order to make your kingdom wider and stronger. The game’s soundtrack, arranged by Yutaka Minobe and Yoko Shimamura, is entirely based on classical works encompassing everything from Bach to Elgar. Most of these arrangements make the pieces more lively and effervescent to match the world you’re in, while some remain tranquil to translate the calmer side of the game across.

Another series which uses a whole host of different works in its soundtrack is Civilization. Almost all civilizations have their own unique theme, in which plenty of composers find themselves included. At the same time, the different eras you reach while progressing through the game are signposted by works of the time, helping you distinguish Renaissance from Industrial. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Peggle 2 where each ‘Peggle Master’ has their own theme intertwined with a famous classical piece (although most will remember it mainly for the game’s victory theme – a 30 second blast of Ode to Joy)

Other games use classical music more sparingly. For example, in Elite (as well as Elite: Dangerous), Blue Danube is fired up when you set a course for auto-docking, in direct reference to the similar sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Elsewhere, Clair de Lune is a recent favourite to be included in games as a respite from the action, as seen in Rain and The Evil Within while Ave Maria has been used in a couple of the Hitman games as well.

Perhaps the piece of classical music made most famous by games, though, is Korobeiniki, a traditional Russian folk song used in Tetris and has become almost synonymous with cursing loudly after not rotating that backwards L-shape quite right. A feeling which intensifies when you realise the music is still in your head, looping around and around, driving you crazy and forcing you to play again to get it right and thus beginning another cycle. Korobeiniki is dangerous, brilliant and addiciting, much like Tetris itself.
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