The way video games tell stories can be found in fascinating ways. Often times it’s through clearly visible means such as the gameplay and story. Other times it can be subversive in nature that can be easily missed by untrained eyes, or in this case, ears.
These original soundtracks tell those stories, even when the games they are featured in aren’t exactly story-driven games. Through these beats and sounds, us gamers can deduce the kind of tone these games are going for and the themes they championed.
As for my case, these soundtracks resonate with me during my experience in their games. They might not sound transcendent or revolutionary, but when I listen to them, I feel. These feelings push me forward in playing these games, or in some cases, pull me back into them when I went on a hiatus.
Such is the power of video game OSTs, I suppose.
So yeah, here we go again.
The Art of War — Mike Morasky (Team Fortress 2)
A comically hilarious video game where each of the playable main characters are basically hard stereotypes of the cultures they represent.
And yet, it confidently fashions a soundtrack as epic as “The Art of War”.
A track so intense, its sounds consisted solely of drums and percussion.
No kidding, I didn’t even realize it until someone pointed it out in the comments section.
As with most of TF2’s soundtracks, “The Art of War” serves as some sort of theme song for Soldier, one of the game’s colorful cast of mercenaries. The track was also prominently featured in his introduction video titled Meet the Soldier.
What came as joyfully intense soundtrack to Soldier’s explosive introduction turned out to be his theme song, and to be honest, it couldn’t have been a more fitting track to his overly patriotic personality.
See, Soldier’s lives and dies by one principle: to fight. “The Art of War” signifies this very idea with intense drums at the beginning (which was used in-game when someone is getting vote-kicked out of a match) that increases in speed throughout the track. The low booming drum was then layered with the lighter but faster instances of other percussion sounds, almost sounding like a troop-rallying drum performance at this point. As the track becomes increasingly intense marked with faint trumpets in the background, it stops… only for it to jump back to life with a higher tempo than before. And so the track continues to build up momentum, its percussion becoming more vivid and hectic before abruptly disappearing for the last time.
Not much else is used as a leitmotif for the Soldier, unlike the Medic’s majestic but malevolent themes or the Spy’s sharp but sinister undertones. Being a World War 2 reject, the Soldier hungers for combat experience and the glory it brings. He craves for victory and only knows of one way to achieve it: through fighting. Not by tanking your defenses like the Engineer or playing the long-range assassination game like the Sniper, who fights like that? Nope, for the Soldier it’s the front-line action that counts the most.
It all comes together when you watch his Meet the Soldier video. For starters, the track title “The Art of War” is derived from a book of the same name written by the great ancient Chinese general and strategist Sun Tzu. The great thinker passed along a plethora of military wisdom for future generations of military leaders, but for now I would like to quote one for this story:
“If fighting is sure to result in victory, than you must fight, even though the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the ruler’s bidding.”
And what are the Soldier’s first words in that video?
“If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight!”
Godspeed Soldier, you magnificent irreplaceable bastard.
And of course, rest in peace to Soldier’s voice actor Rick May who passed away this April. May you bring joy, happiness, and screaming eagles wherever you are as you have to Team Fortress 2 players everywhere.
Chocolate Helicopter — Mike Morasky (Left 4 Dead 2)
Looks like there’s been a change of plans…
Then the hook kicks in, and that’s when we know this is far from your average zombie game.
“Chocolate Helicopter” was featured as a part of Left 4 Dead 2’s soundtrack. While I’d argue that it would’ve been a stretch to classify it as the definitive Left 4 Dead 2 theme song, its role in making the 2009 release one of the best zombie games of all time cannot be understated.
For starters, it set the tone for what players should expect once they got past the campaign loading screen. It’s quite literally the first song that the player hears when booting up the game as it plays all the way through the game’s introductory cutscene.
And what a different tone it is: compared to the first installment’s subtle and more ambient musical direction emphasizing on the ‘horror’ in ‘survival horror’, “Chocolate Helicopter” is bombastic and action-packed. Full of grungy guitar riffs and sharp snare beats, the track pumps the players with zombie-killing adrenaline. Yes, you still have to fight through the zombie horde that can overwhelm you and make you die a horrible death, but at least now you will have fun doing it.
Not to forget, the track’s unique musical style makes it sound… Southern. As in, the Deep South of the United States. Which makes a lot of sense, since the game is set in the Deep South and has Southern-influenced characters (looking at you, Ellis).
“Chocolate Helicopter” also has its quieter moments too, where the track’s hook was reduced into nothing but rhythmic claps. I’d like to think that represents the survivors’ timeout moment, a moment to collect their breaths after fighting through their daily dose of bloodthirsty zombie hordes… before the barrage of snare came in and the track went back into its default hard-hitting state. Just like the game with its safe houses.
Lastly of course, the track’s title, which I found to be a simple but smart callback to the game’s cheeky sense of humor. You might be wondering, why does a song this intense have a hilariously comical title like “Chocolate Helicopter”?
Well, since the song plays almost in its entirety in the game’s intro cutscene (and not much else, to be honest), it’s only fitting that it borrows the name from one of the scenes found there. To be precise, an exchange between two of the main cast, Nick and Coach.
The two guys were seen ascending a fire escape leading to a roof. Seemingly out of breath, Coach stopped his stride and complained while Nick went ahead of him.
“Who the hell puts an evac station up thirty flights of goddamn stairs?”
Knowing Coach’s big appetite, Nick looked back and with a sarcastic laugh replied
“Come on Coach, maybe the helicopter, maybe it’s made of chocolate.”
Proof of a Hero — Tetsuya Shibata (Monster Hunter series)
During my fifteenth fight against Fatalis in Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, I felt despair and hopelessness. I fought this beast for hours and still hasn’t gotten close to beating it. At the back of my head, a pessimistic sentiment: am I never going to defeat it?
Then this song blared right after the dragon got stabbed with a pair of Dragonator drills.
Upon hearing it, I screamed in pure ecstasy. There is hope yet.
That was before one of my teammates got toasted by Fatalis’ stage-covering fire carpet, causing us to lose the fight yet again.
Not to worry, I eventually slayed the beast with the help of my loyal friends two days later.
To this day, I still remember the first time I’d heard the song in that fashion. Sure I’ve heard it countless times before, but to hear it when it actually mattered? Truly, there is nothing like it.
That’s when I truly felt like a hero, and the song is the proof of it.
Unlike “Chocolate Helicopter” with its vague relationship with the game it’s featured in, “Proof of a Hero” is the definitive Monster Hunter theme. No Monster Hunter game can be considered complete without it. To an extent, that also goes to other Monster Hunter-related media. That also means you, upcoming Monster Hunter movie.
The first appearance for “Proof of a Hero” dates back to the first Monster Hunter game released in 2004. Since there is no complete information on who composed the piece, I credited Tetsuya Shibata, one of the first game’s composers, instead. The track has been featured in all Monster Hunter titles ever since with different arrangements.
How do I begin to describe this song? Its elements may vary across installments, but one remains constant: the sequence of horn blares that make up the song’s hook. It signifies bravery, gallantry, unyielding will, and most importantly, heroism.
Story may not be Monster Hunter’s strongest suit, but the stakes throughout the games will always be sky-high. Be it Dalamadur, Fatalis, or Safi’jiiva, all of the endgame dragons have apocalyptic capabilities. Failure to beat them will not only mean your death, but death to mankind. This sounds like an exaggeration, but have you ever thought why there’s infinitely more monsters than humans in the world of Monster Hunter? Exactly.
As with my case with Fatalis, the song has an innate power to re-energize all hunters that hear it. The horn blares largely contribute to that, but other elements play a part in that as well, such as the string-filled build-up and the beautiful melody that comes after that horn drop. The melody signifies the splendor that is the world of Monster Hunter itself, full of wonders and mysteries yet to be discovered. If it wasn’t for the hook, it’s easy to initially think of Monster Hunter as an adventure game with a focus on world exploration and discovery.
Well those elements do exist in the games, but come on. It’s in the title.
Drawing from YouTube comments, “Proof of a Hero” represents what truly makes a monster hunter, a hero. It’s never about the effectiveness of your armor build, or the sharpness of your greatsword, or even the lightning-quick reflexes of your hunter.
Rather, it was that indomitable spirit and unbreakable will, that unyielding drive to tackle any hunt the game has to offer, no matter how impossible it may seem. Even in the face of defeat, a hero remains unbroken. Even after carting two times in a row, a hero readily jumps back into the hunt.
That belief is what keeps a hunter going, and the anthem is proof of it.
So that’s that, my second story about my favorite original sountracks in gaming.
I initially thought that I won’t be expanding this series of stories any further, but then I played Yakuza 0.
Well, I suppose we’ll see how it goes.