Great music, sound effects, and voice acting are crucial components of a classic video game. However, in my experiences, I’ve found more enjoyment in turning on subtitles, muting the game sound, and spinning a record while I play. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate when a game has crisp sound and a phenomenal original soundtrack, but after a couple of hours, I get the picture and would rather listen to some of my favorite records.
However, I don’t just throw on any record; I have to be selective about what I choose. The music has to match the aesthetic and feel of the game for me to maintain my immersion. As you can guess, this involves a bit of trial and error, but finding the right match makes all the time, effort, and thought worth it in the end. So without further ado, here are some of the video game and music pairings I’ve enjoyed over the past few months.
Persona 5 | The Epic (Kamasi Washington)
I adore the Persona 5 soundtrack. It’s cool, funky, and does a great job of matching the stylish aesthetic of the game. But when you have to hear the same 4-5 songs on repeat for hours, it starts to get a little stale. So at about hour 20, I started playing around with different records to see which one would stick. There were a few worthy considerations, such as Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly and Thundercat’s Drunk, but ultimately, The Epic by Kamasi Washington was the best fit, both in name and in content.
Up-tempo cuts like “Final Thought,” “The Magnificent 7,” and “Re-Run Home” are perfect for creating a sense of urgency while you scramble to finish a palace on time. On the contrary, the smoother, more soothing tracks like “Askim,” “Claire de Lune,” and “Isabelle” are great background music when you explore the streets of Shibuya, Skinjuku, and Akihabara, especially at night. Best of all, the album is nearly three hours long and consists of 17 tracks, so you don’t hear the same songs over and over again. Most of the time, I wouldn’t even play long enough in one sitting to listen from start to finish.
Batman: Arkham Knight | The Beatles (The Beatles)
For a game as varied as Batman: Arkham Knight, I needed to find and album just as eclectic. What I mean by this is that one moment you can be sneaking through a watchtower, silently picking off enemies one by one, and the next you can find yourself in an explosive Batmobile battle against enemy drones. There’s a ton of variety in the game, so I needed to find an album that matched. It was a no-brainer for me to pull The Beatles, more commonly referred to as The White Album, from my shelf and drop the needle on it. Notorious for being one of The Beatles’ most fragmented, yet brilliant, works, this masterpiece makes a perfect soundtrack for soaring across the black skies of Gotham as the caped crusader.
There is no track more fitting for a high-speed Batmobile chase than the hard-hitting, adrenaline-pumping “Helter Skelter.” Likewise, the rockin, Beach Boys-influenced “Back in the USSR” and groovy “Glass Onion” set the tone when pummeling gangs of henchmen. Even the softer acoustic songs like “Julia”, “Mother Nature’s Son”, and “Cry Baby Cry” fit well when exploring the city in the quiet dead of night. But nothing is more fitting than hearing more experimental and psychedelic tracks like “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”, and “Revolution 9” during those scenes where Batman seems to be losing his grip on reality. That’s when this game and album really mesh well.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor | Electric Warrior (T-Rex)
To me, nothing is more badass than decapitating an Uruk-hai Warchief while Marc Bolan croons over the rhythmic drum beat of Mambo Sun, or bellows over the glammed-out guitar riff of Jeepster. I chose to spin this classic record when playing Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor because it legitimately makes me feel like an electric warrior. No matter what song I was listening to on this 11-track gem, I felt charged up going into battle against horde after horde of Uruk-hai scum.
Even the less boisterous tracks like “Cosmic Dancer” and “Monolith” didn’t feel out of place. In fact, they perfectly set the mood as I snuck through an Uruk-hai stronghold and plotted my attack on my next target. Of course, the album’s most well-known track, “Bang a Gong (Get it On)”, is a great pump-up anthem when going into battle against an Uruk-hai Captain or Warlord and their cronies. Bolan’s repetitive chanting of “get in on/bang a gong/get it on” reminds you that it’s time to get it on and start making those hideous bodies hit the dirt.
Psychonauts | Pet Sounds (The Beach Boys)
Psychonauts is a trip. It’s an incredibly unique game that came from one of the game industry’s most brilliant minds, Tim Schaeffer. So, obviously, I chose to listen to a record made by one of the music industry’s most brilliant minds, Brian Wilson. Like Psychonauts, Pet Sounds is a gloriously psychedelic work of art in which you can find something new to appreciate with each listen. It’s happy and whimsical moments, such as the opening notes of “Sloop John B”, match the colorful art style and unabashedly creative concept of the game, while more melancholy tracks like “You Still Believe in Me, “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)”, and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” make great background music as you explore environments and scavenge for Psi Cards.
To be completely honest, I could probably listen Pet Sounds while playing any game, but something about pairing it with Pyschonauts just felt right. The grandiose string arrangements of “I’m Waiting for the Day”, “Wouldn’t it Be Nice”, and “God Only Knows” make for easy listening as you journey into Raz’s mind, and the minds of supporting characters. Originally written as a theme song for a Bond movie, the title track gives off spy vibes when infiltrating the abandoned insane asylum to stop Dr. Loboto’s evil plan. Particularly, I found the beautiful and majestic instrumental “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” pleasing to listen to during all moments of the game, especially during boss fights where it kept me cool, calm, and collective.
Do you like to listen to music while you game? Are there any particular artists, albums, or genres that you like to listen to while playing? Let’s discuss in the comment section!