While being on a Final Fantasy binge, I realized that the older titles have significantly better music than the newer titles. Every track in the NES game is a classic, and the music is quite strong in the US version of 2, and hit its stride in the US version of 3, easily the strongest music in the series. The PS1 debut had some decent tracks in 7, 8, and 9, but the soundtrack seemed to fall apart in 10. Most recently I played 13, which had very few memorable tracks at all other than the boss theme music.
This isn’t a problem that’s only in the Final Fantasy series. The NES Mega Man games had great music, and again, the SNES Mega Man X had a wonderful soundtrack. However, once the X series hit the PS1, the music seemed to take a turn for the worse. The gameplay was still great, but the music tracks just weren’t as memorable. Even Mario, known for it’s great music and gameplay, suffers from this. I am almost willing to bet right now, you could hum the tunes to Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3. Probably Super Mario World as well. Now try New SMB on the DS. Maybe you will get that one, but keep going forward. Can you remember ANY of the tracks from Galaxy 1 or 2?
For some reason, those early chiptune soundtracks have incredible staying power against todays modern orchestrated compositions. Much like gameplay of some games, musically some games try to overcomplicate things to add “depth” to their game and it ends up taking away from the game instead of adding to it. If you want a great example of this, listen to this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a324ykKV-7Y). All those 80’s PC sound cards have this feel to them that just fits, culminating in that Roland LAPC 1988 card that just sounds spectacular. Now fast forward to the final track, the digital CD version. Doesn’t it feel like something is missing? In adding more instruments and audio quality, the music loses something that the original MIDI version had that detracts from the feel.
For some games, the orchestrated soundtrack fits. But it feels like EVERYTHING is switching over to these professional, orchestrated audio tracks. Mario doesn’t need an orchestra backing him as he is taking on Bowser. Mega Man sounded best with it’s synthetic electric guitar blaring riffs. If you compare the soundtracks of Mega Man X on the SNES to Maverick Hunter X on the PSP, the SNES blows the newer version out of the water.
In closing, I wish game developers would more often side with the sound choice that fits the game, not the one that sounds more grand. If the game needs that grand sound, it’s fine to use, but for many titles, a simpler soundtrack would equal a better feel for the game.