It is no great secret that videogames have come a long way in the past few years. No longer are they five minute diversions, but now are vast epics spanning across many hours. Videogame music has changed as well. The simple bleeps, bloops and zings of early videogames have been replaced with huge sweeping orchestral scores. And yet for all that change I can't help but fear that videogame music might be headed in the wrong direction.
For all the grand and ambitious music that's being written for games lately, much of it has, what I consider, a deficiency. A lot of it is trying to be like movie music. I know that composers want to flex their muscle and show just how capable they are and emulate their movie brethren. However, here is the problem: Videogames, no matter how much you want them to be, are NOT movies. Ergo they should not be treated as such musically.
In a movie you'll never be stuck in one scene for two hours because you decide you want to explore. Likewise you'll never spend 20-40 hours with a set of characters in a movie. Movies are not a user driven experience and can get away with having nebulous music that serves as pretty background noise. However, games are user driven and require more than just pretty background noise with a few good themes. Some videogame composers' eagerness to grow their music into movie soundtrack clones is driving VGM from being easily palatable to being forgettable.
Look at the recent disappointment of the FFXII OST. It was indeed large, and ambitious at points. But can anyone really remember anything more than a few bars of music from it? No. Would most people, even VGM fans, go out of their way to listen to it? Not really. The entire thing, though technically strong, was completely and utterly forgettable. Why is this? It's because a difference of paradigm.
Uematsu was very right in his likening videogames more to opera than movies. His use of strong, albeit simple, themes through out his OSTs made them instantly memorable and infinitely playable. I still remember the town tunes from FFI-VIII. Can the same be said about Soule, Sakimoto, Iwata, others?
Now don't let me be misunderstood in saying that forgettable is bad. But the fact is, if you're playing a game for 20+ hours you should be able to enjoy the background music a bit and not feel like it's some annoying background drone. Nor let it be said that I have something against technical music. Fact is my favorite VGM composers, Sugiyama and Hamauzu, are shining examples of how VGM can be both highly technical and enjoyable. Technical music doesn't have to sound bad to be good. Many forget this.
Videogame music has definitely grown up. But I fear that in its hurry to show how mature it has become it's losing that sense of fun and enjoyment that made it so intriguing and garnered so many fans. Don't get me wrong, I don't long for the days of simple eight note themes. It is a good thing that game music is maturing. But it should grow the right way, and expand on its strengths instead of making itself weak by trying to be something it's not.