In my years of coverage of MMO soundtrack music in this column and on Battle Bards, I’ve clearly observed that there are games that are well-known and admired for their music. Most often, these are from popular MMORPGs — your World of Warcrafts, your Guild Wars 2s, and so on. Popular game plus good music equals widespread recognition.
Yet as I’ve pointed out in the past, there are plenty of terrific scores and individual music tracks from lesser-known MMO soundtracks that don’t get the attention they deserve, usually because of a fan’s unfamiliarity with a title. That’s not your fault; few people are as crazy as me when it comes to trying to track down MMO tunes and building a comprehensive library. It’s only slightly frustrating to see these game scores go overlooked because nobody really thought to listen to them in the first place.
So I’m viewing today’s column as an exercise in education, to share what I’ve learned in my journeys and discoveries of MMORPG soundtracks. I present here for your listening pleasure six pretty great tunes from MMOs you’ve probably never played.
“Sanctuary of Ether” from Soul of the Ultimate Nation (SUN)
Here’s a bizarre pairing: a somewhat unknown MMO (at least in the west) and a well-known movie composer. Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings) created the music for this fantasy title, and as you might expect, it has a much higher level of quality than you’d normally experience in such games.
You can definitely hear the shared DNA of Middle-earth in this track. Sanctuary of Ether sounds positively Elven, particularly when the dreamlike female choir flows across it all. It’s surprisingly soulful for an MMO.
“Tullan” from ArchLord
Other than being a dead ringer for the Galaxy Quest movie theme, Tullan is a peppy, triumphant piece that’s all about stirring up your soul and taking it out for lunch. The horns lend it a regal feel, as if you were entering a palace or a particularly well-to-do city full of virtue and groomed flowerbeds. I really liked the excited strings and marching drums that made me think to inspirational sports films. I know, weird association, but here we are.
“Nassod-King Boss Theme” from Elsword Online
Other than being an MMO that I have a weirdly hard time spelling right every time we report on it, all I know about Elsword is that it’s a very action-heavy game with lots of strong, arcadey music cues. This boss theme fits in well with the long tradition of video game showdowns, upping the intensity and excitement while laying down a foundation of angry piano to keep the player off his or her guard.
“Continuum Alpha” from Neocron
At first listen, this isn’t that spectacular of a track (and I am certainly not making any claims to that being the case). But it does craft a mellow, bubbly synth atmosphere that would fit in perfectly with a sci-fi game. And the track doesn’t exactly sit still; listen on, and it develops and adds some more flair in the second half. Kind of like techno-noir, if that’s a thing.
“Wanderer” from Auto Assault
Speaking of sci-fi and synth, we’ll move over to Auto Assault. Wanderer is an underrated track from an oft-overlooked soundtrack that goes on a noteworthy journey through its runtime. It starts out sounding for all the world to be a Highlander funeral before seguing into this industrial, funky track. The variety of sounds and instruments keep this track feeling lively, while the beat of the tune when it kicks in keeps me listening to it.
“Tavern Theme” from The Realm Online
Once in a while I have a yearning to go back to a simpler time in gaming, where we listened to MIDI tunes and didn’t ram Q-tips deep into our ears to make the sound stop. Oh, it’s a weird fondness for the era of the ’90s, and I’m not saying that this music was better than what we have today. Just that every so often, it’s charming to listen to something simple and clean and even a touch naive. The tavern music from The Realm won’t be winning any awards, but it marinates in that classic renfaire fantasy feel and broadcasts a hearty welcome to any footsore traveler wandering nearby.