Jukebox Heroes: Ten MMOs that strongly support their soundtracks

    
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Jukebox Heroes: Ten MMOs that strongly support their soundtracks

It’s one thing to put a lot of music in your MMORPG or even to release that launch-day album. It’s another thing entirely to throw the full weight of support behind your score as the months and years accumulate. Alas, it’s something that many studios put on the backburner — or ignore entirely. Considering the sheer volume of music that is made for MMOs as they develop, this is a crying shame.

The other day, composer Big Giant Circles tweeted something I can get behind: “Dear Developers: Please release your game’s soundtrack […] There is literally no practical reason to not release a game’s soundtrack.”

Fortunately, there are some MMO studios that do support their composers and music-loving fans with regular album releases, music spotlights, and even full-blown concerts. Today, I want to give kudos to those studios who are doing their best to deliver music to our ears.

Aion

If you’ve been on Mars or in a cave for the past decade or so, you might be excused for your ignorance about Aion’s majestic soundtrack. All the rest of you, no excuse. That goes doubly for the fact that NCsoft has released multiple full albums and continues to push major patch music to YouTube and other sources.

Final Fantasy XIV

There are few (if any) MMORPGs that see their soundtrack lavished with such love and support by its studio than Final Fantasy XIV. It helps that the MMO makes amazing music that everyone adores, too. Not only has FFXIV seen many, many album releases (even for its incremental patches) but its score has been the subject of massive symphonies.

World of Warcraft

I’m only slightly hesitant to include this on the list, mostly because Blizzard still hasn’t released its (promised) patch music — which, if you know World of Warcraft, is even more extensive than the base expansions. That said, I’ll give props to the game for being constant with its expansion soundtrack albums, which are always a good ride. I just want more, you know?

EVE Online

While I agree that EVE has a few standout tracks, I never have understood the love for what is, in essence, a massive ambient electronic soundtrack. What I can’t deny is CCP’s ongoing support for its score, which includes constant releases on SoundCloud and elaborate concerts.

Lord of the Rings Online

Even though SSG has become a much smaller outfit than the Turbine of yore, it has remained dedicated to getting its expansion soundtracks out to fans. Even more than that, the official YouTube channel has been releasing sizable patch albums over the past couple of years. And the new stuff is pretty good, too!

Guild Wars 2

While the base Guild Wars 2 soundtrack is kept from purchase thanks to Jeremy Soule’s tight-fisted tyranny, at least all of the expansions and living world soundtracks have been bestowed upon fans to enjoy. Music is such a huge part of this MMO’s storytelling toolset, and it’s great to be able to enjoy it out of the game as well.

Lineage II

Not only does Lineage II have one of the best — and most underrated — soundtracks in the business, but it’s really accessible thanks to many, many album releases. I do wish that we would see more stuff from recent years, but I can’t complain about the bounty that we currently have.

Elder Scrolls Online

While I wasn’t too keen on the base game’s score, Elder Scrolls Online has only gotten better with each passing expansion. Good on ZeniMax and Bethesda for giving each of the three chapters so far their own official album release — it’s more than most MMOs can say.

RuneScape

If any studio gives Square Enix a run for king of soundtracks, I’d have to propose Jagex as a strong contender. RuneScape has a gigantic soundtrack (the biggest I’ve found so far), it allows players to “collect” pieces of music in-game, it regularly highlights music on its official site, and, oh yeah, it pumps out albums. Even albums on vinyl (I have two in my office)!

Final Fantasy XI

Finally, I don’t want Final Fantasy XI to get overlooked for the fact that it released an astounding 14 albums over the years. Never underestimate the draw of Nobuo Uematsu and his contemporaries!

MMOs are meant to be heard as well as seen, and chances are that music ties your memories to these games more than you might realize. Every two weeks Jukebox Heroes listens through a game soundtrack and picks out the highlights to share and discuss. And if you like this column, then don’t miss the author’s MMO music podcast, Battle Bards!

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EmberStar

I do sort of regret that I didn’t get the Wildstar soundtrack. All the “Hardcore raiding rah rah rah!” and “Git gud, cupcake!” clashed pretty violently for me with the game’s basic feel and art direction. And the part where they did the first server merge with like two days of notice (by email at least) in the middle of a week when I was out of town and deleted all but one of my characters… yeah. Sub dropped, never went back.

But the soundtrack was nice. I would have like to have it to keep, and not just “ripped tracks” on Youtube.

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For me it’s this – it always gets me

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Loopy

Original Elwynn is one of my all time favourite zone tracks. It is so peaceful and intriguing and overall an amazing introduction into the game. I gotta say though, this version made it sound dark and mysterious – i’m not sure that i enjoyed it tbh.

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Sorenthaz

FFXIV sometimes has gotten flack for reusing songs/motifs but honestly I think that’s one of the great parts of XIV’s soundtrack. The way that Soken and his team is able to remix and reuse elements of songs to create ones that sound similar but different is really fascinating, especially with some of the more recent songs like The Twinning’s theme, Cinder Drift, and the Eden primal themes. Then the Shadowbringers theme was basically dissected and cut up into several different motifs that can be heard in many different varieties, from the hypey final boss theme in dungeons to much more solemn/somber tones for the sadder/wind-down moments.

Bereman
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Bereman

Their use of leitmotif and remixes is crazy…the latest dungeon? Anamnesis Anyder?

If it sounds at all familiar, it’s a remix of the very first dungeon music you hear in the game, waaaaay back at level 16, from Sastasha.

Spoilers for what it looks like, of course, if you click and watch (the thumbnail is a still from the promotional material):
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Obviously they aren’t the only MMO to use motifs and remixes, but I think their songs tend to stand out more – the auditory element of the fight is perhaps meant to be as much a part of the experience as the actions taken within it and the visuals (which feels appropriately Final Fantasy) – and as a result I think we tend to notice the remixes and motifs more.

Compare that to MMOs like WoW where the music is more of an appropriate background accompaniment. It’s still part of the tone of the encounter, but less a direct element of the experience, if that makes sense.

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Sorenthaz

Yeah for most trial/major boss fights they pretty much make the music fit to the fights a lot of times, usually to indicate intensity, phases, or other changes. The first one you really get to experience that in is Titan where he goes through multiple phases.

First part is basically like the tune/warm up, second part begins getting into heavier beats, third phase begins hammering it faster, fourth phase is like… Metroid music is the only way to really describe it as you focus his heart, basically serving as like a warmup/moment of calm before the storm. Then of course there’s the most well-known portion, the final phase with Under the Weight jamming at full blast as sort of that intense final phase where he throws everything at you.

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Amorey

Thank you for sharing all this amazing music, Justin :)

Music is so important to create the right atmosphere in game .

I would also add Age of Conan and Wildstar to your list *cheers*

Even though technically they are not really expanding their soundtracks, both games leave behind a great musical legacy

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Match Austin

The fact that both FF11 and FF14 are on this list speaks volumes of Nobuo Uematsu as a composer. He may not have been the sole composer of them the way he was back before 2000, or so, but a vast portion of those soundtracks were still him and his studio.

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Sorenthaz

And then there’s Masayoshi Soken and his team who’s done a pretty amazing job alongside Uematsu and carrying on the torch from there. Iirc he was the lead guy for Stormblood and Shadowbringers after Uematsu announced his hiatus.

Bereman
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Bereman

Soken’s been the lead guy on the OST since ARR.

Bereman
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Bereman

Most of FFXIV past 1.0 (for OSTs, that’s the Before the Meteor one, which was primarily Uematsu’s work) is Masayoshi Soken, though I believe Uematsu was a mentor/teacher to him to some degree, so there’s a bit of the “carrying on the torch” there.

Uematsu would often do the main theme, such as Dragonsong (Heavensward) or Revolutions (Stormblood) and Soken would do most of the rest, with Shadowbringers being the first time that Soken has also done the main theme.

JonBuck
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JonBuck

Final Fantasy XIV also has a Guinness World Record the the most original music in a video game.