I write a lot about video games because, as a storytelling medium, I find it just as fascinating as film or literature. Much like film, games often mix music and visuals to create highly poignant moments.
Unlike films, however, songs that play over the credits (and sometimes during the endings) of games seem to have more of an effect, and often a longer-lasting impact. Where audience are often getting up to pee or whatever as the credits roll on a film, most players tend to hit the credits of a game and hang through them, reflecting on the experience they’ve just spent hours plowing through. For the most affecting games, these final moments of reflection can be extremely powerful — and music plays a big part in the experience.
The final song to play in The Walking Dead is “Take Us Back” by Alele Diane, and at first, I found it to be an interesting, even strange choice.
(Hey listen: Spoilers start here.)
“Take Us Back” has a haunting power in those final few moments of the game. As a player, we’ve just come through an emotional, tragic story. Lots of people have died, many of them characters with whom we’ve likely had some kind of emotional or personal connection. The final moment of the game — protagonist Lee Everett’s death — are then punctuated by this song. Relatively upbeat, really, considering how dark the situation immediately preceding it was.
Both in tone and in subject matter, “Take Us Back” is a pretty phenomenal choice. The lyrics of the song hearken to a time before the world was a shambling mess; the hope of the characters throughout the story is that they might find such a place to take them back to what they had, and what the world was, before. That lament goes unanswered for all of them. But while it’s a song about loss, there’s also an undercurrent of hopefulness.
A number of other tracks have had the same profound effect on me during the closing moments of a powerful game story. The original Mass Effect — ending with the near-death of Commander Shepard, but through his tireless and efforts against a daunting foe — closed with “M4 Pt. 2” by Faunts. It was another astonishing choice, really: As a player, I was coming off my first foray into an incredible new universe, and “M4 Pt. 2” captured not only the science fiction feel of the moment, but also the bonds the characters had formed together to do the impossible.
One of the first video game experiences that I consider to be important to me during my childhood was Chrono Trigger. A time travel story about friendship and heroism, it was both the first title that really endeared me to games as a storytelling medium, and the first game that really demonstrated to me how powerful those stories could be — especially to a 10-year-old.
It was also the game that, at the time, I had invested the most time into ever, the one I’d loved the most ever, and one of the hardest-fought battles to finish I’d ever played. When I beat it (mind you, I was 10), the result was elation. The world was saved, the characters survived — it was a celebration of bravery, perseverance, sacrifice and friendship. The song played over the credits, those final moments of breathing, heightened the feeling.
Another of my all-time favorites is Vagrant Story, a game that ends with several of the characters evacuating a ruined city while others die along the way or are left, trapped, inside. The story is about the lust for power, political machinations and deceit. It concludes with sacrifice and death. The haunting tones of the final song — and its rolling into the game’s overall theme — effectively remind you of a full journey through the game’s intriguingly drawn fantasy world that melds a form of realism with magic, long before Game of Thrones ever hit HBO.
Finally, there’s Bastion’s ending. Though the game didn’t really wow me, the music is pretty spectacular throughout. This is another story about loss, the lament of a world that has crumbled, its inhabitants perished. Most of the game is spent searching for a small slice of the world as it was, a place where the characters can stay and be safe. Melancholy is often one of the more pervasive feelings of the experience, and the game’s final song brings it home; no matter what has happened, there’s the risk that the people saved will again bring suffering on themselves.
There are more that I could cite, but this is running a little long. Starting to think there might be an article pitch in here somewhere. If that’s the case, I’ll bring it up sometime in the future.
Meanwhile, if you wanna talk about music, game or otherwise, or suggest important tracks, feel free to do so in the comments.