Game music: Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3

Ah, Mass Effect 3, such conflicted emotions you elicit. Undoubtedly the best of the trilogy in terms of gameplay, but also easily the weakest writing. Your soundtrack is no different either. Gone is the unique style of Mass Effect 1, replaced by a sound that is more… what? Standard? Safe? Broadly appealing, perhaps, much closer to the sequel than the original.

But like the writing, the score hits high points that are utterly superb and proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the trilogy.

“A Future For The Krogan”

If you’ve played Mass Effect 3 you know exactly what this music is. In itself it is a beautiful, moving track, easily on of my top ten pieces of music to grace any game ever. But it’s more than that.

There are a number of reasons a piece of a soundtrack an be “good”. Firstly, it is in itself a good piece of music, independent of the game. Alternatively, it can be a great accompaniment to the game itself. Take Metroid for example. In many places the music barely classes as music, more as part of the environment (in fact it was explicitly written that way). The sound that plays when you first enter Norfair in Metroid is memorable and exemplary because of how well it integrates with the game. Thirdly, a piece of music might not even be particularly good but it’s so closely tied to great memories of a game that simply remembering the music makes you happy. For me, that’s Daggerfall.

The best music though, is a mix of all three. Such a perfect storm is a rare and beautiful thing, and “A Future For The Krogan” pulls it off with panache. As a piece of music it’s evocative, moving, recognisably “Mass Effect” but able to stand alone as a piece of art. But on top of that, it fits so perfectly with the scene it accompanies, reflects and enhances the experience so flawlessly that it succeeds not only as music but as a soundtrack. Lastly… the scene itself is such a wonderful piece of writing, the culmination of three games and years of plot, a bit of cinema that never fails to raise goosebumps. Individually the story and the music are emotional and goosebump-inducing, but together they formed quite possibly the best, most memorable scenes in a video game to date, and ranks without doubt as the high point of storytelling in gaming.

So yeah… Mass Effect 3 is annoying. It throws awful enemies, awful people, awful writing, awful plot and awful dialogue at you, then turns round and makes you cry like a baby. That’s the power of video game music.

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