Games currently playing: Brave Frontier, KH: Unchained, Seven Knights, KH: 358/2 Days
For those of you that have been following my website, or have read one, some, or all of my articles, you may have gathered—subconsciously or not—that I am a very happy and generally positive, excitable person. And this is definitely true in many, genuine ways. But I, like most people, have my down days too. I grew up, also probably like a lot of other people, generally encouraged to suppress any negative emotions, but I have learned over the years that that is not such a great lifestyle. I 100% believe, now, in feeling every emotion that comes along, happy or sad, “positive” or “negative” (though emotions just ARE; they shouldn’t be labeled as good or bad), but in the right context of course. Say you feel a sad spell coming on in the middle of your work day: I would wait until you get home (or at least until a lunch break) to really let it all out. Otherwise, I think it is so important that we let ourselves feel our emotions, particularly “negative” ones, since those are undoubtedly the most uncomfortable to accept. But they also give us the most well-rounded and whole human experience, because we cannot truly experience happiness and triumph without feeling rejection, disappointment, and grief.
This belief—and frankly, emotional freedom—is unquestionably in part because I am a woman. And in the US (certainly other countries as well), women are much more inclined (and socially encouraged) to feel and show their emotions, sadly and unrealistically significantly more so than men. But I really do believe that everyone—women, men, and everyone in between—should be allowed to feel, understand, and express their emotions, both alone and with other people. It does wonders, for yourself, and believe it or not, also for those around you, particularly close friends and family who understand you well, to express and share your emotions.
“Now wait, isn’t this website about video game music?” you ask. “Why are you talking about ‘feeeeling your feeeeels’ and ‘letting it allllll out’, when you’re supposed to be talking about the awesome music in video games!?” Aha, now that is where we begin the interesting part of today’s post! Music has an incredibly strong power over us, especially those of us who, like me, and find themselves often emotionally overwhelmed by exceptionally moving music. But I’ve discovered something else about the power of music. This brings us back to the aforementioned “down days”.
When I’ve been feeling sad, and I listen to happy music, it actually does not magically make me happy. What I think is probably a common attempt at alleviating a sad spell is actually counterproductive, at least in my experience. I don’t know exactly what it is, but when I’m not in a good mood, something about the upbeat bass lines and excessively sparkly sound effects of “Lion Heart” and “Gazen Yeah!” do not make me want to get up and dance, sing along, or even smile. It actually makes my mood even worse. The songs and music I usually find so pleasant then simply become irritating, which brings me to my next conclusion.
Instead of relying on music to change my mood, I’ve recently decided to turn to music to enhance my mood. Now, this doesn’t mean listening to depressing music while you’re depressed will make you more depressed. But, listening to depressing music while you’re depressed allows for that depressed feeling to finally feel some validation, and I would go as far as saying depressing music gives your mind the expressive freedom and permission to feel depressed, and to be okay with it. When I listen to sad music while I’m feeling down, it makes me think, most often subconsciously, “Hey, this is some pretty sad music. What must the composer have been feeling when she wrote the piece?”
As a composer, I have written the most sadly beautiful music when I’ve been in a pretty melancholy state myself. I always think of one piece in particular, though not VGM, where I distinctly remember sitting at my piano, alone in my dorm room, gazing outside to the bleak night and pouring rain, while I composed this song. So when I listen to sad music, I subconsciously think, “Am I maybe feeling an emotion similar to what the composer felt?” In other words, music can connect us, composer and listener, in ways that possibly neither person will ever know. Even if our reasons for feeling sad are not identical, the transcendence across all borders of language and time that music provides can be downright magical.
Sometimes we are sad for no reason at all. Other times we are sad for very concrete reasons: a major disappointment or setback in our jobs or careers, the failure of a marriage, relationship, or friendship, the death or injury of a loved one, a rejection (from anything, really), or simply feeling alone in the world. The list goes on. Particularly in the cases of the concrete sadness, it is especially important to feel these emotions, to understand why they are there, and to share them with others. Now if you’re not the type of person to talk to someone about your feelings, if you’re not used to that or not ready to share, that’s all right. I personally feel so very lucky to have the emotional vocabulary necessary to express my emotions, as well as supportive friends and family with whom I can share them.
Loneliness often accompanies sadness derived from other sources and is a type of intense but also immensely abstract sadness that I would say many gamers can fiercely relate to. Sometimes music can be one of the only ways to feel any solidarity in what you’re feeling. And for gamers, the most music we are exposed to is none other than the music in video games. Even if the composer felt a different kind of sadness, as I said previously, we as gamers can feel the emotion in the music and undoubtedly experience a strong connection, to the composer, the game characters, as well as other gamers.
“So how does this relate to video games!?” you ask again, exasperated. All right, so maybe I just wanted to talk about sadness and how music can enhance and validate those emotions. But I have also taken some time to compile the most beautifully mournful music I have come across in video games—some of them directly from the game and some of them piano, or orchestral versions—and I would love to share them with you today.
If you’re feeling down—about anything—I hope that you will find solidarity, comfort, and strength in these moving pieces of music.
Fire Emblem Fates:
Legend of Zelda – Majora’s Mask:
Final Fantasy VII:
Pokémon Black & White:
Pokémon Red & Blue:
Final Fantasy X:
If there are other tracks (and there are definitely others!) that you think belong on this list, please feel free to let me know in the comments, and I will add it in here 🙂 I’d love to create a long playlist of this gaming community’s most tragic and heartfelt favorites, so please, let me know which ones I should add, and I will be happy to do so.
Also, if you’d like to share any stories you have where a particular VGM track helped you get through a difficult time, please go ahead in the comments as well. 🙂
You don’t have to just “grin and bare it”. It’s okay not to grin sometimes. Let the sadness in, accept that it is there, and find strength and comradery in knowing that others have felt the emotion as well. You are never alone in your emotions. And you have music to prove it. ♪ ♥