When it comes to RPGs I’m a raving, fantasy addict. Seriously, if I walk by a game box with a brooding sword-guy on the front money from my pocket takes a town portal to the register. There’s just something about choosing a class, gaining levels—it’s just satisfying to me. If there are goblins I’m in.
But there’s just this one trope about them I really can’t stand. Every western fantasy game does it because they feel the need to and it completely takes me out of their world just as I’m beginning to enjoy it.
I’ll be goin’ along, talkin’ to some wenches, killin’ some trolls and this will happen:
(says there might be spoilers but just watch for 20 seconds and you’ll get the idea)
Yea… Okay… Um… Look I’m a music lover. Like all types of music—I studied it in college—but who wants three minutes of a modern sounding ballad in the middle of their sweet sorceress-boning adventure? Most of the time it doesn’t add any fantasy flavor because it sounds polished and current, thus, it actually detracts from it. It’s like ever since Peter Jackson’s LotR trilogy with Samwise Gamgee singing on a mountain top you can’t have a fantasy world without highlighting the “Bard” archetype by singing a Pharrell produced Renaissance ballad.
And sometimes it’s just fucking random. Take this cringe-worthy scene with Leliana from Dragon Age: Origins.
Oh see? She’s a bard! She sings songs, get it?
Player Character- “Wow we all almost die a lot.”
Leliana- Ah, yes that reminds me of a song my mother taught me.
Other times it is literally an excuse to wedge a modern band in the game. I didn’t actually play Sacred 2 but I played a bit of the first one and I’m assuming the rest of the game didn’t break character like this:
But wait there’s more! Sometimes it’s not just a shitty bard. Sometimes a whole chorus needs to take up a song in order to confuse and ostracize gamers. That’s what would happen in a fantasy world right?
After hearing this theme to Dragon Age: Inquisition, this rally cry of an upstart band of do-gooders became an endless boner joke to me as I changed the words of it to reflect my childish sense of humor.
Are these songs all intrinsically bad? No. So why’s this a big deal?
First off, it’s jammed into so many games now as an arbitrary story beat you have to hit in the fantasy genre; as if you’re not really playing a fantasy game if you’re not hearing the same-sounding song from the last fantasy game you played at least once. This is bad because it takes what could essentially be an important, meaningful moment for the story and devalues it into being generic.
Secondly, it’s ruining bards. Bards important characters in the modern fantasy mythos dating all the way back to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. They can be bearded war-dumming Vikings, they can be calculated assassins that lullaby their victims to sleep, they can be important diplomats for a warring nation. They don’t all have to be lute-playing, flighty poets.
With so many fantasy games, books and movies out there a lot of these stories are so similar they can become indistinguishable. That goes triple for games, which leave very little to the imagination. They’re literally putting you into these worlds and, unfortunately, a lot of them look and feel the same. Avoiding tropes like the really clean sounding ballad would help the genre not become stale.
Sometimes bards can be cool guys with sunglasses.
But there’s hope too. Sometimes the music just sounds right; low-fi production, mixes with really traditional sounding melodies that are so accurate you can imagine bards playing it as you go about your adventure.
I’ll leave you here with the best example of fantasy, video game music of all time: Tavern Music from Baldur’s Gate: