Background Music

Finding beauty in a ruined world.

The second time-travel gate the player encounters in Chrono Trigger transports Crono and his party to a mysterious post-apocalyptic future. It’s unclear when and how the world ended, and how much time has passed since it did. The player, seeking answers, begins to explore the ruins of the future.

But when I first stepped onto the overworld, I put down my controller. What stole my attention was the background music’s lonely melody buried beneath sounds of gusting wind and hollow industrial clunks. Written by Chrono Trigger’s primary composer Yasunori Mitsuda, this ambient track, whose title translates as “Ruined World,” struck me as so beautiful that I was willing to halt my progress in the game to listen to it.

This effect is not one typically desired by video game composers, who are often tasked with writing background music that complements an environment without distracting the player from the gameplay. In such cases, ambient music is a convenient style. In the liner notes of his groundbreaking 1978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports, Brian Eno wrote that ambient music “must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” Mitsuda’s “Ruined World” satisfies this condition: the player may casually enjoy the ambience while picking through the ruins of civilization, or they may choose, as I did, to put the game aside and focus solely on the music.

However, although Crono and his party, endlessly performing their idle animations, have the time to stand on the overworld forever, the player does not. Choosing to stop and appreciate the beauty of “Ruined World” might mean putting off completing the next step in the story for another time. Beauty is all around us, but most of it is as ignorable as it is interesting. I’m glad I didn’t ignore my surroundings.

By Riley Madsen

Riley Madsen writes fiction when he isn’t distracted by beauty in video games. Talk to him on Twitter @maythatmight

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