Talking Point: Video Game Music Is More Popular Than Ever, So Why Is Nintendo So Behind? 1

Talking Point: Video Game Music Is More Popular Than Ever, So Why Is Nintendo So Behind?

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Super Mario 3D World Soundtrack Cover
Image: Nintendo

There’s been a lot of Nintendo-related music news over the past year that has had me more than a little disappointed. I like to boot up a video game soundtrack while I’m working; I’m a big fan of video game music concerts and I have a small collection of albums and vinyl that I want to keep growing. And with access to video game music the best it’s ever been, I’m generally a happy bunny.

But Nintendo has always been very protective of its properties, and that goes for the music in its games. You might remember, at last year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympics, that there was a ton of video game music played during the opening ceremony – yet none of it was from a Nintendo-owned franchise. There were plans for Nintendo to make an appearance right up until 16th June, but the Big N and The Pokémon Company apparently pulled out at the last minute.

We understand. Nintendo owns the rights to its music, and it can do what it wants with it. But the real problem is that it’s not doing anything with it

More recently, Nintendo has been clamping down on video game music YouTube channels. In the last six months alone, GilvaSunner has been forced to close their channel after Nintendo sent them thousands of copyright claims. And DeoxysPrime also received over 500 claims, which led to them removing all of their Nintendo music, with uploads from the Pokémon series soundtracks to almost every single Mario game’s OST being shimmied away.

We understand. Nintendo owns the rights to its music, and it can choose to do what it wants with it. But the real problem is that it’s not doing anything with its music in general.

There was one brief breakthrough from The Pokémon Company, who back in February launched the Diamond & Pearl Sound Library, a cool website that would let you build playlists, access other playlists, download music, and sound files, and also see which artists had sampled some of the tunes in their music. Unfortunately, The Pokémon Company decided to close this down earlier this week – disappointing, for sure. At least it left the YouTube version of the soundtrack up and running. Small victories, eh?

But besides this, where else can we get our Nintendo music fix from?

Many other big video game companies have been releasing their soundtracks on various streaming services. Through Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music, I have access to a huge amount of Capcom’s music back catalogue from Ace Attorney, Mega Man, Street Fighter, and Monster Hunter – including Monster Hunter Rise! Konami has also made many of its Castlevania soundtracks available, along with a handful of Metal Gear Solid OSTs too. And I could go on forever about the number of indie games whose musicians share their music on streaming services and also make them available to buy on Bandcamp.

I’m also probably a bit spoiled in this regard. As a big RPG fan, I’ve also got easy access to almost every single Final Fantasy soundtrack – with a handful of newer releases excluded for now – through these streaming services. And classic RPG developer Falcom has also released every Ys and Trails/Kiseki soundtrack, even going as far back as the ‘80s.

Square Enix went one step beyond, going as far as to open its own video game music YouTube channel. That means, by going to Square Enix Music, I can simply just click on a playlist and listen to Yasunori Nishiki’s Octopath Traveler OST whenever I want. Or pop on the Bravely series’ music. All for free.

Before Square Enix opened this channel, many uploads of popular video game soundtracks were being taken down across the video-sharing platform, from NieR: Automata to Final Fantasy VII Remake. But then at least it shared most of its music itself – a pretty big step in the right direction.

Wii Music
More music, but maybe not like this, Nintendo… (Image: Nintendo)

So, with Nintendo’s bullish approach to copyright claims, why hasn’t the company done more to give us easy access to some of the best video game music in the industry? Many of my memories with video games are so heavily associated with each game’s audio – I’m sure everyone remembers the first time they entered Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64, especially with the calming, regal music and the bright interior. How about Ocarina of Time, and the creepy Forest Temple music? Interestingly, Mario 64 is one of the few Nintendo games to get an official worldwide soundtrack launch.

Another more recent exception to this is the Pokémon series. On Apple Music, you can grab digital versions of the Diamond & Pearl, X & Y, and HeartGold & SoulSilver Super Music Collections (what these OSTs are called) – and that’s just a handful of them. Why Sword & Shield’s soundtrack is yet to be released is beyond me, though.

Often, one of the only ways you can get Nintendo soundtracks is through pre-ordering or grabbing a special edition. I remember picking up Zelda: Skyward Sword on launch day and it coming with a 25th Anniversary CD with a handful of classic orchestral Zelda tunes. And the real reason I pre-ordered the Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition limited edition is because the European release came with a delicious-looking vinyl.

Nintendo Xenoblade DE Collector's Edition Vinyl
Yes, I’m more than a little bit happy I own this. (Image: Nintendo)

Another weird way that Nintendo released some of its soundtracks was through Club Nintendo, with Super Mario 3D World‘s big band sounds seeing a release on the service back when the game was first released. And games like Super Mario Galaxy (and its sequel), Mario Kart 8, and Kirby Triple Deluxe also got similar soundtracks through the service. But you couldn’t, and still can’t, get them any other way.

And look, everyone here at Nintendo Life often jokes about “check out this cool thing Japan gets and we don’t”, and that goes doubly for soundtrack releases. At the very least, we can import these beautiful sets, but shipping prices aren’t always kind to our wallets.

Making that music much more accessible would not only make fans happy, but would also give the composers the wider credit they deserve. So many Nintendo games don’t even get official soundtrack releases, meaning composer names are simply hidden away in the credits and don’t get to have their work shared in a more official capacity. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door hasn’t seen any soundtrack releases, for instance, and many people aren’t familiar with the names of composers like Yoshito Hirano, Yuka Tsujiyoko, and Saki Haruyama – all of whom have continued to work on the Paper Mario series while also composing for the Fire Emblem games, too.

I’m not necessarily asking Nintendo to release all its music on all streaming services, as many of the royalties that come from those are painfully low, but I’d love just a bit more access to these games’ music. In a year where a Kirby arrangement rightfully won a Grammy Award, we still can’t listen to the music that inspired the remix officially without worrying that a fan’s upload might get taken down.

Kirby Anniversary Art
This little guy technically has a Grammy Award, come on Nintendo! (Image: Nintendo / @Kirby_JP)

Well, at least we’ve got the option of walking around with our Switch in our backpacks with our headphones plugged in to listen to the Smash Ultimate and Super Mario 3D All-Stars soundtracks, at least. Perhaps Nintendo could release a music app for the console?

Despite the difficulties, I’m sure many of us want to see Nintendo be a bit freer with its music. With the boom in video game vinyl, companies launching their own channels, and the much-wider availability of soundtracks, Nintendo’s relative absence in the market — especially in the West — continues to be disheartening.

Share your thoughts on what you’d like to see Nintendo do with its music. A new Nintendo streaming service? A perk attached to a Nintendo Switch Online subscription? More worldwide soundtrack releases?