Heroes of Might and Magic II: The Succession Wars
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Heroes of Might and Magic II was an excellent game made utterly amazing thanks to its incredible music. Set in a vast, sprawling fantasy world where legendary heroes wield ancient artifacts and powerful sorcery and huge armies of mythical creatures engage in epic battles, Heroes II was a turn-based strategy game based half in the quest to discover and manage resources and half in tactical battles fought at sea, at the walls of a besieged castle, or in the colorful lands of Enroth. Heroes II's winning combination of treasure- and artifact-laden fields to explore with carefully balanced units and combat mechanics made playing it both enormously fun and frighteningly addictive. Based on its gameplay alone, Heroes II was a rock-solid game and a must-have for turn-based strategy fans. However, when its outstanding CD-quality audio musical score is also taken into account, Heroes II managed to transcend mere excellence and became a truly superlative game experience.
Heroes II's songs were founded on simple, clean instrumentals, often complemented either with nonintrusive ambient sounds (such as the chirping of birds and croaking of frogs in some of the outdoor themes) or with the now-famous and then totally unique tenor and soprano opera singing in the town interface screens. Despite the game's epic setting, the Heroes II designers abstained from going the way of the expensive, blaring 99-piece orchestra (whose primary goal is to make sure the listener is aware of the fact that he is listening to an expensive, blaring 99-piece orchestra), opting instead for a more subdued approach. As a result, Heroes II's music doesn't sound like a game that's consciously attempting to impress you with a barrage of thunderous symphonic suites from some loud, pricey orchestra; it instead bears an ethereal, haunting quality that winds up being perfectly suited to the game's fantasy setting. The lilt of the soprano's voice accented by the rollicking, playful tones of a concert grand piano makes the Sorceress player feel right at home in her town. The visceral pounding of drums and chanting of background singers that punctuate the flowing strokes of a full string section prompt the player who is engaged in battle to be at once excited and pensive about what sort of strategies he must use to win.
This is not to say that Heroes II's music confines itself to loading a game on your computer, playing, then quitting out. Though tremendously well-suited to the game, Heroes II's soundtrack is meticulous enough in composition and stylishly unconventional enough to make it eminently listenable in or out of a game.