As I wait for the August launch of Tales of Graces f, I’ve been thinking back to my time with Tales of the Abyss. Often, some of the in-town music will pop into my head and rattle around for a few days, reminding me of the wonderful time I spent in the game’s company, and it’s also made me consider the way music is used in games; specifically in Tales of the Abyss to create a separation between the towns and world map, and the feeling of entering a town to rest and gain some respite from the larger conflict.

Have a listen to this piece, which plays on the world map after a story milestone:

It’s dramatic, hinting at an epic confrontation to come, and it has a real driving feel that helps to communicate that you’re pushing on to your next objective in your goal of saving the world.

Now listen to this in-town piece that plays when you enter the snowy wonderland of Keterburg:

This piece of music is pretty representative of the rest of the game’s in-town music. It’s disarmingly cheerful, despite the conflict that is ravaging the world outside of the town. In an RPG, you enter a town to rest and recharge, stock up, and maybe seek out a handful of sidequests, and it’s this aspect that often feels a little incongruous; why am I helping someone find their missing sheep while outside the walls the world is burning? Of course, a large part of gaming is the suspension of disbelief, but for me, this separation in musical themes and moods often helps me to actually forget the main quest exists for a short while while I potter about doing random things in a new town.

I’ve often seen the Tales of series referred to as ‘jRPG comfort food’, and given their traditional nature, it’s hard to argue. And I think the music can often play a large part in this feeling of comfort, subconsciously allowing you time off from the pressing engagement of saving the world.