If you’ve been following my writing for a while, you can probably guess that I’m a fan of video game music. I actually started collecting it as an alternative to listening to the radio on my long drive into work, but Ive now got a pretty sizable collection (enough to simulate my own radio station by running shuffle all on my songs lol). Today I thought it would be fun to talk about some Catholic inspired songs in games. While many songs include Latin lyrics to make things sound epic (like the Song of the Post at the bottom), I want to focus on some songs that are more obviously Catholic inspired. Specifically, I’m going to talk about Gregorian Chant inspired songs and the song Megalith -Agnus Dei- from Ace Combat 4.
For those unfamiliar, Gregorian chants are typically prayers being sung by monks in monasteries for their daily prayers, although you can encounter it in other places as well. For a long part of the church’s history it was the primary form of music in Catholicism, and I believe it still is considered prominent among Catholic music (I think I remember the Catechism or some Vatican II documents mentioning that fact but don’t quote me on it). As a Catholic, when I hear this kind of chanting, it really gives the place I am a holy vibe. In video games, this kind of chanting is primarily used to give areas an air of mystery and majesty. The most prominent example I can think of is the Temple of Time from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
This plays in the titular Temple of Time, a building that looks a lot like a medieval cathedral, with stone, stained glass and flying buttresses everywhere. It gives the building kind of a solemn feel, like something ancient and important is there (which is true in the story, although you may not know it yet when you first arrive). This song has stuck with me all these years since I first played the game in 1998 and honestly probably comes to mind even before real Gregorian Chants just because I’ve listened to it so much. Another example of chanting is the song The Incomplete Stone from Nier.
Nier takes place in a super post apocalyptic world where the ancient lost civilization with ruins scattered everywhere is modern society. Early in the game, the main character goes to explore an ancient tower (basically a ruined office building). This song plays in the ruins while you are not in battle, giving them a real mysterious feel. The echo effect on the male voice makes it sound especially chanty, as Gregegorian chants would typically be done in large open monasteries which creates an echo. There are other examples of Gregorian Chant like songs, but these two in particular really show how Catholic like chants are often used to give a mysterious feeling to an area of a game.
The other song I wanted to talk about and the song that inspired me to write this post is Megalith -Agnus Dei- from Ace Combat 4.
This is actually from a game I’ve never played- I mainly know the series because it is famous for its good music. When I was researching the soundtracks to decide whether or not to buy them, I encountered this song as one of the most popular in the series. I was immediately thrown off because Agnus Dei is one of the prayers in the Mass (you can see it on this Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnus_Dei_(music)). Apparently this version is the climatic final fight song of Ace Combat 4, but with some lyrics from the Latin prayer (you can see the lyrics in the video description or here: https://www.animelyrics.com/game/acecombat4/megalithagnusdei.htm). At first I thought this was simply a Japanese composer that thought a foreign religious song from the Mass sounded cool and just threw it in superficially as is typical, but it seemed to me at the time that some of the lyrics were changed to fit the context of the game. I’ve since found out that the lyrics actually come from Mozart’s Requiem, which music for a funeral Mass (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_for_the_Requiem_Mass#Agnus_Dei). This revelation shows they knew what was being said in the song and specifically chose it for the fight. That being said, there is still a bit of silliness with the lyrics in the context of the game’s world. The Ace Combat games take place in Strangereal, a fictional, vaguely modern world to justify fighter jet dogfights, which is a world where Christianity likely doesn’t exist (because it’s not the real world). The bulk of the Agnus Dei prayer, which is “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” is so incredibly specific to Christianity that the line really doesn’t make sense in a setting with no connection to real life. Despite the bit of disconnect between the world and the song, I thoroughly enjoy this song and am glad the composer decided to put it in the game. Even if they might not realize it right away, giving people a positive exposure to Christianity can only be a good thing.
So there are some songs in video games inspired by Catholicism and a brief discussion about them. I have to say, I really enjoy it when any Catholic sounding songs show up in games, even if it’s as superficial as just having Latin lyrics. As I listen to more songs (and run out of other ideas), I think I’ll occasionally come back and write about them, so look forward to that.
Song of the Post-
Final Fantasy XV