From VNDev Wiki

Music may refer to a number of components in visual novels. See Audio for more general information about audio.

Types of music

  • Music that plays throughout the majority of a visual novel is called Background Music or BGM.
    • Looping music is music that can repeat seamlessly without a gap or noticeable break, and is often used as background music.
  • A piece of music associated strongly with a character is called a Character Theme.
  • A piece of music that plays during the title menu is called Title Theme.
  • A piece of music that plays with an animated introduction to a visual novel is often called Opening Song if it features singing or Opening Theme, similar to the opening themes of television shows.
  • A piece of music that plays during the credits is often called a Credits Theme or Ending Theme.
    • In visual novels that have multiple endings, the music is often referred to as the character, event, or ending type (good, bad, true, etc.) ending theme. E.g., 'The Good Ending Theme'.
  • Some music may occasionally fall into the category of sound effects and vice versa.
    • A small tune that accompanies a specific event, such as the arrival or introduction of a character, the solving of a puzzle, or choice-making is called a stinger.
    • Music that's performed or heard by characters in the story is often called diegetic music.

Functions of music in games

Some functions of game music, as described by Winifred Phillips, are:[1]

  • Putting the player in a specific state of mind, like putting players into a hyper-alert state in horror games.
  • World building by immersing players through, for example, use of instrumentation that reflects the time period or location the game is set in.
  • Setting the pace by underlining the excitement level.
  • Reflecting a player's action and the state of the game by, for example, playing a game over theme when the player has lost or by changing switching the currently playing track to a cheerful one when something happy happens.
  • A piece of music can be used for branding and may serve as an instantly recognizable theme that is connected to a game or game series.
  • Demarcation, meaning creating music that is distinctly different from the rest of the soundtrack to strongly delineating in-game locations or outlining differences between gameplay types.

Dynamic music

Dynamic music is music that is modified, or which’s sequence is modified during gameplay. The change can be a result of a player's input, conscious or unconscious, or variables being randomized independent of a player’s input. An alternative term for this concept is "Interactive Music".

  • Music Replacement: The music reacts to an occurrence in-game by changing completely. There are several ways to implement reactive audio, as there are many ways in which one can transition 1. form one audio track to another, 2. from an audio track to complete silence or 3. from complete silence to an audio track.
    • Hard cut and/or hard start: The prior audio track suddenly stops playing (hard cut) or the next audio track starts playing suddenly (hard start). It can be advisable to mask the sudden start or stop of an audio track with a sound effect.
    • Fade out and/or fade in: Fading out means that the volume of a track is gradually reduced to zero. Fading in means that the volume of a track is gradually increased from zero to its target loudness (usually a track's full volume). There can be a pause of variable length between the prior audio track having faded out and the next audio track starting to fade in. There are different forms of fades, like linear, logarithmic etc.
    • Crossfade: The prior audio track starts fading out while the next audio track is fading in at the same time. The form of the fades can vary (see number 2 above).
    • Musical transition: A transition is applied to the prior audio track as it receives the command to stop playing or a transition is applied to the next audio track as it receives the command to start playing. This transition is oftentimes a music snippet that is seamlessly added to the stopping piece to conclude it with more finality than a fade could or transitions into a starting piece to create a more natural beginning.
  • Adaptive Music: Adaptive music refers to music being adjusted on the fly instead of it being replaced with a completely different music track. Just like with music replacement, this type of audio changes in reaction to a player’s input or a variable being set to a specific value or it being within a specific value range. Some musical elements that can be adjusted are:
    • Pitch
    • Speed
    • Volume
    • Panning
    • Manipulation of notes
    • Vertical rearrangement (also called vertical reorchestration or vertical remixing), where music layers are added, removed or replaced
    • Horizontal rearrangement (also called horizontal resequencing), where the music track seamlessly jumps to another alternative music snippet
    • Effects/audio signal processing, where various effects are applied to music such as reverb, equalization, echo etc.
  • Consciously Interactive Music: What sets consciously interactive music apart from adaptive audio is that a game developer has consciously implemented the music in a way to motivate a player to interact with the audio. Triggering musical events leads to some sort of reward, lets the player progress through the game or is at the core of the game’s design. Interactive music can employ the same music manipulation techniques that you have seen above. A player might have to use a slider to manipulate the pitch or the speed of a music track to match it to the pitch or speed of a reference track to progress. Or they might be able to interact with instruments or instrumentalists, which triggers a new instrument layer to appear or disappear. One major technique of interactive music is giving the player the ability to trigger individual musical notes.


  1. Phillips, Winifred (2014). A Composer's Guide to Game Music. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. pp. 97-117. ISBN 978-0-262-02664-2.