“Howdy CA! readers. I previously posted this piece highlighting various videogame soundtracks several years ago on an old unused version of CounterAttack Games, but instead of leaving it to be forgotten I have been republishing and adding onto it ever since. With new soundtracks from titles released in 2017, I believe this is a fairly decent list of some of gaming’s most memorable scores, so enjoy!“
Graphics, controls, gameplay and multiplayer; these are just a few of the things that come to mind for most when they are mulling over a game. The visual spectacle helps you believe in the world you are seeing before you and the ease of the controls allows you to forget you are even holding a controller in your hands. Fun and absorbing mechanics and a games addictive multiplayer allow you to spend hours in front of the television when you had originally only intended to spend twenty minutes.
All of these facets are important pieces to a games larger puzzle, but one aspect that often goes overlooked by most can in fact be among a games most crucial: audio. Sound design is paramount to delivering the worlds emotion to the player. From the oomph of a grenade exploding only a few feet away to the crunching of snow beneath the players feet; audio adds depth to an otherwise flat image. But while sound effects may breathe life into the lungs of a game, music brings emotion to the players heart.
Just as it does in film, music conveys the tone of the scene playing out before you. While you, the player, are controlling the actions of the character on screen, the musical score playing beneath is subtly controlling the emotions that the player is feeling. A scene depicting the loss of a pivotal character will be somber and low, the sections building up to a larger than life conflict will grow gradually more epic in scope the closer you move to your target and for a scene to be truly chilling, all music may go away entirely, leaving the player feeling cold and alone.
All emotion is manipulated so that the player feels a very specific way for the betterment of the scene, and it works. Sadly it is such a common practice the player may not even realize just how great a job the composer has done in immersing them into the story and world of the game. Below is a list of some of the best game soundtracks of the last few years. Each bring something special to the tale being told, from epic orchestral scores to smaller single piano tracks and ballads and everything in between. These soundtracks help embed in you the memories and feelings of the game long after you have put the disc back in its box and the case back on the shelf.
The first game from Campo Santo begins not in a way I was expecting, as it starts with a prologue that is delivered in unique memorable fashion backed up by a terrific subtle score. This first twist is just one of many sure to come to players of Firewatch, a mystery adventure game that see’s you in charge of a watchtower and protecting your own corner of a wilderness preserve. Much like the game itself the soundtrack slowly begins to add an uneasiness to its score as it morphs as the story unfolds, uncurling a mystery and egging gamers forward.
- Life is Strange
The music behind Life is Strange manages to infuse the game with even more of a soul than its brilliant story already does. With a believable world and well rounded characters the specially chosen licensed tracks partnered with the games great original score manages to both add to the games personality and make the story more impactful, providing extra weight and emotion behind the choices you make and the repercussions you must contend with. Some will surely hate the “indie” selections, even going so far as to say the game “doesn’t earn its style or its moments” but this I do not care, I dig the entire compilation and the game.
- Crypt of the Necrodancer
With this official soundtrack Danny Baranowsky compiles an absolutely massive assortment of tracks that are inspired by disco, rock, chiptunes, metal and everything in-between. The game itself is a dungeon crawling rhythm rogue-like and that means that players must move and attack in accordance with the musics beat, meaning players will be listening and memorizing this games soundtrack quite a lot. Its a good thing its so damn good then.
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The Metal Gear series has always featured fantastic soundtracks. Whether they be original scores or select tracks from various artists, they always capture that titles spirit and provide an extra layer of oomph to the games presentation. With The Phantom Pain game director Hideo Kojima managed to bring together music from the 80’s, today and hand crafted original works created for the game itself and combine them to help make sure his magnum opus finished tall as not only one of the greatest game series of all time, but also a series with some of the best soundtracks of all time.
- Chrono Trigger
Easily one of the greatest role playing games of all time, the 1995 SNES release of Chrono Trigger would manage to do almost everything right. From its terrific visuals to its outstanding time traveling story and well written characters to its incredibly memorable soundtrack; there aren’t many games that have stayed with gamers longer. Composers Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu managed to do a lot with very little, pushing the Super Nintendo’s audio capabilities with a diverse and extended soundtrack that made every battle encounter and story beat resonate much harder than the games beautiful but simplistic look could manage.
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
When it comes to fantasy titles few are as memorable or successful as The Elder Scrolls series. Bethesda Softworks has been churning these titles out deliberately over the years but it wasn’t until Morrowind that the franchise saw both huge critical and commercial success. The Elder Scrolls III, to this day, is still my favorite of the series offering up the most freedom of choice and a truly fantastic and alien setting to explore. It also doesn’t hurt that it features the best theme of the series with a song that truly captures the wonder and magic the Scrolls are known for.
- Rebel Galaxy
Developed by only two people Rebel Galaxy is a space flight simulator that allows players to live out their Firefly fantasies. Your adventure will consist of smuggling and trading goods while avoiding both pirates and authority and outfitting your ship with new offensive and defensive capabilities in-between excursions. The visual style is very reminiscent of Joss Whedons acclaimed show and if there was still any doubt about the games inspirations it will only take you listening to the games soundtrack for three seconds before you go “Yep, this is an unofficial Firefly game!”
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
With SotN Castlevania turned a corner and became something more. It left behind its simplistic stage by stage design and grew into a larger than life adventure that seemingly had secrets behind every stone and surprises behind every door. This change left gamers craving more and would go on to define the Castlevania legacy (and also start the MetroidVania term) but while the game itself changed things forever, the PSOne disc also featured some truly inspiring audio choices. Symphony featured full voice work for its characters as well as music that perfectly captured the games gothic fueled story. “I’m interested in this!”
- Fallout 4
Bethesda has always incorporated a great licensed soundtrack into their Fallout games but this time Fallout 4 stood out in my mind more for its original score than for its classic retreads. Whether it is being ominous or epic the soundtrack to your lonely treks into the apocalyptic are no doubt memorable.
- Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
The Chinese Room, known for their subtle storytelling and beautiful visuals, in 2015 released their long in development PS4 exclusive, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and while the game had its issues, mainly in regards to its movement, nobody can deny the title was firing on all cylinders when it came to its presentation. With breathtaking visuals and an incredible soundtrack the game was certainly pleasing to the senses. Composer Jessica Curry brings forth a truly awe inspiring compilation with full choir and orchestra. Rapture’s soundtrack makes one feel as if the world is ending, but its doing so in a most beautiful way.
- Mass Effect 3
Whatever side of the fence you fall on, whether the game was an epic conclusion to one of gaming’s greatest trilogies or it was an abysmal slap in the face to everything you hold dear, nobody should be able to find fault with the games terrific score. Composer Clint Mansell delivers exciting thunderous drums and beautiful piano keys in what is one of the most emotionally charged soundtracks of gaming. This collection of music takes gamers on an emotional journey that reminds them of their very first steps taken as Commander Shepard in the 2007 original to the stories conclusion in 2012.
- HOTLINE MIAMI
With it’s brutal and chilling images and story Hotline Miami also brings to the table a haunting yet chill soundtrack. A diverse mix of artists have come together to provide a wide range of tracks that are each unique yet tie together perfectly. Mixing an 80’s vibe and inspirations from the film Drive, each track can be calming yet unsettling at the same time, mirroring the same uncertainty in the game with it’s sunny Miami atmosphere on top of the horrifying violence that can break out at any moment. As the game and story unfold the electronic beats and reverb will bury into your brain until you realize you feel just as paranoid and unsettled as the protagonist in which you are controlling, a perfect fit and end.
- HALO 4
You can’t go wrong with any of the various Halo soundtracks floating around out there, Martin O’Donnel gave Halo such a unique voice that most gamers could be given any track to listen to and be able to tell you its from a Halo game. Now that Bungie is off of the series and 343i is in charge the challenge of creating a new sound while still retaining a sliver of that original Halo style is given to Neil Davidge, an unenviable task. Davidge is a veteran of film, television and the games industry and he does an exceptional job in giving Halo 4 its own unique voice. Epic in scope as it should be, but much more somber and intense; it’s telling a much different story then past games. O’Donnel gave the world one of the most recognized tracks in gaming history with Halo’s main theme of chants and slow epic score, but Davidge is set to begin his own reign.
- The Last of Us
Really, what more can be said about Naughty Dog and Gustavo Santolalla’s work on the masterpiece The Last of Us? The game is quite simply one of the best games of the last decade and the soundtrack ranks up there as well with the best of them. Haunting and beautiful. Both intimately personal and unbelievably epic in scope. Both the game and its soundtrack deliver in spades.
As previously stated in my “Most Overlooked Games of 2012” article, Journey is a journey well worth taking, and so is it’s soundtrack. As the primary piece of audio in the game these melodic tracks help carry you forward through the desert and ancient ruins that speck the gorgeous landscape. Austin Wintory’s score of escalating wonder captures the spirit of the game to an amazing degree and is a joy to listen to as you carry on your own journeys.
- FROZEN SYNAPSE
Synapse is a turn based tactical game on the PC that garnered large critical and fan acclaim for its depth and difficulty, I however, have never played, although I have played its soundtrack easily over a hundred times now on my iPhone. This is my go to jam for midnight walk abouts. Hypnotic, fast and awesome, to quote Jeff Bridges “Its bio digital jazz, man.” and it fucking rules.
- SUPERBROTHERS: SWORD AND SWORCERY
Magic, marvelous energetic magic; that is how I would describe what Jim Guthrie has crafted here. Sword and Sworcery (I’m spelling that right btw) was one of the most praised games on the iOS App Store. It is Journey for your iPhone, with some Tim Schafer magic thrown in as well. The game blended beautiful artwork with mesmerizing music that had a sound utterly unique to itself. From whimsical to brooding and then back again the music is just catchy and simply mesmerizing.
I’ve played through some of Hohokum and I’m still not entirely sure what the actual game is or what its exactly supposed to be saying, but I do know that it was something magical. As well as confusing…but still magical! Developed by Honeyslug in collaboration with artist Richard Hogg, Hohokum is a psychedelic journey through fantastical worlds as players explore and investigate their surroundings, creating wonderful music and sounds as they do so. The best way to describe this soundtrack is simply with one word, fun.
- ASSASSINS CREED 2
As with Halo, you could pick up any Assassins Creed soundtrack and find great music within, although AC2 and Brotherhood are widely considered as some of the best work. Jesper Kyd composed the soundtracks for each entry in the series, however he did not continue his work for Assassins Creed 3 for unknown reasons, and Lorne Balfe has taken over the reigns for the newest installment. As with each title in the series, each soundtrack has music that seems to both fit the time period it is set, as well as feeling modern.
- Killer Instinct
When Microsoft resurrected Rare’s cult fighting franchise, Killer Instinct, for the Xbox One launch they did so with (arguably) more care and craft than was necessary. While the series was beloved by many it was never a huge hit and most looked back on it as a nice example of the 90’s, lots of attitude and noise but not necessarily something that was any good and deserving of a comeback. Luckily Double Helix Games not only delivered what classic Killer Instinct fans wanted but also a game that was good enough to attract new fans. Killer Instinct is one of the Xbox One’s under appreciated hits, delivering fast paced action and plenty of depth and tools for both hardcore and newcomers to appreciate. Also the soundtrack is pretty dope with each fighter having their own theme music and one badass main title theme.
- TO THE MOON
To the Moon is an indie title released for the PC. Critically praised for having a moving story of loss and hope, it is widely considered an interactive novel for the way it tackles its subject matter; in a serious somber light. That tone carries over beautifully to its soundtrack. Moving, touching, beautiful, depressing, joyful, terrifying…those are all words that can be used to describe, what is easily, one of my favorite soundtracks to anything. The harmonies Kan R. Gao (who is also the games director) create are astounding and deserve to be heard by everyone. The games story is supposed to be one of sorrow and beauty, and that is exactly the essence this music captures.
Aquaria is a little known indie game that released in 2007 after over two years of development. Praised for its visual styling as well as its music, which was performed by Alec Holowka, the game garnered generally positive reviews. The games soundtrack is massive, with over a whopping 50 tracks in its listing, and each is generally solid work. A mix of string and electronic with some truly special vocal tracks towards the end, Aquaria is a special soothing listen.
- Xenoblade Chronicles X
I love this soundtrack! Eclectic, electric, bombastic, beautiful, emotional and completely insane. Composer Hiroyuki Sawano, who is known more for his anime scores such as that of Attack on Titan, teams with developer Monolith Soft. to deliver one of the largest and most diverse soundtracks I have experienced in years. From its energetic battle theme, that actually includes vocals, to its beautifully orchestral symphonies that play while you explore the games massive world, Xenoblade Chronicles X is far and away my favorite videogame soundtrack of 2015.
You knew it was coming (the one you who will read this) this IS a soundtrack article after all, and the little indie game that could, Bastion, has one of the best soundtracks in recent memory. Plus the picture near the top of the article should have been hint enough. Darren Korb created one of the most memorable sounding videogames in history with his work for Bastion. A wild mix of seemingly every instrument known to man with a heavy dose of blues washed over it all, Bastion is simply a masterwork of audio nirvana. The epic tracks along with the terrific narrator worked to put Bastion among the top in terms of best audio work ever in gaming and that means you should damn well listen to this tale.
- INFAMOUS 2
inFamous 2 actually had two soundtracks to compliment its release on the PlayStation 3, the Red Soundtrack and Blue Soundtrack, which are supposed to mirror the choice within the game of being good, or evil. Either one delivers a great mix of epic orchestral, bass, strings, jazz and southern flavor that helps capture the New Orleans style within the game. This is another collection of various artists that help both soundtracks keep up the energy and unique southern sound. The Red Soundtrack is harder to find these days as it was only included in the collectors edition of the game, while the Blue Soundtrack can be downloaded from various digital sellers.
Supergiant Games delivered such a fantastic soundtrack with their first title, Bastion, that it was no surprise when their sophomore game, Transistor, delivered the same goods. Set in a cyber world where everything is managed by programs and technology the game managed to shock when its soundtrack wasn’t just basic electronica. With tracks consisting of jazz and blues with some modern flairs Transistor’s soundtrack managed to be a treat, but one that was both expected and surprising.
If you had to use one word to describe the folks at Media Molecule it would be unique. Their games are never without charm and imaginative ideas that its hard to not smile while playing any of them. With the studios PlayStation Vita title (now also available on PS4) Tearaway composers Brian D’Oliveira and Kenneth Young combined folk music with traditional instruments and effects to create a sense of adventure and discovery as players roam a world created from paper and magic.
- Dark Dreams Don’t Die
Access Games, headed by Hidetaka Suehiro, also known as Swery65, have been behind two of my favorite cult hits of the last ten years: Deadly Premonition and Dark Dreams Don’t Die (D4). Both of these games are bonkers in the best ways possible; mixing great storytelling with bizarre characters and events and some of the most confusing but captivating dialogue in gaming. Luckily both of these games also feature terrific soundtracks with tunes that will just crawl into your head and rest in there for days. D4’s soundtrack is a nice mix of sounds that help to convey the detective nature of the game while also adding some much needed energy into the proceedings.
- Ori and the Blind Forest
Moon Studios first game, in collaboration with Microsoft Game Studios, is also one of the most heartfelt and beautiful of 2015. From its incredible hand drawn art to its tight controls the game is great. But the element of the game that will stick with you longest is its ethereal and somber soundtrack. Composer Gareth Coker delivers a film quality score that helps make every jump and every success an event. With its incredible highs and tear inducing lows, Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the most epic indie games available today.
- NieR: Automata
There isn’t much I enjoyed about this game, although many loved it, but the music was one of the higher points in an otherwise disappointing romp for me. Although its not entirely unique the score is exciting and helps elevate the games surrounding components.
What cant be said about Cuphead? Of course the games score is memorable, just like everything else within this shooter! The first game from StudioMDHR, this Microsoft exclusive is not only one of the best games of 2017, but easily features one of the greatest presentations of any game ever. Beautiful visuals, excellent audio and sublime gameplay come together to create a title that shouldn’t be missed.
Supergiant Games have released three titles now and each have featured not only original gameplay but some of the greatest music to ever be recorded in gaming. For Pyre composer Darren Korb has somehow upped his game once again to create a brilliant and beautiful ensemble. Not much more can be said about this guys work other than he’s a master at his craft.
- Hollow Knight
Team Cherry’s first game, Hollow Knight, is a gothic platformer that takes inspiration from both Castlevania and Dark Souls, which is music to my ears. Luckily the games actual music is also excellent…to my ears. Composed by Christopher Larkin, the Hollow Knight soundtrack features piano, string and percussion woven together beautifully to capture the otherworldly nature of the games environments.
Of course these aren’t the only great gaming soundtracks that have released over the last several years so if you have some you love then post them below and share with the rest of us.