Connect with us

Games

Ranking The Legend of Zelda Series

Published

on

There is hardly a more beloved franchise in all of video games than The Legend of Zelda, but though so many of its entries are at the top of many players’ lists of all-time favorites, how do each of the titles stack up when pitted against each other? After a lengthy voting process involving several members of our staff (and a complicated point-tallying system), we here at Goomba Stomp have finally come up with a ranking of our favorite Zelda games. These are not in the order of best to worst but instead, they are the ones we love from least to most! Without further Fi-like explanation, here is the list of our favorite Zelda Games:

Editor’s Note: We decided to omit spin-offs and obscure titles and focus solely on the main series. The cover image comes courtesy of Nintendo of Europe.

Ranking the Zelda Series

17. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures

Nintendo would have you believe that The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures is a cooperative game where you can come together with your friends and experience all the joys of dungeon crawling together. In truth, it’s actually a crucible that tests even the greatest of friendships and tempts all players into committing atrocities against their fellow players.

Now, it’s all well and good to just play the game as it is intended to be — but that’s not getting the full depth out it. Oh no. Until you start using the feather to strand your friends across chasms, making it impossible to progress, you haven’t really played. Until you start trapping friends in tiny rooms with bombs, you haven’t lived.

Because, in truth, the game isn’t that hard — especially with four people. What makes it really fun are the resultant fireworks that pop off when the egos of four friends clash together. Did your buddy just nab the item you want? Screw that! Knock him into the void over and over. When he complains, laugh. When your other two friends try to intervene, make them share the same fate until justice is served. Then, after five solid minutes of everyone else begging for mercy, consider stopping so you can move to the next frame. After that, prepare to spend the next five minutes running away from your friends who want to do you harm. It is merely the circle of life.

And that’s why Four Swords is great. Not because of its excellent level design or the cool connectivity between Game Boys and the Gamecube, but because of the way it tricked friends into torturing each other for hours on end. (Jason Krell)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

16. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass was a game with good ideas, but held back with a few big problems. Spirit Tracks, on the other hand, builds on its precursor and fixes those problems to end up being one of the finest portable Zelda titles. Though the new system of traveling on your train initially feels more constricting than before, it still provides a sense of exploration and discovery by unlocking railways and expanding the map. The game also has more interesting items for puzzle solving, with the sand wand and the whip being notable standouts. It also offers more in terms of a narrative worth getting invested in.

As is typically the case, Zelda finds herself in a predicament, and though this inciting incident appears to turn her into a ghost, she actually ends up hanging out for the duration of the game as Link’s new companion. As crucial a character as she is to the plot, this is one of the first times where she actually gets to breathe and spend time with the main character who, despite not talking, still shares great chemistry with Zelda. They also allow for some side characters, notably one of the antagonists, Byrne, to have proper character arcs and a backstory.

Though it still has a similar “central dungeon” mechanic to Phantom Hourglass, they don’t force you to trudge through old areas, nor is it attached with a time limit. And with Zelda in her ghost form, she’s actually able to take over the bodies of those invincible monsters from before, which not only makes the game feel fairer, but it also adds a whole new mechanic of managing two characters at once.

It may have come out late in the system’s life cycle, but it’s a solid and underrated title that deserves a second look. (Daniel Philion)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

15. The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap

To be clear, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap isn’t a bad game by any means. It’s not even a game that’s undermined by certain key flaws. It’s a perfectly functional entry that doesn’t betray the design philosophy that the Zelda series is known for. But mere competence can’t make up for the fact that this game is extremely forgettable.

This version of Hyrule doesn’t stand out as a particularly unique world to explore, instead relying on the standard location tropes. The characters bring little to the table, with your new companion, Ezlo (not to be confused with Assassin’s Creed’s “Ezio”), being more obnoxious than endearing, and the new villain, Vaati, lacking the presence of Ganon. Zelda herself also has no interesting role to play beyond being a typical damsel in distress.

The major new idea this game brings to the series is the shrinking mechanic, which may have been interesting if it had been offered with more freedom. In practice, you can only shrink in specific places, which makes this less of a fun new way to explore, and more just as a gimmick to set up specific puzzles.

That said, there are still some clever puzzles, and shrinking does offer a unique perspective. Though it’s a dull boss fight, there’s something to be said about taking those easily killed Chu Chu’s and making it more daunting by changing your size. In the end, Minish Cap proves that there’s more to the Zelda experience than the formula itself; there’s a spark or sense of wonder that they need to incite in the player to make them truly resonate. (Daniel Philion)

Ranking the Zelda Series

14. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages is the sister game to Oracle of Seasons, both of which are the portable successors to Link’s Awakening DX. Both games share a lot in common with Link’s Awakening, but each took a different route in how it presented its gameplay, Oracle of Ages focused on puzzles and tried to find interesting ways to get the player to think about their surroundings and their inventory, as well as giving the player a lot of items that interacted with the environment rather than with enemies.

On a personal level, Oracle of Ages resonates with me a lot, as it’s the version I had when the two games originally came out. I remember being thoroughly surprised by the boss of the second dungeon, Head Thwomp, as it was a battle based around timing (something I wasn’t very good at when I was ten years old) and did not require the use of the sword, instead making use of bombs. Many of the boss battles in Oracle of Ages followed this trend of not using the sword as your main damage-dealing item. While today that’s not much of an accomplishment for a Zelda title, when the Oracle games were coming out the series was still establishing its footing in 3D, and many bosses in the top-down games were still focused primarily on sword-based combat. Oracle of Ages also has one of my personal favorite items, the Seed Shooter. Intended to be Ages’ version of the staple bow/slingshot, the Seed Shooter is able to ricochet various types of ammo off walls to hit targets. While this is implemented in some puzzles, it’s not carried throughout the game, and ultimately you can still just stand in front of something and spam seeds like rapid-fire arrows.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages is an interesting example of how to experiment with an IP, even if some of its most interesting ideas are not fully realized. (Taylor Smith)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

13. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons is the action game anti-thesis to Ages‘ puzzle-focused gimmicks. Many of the bosses in Oracle of Seasons are reworks or recycles of bosses from the original The Legend of Zelda or other titles. This is probably because when Capcom made their original pitch to Nintendo about working on a Zelda game, it was meant to be a Game Boy remake of the original. Rather than rely on a lot of gimmicks, bosses were more about recognizing cycles and patterns and then punishing accordingly. This focus is reflected in the gear Link can acquire. In Ages, the Seed Shooter allowed for new creative ways to solve projectile based puzzles, but the Slingshot in Seasons serves roughly the same purpose as the Bow and Arrow in any other top-down Zelda.

In order to obtain the true ending in either Oracle of Seasons or Oracle of Ages you would need to link the two games together via a password. If you were lucky enough to own both copies of the Oracles titles it was as simple as completing one game, writing it down, and starting the next, but for the not so lucky it required you to either have a friend who had the opposite title. Thankfully, this problem has sort of been remedied with the two games being put on the 3DS Virtual Console. While Oracle of Seasons was the preferred version here at Goomba Stomp, both titles are great in their own ways. If you’ve yet to play them, I highly recommend checking both out. (Taylor Smith)

Ranking the Zelda Series

12. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

In a many ways, this game should be a lot better than it is. It was the first Zelda game on Nintendo’s dual screen device, and it made use of nearly every feature on the system. The touch screen allowed you to attack enemies in a direct and interesting way, and you were able to write notes on your map screen and chart out your course when sailing across the sea. It also felt a lot more inspired than its portable predecessors by having a much larger world to explore and more out-of-left-field puzzles (including a devilishly clever one where you had to put the DS in sleep mode).

With all that going for it, why then would it be so low on this list? One reason: the Temple of the Ocean King.

The Temple of the Ocean King is possibly the worst/least fun idea of any Zelda game. What it entails is that every time you beat a dungeon you have to go back to this main dungeon to unlock the next area. It’s bad enough that this area is filled with invincible monsters that will send you back to the start of the room after one hit, but in subsequent visits they also have you go through areas you’ve already been to in order to get deeper in the dungeon. It gets very repetitive very quickly and just wastes your time, which happens to be limited here just to add a little more unwanted stress.

It’s also a pity that, in a game’s that meant to be a sequel to the excellent Wind Waker, it has next to nothing carried over from that adventure. The one thing they do carry over is Tetra, who gets relegated to “Damsel in Distress” in the first few minutes. She was an interesting enough character to merit her own game, so having her return just to be taken out of the equation that early can’t help but feel like a letdown. (Daniel Philion)

Ranking Zelda Games

11. The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link

The second installment in The Legend of Zelda series titled The Adventure of Link is often considered the black sheep of the family. Despite being one of the best-selling games in the entire series, many fans hate it and with good reason. The game is tough and I do mean tough. Players must be prepared for repeated failure when sitting down to play Zelda II, but that is sort of what makes the game so great. The sense of accomplishment a player feels when finishing Zelda II is perhaps unmatched by any other game in the NES library.

The Adventure of Link was a bold and radical departure for the series, but it has its supporters and many fans will argue it is not only one of the five best games released on the Nintendo Entertainment System but the most punishing game of the 8-bit generation. It offers players one of the most engrossing gaming experiences available on the console and features some of the best boss battles the series has to offer. The Adventure of Link was an incredibly assured attempt to rewrite the rules and introduced many elements that would become commonplace in future Zelda games a larger focus on storytelling, as well as sidequests. Yes it is difficult and yes it is different, but for better or for worse, that is what makes it stand out from all the other entries in the series. Zelda II is unique, but frustrating – flawed but brilliant – and without question, an important game that helped define what the Zelda games would ultimately be. (Rick D)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

10. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Nintendo has always been skilled at linking to the past while looking to the future, creating a bridge to franchise evolution, and that philosophy has rarely been better realized than with the 3DS’ The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. A sequel of sorts to the seminal SNES classic, this adventure covers basically the same physical ground, but takes much of the established franchise elements of the last 20 years and chucks them out the window. By ditching dungeon rewards and instead allowing players to rent (with the latter option to buy) the hookshot, bow, boomerang, three magic rods, and every other weapon or tool usually reserved as a prize, Nintendo was able to concentrate on what the beloved series used to do best: exploration. The freedom to go wherever one wanted in a Zelda game was a concept so old that it was almost novel, and A Link Between Worlds was a breath of fresh air — at least before the next one came along.

Thanks to impeccable puzzle designs, a lively world full of character, and a brilliant mechanic that sees Link turn himself into a 2D painting that can traverse walls in order to solve puzzles and reach new areas, the game still is. A Link Between Worlds invokes nostalgia in order to mess with fans’ minds, using its new gameplay concepts to twist them into thinking outside the box, producing some of the best “aha!” moments in the series. Gorgeous top-down visuals make the old new again, tight controls are ever-so-satisfying, and a clever story plays on expectations, but The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds best lives up to its title by bridging the gap between the comforting formula of days gone by and the promise of exciting things to come for Nintendo’s hallowed franchise. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

9. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Fans had to know that Nintendo was up to something truly special when they announced that Skyward Sword would officially become the first game in the Legend of Zelda timeline. Fortunately, Nintendo delivered on all of those expectations and more with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. A game that took the revolutionary/gimmicky motion controls of the Wii to their fullest extent, Skyward Sword is almost worth playing as much as a proof of concept as it is for its breathtaking adventure and wholly original take on the Zelda mythos.

Set among a series of floating islands that eventually give way to a shattered world below, Skyward Sword both echoes the world design of one of the best Zelda titles in history in the form of The Wind Waker, and calls to mind the scale of the Final Fantasy series in equal measure. Throw in some gorgeous art design and one of the most concise plots in the franchise, and you’re left with a truly underrated classic, easily one of the best games in the series. (Mike Worby)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

8. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was the first portable title in the series, and is easily one of my personal favorites. It was the first Zelda title to make an attempt at exploring Link’s character beyond that of the boy called to action. For once, Link is not seeking to stop Ganon and save the princess, kingdom, or Triforce. Instead, his is a journey of self-discovery, led by a desire to leave the island of Koholint that he has been shipwrecked on. Much of Koholint is full of life, especially when compared to the desolate wasteland that was the original Legend of Zelda and horribly mangled Dark World of A Link to the Past. It’s a breath of fresh air, with plenty of different-looking areas and regions. Overall, the game’s aesthetics’ are great, and the story they present is something that was only ever (theoretically) tackled again once.

Link’s Awakening was also the first top-down Zelda to make use of jumping. While The Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past both used pitfalls as ways to impede progress, they never had a clear answer to them. This time Link is granted the gift of jumping from an item called the Roc’s Feather, the very first dungeon item in the game. By combining the Roc’s Feather with the Pegasus Boots, Link could clear even bigger gaps and jump over large obstacles. Link’s Awakening is an amazing Zelda title not only for its plethora of new ideas, but for also setting new benchmarks for later games in the series. (Taylor Smith)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

7. The Legend of Zelda

Shigeru Miyamoto’s masterpiece laid the groundwork for almost every action-RPG that came after it, and it has become a staple franchise for Nintendo that is still going strong, 30 years later. When it was released, The Legend of Zelda was a first in so many categories. Not only was it an early example of open world and non-linear gameplay, but it also introduced a battery backup to save your progress. It served as the foundation of many modern adventure games, introducing now-basic concepts like dungeon maps, utility equipment, and boss formulas that we still see used today.

The Legend of Zelda has aged surprisingly well thanks to a brilliant soundtrack, creative visuals and masterfully layered adventure. And while it’s unapologetic in its open world approach, the lack of hand-holding might be what makes it so great. It is, without a doubt, one of the most influential games of all time, and one of the greatest games ever made. It was ahead of its time and it stands the test of time. Very few games can make that claim. (Ricky D)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

6. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The adult Link portions of Ocarina of Time got gamers’ appetites whetted for a more badass version of the green tunic-wearing hero, one who could stand tall against the inevitable evil forces and whose sword slashed viciously, cutting a swath through them. Wind Waker was not that, and though looked upon now as a masterpiece, its seemingly lighter tone at the time sparked a little rebellion. Fans of Nintendo’s legendary series were growing up, and just like with Star Wars or comic books, they wanted to hold onto their innocent past while also having it reflect their pragmatic present, something that kept in tone with their rising adult pessimism, something truer to the gloomy outlook that only comes with maturity. In short, as eventually happens with everything fun or innocent that fans go crazy for, they wanted something darker.

I was no different in those days, and so when the first images of Link wielding his blade from atop his trusty steed, surrounded by grossly disfigured moblins and bathed in eerie twilight first surfaced, I was instantly sold. Twilight Princess is no kiddie quest with bright flowers and snot-nosed munchkins; there is war, pain and suffering, noble sacrifice, and trippy weird visions of greed, death, and super-creepy-looking laughing girls slowly descending headfirst from the sky. The land has been poisoned and the people that populate it struggle against the shady sickness taking hold. A somber tone pervades throughout to the melancholy end, few moments of true happiness relaxing in the goat paddock found in between.

Never has a Zelda game relied so much on imagery to set its tone, never have the dungeons been so vast and monstrous, and never has the journey seemed so mythic. Twilight Princess feels like everything Ocarina of Time wanted to be, a fulfillment of years of fan expectations. It hosts the best sidekick in the series, the widest assortment of attacks, some of the most clever dungeons (Snowpeak’s crumbling mansion, the Gerudo desert’s Arbiter’s Grounds) and unique items (magnetic boots=awesome, spinner surfing=fun), and a massive amount of gameplay for those willing to explore every nook and cranny tracking down Poes and bugs. I personally have never bothered with Agitha or the golden Jovani on any of my many playthroughs, but it’s nice to know that there’s more going on in Hyrule than just the main quest.

With an epic setting accompanying the tragic feel, Twilight Princess gave fans exactly what they wanted, and in doing so delivered one of the most powerful entries in the franchise. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

5. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

Director Eiji Aonuma’s swashbuckling adventure The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, set 100 years after the events in Ocarina of Time, stands as one of three best games released in the series thus far. Along with the N64 classic and A Link to the Past, The Wind Waker masterfully baits and hooks players with its perfect blend of polished design, tightly crafted controls, and beautiful presentation. Utilizing a completely new look with cel-shaded graphics, the game casts players in the role of a familiar young Link, who sets out on a long voyage across troubled seas, into dark dangerous dungeons and against ruthless foes to save his kidnapped sister. At the time of its release, it was immediately evident that Wind Waker was going to be different from the previous Zelda titles, yet it’s surprising that the grandeur of The Wind Waker‘s bold, thick strokes, lusciously saturated palette, and notably boyish protagonist with his humongous, expressive eyes ever caused so much controversy back in 2003. Over a decade later, the game’s legacy remains defined by its visuals.

Players with keen eyes and an appreciation for art will know that Nintendo doesn’t just do things for the sake of pure experimentation. When developing The Wind Waker, Nintendo not only created a hugely stylistic world down to every last detail, but also pushed the power of Gamecube to do so. Upon closer inspection, cel-shading clearly was the right choice. This is a game that emphasizes the vastness of the open ocean and the open sky, and with the application of cel-shading, every wave, every gust of wind is beautifully pronounced against a backdrop of colorful hillsides, small villages, and coastal locales. And like all previous titles in the series, the dungeons prove to be the most enjoyable aspect of this game, despite having so few. It is in these dungeons that Wind Waker shines. The true beauty of the visuals stands out, as each dungeon is brought to life with an astounding amount of detail. It’s ultimately not difficult to see why The Wind Waker has become something of a classic in the years since its release. Overall it is a huge achievement in every way, with a classic mix of sword-swinging action, perplexing puzzles, stirring storylines, vibrant art, evocative soundtrack, a cast of colorful characters, beautiful melodies, and a fantastic battle system that propels the adventure and exploration. For many, the Zelda brand represents the pinnacle of gaming, and The Wind Waker stands tall, side by side with the very best. (Ricky D)

Ranking the Zelda Series

4. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

How exactly do you make a follow up to Ocarina of Time? Well, apparently you do it by making one of the few games in the series that doesn’t involve Ganon, you limit Zelda to one tiny appearance in a flashback, and you all but forget about the Triforce. Don’t be fooled, while Majora’s Mask is a clear departure from the typical Zelda formula, it’s still very much a Zelda game at heart, and to me (and at least a few others) it ranks right up there as one of the absolute best games in the franchise.

Taking place a couple of months after the events of OoT, Majora’s Mask kicks off with our good friend Link searching a forest for an old friend, when he stumbles upon an imp wearing a bizarre mask. The nefarious creature, known as Skull Kid, steals Link’s horse and leads him to a parallel version of Hyrule known as Termina. From there Link embarks on one of his typical quests; there are dungeons to explore, puzzles to solve, and bosses to beat, all standard-fare for the Hero of Time. The game is very similar to Ocarina of Time in a lot of respects, as gameplay between the two is near identical, and Nintendo reused also of graphical assets from OoT, so they share many visual similarities. However, despite all their commonalities, Majora’s Mask sets itself apart with its three-day time cycle, and more importantly, its ominous tone.

From Skull Kid’s creepy laugh during the game’s opening to the eerie final boss battle, Majora’s Mask is equally bizarre and unsettling from start to finish. The first time you witness Link transform when putting on a mask is undeniably jarring due to his screams of pain and the poignant visuals. The Happy Mask Salesmen seems like an ally, but one can’t help shake the feeling that he’s hiding malicious intent, which temporarily seeps out when you make him the slightest bit angry. The ever-looming harbinger of death that hangs in the sky, inching closer and closer as the clock winds down, creates a menacing sense of tension that’s not really present in other games in the series. And on top of all that, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the experience is the game’s world itself. Where exactly is Termina located? Is it a parallel dimension, or perhaps some sort of purgatory state? Why are so many characters from OoT’s Hyrule also in Termina? The name given to the land makes it seem like it was doomed since its very inception.

As good as Ocarina of Time is, it succeeds by employing a somewhat simplistic and expected tone and pace. Majora’s Mask takes a much riskier route, creating an awe-inspiring yet disturbing world, resulting in perhaps the most unique and mesmerizing Zelda adventure to date. (Matt De Azevedo)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

How many tales have been told about players popping in A Link to the Past only to be blown away by the game’s opening, an ominous start that begins with a psychic warning of danger, continues through a nighttime thunderstorm, and ends with the death of Link’s uncle and the rescue of Princess Zelda (so soon!) from her imprisonment? Younger gamers may get sick of hearing it, but the reason these moments and something as simple as rain stands out in the minds of those who experienced it at the time is because they were revolutionary, the start of a powerful new kind of storytelling in Zelda and video games in general. Never before had we seen something set such a cinematic mood as those streaking droplets illuminated by flashes of lightning, and from then on a standard was set that see games, for better or for worse, pay more attention to narrative.

But those atmospheric and still-gorgeous 16-bit visuals would have meant nothing if the game wasn’t backed up with an outstanding adventure at its core, and A Link to the Past‘s gameplay and puzzle-solving is where this turning point in the series still really shines. Swinging the sword felt infinitely better than the unsatisfying butter knife that Link wielded in his prior quest, and the various items and weapons acquired throughout were used far more frequently and cleverly. And while the previous entries in the franchise had certainly made their mark with different sorts of takes on exploring the land and battling enemies, it wasn’t until A Link to the Past, that the formula and feel that would define the series henceforth would finally come together. Puzzle-solving became the way to progress through dungeons, the idea of dual worlds or parallel dimensions came into play, and suddenly there were tons of empty bottles to be discovered, including from a guy under a bridge who has an abnormal friendship with birds.

Out of the entire franchise, I’ve easily played A Link to the Past as much as all the others combined, as its efficient pacing and beautiful world are a comfortable joy to return to, where I (unbelievably) keep noticing new surprises each time I take up the Master Sword. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking the Zelda Series

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterclass in open-world design, and with its release comes a true watershed moment in gaming history. The result is nothing less than magical. It artfully blends the best bits of the franchise’s thirty-plus year history and produces a sandbox so full of mystery and so full of adventure, it could take you well over 100 hours to uncover most of its secrets. What we have here is the most ambitious title in the history of the franchise, an epic journey that quivers with anticipation, wonder, surprise and excitement. It never gets old. It never gets tiring. There’s not a minute that goes by in which you’ll want to put down the controller, because Breath of the Wild keeps players constantly curious and fascinated by the world around them. There’s truly something unusually haunting and engrossing about the game, and whatever your opinion on the Nintendo Switch, Breath of the Wild is arguably one of the greatest games ever made.

Since its arrival in 1986, the Zelda series has always pushed the technical boundaries of whatever console it has graced, and Breath of the Wild continues this tradition (times two). Epic, mythic, and simply terrific, Breath of the Wild brings a new kind of experience to fans across the globe. In return, it demands your attention. It’s a landmark in video games such that labeling it a masterpiece almost seems inevitable. In the end, however, most of what makes Breath of the Wild so beloved is Nintendo’s determination to constantly challenge themselves while crafting an unforgettable experience that also doubles as a commentary on the freedom of playing on the Switch. That a game of this magnitude can be playable anywhere you go is a remarkable feat. (Ricky D)

Ranking the Zelda Series

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

You won’t find a gamer alive who doesn’t remember the first time they played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and there’s a very good reason for that: OOT isn’t just regularly counted as one of the best Zelda games of all time, but it also routinely finds itself in the conversation for the best games ever made. As a trendsetter and pioneering effort for 3D adventure games, action titles and RPGs alike, Ocarina of Time holds a special place in a lot of gamers’ hearts, particularly those who were young enough to have a lot of imagination in them upon its initial release.

It was a game that opened a tiny door in our minds when it first introduced us to a young Link in Kokiri Forest, and then wrenched that door all the way open a mere hour later when we were unleashed onto the full expanse of Hyrule Field and were gifted with a world to explore which was bigger than life. If, through some very strange events, you have still managed to not play OOT then you are doing yourself a disservice as a gamer. With awe-inspiring environments, a cast of memorable characters, a charming story, and one of the most epic adventures ever experienced, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a game that will stick in your grey matter even decades from now, and it is well deserving of its place there. (Mike Worby)

***

Let us know your rankings in the comments below!

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. norsecode

    July 23, 2019 at 11:59 am

    In my opinion, Link Between worlds is underrated. It is an excellently crafted game. On the other hand, there are some games higher up because of nostalgia and not because of quality of game. I’m looking at you Twilight Princess and Majora’s Mask.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Game Reviews

‘House of Golf’ is No Hole-In-One, But it is Below Par

‘House of Golf’ may feel appropriate for Switch, but a lack of variety and reused content make this course nearly reach above par.

Published

on

Perhaps adding the word “mini” to the title would have been far more appropriate regarding the in-game circumstances of Atomicom’s newest family arcade sports styled game House of Golf. In the slew of golf games currently available on the Nintendo Switch, House of Golf may feel the most appropriate for the console’s capabilities due to its key focus on simplicity, portability, and accessibility, but a lack of diversity in individual hole design and reused content nearly makes this humdrum course reaching above par.

Simplicity is a key focus within House of Golf’s core mechanics. Controls, menus, and even gameplay are as simple as video games can get. The left analog stick operates the camera and holding down the A button fires your ball with a distinct power meter located on the right-hand side of the screen. Your goal is to attempt to achieve a hole-in-one or stay below a par number that changes depending on course and difficulty- just like regular golf, mini-golf, or any form of golf you can imagine. It never gets more complicated than that.

House of Golf may claim that its selling point is that it contains over 130 different holes divided into 5 different environments- or rather rooms- and 3 difficulties, but variety becomes bland after less than an hour of playtime. Despite there being five different environments, after completing one course on either the medium or hard difficulty setting, you practically have experienced all there is to do. Courses always remain compact and easy to navigate, but the game never gets challenging or adds some sort of flair that allows each hole to stand out from one another. It is a shame considering that the fluid gameplay foundation the courses are built on might just be the most tightly controlled golf game available on Switch.

As the title of the game implies, every course is designed around the interior aesthetics of a house- a rather small one at that as the game chooses to focus on table-top scenarios- quite literally. Each hole is rapid-fire short and manages to achieve a miniature sense of scale. They are stylized well but the game often reuses assets for each room despite the settings being entirely different. The atmospheres themselves manage to create a comfy aesthetic for each hole that only adds more cheerful feelings to the laid-back easy-going gameplay on top of a soundtrack that is extremely mellow yet quaint, but when you are on a nine-hole course that never completely changes that atmosphere can become tiresome.

What initially seems like House of Golf’s greatest strength though is being able to choose any environment, hole, and difficulty directly from the get-go, but this feature quickly takes the game south rather unintentionally. As soon as you open up the game, players can accommodate to their own personal skill level leaving the vast majority of them to skip more than a third of the levels. With no learning curve or incentive to play the game on its lowest difficulties, House of Golf rapidly begins to dwindle in new content.

When it comes to the ranking system, it is designed exactly like a traditional mini-golf game where your goal is to achieve a set number of strokes that will keep you above par. Stars will be awarded to players based on performance- a hole-in-one obviously being the highest gold star rank a player can achieve and a triple-bogey being the lowest. These stars, however, only unlock one feature: golf ball designs.

Extra unlockable golf ball designs are the only in-game rewards to collect throughout the game- and it is nothing to look forward to or worthwhile to commit to. They are charming to gander at for more then a couple of seconds, but they serve no real purpose in the long run- not even when it comes to the multiplayer. Rather then these rewards being applied to each individual player’s ball, House of Golf does not allow players to choose what golf ball design they wish to use. For some ridiculous reason, whatever player one chooses is applied to every golf ball.

Speaking of, while the singleplayer can be rather tiresome, House of Golf’s one notable addition that might just keep you on the course for longer than a few hours is the inclusion of a local multiplayer ranging from two to six players. Multiplayer presents a higher-stakes challenge for each course, which makes gameplay not only far more satisfying to win at but overall entertaining to play. Due to the compact course designs, often you can mess with your friend’s positions and overthrow the score of each hole. Multiplayer was clearly the go-to way to play as it is the first option that appears on the main menu.

One thing that should be noted is that only one joy-con is required for everyone to play as there is no other option to use multiple controllers- a convenient addition that you have to wonder why more games do not have it on the Nintendo Switch. It is by far the game’s most redeeming quality that absolutely deserves mentioning. For a game where one player controls the field at a time, this streamlines a lot of issues outside even that of the game itself.

It is no hole-in-one to ride home about, but Atomicom has managed to create an arcade-style sports game that is a mix of both simplistically relaxing and mildly infuriating. In its final state, the lackluster courses can make this one turn into a quick bore, but adding a few friends to the multiplayer scene can turn House of Golf into a few delightful hours. At its retail price of ten dollars, any Switch owner planning on picking up House of Golf should wait for it to land in a sale target-hole. It is not bad by any means, but there are better places to look to fill your golf fix, especially those looking for a single-player experience. For a cheap alternative, however, it might just be worth it for the multiplayer alone.

Continue Reading

Games

Best Video Game Soundtracks of 2019- Part Two

Published

on

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

Continuing on from part one, I’m counting down the best video game soundtracks of 2019 from ten to one.

10. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice- Yuka Kitamura

One of the better games released in 2019 was Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, an action title set in a fictional version of the war torn Sengoku period of Japan. This version of this time frame includes magic but there is still a sense of accuracy in regards to the general tone of the game, making strong reference to actual locations and buildings in Japan. The music is just one element that makes the world of Sekiro come to life as it is full to the brim with authenticity.

Yuka Kitamura- known for her work on the Dark Souls games and Bloodborne– adapts a slightly different style than her usual work. In an interview with Game Informer, Kitamura explains how there was more focus on fantasy style and grandiose music in the other games- likely due to the entirely fantastical settings. The setting of Sekiro required a certain element of “wildness” as it was grounded within the bloody Sengoku period. Despite the challenges that Kitamura and her team ( she also worked with various external composers) faced with creating a style that could capture both the brutal nature of the Sengoku time with the fantasy of the magic within Sekiro, they pulled it off fantastically and the music seems to flawlessly blend with the game environment.

The use of authentic Japanese instruments is a perfectly executed component of the soundtrack, such as the Taiko (Japanese drum), the Shamisen (a three-stringed tradition Japanese instrument) and the Biwa (a lute). My personal favourites are the tracks that feature the Shinboe, the Japanese flute. I love the almost contradicting nature of the soothing flute with the violence of the Sekiro world. Kitamura describes the more peaceful sounds of the soundtrack as an attempt to encapsulate “ancient Japanese beauty and a sort of time- honoured tradition and religious aspects.” The inclusion of cultural elements of ancient Japan makes this soundtrack stand out as you can tell that a significant amount of the music is influenced by real history and Japanese tradition.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice boasts an incredibly well-crafted soundtrack. Kitamura clearly set out to try and capture the Sengoku period accurately whilst maintaining ancient Japanese culture with authentic instruments. Whilst she was mostly confined to boss battle music with her work on Dark Souls, she is able to do far more here. The result is a stunning soundtrack with moments of intensity and beauty that perfectly captures the essence of Sekiro.

Top Track: End of a Vicious Struggle

There is plenty of amazing boss battle music in the Sekiro soundtrack- such as “Divine Dragon” and “The Owl”- but the piece I have chosen as my top track is “End of a Vicious Struggle” as it is a perfect culmination of events of the game. The piece plays at the end of the game when (and if) the player actually manages to make it there. The game is known for its difficult and sometimes brutal nature so if it is completed, there is a definite sense of accomplishment there. “End of a Vicious Struggle” not only has a perfect title, it almost sounds like a reward for getting there. Combining various traditional Japanese instruments with an orchestra, the piece perfectly closes the game.

9. Katana Zero- LudoWic, Bill Kiley, DJ Electrohead, Justin Stander and Tunç Çakır

The indie game scene is becoming more and more dominant when it comes to amazing gaming soundtracks. 2-D neo noir action platformer Katana Zero is no exception in this, providing one of the best video game soundtracks this year.

The soundtrack is made of up tracks split between five different artists, though Bill Kiley and LudoWic take on the bulk of it. The music is a blend of a few similar genres, the most prevalent being 80’s style synthwave, techno and electronica. There are definite similarities with 2012’s Hotline Miami here, both in terms of gameplay and the music. The player takes on the role of an assassin and the game plays out in similar 2-D style to Hotline Miami but from a side scrolling perspective rather than top down. NewRetroWave.com describes the soundtrack as “perfectly moody and drenched in dark neon tones” and this is certainly true. These “neon tones” also reflect the 80’s vibe that permeates throughout the game. You can almost hear the bright neon lights and tacky outfits. Certain tracks stand out for their incorporation of this 80’s style, such as the boss battle theme “All For Now” which sounds like it was ripped straight from the Blade Runner universe. The artists do an incredible job of pushing the synthwave style to the limit and seamlessly blending it with a more modern electro sound.

Games that both look and sound perfectly retro have become something of a cliché in the contemporary gaming world, even more so within indie games. It can be difficult for titles that adapt this style to stand out, but the soundtrack of Katana Zero successfully navigates these clichés and reworks them into something truly fantastic. Managing to sound both futuristic and retro, Katana Zero successfully makes its mark within the gaming world.

Top Track: Snow

“Hit the Floor” is an amazing club bop and “Katana Zero” encapsulates the moody neon style that the game is going for but I’ve chosen “Snow” as my top track as it brings something a little different to the soundtrack. Calmer and smoother than most of the other tracks, “Snow” uses the synthwave genre a little differently here. Rather than creating techno, science fiction like tones, it creates a sense of ease and solitude whilst maintaining the retro feel. Bill Kiley- the composer for “Snow”- creates a piece that is relaxing but doesn’t take you out of the world entirely. The unique feel of “Snow” is what made it stand out to me.

8. Outer Wilds- Andrew Prahlow

Another indie game that took the gaming community by storm was Outer Wilds. Not to be confused with The Outer Worlds, Outer Wilds is an indie space adventure game from Mobius Digital and Annapurna Interactive. The music here is interesting as it is homely and comforting despite the intergalactic setting.

Prahlow was given the description “backpacking adventure in space” by friend Alex Beachum (from Mobius Digital Games) when he was first told about Outer Wilds. This is what led him towards the banjo, which has become the most iconic element of the Outer Wilds score. The banjo tune is most prevalent when the player finds themselves sitting around a campfire, plucking at the strings of said banjo. This “homely ensemble of guitar, banjo and harmonica” creates a feel of cosiness to the music that can’t help but make the player feel at home. This is a pretty unusual choice for a game set in space. Usually, the whole point of being in a galaxy far, far away is for there to be a sense of the unknown. No matter what kind of media you look at- film, television or books- when you get to space there is a sense of feeling very alien (pun very much intended). You are away from everything that you know so you might as well suspend any disbelief. That is why science fiction soundtracks can sound so otherworldly (I have space puns for days). But the choice to go for a musical style that is so inviting and comforting immediately sets a different kind of mood. It suggests a home, a place of safety and comfort. This is what the game instils when you find yourself around that campfire. Despite being placed in a world that is millions or possibly billions of light years away from our own, Prahlow’s music immediately puts you are at peace. I absolutely love this decision and I think it makes Outer Wilds one of the more unique soundtracks this year.

Once the player leaves the comfort of the campfire, the sound changes to one a little more concurrent to the usual science fiction sound. The introduction of synths creates the traditional sci-fi alien sound but that banjo never truly leaves your side as you are constantly pulled back to the games main theme. “Into the Wilds” is a great example of this. It starts off with the banjo before skyrocketing into an out of this world style synthwave sound, suggesting a traveller bound for discovery and adventure in the wide open galaxy. It then comes back down to the homely banjo theme, grounding you in that comforting place beside the campfire roasting marshmallows. There is also a theme for an alien race called the Nomai which is more piano based, synthetic sounds that continue during the player’s exploration of space and even a brief but lovely song called “Morning” which features David Tangney on the cello. No matter where the soundtrack goes to, it always comes back to that comforting theme.

Outer Wilds is an amazing take on a sci-fi soundtrack. The rustic themes work incredibly well and blend with the synth based sounds to create a soundtrack that reinvents the sound of space travel.

Top Track- Travelers (All Instruments)

Towards the end of the game, there is a moment when all of the instruments come together and join the banjo to create a fully-fledged song. The “Travelers” song even includes whistling performed the aforementioned Alex Beachum from Mobius Digital Games. The song represents a collective coming together of the space travellers, bound together by the music despite the dangerous surroundings. Without going into too much detail the player finds themselves in a time loop under dangerous circumstances, constantly trying to solve a certain problem before it is too late. No matter how precarious the situation is and how deep you find yourself in the darkness of space, “Travelers” instils a sense of hope, camaraderie and home that sticks with you even after the game ends.

7. Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsén, Jonathan Eng and Linnea Olsson

In most cases, video games tend to shape the soundtrack around the games narrative, mechanics and general structure. However, in the case of Sayonara Wild Hearts the music is the basis on which the whole game is formed. Basically, the music IS the game.  Unique, unusual and electrifying, Sayonara Wild Hearts boasts and incredible soundtrack that blasts most mainstream music out of the water.

Developed by Swedish game developers Simogo with help from Annapurna Interactive, Sayonara Wild Hearts is described on the official website as “A pop album video game”. The structure of the game is very similar to an album as it focuses on short, punchy levels. The player takes on the role of a young woman whose experience with a broken heart leads her on a path to discover larger meaning in the universe. Gameplay is on rails as the woman traverses the levels via various methods of transportation such as motorcycle and skateboard. Combat ranges from shooting lasers to dance battles. Enemies in the game- fabulously stylish ones at that- can be defeated by pressing buttons in time with the music. Every aspect of the game is tied into the music, making the soundtrack one of the most –if not the absolute most- important elements of the entire game.

Heavily pop influenced, the soundtrack is bubbly, kitschy and as vibrant as the games visuals.  The inspiration behind the album is varied, with Simogo referring to the game and music as “a soup made of pop culture”. Just a few of the artists they were inspired by included Carly Rae Jepsen, Sia, Charli XCX and Blümchen whilst some of their gaming and media inspirations ranged from Sailor Moon to Tron, WarioWare and Punch Out. You can certainly hear all these pop culture influences within the soundtrack oddly enough. The creative way in which the music was formed makes for a sound that is both unique and familiar.

Sayonara Wild Hearts is one of the most creative games released in 2019 and the same can be said for the soundtrack. The music is hugely important to the game and it ends up being one of the best aspects of it. The soundtrack is as good- if not better- than music in the charts today with Linnea Olsson giving a vocal performance as impressive as many female artists out there.  Daniel Olsén and Jonathan Eng have crafted a soundtrack that reflects the charming, neon pop nature of the game that is also brilliant in its own right.

Top Track: A Place I Don’t Know

Whilst I adored the remix of “Clare de Lune” that was created for the game, it seemed unfair not to pick one of the many fantastic original songs for my top track. Not quite as energetic as some of the other tracks “A Place I Don’t Know” plays at the games conclusion and is a song that could be considered a theme for those who have experienced the pain of heartbreak. The game’s narrative centres on a woman whose heart is broken so it is no surprise that this comes across so well in the music. The song is a peaceful but sad entry. It never crosses the line into too morose or morbid, maintaining a chipper feeling with the inclusion of whistles.  “A Place I Don’t Know” manages to capture the essence of what it feels like to lose direction in life. No matter how that loss comes about, everyone can relate to having felt it at some point.

6. Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda: Danny Baranowsky

Spin off/crossover game Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necromancer is similar to Sayonara Wild Hearts in that music is an essential element to the overall game. Cadence of Hyrule is a rhythm game and so the player must alter their play style to sync up with the music. The game manages to perfectly intertwine music and gameplay whilst throwing in some incredible Legend of Zelda remixes.

Cadence of Hyrule composer Danny Baranowsky worked with an eclectic team of musicians on the soundtrack, including Jules Conroy (better known by his YouTube handle of FamilyJules7x) who provided all the guitar segments in the soundtrack, vocalist Adriana Figueroa, game composer Riley Koneig, violinist and otamatone connoisseur Michaela Nachtigall, woodwind specialist Kate Letournea and Power Up Audio and their creative director Kevin Regamey. With so much talent, it is no surprise that Baranowsky was able to put together such an amazing soundtrack. What I find interesting is these are all very much contemporary artists who make use of social media and new technologies to create their music. Most are proficient YouTubers to who had an interest in games and pop culture before they ventured into music. This brings another level of understanding to the music. It was worked on by people who are not just amazing musicians and artists, but also big fans of the francahises. It certainly comes across in the finished product as the Cadence of Hyrule soundtrack feels like a labour of love by people who know and respect the original music.

The creative use of music is incredibly endearing in this game. As with Sayonara Wild Hearts, the unusual gameplay mechanics make for a title that is original and fresh despite the crossover of such a well-known franchise. Managing to sound both modern whilst retaining the retro feel of the original games, Cadence of Hyrule is not only a brilliant soundtrack in its own right but also a wonderful tribute to the music of The Legend of Zelda series.

Top Track: Overworld (Combat)

My favourite remix on the Cadence of Hyrule soundtrack is the combat version of the “Overworld” theme. One of the most famous and instantly recognisable themes from the Legend of Zelda series, the “Overworld” theme is remixed here in a techno style that works incredibly well with the rhythm based mechanics of the game. The theme was also successfully remade in the Link’s Awakening remake, so it is great to see such an iconic theme getting some brilliant reworks. “Overworld (Combat)” stays true to the original whilst giving it a cool new twist.

5. Life is Strange 2: Jonathan Morali and Various Artists

This entry was actually one that I put into my best soundtracks list last year as the first episode of Life is Strange 2 was released in 2018. The following four episodes have since been released and the music only improved as the series went on.

The first season of Life is Strange was well known for its killer soundtrack, both licensed music and the original score. Whilst the second series will probably not become as iconic as the first, the music was still a highlight that draws the player into the story of two brothers desperately trying to find a place of solace following a terrible accident. Artists such as Phoenix, The Streets, First Aid Kit and Milk & Bone are included within the game and emphasise the indie and artistic vibe that the Life is Strange series is known for. DONTNOD Entertainment- the developers of the series, are incredibly adept when it comes to utilising the licenced music within their games. They include them at appropriate times within the game, which may not necessarily be an incredibly important moment. For instance, “On The Flip Of A Coin” by The Streets is a song that can be missed entirely as it is only heard if Sean chooses to switch on the radio in his room in the first episode. He will also start singing along to the song too which is a nice little touch. The song doesn’t come into play in some big narrative moment. Instead, it is used to show a bit of Sean’s character.  These moments may not be grandiose but they are pivotal in allowing the player to form an emotional connection with the characters. The use of music in the scene is what allows us to do that.

Jonathan Morali once again creates a score that is simple yet beautiful and emotionally charged. All four episodes include music from Morali and there is no weak link. The score for each episode reflects the events and the characters perfectly, evolving with the characters as they do. There are even themes that represent some of the newer characters that are met along the way, such as “New Perspectives” which is a theme for Sean and Daniel’s mother Karen and “Free Spirits” which represents both the brothers and their grandparents. There is even a little hint of Max and Chloe’s theme from the first game in episode five. There are no bombastic themes or out there styles, just simple, real music. This is what I believe makes the Life is Strange 2 soundtrack one of the best this year and significantly higher on the list than it was last year. The music represents reality and the harsh truths that come with it. There is no pomp or ceremony. The simple and solemn guitar riffs used throughout the score represent this notion well and pull you even further into Sean and Daniel’s story. They also merge well with the choice of licensed music, making the songs feel as though they are related and believably connected to the world within the game.

The Life is Strange 2 soundtrack stands out as a musical composition that is able to tell a story. The licensed music slots in well with the original tracks and brings the story of Sean and Daniel to life whilst also emphasising their journey and hardships. Jonathan Morali’s score gives the game heart- as it did with his score for the first game- and brings emotion and depth to the narrative and characters. It is truly one of the best game soundtracks of 2019.

Top Track: Blood Brothers/Lone Wolf

Without going too far into spoiler territory, “Blood Brothers”/ “Lone Wolf” is a piece of music that plays with two specific endings of the game. There are four major endings to the game with a few variations here and there making for a total of about seven endings. Whilst the Blood Brothers ending is considered as bad by some and good by others, the Lone Wolf ending is a particularly upsetting one (I got it the first time around. I cried then loaded my last save and changed it). Because of the heavy emotion and narrative impact of these endings, Morali’s score here is probably the most emotional it has been since the first season. There is certainly a hint of sadness to it as a melancholy guitar tune is plucked heavily throughout. The theme intensifies in the midway point as Daniel demonstrates the danger of his powers in both endings.  He has become something of a living weapon in these endings and after everything the player has been through with him as a sweet little boy, it is difficult to watch. As the theme and the cut scenes end, the player is left to consider the consequences of their choices throughout the game. The emotional impact wouldn’t be anywhere near as high without Morali’s sombre song playing throughout. Brutal yet beautiful, “Blood Brothers”/ “Lone Wolf” is a theme that emphasises the notion of actions, consequences and choices.

4. Devil May Cry 5- Kota Suzuki

One of the heftiest soundtracks on the entire list,(136 songs on the full soundtrack that equates to almost 5 hours of music across 5 discs)Devil May Cry 5 is a soundtrack that soars to incredible heights with its sweeping orchestra  and badass battle themes.

Kota Suzuki has been a key player at Capcom for a long time, known predominantly for his work in the Resident Evil series.  He is joined by multiple collaborators for the Devil May Cry 5 soundtrack- Yoshiya Terayama, Hiromitsu Maeba, Steven McNair, John R. Graham, Casey Edwards, Cody Matthew Johnson and Jeff Rona. Together they have created a soundtrack that bursts with fantastical energy, never dropping out of the high octane gear for even a moment. Elements of dubstep, rock and techno style influences are splashed throughout, making the songs feel even more out of this world. They never lose sight of the source material though; calling back to the theme from Devil May Cry 3 numerous times as well as including a small remix of the SNES Capcom logo theme within the title screen music. There are also different genres explored too such as in “The Heaven of My Hell Opening” which has laid-back, elevator music vibes. The versatility of the composers is what makes this soundtrack so special. Their ability to fuse various genres together and make them work is one thing, but they make sure that it stays true to the game as they do so.

An incredible feat when it comes to video games soundtracks, the Devil May Cry 5 soundtrack is exuberant and over the top in the best possible way (just like the game).  When asked what the essence of the Devil May Cry series was that he wanted to capture within the music, Kota Suzuki responded with, “Music that rocks…that sounds cool, and exudes originality.” This pretty much sums up the entire feel of the Devil May Cry 5 soundtrack and makes it one of the best this year.

Top Track: Devil Trigger

I really love the track “Silver Bullet” but for the sake of how massive this song was, it has to take the top stop. This song is Nero’s battle theme in the game and it was composed by Casey Edwards and performed by Ali Edwards and Cliff Llloret. It is composed rather complexly, mashing up several genres to create one awesome song that kind of makes you want to head bang. There’s a bit of metal and techno/electronica in there as well as some pop and rock too. “Devil Trigger” was incredibly popular upon release, gaining around eleven million YouTube views since then. Influential, powerful and just fun to listen to, “Devil Trigger” is a great anthem for the Devil May Cry series to rally behind.

3. Kingdom Hearts III- Yoko Shimomura

Fans of the Kingdom Hearts series finally got the long awaited third instalment at the beginning of 2019. With the game came a soundtrack that included both new tracks for the game and remixed versions of older music. Despite there not being a huge amount of new and original music, there is a lot to enjoy from the Kingdom Hearts III soundtrack.

As with the other Kingdom Hearts soundtracks, Hikaru Utada wrote and performed two new songs for the third game. “Face My Fears” is a collaborative song with Skrillex that opens the game and “Don’t Think Twice” is the closing theme. Both new songs exude the magical and epic feeling of the Kingdom Hearts universe, making use of a full orchestra for both numbers (with some added Skrillex dubstep for “Face My Fears”). The themes that Hikaru Utada creates for Kingdom Hearts are always so spectacularly beautiful as well as being suitably epic to fit into the game. With her Kingdom Hearts III tracks, she manages to raise the already stupendously high bar that she set for herself. In terms of Yoko Shimomura’s score, there are a few new noticeable additions to the soundtrack. “Scala Ad Caleum” is a violin and piano heavy piece that demonstrates Shimomura’s talents whilst the new Gummi Ship exploration music is catchy and cheerful, almost sounding like something from a Pokémon game. There are also some great new battle themes, including one where Sora faces off against three characters at once who I won’t name for spoiler purposes. Shimomura clearly has an amazing grasp on the series and continued to demonstrate her talent as a composer with Kingdom Hearts III.

I find the music of the Disney worlds particularly impressive in Kingdom Hearts III. Shimomura reflects the various animated worlds with her score despite their originality and lack of connection to the music that we already know from those films. Films like Frozen and the Toy Story movies have such iconic music and although these can be heard in the game (“Let it Go” makes an appearance as does the instrumental to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”), Shimomura also creates a whole new assortment of tracks for each world. The music fits right into each world and not be out of place in their respective film franchises. My particular favourite is the “Kingdom of Corona Field Theme” for the Tangled world. This upbeat and cheerful track plays during the exploration segments of the Tangled world and sounds like it was written by Alan Menken himself- famous Disney composer who wrote the music for the Tangled movie. Shimomura’s ability to create brilliant original music based on established franchises is impressive enough. However, she goes above and beyond expectation by providing music that stands up to the original scores from the Disney films. There are also incredible remixes of music from the other games, such as “Roxas’s Theme” which gets an epic orchestral upgrade.

There has been some backlash towards Kingdom Hearts III from fans and critics and the same judgement has been aimed at the soundtrack also. Whilst the criticisms are understandable, I believe that Kingdom Hearts III provided one of the best gaming soundtracks this year. With its large scale orchestral arrangements, varied styles and Disney inspired world themes, Kingdom Hearts III impresses by offering both old and new arrangements.

Top Track- Dearly Beloved

I wanted to pick an original song for this but I just couldn’t resist putting one of my absolute favourite Kingdom Hearts pieces here with the remix that it got for Kingdom Hearts III. “Dearly Beloved” is a simple yet beautiful piano piece that is absolutely heaving with emotion. The new version plays on the title screen of Kingdom Hearts III and it is a completely perfect way to welcome players back into the world that they have been waiting to come back to for so long. Starting off small, the song escalates to an orchestra before winding back down to the piano. The Kingdom Hearts III version is my favourite version of this track due to the upgrade it received and the nostalgia that it represents. “Dearly Beloved” is an astounding piece of music that feels even more beautiful than it did when we first heard it back in 2002.

2. Fire Emblem: Three Houses- Takeru Kanazaki,Hiroki Morishita and Rei Kondoh

Fire Emblem: Three Houses was my first experience with a Fire Emblem game and I was blown away by how immersive the whole experience was. One of the elements of the game that really hooked me was the music. The Fire Emblem: Three Houses soundtrack is one that I kept coming back to over and over again.

The main theme of the game- “Edge of Dawn” being the title of the vocal version- is easily one of the strongest of any from gaming music this year. It is reworked constantly throughout the score in a variety of different situations and it never feels out of place. “Edge of Dawn” is perfectly executed, establishing the tone of the game from its first use in the opening.  In an article on the soundtrack, Twinfinite.net states that “ it’s critical for long video game soundtracks to have a strong theme that the rest of the tracks can be built around…it’s also important for that theme to be versatile enough that it can fit various moods”. This is very much the case with the main theme as it transitions during the game. It goes from epic opening number to relaxing ambience to bombastic battle theme with ease.  The composers have created such a versatile main theme that it can represent any emotion or situation, which is an incredible achievement alone.

The rest of the soundtrack is no less impressive. Though there are tracks that don’t quite reach the level of others, the score is still incredibly enjoyable. There is also a selection of tracks that will only appear in certain story paths, so replaying the game means that you will keep hearing something new. The ambient music throughout is fantastic-particularly the track “Life at Garrech Mach Monastery”- as it is incredibly soothing and despite its repetitive nature, doesn’t get tiresome or boring to listen to. It is constantly relaxing and draws you into the world of the school. The battle music is the opposite situation, hyping the player up with energetic orchestral themes dominated by the brass and the strings section.   A great example of this is “Fodlan Winds”, which is a general battle theme that can also get a little repetitive. As with the calmer music, the battle music doesn’t feel boring at any point.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses has one of the most dynamic soundtracks of 2019. I immediately wanted it as soon as I heard it whilst playing and it stuck in my mind for a long time afterwards. The score represents the various tones of the game perfectly, from the relaxing monastery exploration to the intense battles to the dramatic time skip. All three composers clearly put a lot of work into the score. They have crafted a soundtrack that reflects the narrative and the characters. The teenagers start off relatively carefree and grow up after a time skip where a war is now taking place. The score perfectly captures this sense of innocence being lost with the juxtaposition of soothing themes and battle music.  The game became one of the favourites of many this year and the soundtrack is also a huge achievement that is one of the best.

Top Track- Blue Skies and a Battle

I know a lot of people would want “God-Shattering Star” as the top pick and I would agree that it is an incredible track with awesomely dramatic vocals. However, I think that “Blue Skies and a Battle” deserves some recognition as it is such an awesome piece. The song plays during the Battle of the Eagle and the Lion- the mock battle between the Blue Lion, Golden Deer and Black Eagle Houses. The piece is appropriately epic; this is the battle that you spend a fair amount of time preparing for after all. However, it lacks the hardness of some of the later battle themes that occur during more serious events in the story. There is a sense of playfulness to the song as the students all come together for a mock fight rather than a real one. It also has a superb beat drop that both shocked and pleased me when I first heard it. “Blue Skies and a Battle” may not be the most dramatic of songs on the soundtrack but it represents the Garreg Mach students in their prime, before the horrors of war would later consume them.

1. Death Stranding- Ludvig Forssell

Death Stranding had two albums out around the time it released: the musical score and “Death Stranding: Timefall”. “Timefall” is an album with licensed songs inspired by the game. The album is good but it is Ludvig Forssell’s enigmatic, creative and sublime score that I am choosing as the number one pick for the best video game soundtrack of 2019.

Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding was met with mixed emotions upon release despite the hype that surrounded it beforehand. No matter how disillusioned you were with the game, there is no faulting the incredible music that Ludvig Forssell and his team in the music department have created. A fusion of sci-fi synth, beautiful piano segments, mournful violin tunes and full blown orchestras, the soundtrack is mind-blowingly good. “The Final Waltz” is a great example of using all four of those elements, starting with a synthetic sound and flowing easily into a quiet piano as a lone violin evolves to an orchestra. The piano makes a return toward the end of the piece, joining the lonely violin to create a track that is heaving with emotion. I haven’t played Death Stranding but I could feel the palpable emotion from the in-game scene that this track aligns with. It made me feel something despite not having any kind of context. The synth segments converge with the orchestral elements to create an odd fusion of sounds that really shouldn’t work but completely does.

The soundtrack conveys several different moods and tones throughout. One of the more interesting pieces is “Souless Meat Puppet”, a song with a creeping and eerie melody that gets more menacing as it progresses. It creates an atmosphere again without even knowing what is happening within the game. This then compared to a softer piece like “Strands”- a nine minute track which includes a heavenly choral arrangement, a lovely piano tune and a crashing synth conclusion- shows just how far the soundtrack can be stretched in terms of genre. Like many entries on this list, there is a versatility to it that conveys the various situations and tones throughout the game. Death Stranding is the most impressive example of this.

Forssell went out of his way to create something unique for the Death Stranding soundtrack. In fact, the first place that he, Joel Corelitz (an additional composer for the game) and the team working on the music went when researching for the soundtrack was Home Depot. In an interview with Polygon, Joel said “Ludvig Forssell and I found ourselves in the aisles of Home Depot banging on random objects to hear how they sounded.” From using metal oil drums to duct taping over the strings of their instruments to create a dampening effect, the team wanted to utilise anything and everything to get the unique sound they wanted. They even when as far as to abuse a piano by using a rubber mallet on the inside strings and scraping a gardening rake over them. They went out of their way to create a soundtrack that reflected the bizarre universe that it would later inhabit and their efforts were not in vain. Press F to pay respects to that piano though.

Death Stranding was a polarizing video game. There is no denying that fact. But if you come away from the game feeling disappointed, at least take a moment to appreciate the hard work and dedication from everyone involved on the title, including the soundtrack. The music is engaging, enlightening and incredibly powerful. I would say that it outdoes plenty of soundtracks from various media forms such as film and television. Forssell and the team behind the music have created something that will be remembered as something of a masterpiece, even if the game itself isn’t.

Top Track- BB’s Theme

This theme is a major element across Death Stranding, important to the narrative and used in the gameplay. The song is intended for a bridge baby- the babies in the amber pods- and it expresses the desire to protect them. Even though there are some peculiar plot points in Death Stranding, this theme of wanting to protect a child of your own is one that is relatable to anyone. Protagonist Sam can whistle the tune of “BB’s Theme” or play it on the harmonica in game and it acts as a crucial plot point that links Sam to another character. Composition wise, the song is fantastic. Jenny Plant’s lullaby style vocals are eerily calming as she is accompanied by whistling. The song progresses from soft synth tones to a full orchestra with the synth continuing to add sci-fi elements throughout. The song is a huge achievement, managing to be incredibly relatable despite the weirdness of Death Stranding in general. One of the strongest forms of love is the love between a parent and child and the song perfectly captures that within its lyrics whilst managing to maintain a cool and edgy sound. The song ends with the sound of a baby cooing, wrapping up the theme for the bridge babies seamlessly. A mature song that links well with the game whilst being great in its own right, “BB’s Theme” takes the top spot as the best song from the best game soundtrack this year.

If you’ve managed to read all the way through this, thank you so much! I’m shocked you made it but I’m also super grateful! I hope you enjoyed my list and would love to hear what you think were the best gaming soundtracks of 2019.

Here is to a great 2020 full of incredible music from incredible games! Check out our soundtrack mix tape here.

PART ONE

Continue Reading

Games

Best Video Game Soundtracks of 2019- Part One

Published

on

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

2019 has been a year of ups and downs for the video game industry but one aspect that has been consistently excellent is the quality of soundtracks in gaming. The bar is constantly being raised in regard to the standard of music in games, with gaming soundtracks becoming as iconic as film and television scores. There has been a huge amount of amazing video game soundtracks this year so I’m going to be counting down twenty of the best soundtracks from 2019 from across the gaming world. Before we do so, let’s start with some honourable mentions. There are a few games that had brilliant soundtracks that I just couldn’t fit into the main list. Cutting them was a painful process so I thought I would give them and their composers a shout out.

Anthem- Sarah Schachner

Anthem may have received a lukewarm response upon its release in February but one element of the game that cannot be faulted is the soundtrack. Perfectly capturing the futuristic, sci-fi nature of the game, the Anthem score is an achievement that deserves to be acknowledged. It is also great to see a female composer make her mark in an industry dominated by male composers. Schachner clearly understands the world of Anthem and brings it to life excellently.

The Outer Worlds- Justin E. Bell

A recent game that became a hit, The Outer Worlds is another sci-fi style game that allows players to explore various planets and become a helping hand or a terrorising force to the inhabitants. Bell is able to capture the epic science fiction nature of the game, but he blends it with differing genres to create a unique sound. The most noticeable is the nod to the Western genre, reflecting the player’s travels through the vast wilderness of space.

Little Town Hero- Toby Fox

Cutting this one hurt as I really love this soundtrack but with so much great competition this year, unfortunately I couldn’t justify its place. Though the game itself received mixed reviews, Fox’s score oozes with charm. Fox has carved out a place for himself in the gaming world and his soundtracks are always vibrant and bubbly with a hint of powerful emotion. Although Little Town Hero doesn’t have quite the same depth as the scores for Undertale or even Deltarune: Chapter 1, Fox has crafted a little gem that is brimming with personality.

Borderlands 3- Jesper Kyd, Michael McCann and Finishing Move Inc.

When it comes to pure, unadulterated video game fun, Borderlands is the franchise to go to. The long awaited third game released in September and it had a surprisingly varied soundtrack. The eclectic combination of styles comes about thanks to the three separate composers. They each bring a different feel to each world and provide more depth than one might expect from Borderlands.

Metro Exodus- Alexei Omelchuk

The music from this game is incredibly powerful, perfectly reflecting the post-apocalyptic nature of the story. Based on the Metro book series which is set in Russia after a devastating nuclear war, the game is a first-person shooter with a strong narrative aspect. Ukrainian composer Alexei Omelchuk creates an eerie and haunting soundtrack that also invokes a great deal of emotion for important story moments and gripping tension for action scenes.  His music could easily go toe to toe with a film soundtrack, and it would probably win.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Remake)- Ryo Nagamatsu

Ryo Nagamatsu truly hits the nail on the head with his remake score. Bursting with cuteness and personality, the Link’s Awakening remake soundtrack cleverly combines an 8-bit musical style with orchestrated pieces. This invokes an element of nostalgia whilst also bringing the game into the contemporary video game scene.

These honourable mentions deserved a moment to be recognised and praised but now let’s get into the list. I’ll be listing entries twenty to eleven in this instalment, with part two coming afterwards.

Let’s begin!

20. Untitled Goose Game: Dan Golding

A surprise hit of 2019 was the indie game centred on the player controlling a slightly dastardly goose aptly named Untitled Goose Game. The game was praised widely and quickly became an internet sensation due to the passive aggressive nature of said goose. Interestingly enough, developers House House weren’t actually planning on having a prominent soundtrack. This soon changed following the release of the games trailer in 2017. Classical piece “Prelude No. 12: Minstrels” by Debussy was used to highlight the silly antics of the playable goose. The music was edited in a way that it almost seemed like it was framed around the goose’s behaviour, adding an extra layer of humour to an already pretty funny premise. The popularity of the trailer led to the decision to include music, but not just as a background element. The music of the game is situational in that it changes based on the actions of the player. Golding went through an elaborate process to bring this to life, but it was well worth the effort. As the goose lurks around its victims, the music will feel more low energy, but it perks up as soon as the player’s dastardly deeds are being committed. The piano tunes that follow your naughty goose around are all variations of six Debussy Preludes, with some original music from Golding also appearing on the radio in game. Due to this incredibly smart decision to include reactive music, I had to put Untitled Goose Game on this list even if the soundtrack itself is only half the length of some of the other entries here. Creative, unique and wonderfully executed, Untitled Goose Game succeeds in creating a soundtrack that reacts to your various devilish goose deeds.

Top Track: The Garden

It is difficult to highlight actual tracks from the game due to the reactive nature of the music but the piano piece that is used as you annoy the gardener in the game’s first level-The Garden- is my favourite. It is an example of Golding fantastically adapting Debussy, but it also somehow manages to reflect the actions of a wayward goose. The scheming of the goose; the irritable nature of his victims; the bad behaviour with no rhyme or reason; it is all captured perfectly in “The Garden”. It encapsulates everything the goose represents: being a bit of a nuisance.

19. Astral Chain: Satoshi Igarashi

Nintendo title Astral Chain is a game that unexpectedly rose to prominence upon its release in August 2019. An entirely original IP, Astral Chain is a hack and slash adventure game centred on a world known as “The Ark” and a police force known as “Neuron” who the player is a detective for. The music is a dynamic aspect of the game as it regularly fluctuates between three distinctive genres: metal, orchestral and electronica. The score boasts a range of tracks and it is impressive how Igarashi- who previously scored Bayonetta 2– manages to switch so easily between them. You get a feel for how a scene in the game is playing out just by listening to the soundtrack due to Igarashi’s masterful manipulation of the various genres. In a developer blog by PlatinumGames, Igarashi gives some credit where it is due to two other composers who helped out on the game, Naofumi Harada and Hitomi Kurokawa, as well as two outside composers who were also involved, Masahiro Aoki and Satoshi Setsune. Igarashi also includes a graph on this blog depicting the music genres used in the game and how they reflect certain moods during the game such as tense and calm. This shows the importance of maintaining the three genre structure and how Igarashi and his colleagues went about enforcing this method throughout the game. Not only does the score juggle three separate genres, it does it incredibly well. This versatile nature of the score is what makes Astral Chain one of the best soundtracks this year.

Top Track: Dark Hero- Female Version- sung by Beverly

Despite the brilliant tracks throughout, it is one of the actual songs from the game that I have chosen for the best of the soundtrack. There are two different versions of this song, a male and a female version. I chose the female version as Beverly-the artist who sings it- has an incredible voice that amps up the epic nature of the song.  The male version is still good, but it is incredibly auto tuned. This does actually fit in with the Astral Chain world with its robotic sound, but Beverly’s version is still the more enjoyable. The song is a perfect encapsulation of both metal and electronica and sounds like it was ripped straight out of a mainstream anime. With great vocals and awesome instrumentals, the song is fabulously over the top and stands out significantly.

18.Sea of Solitude: Guy Jackson

Berlin based indie game developers Jo-Mei Games released the adventure game Sea of Solitude in the summer of 2019. The game centres on a girl named Kay who has turned into a monster. As she traverses through a submerged city on a boat, she encounters various creatures and other monsters as she goes about trying to become human again. Sea of Solitude acts as metaphor for depression, loneliness, fear and battling your inner demons and the musical score is a reflection of Kay’s fight against her personal darkness. Composer Guy Jackson was brought on to score the game after he demonstrated some melancholy pieces of music he had been working on in his spare time during a meeting with CEO of Jo-Mei games Cornelia Geppert. The score has moments that reflect a significant amount of emotion, from anger to pain to desolate sadness. Jackson captures each emotion perfectly with his simple yet raw and powerful music. The game itself may have received mixed reviews, but there is no faulting Jackson’s carefully crafted score which stemmed from a folder of sad music on his computer.  This is why I believe Sea of Solitude has one of the best soundtracks of the year. From humble and unpolished beginnings, Jackson managed to create a perfect score to represent the tumultuous traversal of mental health issues that we all deal with at some point.

Top Track: I Picture You Before Me- sung by Stella Angelika

“I Picture You Before Me” kind of acts as the games main theme as it appears at the beginning and at the end of the game. There is an instrumental version of it but the version I have chosen is a version sung by Stella Angelika with Guy Jackson accompanying her on the piano. The unique nature of the song’s inception is intriguing, as they did not begin recording with the song completely finished. Jackson referred to the state of the song as a “sketch” when he and Angelika began recording. He began playing the piano and whilst Angelika sang some lyrics she had written on her phone, it was mostly an improvised composition. Although the final version was given some fine tuning, the improvisation was kept. This improvised style reflects the true emotion of those involved, especially Stella Angelika who stated that the lyrics she had written on her phone to aid her with her improve were written during  “the darkest time”. She went on to say that “The things that I was feeling really went into this little sketch”. This raw emotion is what makes this track a stand out on the album, reflecting the nature of the game as well as capturing real human emotion within the artist. It is a unique way of creating a song, but Jackson and Angelika really nailed it with “I Picture You Before Me”.

17. Pokémon Sword and Shield: Minako Adachi and Go Ichinose featuring Toby Fox

Pokémon Sword and Shield is a game that has been getting some flack since its release in November. Despite praise from critics, fans have slated the animations, the incomplete Pokédex and the narrative. Once again, Sword and Shield is a game with outstanding music that outweighs the negative energy surrounding the actual game. The soundtrack represents the end of an era as Pokémon music aficionado Junichi Masuda is not involved. In an interview last year, Masuda stated that “it’s important to have the younger generation at Game Freak take over the development of Pokémon as a series”. Masuda has been involved in the series since the very first Red and Blue games. Whilst it is sad to see him depart, the new composers bring heaps of energy to the behemoth of a score (there are around 72 tracks) whilst maintaining the key elements that are the most recognisable from the series. The original music from the first games are referenced constantly throughout. The title screen theme is an homage to the main theme from Pokémon Red and Blue, which became a theme that most Pokémon media rallies under (it was even remixed brilliantly in the ending credits to Detective Pikachu). The Sword and Shield remix revitalises the theme to represent the new game, the new region and the new trainers ready to set out on their adventures. Other classic themes such as the “Pokémon Centre” music, the “Evolution theme” and the “Wild Pokémon Victory Theme” are included with a modernised sound but little else changed. As much as I loved the homages to classic Pokémon music, it was the new themes that particularly caught my attention. The soundtrack switches genres frequently, including funky electronica, cutesy pop, punkish metal and even a bit of country mixed in there with “Hulbury Town”. There is something for everyone and it is all extremely enjoyable to listen to. No matter how Pokémon Sword and Shield will be remembered in the grander scheme of the Pokémon franchise, the music will surely be remembered for its greatness.

Top Track: Battle! (Gym Leader)

Whilst Toby Fox’s “Battle! (Battle Tower)” theme that he created especially for the game is an enjoyable addition to the soundtrack, it is the “Gym Leader Battle” theme that truly steals the show here. The theme is bombastic, highly energetic and wouldn’t sound out of place in a nightclub. The excitement of Pokémon battles is highlighted in this track, particularly when the crowd cheers start to kick in about three quarters of the way through the song. Their chanting is reminiscent of those attending a real-life sports match and it is a clever feature to integrate into the music. The “Gym Leader Battle” theme is awesome and definitely a standout on the Sword and Shield soundtrack.

16. A Plague Tale: Innocence: Olivier Deriviere

Set in 14th century France, A Plague Tale: Innocence is mostly a stealth based game about a teenager named Amicia and her younger brother Hugo attempting to find a safe place after their home was invaded by the Inquisition. They must deal with various enemies as they navigate their war-torn homeland, most notably swarms of plague rats that devour everything in sight. As with many games where the narrative takes precedence, the soundtrack is an important element and one that is wonderfully executed by Deriviere whose previous video game work includes Remember Me and Vampyr.

Due to the time period in which the game is set, the main focus of the score is only on a few instruments. There is an emphasis on the strings section such as the violin, cello and guitar to encompass the medieval mood. The strings are used in both the action sequences and the quieter moments to great effect. In the tense moments where the player may find themselves sneaking around to avoid danger, the strings will screech in a deep and booming fashion such as in the track “The Inquisition”. They often start slow and build to something that goes from slightly unnerving to utter heart pounding tension.  These segments reminded me strongly of music found in television, such as Bear McCreary’s The Walking Dead or Ramin Djawdi’s Game of Thrones scores. Both make great use of the strings for epic moments and Deriviere’s work here wouldn’t be out of place amongst them. The Soundtrack World website describes the intimidating string work perfectly, “…contains a pattern that keeps repeating, but instead of getting tedious, enough variation has been added to the pattern to keep the music interesting and gets progressively darker and builds to a broader sounding climax.” This is certainly the case for “The Inquisition”, and several other tracks, the ones Soundtrack World references including “Orphans” and “Escape”.

The calmer moments of the soundtrack are equally powerful but it invokes more soothing emotions. The soft pluck of the guitar strings is calming, despite the stressful situation that Amicia and Hugo find themselves in. They act as peaceful interludes amongst the violence and decimation within the game and Deriviere composes these pieces beautifully.

A Plague Tale: Innocence is a perfect example of how a simple soundtrack made up of only a handful of instruments can be just as effective as a complex one. Deriviere keeps the soundtrack firmly grounded in the 14th century game setting whilst also breathing life into this plague infested world. Amicia and Hugo’s journey is often without music in-game but when the soundtrack does kick in, the fear, violence and life or death scenarios feel all the more real.

Top Track: Father

I was torn between this track and “Beyond the Horizon” here. “Beyond the Horizon” is unique in that it is the only song that makes use of a different style and different instruments, including an organ and some male vocals.  However, I believe that “Father” has a stronger emotional impact. “Father” is the second track on the soundtrack and it encompasses the childlike innocence of Amicia and the connection between her and her father before her world is turned upside down. It represents that which a great deal of us still cling to: optimism and hope. It is a simple guitar piece with a small strings section kicking in about halfway through. Beautiful and hopeful, the song suggests a peaceful life. Although this peace is ultimately shattered, it reflects a happier time for the siblings. Sometimes being able to reflect on these happier moments is what keeps us going, making this piece feel incredibly human.

15. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab

When it comes to franchises, Star Wars is one of the most iconic of them all. Anyone who is able to work on anything even remotely to do with it- films, games, television, terrible holiday specials- is sure to be subject to criticism and intense scrutiny by the hordes of dedicated Star Wars fans. This goes for the music of the franchise too. John Williams created one of the most iconic and beloved film scores of all time. Other composers have chipped in via the various spin off movies and television shows (most recently Ludwig Göransson in his incredible music for The Mandalorian). It’s a hefty task but when it came to score the music for the latest Star Wars game, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab took up the challenge and did amazingly well.

With John Williams’s soundtracks, he captured the feel of a completely fictional sci-fi world whilst maintaining some relatability and humanity with tracks such as “Princess Leia’s Theme” and “The Force Theme”. Barton and Haab are able to do the same here, blending bombastic, orchestral action pieces with softer pieces that are equally orchestral but make use of the woodwind section to create a soothing sci-fi atmosphere. The score is so convincing at times that I honestly wondered if John Williams had a hand in it in some way. The inspiration that Barton and Haab took from Williams is incredibly clear to anyone, even those who may have only heard the main Star Wars theme. However, there is an interesting use of music in Fallen Order that does separate it somewhat from Williams’s orchestral inspiration.

The opening of the game has a fascinating use of music that hasn’t really been seen in the Star Wars universe before. A strange, alien sounding song can be heard and as we focus in on playable protagonist Cal Kestis, we realise that this song is actually music that he is listening to on his headphones. The use of music within the Star Wars universe itself is rarely delved into (except the weird cantina acts) and-correct me if I’m wrong internet- I’m pretty sure that no one has ever been shown just listening to a recorded artist on a music player. It is an interesting place to start the game, with an alien song rather than an orchestral score. We all know the intense and mind-blowing way that the movies open, so I found this opening a brilliant twist on the use of music to introduce us to a Star Wars adventure. Oh, and fun fact, the alien band that Cal is listening to is actually a Mongolian heavy metal band who use throat chanting in their songs. You’re welcome for that titbit.

The soundtrack has not been officially released so I’m not even entirely certain of the names of all the tracks despite my research. There are a few dotted around out there, mostly based on the names of the various planets that you visit such as Kashyyk and Dathomir. There’s even a petition to get the soundtrack officially released which I’ll link here if you are interested.  Though I can’t be specific with titles from the soundtrack, it is clear that Barton and Haab had a clear understanding of the Star Wars universe as their music slots straight into it without a second glance. There are moments of brilliance that feel ripped straight from the movies as well as quieter moments that are equally strong. There is no doubting that Barton and Haab succeeded in pulling the player into a galaxy far, far away with their brilliant music.

Top Track: Cal Kestis Theme

Whilst I couldn’t find an official upload of “Cal’s Theme”, a YouTuber by the name of Flash Music put together the pieces of Cal’s Theme that they could decipher throughout the game. Thanks Flash Music! “Cal’s Theme” is quite a whimsical number in its initial iterations, suggesting a character that has much to learn and has a great journey ahead of him. In this compilation, the theme gets more mature as the game progresses. I love when composers use a particular theme for a character that alters throughout as that character develops. That is exactly was Barton and Haab do for “Cal’s Theme” and it is a brilliant way to show that his path will not be an easy one and he may not come out the other side of it as the same person.” Cal’s Theme” easily stands up against other character themes throughout the Star Wars franchise, even one such as “Rey’s Theme” from the latest trilogy, and that is why I feel it is one of the best pieces from the soundtrack.

14. Catherine: Full Body: Shoji Meguro and Inspion Izene Inc.

Catherine: Full Body is a remaster and extended version of the original Catherine game from eight years ago. The remaster includes 21 new tracks and this soundtrack is what I am putting on the list. The Catherine soundtrack was great at bringing together an eclectic group of music genres and somehow making them all work amazingly together. The Catherine: Full Body soundtrack continues this tradition with some awesome remixes of classical pieces, smooth and soothing jazz melodies and hip hop songs that sound ripped straight from the mainstream music charts. Composer Shoji Meguro- famous for his work on the Persona series– enlisted the help of Inspion Inzene Inc for the extended soundtrack due to their help on the sound design of the original title (I’m linking an interesting article in regards to Inspion’s involvement but be warned that the website is in Japanese!). This collaboration works well as there is a sense of familiarity regarding the soundtrack but a fresh new set of tracks to distinguish the new material from the original content.

The Catherine: Full Body soundtrack is just as creative, eclectic, unique and quirky as the soundtrack for Catherine was, with just the right combination of various genres. It makes for an interesting listen that offers up a bit of something for everyone whilst expanding the already brilliant original material.

Top Track: Tomorrow (Rin’s Theme)

For all its varying genres of music, the piece that stood out to me the most was the simple yet beautifully performed “Tomorrow.” Acting as a theme for the new character in Full Body Qatherine- known as Rin- the theme is simple and sweet and incredibly soothing. Rin is a new neighbour who befriends Vincent in the game. The tune is played by Rin on the piano and acts as a tool for helping Vincent during his nightmares. This helpful nature is reflected in the melody of the song, which echoes with a benevolent nature. Despite there being some amazing remixes of classical music involved in the soundtrack (the “Ride of the Valkyries” remix is my personal favourite) “Tomorrow” is a lovely tune that brings some sweetness to the game.

13. Afterparty: scntfc

Following the success of their first game Oxenfree, indie game developers Night School Studio continued to demonstrate their strength in the indie game field with their recent release Afterparty. Afterparty follows Milo and Lola, two best friends who find themselves suddenly in Hell with no recollection as to how they died. Composer Andrew Rohrmann- known by his stage name scntfc- returns to score Afterparty following his work on Oxenfree. The score is a unique mix of booming club style electronica and creeping, atmospheric, organ heavy tunes that embodies a theme worthy of the underworld.

Whilst there are other elements that pop up throughout, the game mostly revolves around the premise drinking and partying and this is reflected well in the soundtrack. Milo and Lola find out that the only way to escape from Hell is to out-drink Satan himself, making getting wasted pretty important to the plot. The music encompasses a techno vibe that would be associated with a party heavy environment. It’s fun to listen to and is easy to imagine a bunch of drunken party goers dancing uneasily to the infectious beats.

The electronic techno music is definitely an element that makes this soundtrack one of the best this year, but the ability to infuse it with a different style completely is what makes it great. I would say that the other style of music is a crossover of rock and religion. I’ll use the track, “Your Own, Personal Demon” as an example. It begins with an organ and develops with choral voices, drumbeats and eventually includes the electric guitar. There is an element of music that one may think of when considering Heaven, Hell or religious matters (organs and a chorus of singers) then it merges with the style that reflects the badass that is Satan in Afterparty. After all, he is the Lord of the Underworld who throws 24/7 parties. A cool guitar riff would suit him nicely. With this mashup of musical styles, scntfc creates an interesting music combination that is both clever and enjoyable.

The music of Afterparty is proof that taking musical risks- such as merging styles that may not seem compatible- can really pay off. There has clearly been a lot of thought put into which musical genres reflect the games premise and characters best and it all comes together nicely. With Afterparty, scntfc has scored another incredible soundtrack for Night School Studios. Here’s hoping they continue their collaboration in the future.

Top Track- Hades Gonna Hate

“Schoolyard Strangler” is a perfect representation of how the various genres combine to create one unique track that reflects the (under) world of Afterparty perfectly. However, I just couldn’t resist putting “Hades Gonna Hate” as the top track as it is pure electronic enjoyment. It seriously sounds like a song in the mainstream music charts today with its awesome techno beats and addictive riffs. I dare you not to at least tap your foot whilst listening to this one.

12. Code Vein: Go Shiina

When I first started listening to the Code Vein soundtrack, I was struck by how dramatic and powerful the first track alone was. Honestly, the sudden choral voices made me jump a little. Booming and harmonic in style, the soundtrack is incredibly epic and shockingly well done. Despite having licensed music included, I’ll be focusing on the musical score of the game.

Code Vein is a role playing game set in a post-apocalyptic society where a terrible and mysterious event led to the destruction of humanity. Whilst many games have dystopian settings, few of them go as bombastic with their music as Code Vein does. The score is highly orchestral, making the game come alive. It is hard not to feel something when a swelling chorus and orchestra bursts to life as you play. The player battles various monsters and vampiric creatures throughout the game and the music plays a key part. Fights can quickly become more effective once the music begins to intensify and the score alters with player decisions. This dynamic approach to the soundtrack did cause issues for the composer though, as Go Shiina suggests this in a behind the scenes video on the game where he states, “the music needs to be composed in a way that allows for change at any time without undercutting the track, and these changes aren’t necessarily limited to dark sounds that match the backing.” It was clearly a struggle to include reactive music but Shiina pulls it off to the point where even the most tedious of battles can be uplifted by the power of the soundtrack.

Code Vein is another game that received mixed reviews upon release but as with the other entries on this list with the same issue, the soundtrack is far from mediocre. Shiina was given a fair amount of freedom on the project, “They basically let me do what I wanted with the composition”, he says in the BTS video. I personally think this was a great move on behalf of Bandai Namco. They clearly placed a lot of trust in Shiina, likely due to his previous work with them on games such as the God Eater series. They were right to do so, despite his Code Vein work being “very strong and hard compared to the (God Eater) music”. This hardness is apparent throughout, with certain tracks literally booming. “Main Theme” is a great example of this (the one I first listened to that gave me a slight scare). It immediately opens up with a chanting chorus of voices followed quickly by a bellowing organ before the full orchestra kicks in. A review from Shack News accurately describes the singing as an “almost-Gregorian monk-chanting piece”. This is such a unique way to introduce the player to the game. Don’t forget, this is only the main menu. This kind of introduction is important as it is the first impression that the player gets. This intro indicates that the player is certainly in for an epic journey.

Code Vein manages to inflict some serious damage with its astounding music that begins as soon as the game is started up. It doesn’t let up throughout and can uplift the player during battle due to the interactivity and intensity of the score. Code Vein is yet another fantastic soundtrack that may not have gotten the credit it deserved due to the reaction from critics.

Top Track: Memory of the Lost

I know I’ve been heaping praise on the “Main Theme” of Code Vein but for my top track, I have to choose the melancholy “Memory of the Lost”. Played during a sequence in the game that delves into a certain character’s memories, “Memory of the Lost” is an emotionally charged piece of music. Starting off with the string section, the piece then begins to include a piano and a female vocal performance. The composition of the song screams anime and that is definitely not a bad thing. Anime has some of most inspiring and beautiful soundtracks and this track is certainly the best that Code Vein offers.

11. Days Gone: Nathan Whitehead

PlayStation 4 exclusive Days Gone was released to mixed reviews in April of 2019 but the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard this year. Acting as a composer for films and television as well as video games, Nathan Whitehead has created a score that sucks you into rural post-apocalyptic Oregon and doesn’t let go. In Days Gone the player takes on the role of Deacon St John, a biker who is surviving alone after a pandemic turned people into “Freakers” (basically fast zombies). The score is a versatile collection that ranges from terror inducing themes for the Freakers and softer numbers for emotional moments in the story.

Whitehead previously worked on some of the films in The Purge franchise so it is no surprise that he is incredibly well adept at invoking a feeling of suspense and imminent danger within his score. His piece “The Freakshow” is a haunting theme for the Freakers that immerses you in a deep feeling of dread. It is a perfect monster theme but there is also a touch of softness to it to remind the listener of the human that once resided within. When discussing his work on the PlayStation Blog, Whitehead mentions that this was essential for the theme, “It was…important to maintain a thread of humanity”. “The Freakshow” builds and builds until it becomes heavily reliant on the string section and the sense of tension that it can bring (the best example of utilising the strings like this is the theme from Psycho). There is an overall tone of fear but that small yet potent inclusion of something to reference the Freakers humanity is a nice touch that shows that Whitehead clearly went out of his way to bring some gravitas to this score.

Whilst the more harrowing and action-packed scores are exciting to listen to, I found myself drawn to the quieter pieces. Whitehead noted that his two biggest influences on the score are “Deacon…and the setting of the Pacific Northwest” and I found that this came across most powerfully in the softer moments of the score. There is a certain peaceful nature to the various guitar riffs, especially when combined with an orchestra. Whitehead wanted to create an “organic, lived-in sound with a touch of Americana” and this is particularly powerful in the guitar heavy tracks. You can’t help but hear the rural American countryside, although Whitehead did say that he didn’t want it to “sound too country”. I think he succeeds in this as there isn’t a permeating twang that you get with pure country scores. It represents the beauty of the environment that Deacon finds himself in during his travels whilst also reflecting Deacon as a character and his connection to nature.

The Days Gone soundtrack manages to invoke a plethora of emotions, from serenity to tension to fear and back again. Whitehead shows off his versatility as a composer whose score changes with the players actions, such as increasing in tension if Deacon happens to run into a pack of Freakers.  There are similarities to Gustavo Santolalla’s The Last of Us soundtrack (one of my favourite game soundtracks of all time) in that the composer has perfectly managed to capture both the feeling of a desolate and dangerous world and the struggles of the last bastion of humanity. Despite other elements of Days Gone not being so well received, the soundtrack is easily one of the standout features of the game. Clearly a labour of love on Whitehead’s part, Days Gone is undoubtedly one of the best soundtracks in gaming this year.

Top Track: I Remember

One of the most affecting tracks of Days Gone is “I Remember”, a track about Deacon and his life before the outbreak that destroyed the world. It is a heartfelt track with a focus on the guitar, creating a soothing atmospheric tone. The theme acts as a reflection of Deacon’s past with hints of themes from his future. The piece slowly builds to a powerful orchestral theme before ending with the quiet guitar again. Whitehead said that the piece was meant to be “wistful and a little hopeful…to reflect Deacon’s resolve.” The lower guitar moments seem to represent the wistful elements, with the crescendo symbolising Deacon’s strength and “resolve.”  Beautifully created and almost rustic in its tone, “I Remember” is the most striking piece from Days Gone that shows how game scores can be just as moving as movie scores.

PART TWO

Continue Reading

Trending