Following the first half of this list from twenty to eleven, we’re now counting down from number ten to the number one best video game soundtrack of the year. These soundtracks were the best of the best this year and I can’t wait to talk about them, so let’s get started.
10- Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
It’s impossible to not include a soundtrack created by Studio Ghibli composer and general musical genius Joe Hisaishi, so of course the Ni no Kuni II score was going to make this list. Performed once again by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, the music maintains the same sweeping orchestrations from the first game whilst including enough new material to keep the soundtrack fresh.
The Ni no Kuni series is a JRPG developed by Japanese company Level 5 with influence from the Studio Ghibli films, such as the art design and of course the music. As with his work on the Ghibli films, Hisaishi is able to perfectly capture the essence of the game world. Hisaishi worked with the President and CEO of Level 5 games Akihiro Hino on the sequel’s music. In a video released by PlayStation Europe focusing on Ni no Kuni II’s music, Hisaishi discussed how he went into the sequel with the idea of creating a more intelligent soundtrack that was tough on the orchestra to perform. This is apparent in a lot of the game’s music and again mirrors a good portion of Hisaishi’s work for Studio Ghibli such as My Neighbour Totoro, Howls Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke. His work has a certain bright and complex nature which echoes throughout and represents the situations in the narrative perfectly. When the main theme of Ni no Kuni II plays, you can sense the adventure. You can tell what kind of story this will be. The ability to convey this so easily makes this soundtrack a worthy listen.
There are all the usual tropes here that can be found in the soundtracks of the JRPG genre, boss battles, themes for different areas, character themes etc. The quirky spin that is put on them makes each fight and each level feel a little bit more unique. The music truly brings the world of Ni no Kuni to life.
Top Track: “Theme from Ni no Kuni II”
The main theme of the game is the same as the first Ni no Kuni but it is a little bit bigger and bolder than the original, adding to its already epic nature. The song wouldn’t be out of place in an animated film and is probably the piece most reminiscent to Hisaishi’s Studio Ghibli work. He brilliantly builds on the pre-existing Ni no Kuni theme and makes it even more enjoyable than it was in the first game.
11-bit studios, developer of This War of Mine and publisher of the previously mentioned Moonlighter, created a fun, thrilling and engaging city building and survival management PC game with Frostpunk. Set in dystopian England in a world engulfed by frost and snow, the player becomes the leader of a small city built around a heat generator. After choosing a scenario to start the game, the player must make difficult choices and govern in the way they feel is fit in an attempt to keep the civilians from freezing, starving or revolting against you.
The music of Frostpunk is incredibly impressive and completely immerses you within the frozen world that you must take control of. Composer Piotr Musial chooses to use a fair amount of string-based tracks, with violins and the cello playing a large role throughout. These particular instruments are very good at producing a mournful sound and the sorrowful tones echo through Frostpunk’s main themes. It fully convinces the player of the terrible situation that they are in and the dire consequences of their actions if they cannot lead the city in an effective way.
Musial is also successful in using the musical themes of the game to mirror the cold nature of the setting. The low and solemn mood of the soundtrack reflects the misery of the icy wasteland that the characters find themselves in. The music manages to convey frozen tundra of a world with relative ease. While listening, I was reminded of Marco Beltrami’s score for the film Snowpiercer, also set in a frozen world. Musial captures the melancholic tones that Beltrami also achieves, but Musial does this within the confines of a PC game. Musial’s work on Frostpunk is brilliant work as he has created an incredibly immersive soundtrack.
Top Track: “The City Must Survive”
As the title suggests, this track is all about survival. The music plays during the game when a huge ice storm hits that the player has been preparing for. You can’t escape the feeling of dread and that the last semblance of hope is fleeting. “The City Must Survive” is the true sound of dystopia and, in my opinion, Piotr Musial has created a track which stands up equally against popular end of the world scores such as “In the House, In a Heartbeat” by John Murphy or the “Fallout Theme” by Inon Zur.
8- Far Cry 5
When you think of the Far Cry franchise, the music isn’t exactly what you would consider first. Initial thoughts usually consist of explosions, car chases and enough weaponry to last a lifetime. This is why the music of Far Cry 5 was such a pleasant surprise to me when I played the game for the first time. There is a great selection of licensed music which is heard on the radio during the game, but my main reason for choosing Far Cry 5 for this list is due to the strength of its original score and songs.
Set in the fictional Hope County, Montana, Far Cry 5 is centered on a doomsday cult that has taken control of the area and are terrorizing the locals. The soundtrack is very much influenced by the cult and consists of several hymns that reflect their doomsday message and act almost like propaganda to the inhabitants of Hope County. Producer and composer Dan Romer is responsible for writing the songs and he and his team do such a good job with them that it feels like the music wouldn’t be out of place for a real-life radical group attempting to recruit members. The songs manage to be inspirational whilst also containing their true message. The chorus of the most prominent hymn contains the lyrics, “When the world falls into the flames, we will rise again.” Throughout the game, you learn the teachings of the cult and their belief that our world will end and the new world will be a paradise for their chosen people. Their brainwashing methods, extremist beliefs and militant ways of converting the public to their way of thinking are all perfectly summed up in the hymns that Romer has created.
There has been significant effort put in to the Far Cry 5 soundtrack with multiple albums released alongside the game. There is the Far Cry 5 Presents series which focuses on the original songs for the game as well as various covers of them. Into the Flames consists of all the original hymns and songs by Dan Romer, “When the World Falls” is the same song covered by the Hope County Choir (who are in fact the Nashville Choir in reality) and “We Will Rise Again” is the song reinterpreted by Nashville based ambient rock band Hammock. An article from Ubisoft Montreal shows how each variation of the song reflected each of the villains and their areas in the game, “The music in Far Cry 5 is ample, and represented geographically. The Nashville choir versions can be heard in John’s region. Bluegrass-country versions of the songs, produced by Dan Romer himself, are the soundtrack to Jacob’s region. Finally, in Faith’s psychedelic region, the post-rock band Hammock interprets the songs.”
Whilst each region represents a villain, as you liberate areas and traverse places that haven’t been converted by the cult, you tend to hear a soft country style of music, perfectly encapsulating rural Montana. Of course, you still get the more energetic tunes for the action sequences, but they still maintain the country twang that represents Hope County. The work that has been put into creating a strong correlation between the games narrative and the music should certainly be acknowledged and I believe it makes Far Cry 5 one of the strongest soundtracks this year.
Top Track: “When the Morning Light Shines In”
My pick isn’t one of the hymns or variations of them, but instead a quiet piece of the musical score. This track is what plays when you load up the Hope County map and admittedly, I would often bring up the map just to sit and listen to this. You can really feel and hear the rural Montana countryside as you listen. Ubisoft and Dan Romer nailed the atmosphere with the whole soundtrack, but this particular song is what stuck with me after playing.
7- Super Smash Brothers Ultimate
When it comes to sheer content, the Super Smash Brothers soundtracks always go above and beyond what we expect from a video game soundtrack in general. With hundreds of tracks that span across multiple game properties as well as new music and remixes, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate succeeds in creating one of the most notable soundtracks of the year.
The tagline that Nintendo was heavily promoting upon the release of Ultimate was “Everyone is Here” as they brought together all of the fighters from the previous Smash games to create one huge roster. The same can be said for the music, as each character’s music from their own franchise is brought into Ultimate to create a colossal soundtrack of over 1000 tracks. Music from the original Super Smash Brothers, Brawl and Melee are all brought in as well as the new music created just for Ultimate. Each franchise has at least an hour or so of music to themselves and new fighters such as Simon and Richter Belmont from Castlevania and the Inklings from Splatoon bring their own music too which offers some fresh material. It was difficult to actually get hold of the whole soundtrack due to the number of songs, the different franchises, and the new and old music combined. I listened to as much as I could but with so many songs and so much to choose from, I couldn’t listen to the whole thing. The care and hard work that has gone into crafting such a monumental soundtrack is testament to how Nintendo wanted each character to be represented with their own music across the generations of their games.
As well as creating all new scores for the characters and remixing some already well-known themes, Ultimate also has its own theme song. The song, called “Lifelight”, acts as the underlying theme for a good deal of the new Ultimate music and it fits the series perfectly. Epically orchestral and fantastically arranged, the song has both an English and Japanese version and it’s as strong as it is catchy. For such a big game with multiple characters across many franchises, it would have been a difficult task to construct a theme song that can be used for the game as a whole which could represent everyone from every property. “Lifelight” manages this though and, although it mainly reflects the World of Light single player story mode, it acts as a guiding song that every character can rally under as well as having their own music.
Super Smash Brothers Ultimate certainly has the largest soundtrack this year but somehow it doesn’t favour quantity over quality. Each new song and remix is a brilliant and creative addition whilst the old music that remains has been specifically chosen and works well. The quality remains whilst the quantity is pushed to the limits, making it a unique soundtrack with enough music to last for a long time to come.
Top Track: “Gang-Plank Galleon” (Donkey Kong Country Remix)
Whilst “Lifelight” is a strong theme song for Ultimate, “Gang-Plank Galleon” is a perfect example of how well the remixes in the game are done. A remix of the song from Donkey Kong Country, “Gang-Plank Galleon” is a highly energetic interpretation that has been stuck in my head since my first listen. It encapsulates King K Rool and his introduction to Super Smash whilst still keeping the main theme from the original song. “Gang-Plank Galleon” is a perfect remix, and, from all the music I managed to listen to, one of the best tracks in Ultimate.
6- Shadow of the Tomb Raider
The 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise was largely a success and introduced us to a Lara Croft who was far more vulnerable than her previous incarnations. There was an air of reality about her due to her wariness and uncertainty as opposed to her cocksure confidence in earlier games. With a change of character also came a complete change in many other aspects of Tomb Raider, one of which is the music. Jason Graves gave her an epic score with a new character theme in 2013 for Tomb Raider whilst Bobby Tahouri took over for the 2015 Rise of the Tomb Raider theme which expanded on the original with new pieces that subtly entwined with the 2013 theme. This year, we got another new composer for Lara’s third installment Shadow of the Tomb Raider, that being Brian D’Oliveira, and it is arguably the best Tomb Raider soundtrack yet.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is set in South America and centers on Lara accidentally releasing the Mayan apocalypse whilst attempting to stop the organization Trinity and her efforts to stop it before it is too late. The music adjusts to the tone of the game, growing with Lara as she matures. It also changes to suit her new environment, as she now finds herself deep in the harsh jungle. The director of audio and music for the game, Rob Bridgett, explains the need for the music to change as she does, “ As Lara is in a much darker place emotionally, and a more dangerous place physically, the music needs to represent both of these things.” You can definitely tell that this growth and danger is a key element of the soundtrack. There is a darkness to it that wasn’t as prominent even in her first adventure where she had to adapt and learn to survive. D’Oliveira is able to convey the maturation of her as a character by building on the music from the previous two games and adding his own unique sound. He keeps her main theme from 2013 but seamlessly connects it to a new and darker sound. Lara’s troubles, both in her sense of self and in her dangerous surroundings, are perfectly portrayed through the music.
As well as being a more mature soundtrack for Lara, the composer also captures the essence of the jungle and South American culture in his music. D’Oliveira is known for his strength with South American instruments and his ability to utilize them in his music. He worked alongside native musicians and also travelled to Mexico to obtain the instruments he would need to create the most authentic atmosphere possible. Again, Rob Bridgett commented on D’Oliveria’s talents and abilities with this specific culture and music, “Brian has a mind-blowing collection of pre-Columbian and South-American instruments… He has also spent a lot of time working with musicians from specific regions in South America to understand how and why the music would be performed on those instruments. It all brings a completely unique colour and authenticity to the score.” This dedication to creating an authentic soundtrack well and truly pays off as whilst playing the game, you’re transported to the deep and muggy jungle alongside Lara. You can almost feel the uncomfortable heat, the sticky mud, and the dangerous foliage which could be housing a creepy creature. You are in the jungle, and the music is easily able to convince you of it.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider was a well-executed game and one of the best ones this year but some argued that it didn’t change its usual formula enough. The music, however, did exactly that. It changed, matured and grew into its own individual piece of work, growing from the past two soundtracks but still keeping the best parts from both. D’Oliveria manages to convey both Lara’s change as a person as well as her change of surroundings in a score that entices you to delve as deep into the dark jungle as you can possibly go.
Top Track: “Lara’s Dream”
This track isn’t actually related to Lara’s jungle environment, nor does it contain any of her original 2013 themes. This piece was a surprising addition to me, but a very pleasant one. As Lara sleeps, she dreams of her life in Croft Manor as a child and you get to play as her as she explores her garden, leading to her climbing to the roof of the manor. It’s surprising due to the gentle nature of it, considering the harsh jungle tones that most of the score is comprised of. It’s sweet and playful with a hint of sadness. The player knows the tragedy that will befall Lara, so to play as her just before she is subjected to it is bittersweet. D’Oliveria shows his range and ability to portray Lara both as an adult and a child through his music in this sweet and somber track.
Indie 2-D platformer Celeste was created by developers Matt Thorson and Noel Berry and focuses on Madeline, a girl who is scaling a fictional mountain called Celeste Mountain. The game is inspired by Super Nintendo styled platformers and the music does reflect this inspiration but also has its own unique combination of piano and electronic elements which creates a truly fantastic soundtrack with a lot of personality and style.
The soundtrack for Celeste was composed by Lena Raine who captures the spirit of the 2-D platformer while remaining true to the story of the game and the character of Madeline. The electronic, synth style is reminiscent of older Nintendo titles but the soft piano tones represent Madeline and her struggle with depression well. Other instruments are included later, such as the guitar, which is utilized to represent certain characters. In an interview about the Celeste soundtrack, Raine stated that “All of the main characters in Celeste have their own instrument: Madeline has the piano, Theo has a guitar, and Mr. Oshiro has a theremin-like synth.” This is an interesting way to go about composing the music as it allows each character to have their own musical interludes which reflect their position in the narrative.
There is an essence of individuality surrounding the soundtrack, not only due to each character having their own instrument but also due to the combination of these instruments with the electronic aspects. It creates an almost futuristic, sci-fi tone and the mixture of this along with the traditional music makes for a unique sound which not only represents the characters but also their journey and struggles. The track “Scattered and Lost” is a good example of this, sounding almost alien with its frantic techno vibes. It’s a contradiction to pieces like “Awake”, an entirely piano based tune which focuses on Madeline. Though both are very different in style, they both represent the same character. The traditional piano themes are used in quieter moments whilst the electronic components come into play more so during Madeline’s ascent of the Celeste Mountain. Raine creates two differing styles that flow throughout the soundtrack but still manage to work together to build on the narrative of the story as well as the platforming gameplay elements. There is no need to sacrifice one for the other, as Raine manages to meld them perfectly.
Celeste is incredibly individual in terms of its soundtrack, featuring Super Nintendo style retro riffs, sorrowful piano pieces, sci-fi sounds and techno titbits throughout. Lena Raine brings all of these elements together and makes them work in terms of narrative and gameplay, which is no easy feat. The music builds as Madeline continues her climb and as she faces setbacks and difficulties and calms during quieter personal moments. Raine creates a meaningful and heartfelt soundtrack all within the frame of a 2-D indie platformer. Celeste is an achievement in every sense of the word, including its soundtrack.
Top Track: “Resurrections”
This track is a favourite among Celeste fans and for good reason. Lasting almost 10 minutes, the track features both electronic, retro and piano elements that run throughout to create a song that represents both Madeline as a character and Celeste as a game. Lena Raine said that the track is “almost like a full suite of music by itself” and it certainly feels like you are getting a lot from this one brilliant piece of music.
4- Marvel’s Spider-Man
Spider-Man is a character who had several incarnations in video games, some better than others. From the well-received Spider-Man 2 game in 2004 to the not so great The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014, the web slinger has been hanging around (pun intended) for a good long while. His latest video game instalment, Marvel’s Spider-Man, exceeded expectations in every way and was one of the best games of the year but the soundtrack is a superhero score in a league of its own which truly captured what it is to be Spider-Man.
What strikes me the most when listening to the soundtrack is how closely it resembles it other musical scores from Marvel films. It fits in so well that it wouldn’t be out of place as a score from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is not hugely surprising as composer John Paesano is not a stranger to Marvel properties. He has worked on the Netflix series Daredevil and The Defenders as well as having several other credits such as the Maze Runner film series and Markus’s soundtrack from Detroit: Become Human. His score is a largely orchestral affair with a prominent main theme for our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, arguably one of the characters best themes to date. The theme plays a key role throughout but is at its best at the beginning of the game, when Peter Parker first leaps from his apartment window and begins swinging through the streets of New York. As I took control of Spider-Man and his theme played, I felt like a real superhero. And this was only the start of the game. Paesano’s work reflects the tagline of the game “Be Greater” with a swooping and heroic sound that travels with the player as the soar and web swing through the world. You want to be the greatest Spider-Man you can be, and the music is a significant factor in this feeling.
Paesano not only succeeds in the big, heroic moments of the game, he also is able to capture the smaller moments with finesse and a more mature tone. When discussing how he wanted the music to reflect Peter Parker’s older portrayal in an interview, Paesano said, “Spider-Man music has always been very bright and fun. It’s always had a wink and a smile with it. And I really wanted to kind of give him a more grown up approach. I wanted to kind of give him a little bit more weight, give him a little bit more gravitas as far as his character went.” This is apparent throughout the score as there isn’t as much of the bubbliness that is used in other musical takes on Spider-Man, such as Michael Giacchino’s score for the Marvel Cinematic Universes version of Spider-Man. There is a maturity that runs throughout, including in the action, the themes used for when the player is conducting science experiments and the more sorrowful moments. The change in style doesn’t lose the essence of the character, but it makes for a more established and poignant score that suggests Spider-Man’s growth and development from what we normally see him as. The track “Responsibility” is a perfect example of this. The track plays towards the end of the game during a particularly sorrowful moment where Spider-Man has to make a difficult choice. The music encapsulates his character whilst also conveying the weightiness of his decision and his maturity in knowing what choice he has to make. It is one of the best pieces from the soundtrack and shows Paesano’s firm grasp on what kind of Spider-Man Insomniac Games wanted to craft with their interpretation.
Spider-Man’s soundtrack soars as the webhead himself and is an incredible take on an iconic character and his theme music. John Paesano created a soundtrack that slots perfectly into all other Marvel properties and their music, and in my opinion is one of the best scores for any Marvel property to date.
Top Track: “Spider-Man”
I really wanted to give some of the other tracks a mention here, but I found myself returning to this main theme again and again. Upon first opening the game, I was immediately blown away by this music as it was part of the PlayStation 4 theme that I got with the game. I would leave my main home menu up just so I could listen to it again and again. It’s heroic, it’s big and it’s bold but it also has the real feel of Spider-Man within it as it slows down to a softer piano theme towards the end. It’s great to see Spidey receive an incredible theme for one of his best video game outings.
3- Octopath Traveler
JRPG games always have a tendency to be full of colourful and orchestral music designed to be appealing due to the long length of time that the player will be spending with it. The score for Octopath Traveler not only does this, it does this so well that the music is one of the most enticing aspects of the game. It builds the world, introduces the characters and intensifies the battles with ease and grace, easily being one of the best soundtracks this year.
Released by Square Enix for the Nintendo Switch in July of 2018, Octopath Traveler is a turn based JRPG that has reflections of previous JRPG titles within both its graphical HD 16-bit style and its music. The music has elements reminiscent of the old school titles such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII but composer Yasunori Nishiki puts his own spin on the formula to create a modern day classic. When discussing his work on Nintendo’s official website, Nishiki explains his desire to bring the element of nostalgia into the world of Octopath Traveler but not to entirely rely on it, “My goal was to create a soundtrack that would bring back the feelings from our childhood frozen deep inside us…At the same time, I didn’t want to just recreate the past, so I applied a great deal of heated passion to “defrost” these feelings in an even more real and dynamic form befitting the modern era.” . Nishiki is entirely successful in his attempt to combine nostalgic trends in JRPG music with contemporary and new themes. He has managed to create an instant classic with the Octopath Traveler soundtrack by doing this.
The music for Octopath Traveler is focused mainly on character themes, area themes, and battle themes, arguably the staples of most JRPG soundtracks. The eight main characters each have their own individual theme that represents their profession and personality. For example, Primrose the Dancers theme is upbeat to an extent as you would expect from a musical score for a dancing character but it also carries some weight with its string section. Primrose is a character with a tragic past and you can sense the solemn undertones under the perky tunes. Another example would be Tressa the Merchant’s theme which is rife with a sense of adventure and exploration, as she yearns to set out on her own adventure despite her merchant background. Nishiki’s individual themes for each character imbue the game with a sense of personality, blending the characters with their own music for an experience that has more depth. The later battle themes also blend with the character themes but have their own sense of individuality.
Octopath Traveler has such an impressive soundtrack that it stayed with me long after my first listen. There was obvious inspiration from older JRPG games but enough creativity and originality that it still remains its own creation. There is a wide range of orchestral arrangements and instruments, from a mellow saxophone in Alfyn the Apothecary’s theme to the soft guitar that hides beneath the wind instrument arrangements of Therion’s theme. Octopath Traveler has a varied and beautiful soundtrack that is sure to be remembered as one of the best JRPG soundtracks of our time.
Top Track: “Octopath Traveler Main Theme”
Again, I just couldn’t resist choosing the main theme of the game for my top pick due to the sheer wonder of it. A short but brilliant theme that portrays the spirit of adventure and the JRPG genre as a whole, Nishiki perfects the concept of an introductory theme that prepares the player for the game and gives an idea of what to expect music-wise. It’s amazing and I strongly recommend giving it a listen, though it’s such an inviting tune that you may be tempted to give the rest of a soundtrack a try afterward.
2- Red Dead Redemption II
We waited years for a follow up game to Rockstars 2010 hit Red Dead Redemption and when we finally received Red Dead Redemption II in October of this year, it was definitely worth the wait. The game is a prequel to the original game, set during John Marstons time running with Dutch Van der Linde and his gang. As well as having a superb story and fun gameplay, the game has an incredible soundtrack. I’ll include the link to Rockstars official statement released about their music and those involved here as there are just too many involved for me to list but Woody Jackson, the composer for the original game (and several other Rockstar titles) returns to create the score. With so many talented artists, producers and musicians involved, it’s no surprise that Red Dead Redemption II has an absolutely stellar soundtrack.
The use of music has always been well done in Rockstars games but I found that this is particularly notable for both of the Red Dead Redemption games. In RDR, the use of music is essential. Key moments in the game seamlessly integrate with music to truly immerse the player, such as Jose Gonzalez’s “Far Away” being used when travelling to Mexico for the first time or Jamie Lidell’s “Compass” playing when John Marston rides back to his family. The same tactic is used in RDR2 and once again manages to immerse the player and stir up a fair amount of emotion. A song called “May I? Stand Unshaken” by artist D’Angelo is played during a particularly poignant moment in the narrative and I couldn’t help but feel slightly crushed by the wave of emotion that suddenly hit me as I continued my horseback ride alongside the melancholy song. In contrast, there is also a cheerful and upbeat song which plays as John, Uncle, and Charles work to build John’s house in Beechers Hope. Though ultimately bittersweet due to the events of the original game, it’s a sweet and optimistic moment where the music is implemented to make the player feel part of the moment. There is no jarring awkwardness with the chosen songs, they fit perfectly into the narrative and make the experience feel more cinematic as a whole.
The musical score has a familiar feel to it thanks to the return of Woody Jackson. Jackson is able to once again perfectly convey the spirit of the dying American Old West as he did with the first game. His music permeates throughout the course of the game and enhances the experience with powerful yet subtle music cues. Every gunfight makes you feel like a true gunslinger, every bar fight makes you feel like a rowdy tavern thug and every long horse ride makes you feel like a turn of the century cowboy. His music draws you in to the Red Dead Redemption world and doesn’t let go. Whether it’s a somber moment, a funny drunken scene in a bar or an exciting gunfight with a rival gang, Jackson’s score keeps you firmly planted in the western world.
Red Dead Redemption II was a marvel on many levels including its immersive soundtrack full of great musical scores and songs. Certain songs bestow a great deal of emotion in relation to the narrative and make the player realize just how much they care for the characters. The soundtrack is a total triumph and, although an official release date still hasn’t been announced, I know that I and many others will be purchasing the soundtrack as soon as Rockstar delivers it to us.
Top Track: “See the Fire in Your Eyes”
When a new protagonist was announced to be the star of Red Dead Redemption II, I was unsure as to whether any character could take John Marston’s place. As it would turn out, Arthur Morgan ended up being just as beloved, if not slightly more so, than Marston. This particular song relates strongly to Arthur’s development throughout the game and it’s hard to not feel emotional when listening to it. It tells the tale of a man who has made mistakes, many mistakes, and has not always been a good person but tried to be a better man. As the song states, “You did your worst, you tried your best.” It’s an almost heart-breaking comparison to Arthur, whose attempts at a normal life were thwarted by his relation to the gang and his inability to adapt to normality. He is and always will be an outlaw, but he was a good person with a good heart who gave his all. Arthur is a tragic character and this song is a brilliant representation of his journey.
1- God of War
My number one pick from all of the video game soundtracks released this year has to be God of War. Released in April 2018 from Santa Monica Studios, God of War is the eighth game released in the God of War series but is a huge step away from the formula of the other games. The game is loosely a sequel but entirely reimagined from what it once was. Based loosely on Norse mythology, whereas the other games focused on loose reinterpretation of Greek mythology, the game centres on Kratos and his young son Atreus. After the death of his second wife Faye, Kratos and Atreus set out to achieve her final wish of having her ashes scattered from the highest peak of the nine realms. The game is largely narrative driven with great combat and gameplay that highly differed from previous games but did not lose the essence of what God of War was. The music is one of the elements that went through a complete overhaul and the result is the absolute best game soundtrack of 2018, if not one of the best game soundtracks of all time.
Experienced composer Bear McCreary is the man behind the soundtrack and he was a fan of the series before coming on the project. His understanding of the character and themes of the series shines through in his work. Though his original theme for Kratos is the song that would become “Memories of Mother”, he would go on to compose an epic and superb new theme for Kratos known simply as “God of War”. I was lucky enough to see “God of War” performed live in London in May at the PlayStation Live in Concert show and it was an astonishing performance. Hearing it performed live showed me just how powerful and lasting the theme is as the song reverberated through the Royal Albert Hall. The booming echoes of the voices within the song are indicative of Kratos’s Spartan past and how it constantly follows him. It is inescapable but during the game, as he learns to confront his past rather than run from it, the song becomes more incorporated with the other themes of the soundtrack and not quite as intimidating, though still having a certain strength. As McCreary said in an article for the PlayStation blog, “That melody is more reflective of the qualities one associates with Kratos: masculine, relentless, and badass.”
McCreary introduced new styles of music into the soundtrack whilst keeping certain elements from the previous game’s music into consideration, “I took my memories of that classic God of War soundtrack – the deep choirs, pounding drums, and shrieking brass – and reinvented them for a Norse age. I wrote new themes, and introduced to the music exotic instrumentation and languages from various Northern European folk traditions”. The Norse inspiration flows through the soundtrack and resounds through the key themes. It’s another drastic step away from the original template of the God of War franchise but one that pays off immensely. Although he is in a new realm, the spirit of Kratos as a character is still prominently present in the music. It doesn’t feel like a totally new game with a new protagonist, it is the same rage-filled Spartan that gamers have spent many years with. The music reflects this familiarity whilst keeping in line with the Norse culture of which Kratos now finds himself a part of.
There have been many brilliant soundtracks this year for video games and it wasn’t easy picking a number one choice but God of War goes above and beyond. New themes and music are present but the spirit of God of War does not get lost on the way. The franchise reinvents itself as does the music, and in doing so, creates a soundtrack that is as beautiful as it is memorable. God of War is, simply put, a musical masterpiece which will be remembered as one of the best that video game music has to offer.
Top Track: “Ashes”
I had a tough time choosing the top track for God of War. The main “God of War” theme reinvents the music for Kratos brilliantly whilst “Memories of Mother”, the favourite track of the composer, is a beautifully sorrowful tune. My choice eventually boiled down to the track which took the best parts of both of these wonderful tracks and inserted it into a crucial and highly emotional moment of the narrative. At the beginning of the game, we see Kratos and Atreus preparing to cremate the body of Faye, Kratos’s second wife, and Atreus’s mother. The sorrow from a child losing a mother and a man losing his love is intense and this track is significant in adding to the heightened emotions. I found myself feeling desperately sad for both Kratos and Atreus, despite only just beginning the game. Kratos’s words to her as he prepares to take her body are incredibly powerful, “Find your way home. You are free”. Not only does it show just how much the series has matured with its audience, it shows how Kratos as a character has also matured. It also shows the strained relationship between a father and his son, a theme that continues throughout. “Ashes” is a powerful and moving piece of music which not only made gamers feel emotional within minutes of the opening of the game, it contributed in introducing a very different Kratos in a very different God of War game.
Thanks so much for reading my top twenty video game soundtracks list. Here’s hoping that 2019 brings us even more brilliant music from our favourite games!
PAX Online: ‘Unpacking’ and ‘Infernax’
Our PAX Online coverage continues with a game the calm and relaxing Unpacking and the not-so calm and relaxing Infernax.
Our PAX Online coverage continues with a game that takes a hated activity and somehow makes it relaxing and another game that will leave you clenching your buttocks.
As someone who is coming fresh off of moving just a little over a month ago, you couldn’t have blamed me for being a little skeptical going into what was dubbed a “zen puzzle” game based on the final stretch of the process. Unpacking is just that, though. It’s a calming, almost therapeutic exercise that happened to serve as a wonderful way for me to unwind at the end of a day.
Unpacking is exactly what it says on the tin. There are no scores, no timers, no leaderboards, just you, and a few boxes with various items in them that need to be placed somewhere. The demo starts with a single bedroom in 1997. There’s nothing in the game that tells you where something should go, only your own taste and intuition; a locked diary would probably go in a desk-drawer while a soccer trophy would probably be displayed on a shelf.
As I slowly unearthed items one-by-one, I gradually got a feel for what the room’s new inhabitant was most likely like. The endless supply of stuffed animals implied someone of younger age while the numerous art supplies indicated someone inclined to right brain thinking. It’s rather engaging to learn about this person’s life purely by their belongings.
Every item taken out was like a delightful surprise and would sometimes even make me feel a little sentimental such as when I took out a small device that was clearly a Tamagotchi. More importantly, Unpacking nails that sinking feeling of when you feel like you’ve used all your available space but still have boxes left. Reaching the point of just throwing stuff wherever it fits is such an immediately relatable feeling that I was almost offended. And that was only for a single bedroom!
The demo’s second stage was a little more involved with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen in the year of 2004. The hilarious moments of finding a boot in your kitchenware box or a bra with your toiletries also felt like a call-out to my own hodge-podge packing methods. It’s something I can’t help but let out an exasperated chuckle at.
It was also neat to see how this person has grown since their earlier abode. Much fewer stuffed animals but more art supplies and a brand new computer imply this character is maybe entering the working adult world. I’ve never actually seen this character, but I can’t help but feel a connection to them already, and that was only after two moves. The full game will have eight total moves to follow them through and I am genuinely curious to see how our nameless and faceless protagonist grows throughout them.
Now if only unpacking in real life could be this soothing.
Some players may recognize Berzerk Studio for their excellent 2018 bullet-hell, rhythm game Just Shapes & Beats. Coming hot of the heels of that hit they immediately pivoted in the new direction with Infernax, a delightfully edgy 8-bit adventure platformer that takes cues from old-school Castlevania titles.
Our hero returns to his land after a successful crusade only to find it overrun by horrible monstrosities in every which direction. With nothing but mace in hand, he sets out on a quest anew to rid the land of the undead filth. Immediately apparent upon starting is just how tightly the game controls; anyone fond of earlier NES titles will feel right at home with Infernax. I quickly got a handle on my exact attack reach down to the pixel and began mowing down the zombies in front of me. It emphasized how much joy a game is possible of eliciting from simply a jump and attack button.
Getting to that proficiency is important too because the game doesn’t waste any time in taking off the training wheels! Even the base enemies shaved off half my HP if I got careless and that difficulty ramped up at a rapid rate as new enemy types were introduced at a decent clip such as flying evil eyes and jumping rodents. Not only do these foes burst into tasty experience points and gold to be spent on upgrades, but also into extremely satisfying fountains of blood.
Infernax isn’t particularly shy about turning up the gore factor, but it’s still impressive by just how creative they get with it using simple pixel art. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you are killed. Every single enemy type has a unique kill animation when they deal the final blow to our hero. From the chump ass pillbugs to the big bad bosses, all of them mutilate you in a different way and it’s honestly morbidly mesmerizing to witness. It made me want to suicide against every enemy I came across just so I could see what creative way they took my life.
Depending on your playstyle you might not want to do this, though, as Infernax features two different ways to respawn when you die. Hardcore respawn sends you all the way back to your last save point, just like in those classic NES titles. Casual respawn lets you restart right where you left off with no loss in progress, but choosing to do so locks you out from Hardcore the rest of the game. It’s a sort of mark of shame that I was glad to wear during the demo after I came up against the final boss and promptly got my ass handed to me. It sounds a little cheeky on paper but is actually very consistent with the game’s overtly edgy tone.
Infernax feels like a game that was lost to time during the NES era and is just now being rediscovered. Those looking for for a game that harkens back to the simplicity of the olden days need not look any further.
Indie Games Spotlight – Going Full Circle
We’re featuring five exciting indie games in our latest spotlight, including the internship roguelike Going Under and the cozy puzzles of Lonesome Village.
Indie Games Spotlight is Goomba Stomp’s biweekly column where we highlight some of the most exciting new and upcoming independent games. Summer may have come to a close, but that hasn’t stopped big announcements from rolling in. With events like PAX Online and the recent PlayStation 5 Showcase flooding the web with announcements, trailers, and gameplay footage, there’s been a constant deluge of news to keep up with. With so much coming on the horizon, we’re spotlighting five exciting indies that you’ll be able to play sooner rather than later. Whether you’re in the mood for a brutally addictive action game or a cozy adventure and social sim, there’s bound to be a game that speaks to you in this spotlight.
Moving Up Professionally in Going Under
Work is its own payment in Going Under. In this action game from developer Aggro Crab, you’re put in the shoes of an unpaid intern who must explore the endless ruins of failed tech startups while fighting off the monsters that spawn within them. It’s hard work to do without a single paycheck—but hey, at least you’re gaining valuable experience!
As a former unpaid intern myself, the writing in Going Under certainly resonates with me and it’s sure to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt underappreciated or overworked. Its vibrant and colorful 3D graphics, as well as its satirical story, only make it all the more enticing. It really should offer a great working experience when it hits all consoles and PC via Steam on September 24.
Fill in the Gaps in Journey of the Broken Circle
Something’s missing in Journey of the Broken Circle. Like its name would suggest, this puzzle platformer follows a Pacman-like circle with a hole to fill. It wanders through a world that is whimsical and existential at once, searching for a companion to fill its gaps. As the circle rolls through ethereal environments, it encounters different shapes to use that allow for new gameplay mechanics.
Journey of the Broken Circle might be about an abstract shape, but in its quest to become whole, it strives to capture the human experience. It promises to be an intimate experience that clocks in at about five hours to complete. If you’re interested in getting this ball rolling, it’s already available now on Switch and Steam.
Prepare to Get GORSD
There’s a delicate balance between unsettling the player without being outright scary. GORSD treads the line here as a one-hit-kill shooter that stars humans encased in the skins of octopuses, dragons with human faces, and nightmarish environments. Something feels off about GORSD, but that’s exactly what makes it so interesting.
Brought to life with detailed pixel art, GORSD supports up to four players who can face off in chaotic matches in varied arenas. It also features a full-fledged single-player campaign with a vast overworld with dozens of unique stages. Its concept is inspired by its developers’ native Southeast Asian cultures, making for a unique gameplay and aesthetic experience. If you’re ready to dive in and see it for yourself, it’s available now on all consoles and PC via Steam.
Get Ready For a Foregone Conclusion
Saying Foregone is a 2D Dark Souls would be cliché, but accurate nonetheless. It’s a hardcore action game where you’ll fight against insurmountable odds to prevent monsters from overrunning the world. It has a brutally addictive gameplay loop—its difficulty may be excruciating, but because it offers a wide assortment of abilities to leverage, it’s immensely euphoric once you overcome the challenges before you.
This beautiful 3D/pixelated hybrid action game has been available on PC in early access since February, but at long last, it’s seeing its full console release in October. It’s been a promising title ever since its pre-release days, and now that it’s finally seeing its complete iteration, there’s never been a better time to dive in and give it a shot. It’s hitting all platforms on October 5, so there’s not long to wait!
Finding Good Company in a Lonesome Village
Mix Zelda with Animal Crossing and you might get something like Lonesome Village. This newly-revealed puzzle adventure game features Zelda-like adventure in a hand-drawn world populated by animal characters. Players control a wandering coyote who stumbles upon a strange village and decides to investigate its mysterious happenings by interacting with villagers, solving puzzles, and exploring its dungeons.
It’s more than a simple adventure game. In addition to puzzle-solving, you’ll interact with Lonesome Village’s eclectic cast of characters to forge relationships and unravel brooding mysteries. It’s showing plenty of potential with its cozy gameplay loop, and if you want to give it a shot, check out its official demo from its Kickstarter page! It’s already been fully funded in less than 24 hours, but if you want to help the developers out even further, consider contributing to their campaign.
PAX Online: ‘Inkulinati’ and ‘Pumpkin Jack’
The PAX Online celebrations continue with the strategy game, Inkulinati, and spooky Halloween themed Pumpkin Jack.
The PAX Online celebrations continue with a strategy game whose tales are writ in ink and a game sure to put you in an early Halloween mood.
Platforms: Switch and Steam
Competitive strategy games stress me out. Chess? Stresses me out. Checkers? Stresses me out. Star Craft? Stresses me out. Managing that stress as a form of stimulation is what makes the best strategy games shine, though, and Inkulinati is so far demonstrating all the facets of such a game.
The titular Inkulinati are masters of a craft that brings their inked creatures to life on parchment, including a caricature of themselves. The two Inkulinati do written battle with each other until only one is left standing. The battles are carried out in a charming medieval art style that looks like it was taken straight out of a manuscript you’d find carefully stored in a library. These aren’t the masterpieces of Da Vinci or Van Gogh, but the kinds of scribbles you’d find the layman making on the edges of pages either out of boredom or mischievousness. The playful art makes for a playful tone and jolly times.
The core thrust of the gameplay is that each Inkulinati utilizes ink points to conjure units, or “creatures”, onto the parchment in a turn-based manner and sends them into the fray. There were a fair amount of creatures available in the demo — ranging from a simple swordsdog with well-rounded stats to a donkey capable of stunning foes with its trusty butt trumpet. Many many more creature types are promised in the full game, but I found even with the limited selection of the demo the gameplay was still able to be showcased well.
Your primary Inkulinati also has some tricks up its depending on the type you’ve chosen to take into battle. Instant damage to or healing a unit were the two shown off in the demo, as well as being able to shove units. Shoving is particularly useful as you can push enemies into the hellfires that encroach the battlefield as the battle wages on, instantly defeating them.
Doing battle with an opponent it all well and good, but what’s the point if it’s not immortalized for generations to experience down the line? Inkulimati understands this need and will record every single action of the battlefield in written word. It’s infinitely charming, and the amount of variations in how to say what amounts to just “X unit attacked Y enemy” is astonishing. How can you not chuckle at, “Powerful Morpheus killed the enemy and may those who failed to witness this live in constant pain and regret”?
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
Release: Q4 2020
Halloween may be a little over a month away but that didn’t stop the 3D action platformer Pumpkin Jack getting me in the spookyween mood. The human realm is suffering from the Devil’s curse and have elected the aid of a wizarding champion to save them from it. Not to be outdone, the Devil also chooses his own champion to stop the wizard, choosing the despicable spirit Jack. With the tasty reward of being able to pass on from hell, Jack dons his pumpkin head and a wooden & straw body on his quest to keep the world ruined. The premise sounds slightly grim but make no mistake that this is a goofy game through and through, a fact only emphasized by a brilliant opening narration dripping with sarcasm and morbid glee.
The demo took us through Pumpkin Jack‘s first stage, a dilapidated farmland full of ambient lanterns abandoned storehouses. The visuals are compliments by a wonderfully corny soundtrack full of all the tubas, xylophones, and ghost whistles one would expect a title that is eternally in the Halloween mood.
We got the basics of traversal, like dodge rolling and double jumps, before coming upon a terrified murder of crows. Turns out their favorite field has been occupied by a dastardly living scarecrow and they want Jack to take care of it. One crow joins Jack on his quest, taking the form of a projectile attack that he can sic on enemies. Jack also obtains a shovel he can use to whack on the animated skeletons with a simple three-hit combo. There’s nothing particularly standout about the combat, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be this early on. More weapons such as a rifle and scythe are promised in the full game and should go a way towards developing the combat along with more enemy variety.
Collectible crow skulls also dot the map and seem to be cleverly hidden as even when I felt like I was carefully searching the whole stage I had only found 12 out of 20 by the end. Their purpose is unknown in the demo, so here’s hopping they amount to something making me want to find those last eight in the full version.
After accidentally lighting a barn ablaze and escaping in a dramatic sequence we came across the scarecrow in question. Defeating it was a rather simple affair that was just a matter of shooting it out of the air with the crow then wailing on it with Jack’s shovel. We were awarded a new glaive-type weapon as a reward but unable to give it a whirl in the demo, unfortunately. All-in-all, Pumpkin Jack shows promise as a follow-up to action 3D platformers of yore like Jak & Daxter, so here’s hoping to a solid haunting when it releases later this year.
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PAX Online: ‘Unpacking’ and ‘Infernax’
Best of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast: ‘Super Mario 64’
Best of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast: ‘Super Mario Galaxy’
Best of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast: ‘Super Mario Sunshine’ Review
Indie Games Spotlight – Going Full Circle
PAX Online: ‘Inkulinati’ and ‘Pumpkin Jack’
TIFF 2020: ‘Shadow in the Cloud’ is an Extremely Tense Film in Need of a Better Script
The History of Super Mario: The NES Days
‘Majora’s Mask’ and the Challenge of One-Upping ‘Ocarina of Time’
The Art of Combat in ‘Ocarina of Time’
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