And just like that it’s the end of 2016. I realize I wasn’t as active as I’d purported I’d be at the beginning of the year. I owe that to moving into a new house though. The transition has eaten up a lot of my valuable time. Not only that but I’ve spent much of my autumn beginning a new book and when I do that, I tend to dig in deep and not come up for air. That being said, I’d like to change the topic back to what this blog post is really all about: my top ten picks for video game soundtracks this year!
Several of you readers know I’m a sucker for video game soundtracks. I’ve always been a fan of film scores and in the past few years have developed a love for these equally arresting and inspiring albums. I didn’t want to break with tradition so here I am at midnight on the 30th/31st of December to share with you the soundtracks writers who love music should buy. But why you ask? Keep reading and you’ll see…
#10: Dead Secret Soundtrack by Ben Prunty
Why: The Dead Secret soundtrack begins with jazz-inspired flavors and some Asian influences to fit into the storyline. Because it’s a murder mystery, there’s an air of suspicion and curiosity in each piece, growing darker and darker as the game progresses. However, it’s the tracks that are most ambient that stood out most to me. In particular, WOODCUTTER (the theme of the antagonist) is one of the most bone-chilling on the soundtrack and inspires fear from its minimalist drumming. Another is “Permanently Altered” which I listened to several times while working on my latest novel. I recommend this to anyone working on crime or noir fiction, or perhaps something historical in the 1920-1950’s. Track picks: WOODCUTTER, Kwaidan, Permanently Altered, What were you up to?
#9: Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst Soundtrack by Solar Fields
Why: Because Solar Fields is an amazing ambient band. It really comes down to that. Who else can create a harrowing, gripping soundtrack to match the futuristic dystopian society of Mirror’s Edge? This is the kind of music that is easy to get lost in, that gets a bit grittier and harder around the edges. The synth beats really create more of a sci-fi impression over fantasy and immediately remind me of “The Matrix” and one of my last year soundtrack picks, “Sylvio”, with some of the pieces. The sheer size of the soundtrack is a bit mind-boggling (32 tracks!) but is also a dream come true for those of us who like to listen to our music on repeat. This is one of my favorite soundtracks to listen to while editing (because it’s surprisingly easy to concentrate while listening to it) but also a great list of tracks to listen to if one is writing science fiction. Track picks: Release, Downtown District, Plastic, Savant, Anchor District, Dogen, Flytrap, Vive Le Resistance, Prisoner X, Gabriel
#8: Rise of the Tomb Raider Soundtrack by Bobby Tahouri
Why: Crystal Dynamics chose to use one of James Horner’s most incredible and understated songs for the “Rise of the Tomb Raider” trailer, which is what immediately drew me toward the game. I’ve always been a fan of Tomb Raider, so I was intrigued by the thought of the soundtrack taking on a more dramatic but human feel much like “Alicia Discovers Nash’s Dark World” from “A Beautiful Mind”. And you know what? I wasn’t disappointed. The reboot of Tomb Raider has done a masterful job of recreating Lara’s character, giving her depth and range and showing that an event like the shipwreck from the first game can have consequences on a young woman, that it’s not all carefree guns blazing…and the soundtrack follows along with this more character driven theme nicely. While there are still a handful of dramatic, action-oriented pieces, I’ve of course found that the softer ones are the ones I particularly enjoy. Great as background music for your up and coming adventure novel featuring an all too human protagonist. Track picks: London, Hidden Truth, Something Else Happened, Echoes of the Past, The Cistern, Rise of the Tomb Raider
#7: Oxenfree Original Soundtrack by scntfc
Why: Perhaps one of the strangest games from 2016 but ultimately one of the best soundtracks as well. Oxenfree follows the story of a group of kids reuniting on an island and being lured into a mysterious signal/alternate reality in a cave deep underground. Oxenfree is a synth/electronic parade. The majority of the songs are very low key but unique, quirky, and memorable. I’ve listened to them while working on stories ranging from crime to sci-fi, dark fantasy to noir. There are any number of emotions/genres that can be gleaned from these pieces. That’s what I love most about Oxenfree’s music; there’s no right or wrong way to write to it. Track picks: Beacon Beach, Towhee Grove, Alsos, Cold Comfort, Lantern, Argonaut, Catbird Station, Dead Light, Catchpole Station, Lost Bonus: They released a second soundtrack for the DLC’s to Oxenfree called “Oxenfree: Side Stories” and it includes new and revamped versions of several songs from the original soundtrack. Got to love scntfc.
#6: The Last Guardian Soundtrack by Takeshi Furukawa
Why: Honestly, how could it not be on the list? The Last Guardian is the game that fans of Shadow of Colossus have been waiting for for years. The Shadow of Colossus soundtrack was unbelievably good and the same can be said for The Last Guardian. There’s whimsy, danger, and fantasy packed into this hour long soundtrack. The bond between animal and man as friends is an exceptionally beautiful one and is expressed exquisitely through each track by Furukawa. The music reminds me a lot of Thomas Newman, particularly the use of the flute in several pieces. It’s hard for me to pick favorites here because all of the pieces are just that good. A wonderful soundtrack to listen to if you are writing an epic fantasy, a heartfelt drama about man’s best friend, or a little of both. Track picks: Panorama, Forest, Falling Bridge, Alone, Flashback, Sanctuary, End Titles (The Last Guardian Suite), Epilogue
#5: Firewatch Soundtrack by Chris Remo
Why: This game is actually one of my favorites for 2016 despite the fact that I was unable to play it myself (my computer is crappy). I was able to watch my friend, HarshlyCritical, play and though I was disappointed by the ending (no spoilers!), I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching two characters connect over the course of a 1988 summer in Yellowstone National Park. The soundtrack is a bit more personal than the others on the list, not as grandiose and sweeping, nor ambient or dystopian sounding. Remo uses a combination of guitar and piano for the majority of the tracks which makes them a bit warmer and relative to the audience. I’ve listened to the Firewatch soundtrack while editing and writing because it’s easy to get lost in and enjoy. Track picks: Prologue, Cottonwood Hike, Exfiltration, Shoshone Overlook, Thorofare Hike, Catching Up, Stay in Your Tower and Watch, North Backcountry, Ol’ Shoshone
#4: No Man’s Sky Soundtrack by 65daysofstatic
Why: Sure, No Man’s Sky wasn’t quite what everyone was expecting it to be. However, there can be no arguing that the soundtrack composed by some kings of atmospheric ambient (65daysofstatic) is perfection. This fits into the same category of music from Mirror’s Edge and Oxenfree and Sylvio, a beat-heavy instrumental rock/ambient collection with some darker tones. Because most of what I write has a darker tone to it, I seek out music that plays into it. No Man’s Sky is by far the best collection I’ve seen this year and I’ve listened to it while writing my upcoming short story, “Rare Birds” as well as “The Collection”, “Hiraeth”, and “The Wild Dark” as well. A couple tracks even happen to reside on my “Epic Tax Soundtrack”…specifically for when I do my taxes. Track picks: Monolith, Supermoon, Red Parallax, Hypersleep, End of the World Sun, NMS_exteriorAtmos1/False Suns, Tomorrow/Lull/Celestial Feedback, temporalDissent/ascension_test1/koaecax
#3: Unravel Soundtrack by Frida Johansson and Henrik Oja
Why: So, here’s the scoop: If you didn’t like Unravel, we can’t be friends. It’s as plain and simple as that. What an unbelievably beautiful and fun game this was. You follow the adventures of Yarny through the colorful sometimes cheerful, sometimes sad memoirs of an elderly lady, revisiting her times of celebration and times of woe. With all the games that encourage violence and anger, it’s nice to see that there are still some out there that can tell a good story, make you empathize with someone (even if that someone isn’t real) and promote love over hate. Seriously, buy this game. Buy the soundtrack. You will not regret it. Track picks: First Steps, Mist in the Mire, Open Country, Halling efter Per Loof, Exploration, Left, Dangerous Path, Morning Frost, Crystal, Rusted Apart*, Cold and Dark, Unraveling, The Red Thread.
#2: Inside (Unofficial) Soundtrack by Martin Stig Andersen
Why: This is the last time I’m going to beg you, Playdead and Mr. Andersen: release an official soundtrack for “Inside”! I’ve been waiting years for Playdead’s next installment after the brilliant “Limbo”. For those of you that don’t know, the Limbo soundtrack is one of my most listened to soundtracks while writing. Inside has very similar compositions though a bit more musical rather than ambient. It’s still minimalist music though. It isn’t over the top and it isn’t forcing itself into your ears. It enhances the visuals, it enhances your experience. That’s what I love about it. When I’m writing, I can fully imagine my characters moving around in their environment and the music helps to bring those things to life. When I can see what I want to write, I have a better understanding of how I want to explain it. Inside differs from a majority of soundtracks because it includes a number of non-music sound effects. Again, nothing too grating or course to the ears; just enough to augment the rest of the sounds. My favorite section is undoubtedly what people are calling the “final encounter with the mermaid”. There are a number of places you can find to listen to the original soundtrack online but if you already own the game, you can find the audio pieces in the game files if you get tired of waiting for the official soundtrack to release… Track picks: The mermaid final encounter, Shockwave… The whole damn thing actually.
#1: Abzu Soundtrack by Austin Wintory
Why: It’s a masterpiece. Austin Wintory is the same brilliant composer behind the soundtrack composition of thatgamecompany’s Journey. He’s the first video game composer to have been nominated for a Grammy for his work. And you know what? He should have won it. Abzu brings back the wonder and joy that ultimately won me over while listening to the Journey soundtrack. Abzu has a couple of darker pieces owing to a slightly darker theme. In essence, the soundtracks are like brother and sister when put side by side. Where Journey evoked a sense of meditation and mysticism about reaching the distant desert mountain, Abzu creates a softer more intricate quest to investigate the ocean and rid it of harmful and toxic entities while doing so. And there’s a Great White Shark as your sidekick. That made me SO DAMN HAPPY! This is easily my number one pick for the year and I love everything about this soundtrack. Please do yourselves a favor and pick up the game (and the music) for yourselves. Track picks: Delphinus Delphis and Chaos the Mother. Both are extraordinarily amazing. But the rest of the soundtrack is TO DIE FOR!
With that, I give you my list of my top 10 picks for 2016’s Game Soundtracks. Here’s to a hopefully beautiful 2017. Everyone enjoy a night of celebration safely and I’ll see you in the new year!