Top 10 Video Game Soundtracks All Gamers Should Own
Assassin’s Creed II
Stand Out Track: ‘Ezio’s Family’
Jesper Kyd has produced a lot of music that we now associate with certain franchises, be it Hitman’s slow but paced pieces or Assassin’s Creed wonderful mix of its source material with a modern twist. Assassin’s Creed II was the epitome of this, tracks like ‘Ezio’s Family’ just produce a wonderful image from the music alone of Renaissance Italy but with the bass and guitar to provide tension, these tracks do a wonderful job of symbolically evoking the story of the game, a modern man just visiting the past. For one reason or another Jesper didn’t work on the latest Assassin’s Creed and although that had great tracks like ‘Homestead’ on there it just wasn’t the same emotion produced. Bring back Jesper for Assassin’s Creed IV, or just stop making them for a bit, either way Ubisoft I’d be fine with.
Bastion Original Soundtrack
Stand Out Track: ‘In Case Of Trouble’
A soundtrack, a voice and a game all coming together to produce something special. I will probably talk a lot in this piece about how, in a good example, the soundtrack becomes something more than just the music in the background, it brings a new angle to the game and to the experience for the player. I’m not going to bring out the big guns of hyperbole and pretend that they are a character in themselves like pretentious people say about Bioshock’s Rapture, but I will say a good soundtrack is something that is an integral part of the game, something that with any other sequence of notes wouldn’t have had the same impact. Bastion is the prime example, the world when mixed with the wonderful voice over is just topped off with a mix of Asian and Deep South style of music to make something greater than the sum of its parts.
Black Mages II: The Skies Above
The Black Mages
Stand Out Track: ‘The Skies Above’ or ‘Matoya’s Cave’
Nobuo Uematsu is a legend, and I don’t mean that in a way that the British youth say, that kind of disgusting use of the British language is why we’re in such trouble; “He’s a ledge” oh piss off. Nobuo is a true legend, someone that has had a long and refined career in producing some of the greatest soundtracks for some of the greatest games coming out of Japan. His career started in 1986 with Cruise Chaser Blassty [Note: No I haven't heard of it either], since then he has produced music for Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger and Blue Dragon. The Black Mages is Nobuo’s band, they have produced a number of albums but number 2, The Skies Above, is the one I heartily recommend. It features songs from the majority of Final Fantasy games brought up to date with studio recordings rather than 8/16 bit songs. What’s great about this album and The Black Mages is that they don’t just bring the songs up to date, they take the tunes you will remember from childhood and put a twist on them about half way through, whether it’s Matoya’s Cave from Final Fantasy I getting a pop jazz swing style or The Skies Above from Final Fantasy X suddenly breaking into a Dragonforce power rock ballad with an opera singer rocking the vocals. The album boils down to ‘Songs we know done in a way we don’t’. And that’s what most of this list is to me, the distortion of expectations, sure Hanz Zimmer does a belting score, but it’s the same every time, these albums are different enough to make us as gamers sit up and say “oh there’s more to games than graphics, music matters too”.
Halo 3: ODST Original Soundtrack
Martin O’Donnell & Michael Salvatori
Stand Out Track: ‘Overture’
For those who have had a severe head injury recently and are not sure, an overture in games soundtracks is generally the main theme and something you’ll hear throughout the game. It’s cliché of me to say the stand out track on this album is the Overture but it’s the truth, as I said above the point of this list is to give suggestions to people on what they should try to listen to, breaking conventions with soundtracks, essentially what we know from a series and diverting our expectations, and the Overture does just that. ODST was going to be a DLC expansion for Halo 3 but instead got its own retail release. This is easily my favourite Halo game and is actually one of my favourite games I’ve ever played. It’s not because of the combat, which is standard Halo affair, it’s the world and the feel this game puts onto the player. The fact that the soundtrack starts with the sound of rainfall says a lot, this game is tonally different to its predecessors. You are essentially a lost lamb in the night, a whole city is against you and it’s raining. The soundtrack still has it’s epic tracks like all of the Halo soundtracks, but it’s mixed here with Jazz undertones, the gloom of Blues runs through the tracks evoking a darker world than our previous endeavors with the brightly coloured grunts.
Journey Original Soundtrack
Stand Out Track: ‘Nascence’
Journey is a game that has been littered with so many awards that at this stage there really is no one left to thank at the podium other than some guy they once walked past who pointed out they had dropped a coin on the floor. The game itself is a desolate but beautiful experience, with no real script to speak of the game relies on the world and the music to get its various messages across. The world is simple and the music matches that, tracks like ‘ Nascence’ and ‘The Crossing’ epitomise the world with music. Many have said that they will now cry just listening to the soundtrack, I personally wouldn’t go that far, but I will say it’s an awesome album that is easy to chill out to on a Sunday afternoon.
The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary
Stand Out Track: ‘The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Medley’
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Zelda games, or rather the newer ones. I loved Legend on the NES and Link to the Past is one of my favourite SNES games from my childhood, but as soon as the series hit the N64 my interest waned and the idea of doing dungeons 4 times just with a different outfit didn’t appeal to me anymore. That being said something I’ve always kept up with is the always awesome soundtracks. This soundtrack does a wonderful job of bringing even the older tracks up to modern standards with a full orchestral backing. The music is both grandiose but also fantastical and simple in their nature. You get the ‘Small Village’ feel from certain tracks and the ‘Big Battle’ from others. This soundtrack should be owned by all gamers not only from a history of it but the retelling of some classic Zelda songs. This CD isn’t cheap or easy to get hold of, Ebay and Amazon Market Place are your friends here, it’ll probably set you back about $20/£15 if you’re lucky, but it’s worth it.
Red Dead Redemption Original Soundtrack
Stand Out Track: ‘Far Away’
There are three ways Rockstar could have gone with this soundtrack, the first was to be authentic, lots of wailing violins/fiddles with a haunting guitar. The second would be to re-appropriate songs from the classic spaghetti westerns of the 1960′ and 1970′s. Finally they could have just brought in some new blood and gone a bit left field, more recently done with Django Unchained. Rockstar went for all three of these options. The first couple of tracks on the album ‘Born Unto Trouble’ ‘The Shootist’ and ‘Dead End Alley’ is basically what we perceive to be accurate music of the times-ish, then we launch into ‘Horseplay’ something that would have been perfect for any Spaghetti Western of old with music from an Italian artist, then we get into what everyone has as their stand out moment from the game. It’s a moment that on paper sounds stupid, after many hours of riding around you are finally allowed to head south, you are crossing the border into Mexico, as you start the ride which will take a few minutes a few random guitar plucks are heard, then they slowly find a rhythm and then the voice, Jose Gonzales sings ‘Far Away’, a modern original song, out-of-place in terms of musical styling but perfect for that very specific moment in the game.
Stand Out Track: ‘Trine Main Theme’
When people use words to describe certain pieces of music I find it frustrating, people using terms like Haunting or Emotional just gets to me. When talking about the Trine soundtrack, it is one of the few times people will hear me say them. I find the main theme of this game so creepy and yet hopeful and I realise how much of a douche that makes me sound but it’s true. I am writing this article and with that comes the responsibility of being subjective, this soundtrack is my weakness, I admit it’s not a life changing album or game, but to me it’s great, every track is done with the theme and content of the game in mind, the mystical and fantastical world is all captured musically by Ari Pukkinen and when mixed with a game that is as fun as this I can’t help but sell out and recommend both whole heartily.
Unchartered 2: Among Themes
Stand Out Track: ‘A Rock And A Hard Place’
So if I’m honest this soundtrack is VERY similar to the first game’s, but then so is the gamplay, BOOYAH! I actually only recently finished Uncharted 2 (I wrote about my Late To The Party experience here). Upon finishing I realised I was an idiot for not finishing the game sooner, one of the many reasons I should have was because I have been listening to the soundtrack for years, even without the context of the game this soundtrack is just brilliant. The soundtrack is such a mixture, tracks like ‘A Rock and A Hard Place’ are your usual big orchestral affair, but then that’s followed by ‘The Road To Shambala’ which on one hand is a traditional Asian piece of music mixed with sampling, a drum machine and Gregorian chanting. What makes this soundtrack great is that it is like the first game’s, but it’s been essentially redone with the Eastern setting of the game, this just makes sense, we’re playing with the same characters but on the other side of the world so why not just transpose the soundtrack like we have the characters. I love that fact a setting of game modifies the soundtack we all know.
The Greatest Video Game Music 1 & 2
London Philharmonic Orchestra and Andrew Skeet
Stand Out Track: ‘Advent Rising: Muse’
A couple of the albums I’ve spoken about here are slight cop outs, The Greatest Video Game Music 1 & 2 are essentially like me answering the question “what’s your favourite album by Queen” with “the Greatest Hits”. This is a compilation of, as the titles suggest, The Greatest Video Game Music. However, both albums are filled with, well, filler. Together the two albums are a great ride through history and the chance again to listen to some brilliant tracks played by the always, and obviously, wonderful London Philharmonic Orchestra. ‘Advent Rising: Muse’ is the stand out track for me, this is despite me never knowing of the game or the track before, it is an awesome track that just uses vocal work with the orchestra so well. Unfortunately you do then have tracks like ‘Call of Duty 4′ which is neither here nor there and ‘Call of Duty 2′ which feel like they were just put there because they would sell albums. Skyrim, Deus Ex, Tetris and even Angry Birds all have the orchestral adaptations that make their soundtracks sound new and at times bigger than they were originally intended. For those wishing to start a collection of Video Game Soundtracks these albums seem like the safest place to start, somewhere reasonably cheap with tracks you know from across the ages done with a real affection for their source and not the usual snobbery that comes with the judgement of games.
TRON: Legacy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Stand Out Track: ‘Disc Wars’
Confession time, I only saw Tron Legacy two nights ago,I’d put off watching the film because although I enjoyed the original as a kid I wasn’t a die-hard fan but I still looked at Legacy like a cash in from Disney to get the late 20′s early 30′s crowds into the cinema. I was wrong to leave it so long, not only is the film great, it looks awesome and has a great script, but also the soundtrack, from Daft Punk is retro-orchestral-electronically-epic. I say this is a special mention as ‘technically’ it’s not a video game soundtrack, but it is a soundtrack for a film based on a fictional computer game, just be grateful I’m not talking about ‘The Last Starfighter’ soundtrack.
Disc Wars starts out like most soundtracks, a rousing orchestra building tension, heavy bass drums hitting down overpowering it all, and then it happens, two minutes in, you are greeted by a rousing synth. A keyboard player is going mental on the keys, there just at that point, just when you think it has peaked the strings kick back in building to an epic finale. Daft Punk fans will be amazed at their flexibility and skill, their ability to mold a soundtrack in a way we expect but inject their own awesome electronica into the fold. This is not just a soundtrack you should listen to, this is *the* soundtrack you should listen to.
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