Welcome to the first week of my Top Tens for Gaming Month. This week, we’ll cover my Top Ten Original Soundtracks of 2014. While licensed music is all fine and dandy, this list will only contain originally composed game soundtracks. Each entry has a few tracks I highly recommend listening to, so check ‘em out on YouTube when you get the chance. Now, let’s dive right in!
10) Child Of Light
Charming would probably be the best word to describe Child of Light’s soundtrack. Canadian singer/songwriter Cœur de Pirate is the composer, and her style adds to the innocent, almost fairytale-like feel of the game. In addition, the music matches the coming-of-age theme pretty well. Traveling the world of Lemuria is accompanied by soft and gentle melodies, while random battles and boss fights are elevated with appropriate orchestral pieces. The music really is one of the strongest foundations of Child of Light, and it wouldn’t be the same without it.
9) Final Fantasy X HD Remaster
Yes, a remaster is a little unfair to add to the list, but I had heard very little of Final Fantasy X or X-2’s music beforehand. Even so, the music alone has gotten me interested in playing this game. As far as composition goes, this soundtrack has the style you would probably expect from a Final Fantasy game. Even with this familiarity, hearing this music feels so different from other games I’ve played in the series, and this one in particular is awesome to listen to. Just hearing the remastering of To Zanarkand was enough for me to put this soundtrack in this list.
8) Azure Striker Gunvolt
I think that the thing I love about video game music, especially music inspired by classic franchises, is the distinct, yet simple tones compounded together to sound incredible. I find that whenever I pick up a game that portrays itself in that sort of way, I expect that from it. In line with that, I was not disappointed with how Ippo Yamada, the composer of Azure Striker Gunvolt, handles this definition. Not only does this style fit in incredibly well, awesome J-Pop tracks are also added to the mix. Hearing fast-paced electronic mixes replaced by these lyrical tracks in certain moments of gameplay is an awesome feeling. These tracks are even great on their own, so that’s a plus.
7) Mario Kart 8
You know a soundtrack is going to be good when you hear an awesome title screen song. Mario Kart 8 has one of the best and I’ll still catch myself listening to it sometimes when I start it up. The live-recorded soundtrack with the team behind Super Mario Galaxy makes a huge difference in this case. The inclusion of more wind instruments like trumpets and saxophones seems like it would be a weird sound for a kart racer, but Mario Kart 8 pulls it off phenomenally. The music combined with the new anti-gravity mechanics makes each track unique and memorable. The tracks could get old, but for now, the music is keeping the game fresh in my mind when I play.
6) Super Smash Bros. For 3DS
True. The Super Smash Bros. series has always had remixed versions of music from other games, so it technically doesn’t have a completely original soundtrack. To give it credit, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS has a pretty beefy list of over 80 tracks, as well as some of the best remixes I’ve ever heard in a video game. Taking tracks from so many different genres of music and different types of games, remixing them and combining them all together into a cohesive soundtrack is outright amazing. Because of that, I love this soundtrack and it’s earned its place in my list.
5) Bravely Default
This game marks a return to formula, bringing a nice change of pace from the modern Final Fantasy series. While Bravely Default is inspired by classic JRPGs, its music is not as classic, and that’s a good thing in this case. Japanese composer Revo from Sound Horizon and Linked Horizon (known for tracks like the title theme for the anime series Attack on Titan) brings a distinct sound to Bravely Default. This is especially true when it comes to the battle music. Even something as simple as having special music cues when you activate Special Moves adds a nice touch. As is the case with most JRPGs, the music can get repetitive rather quickly, but Bravely Default’s? Never gets old.
4) Xenoblade Chronicles
So, this is a super technicality for this list, but after hearing the news that a port of Xenoblade Chronicles is coming to the New 3DS and how many people liked the soundtrack, I finally gave it a listen. It’s not my favorite soundtrack of 2014, but it is hands-down one of my all-time favorite soundtracks ever. It has the style and composition you may expect with the added flair of electronic and rock tones. You also know it’s a good soundtrack when its standard battle music trumps boss music in other JRPGS. It’s the kind of soundtrack that never seems to get old, combining awesome music with great variety. This is one of two soundtracks on this list that I had a hard time deciding which songs to recommend since they all are so good. Regardless, out of all the soundtracks on this list, this one is probably one of the easiest to recommend to most people.
Sound design goes a long way in games. Sure, the music can be good, but it can fall flat if it doesn’t match the tone of the game. Even though it isn’t my favorite soundtrack on this list, if someone asked me what soundtrack best shows how sound design makes the experience, I’d direct them to Transistor’s. After hearing his work on SuperGiant’s previous game Bastion, Darren Korb is one of my favorite western game composers and I was looking forward to what he brought to Transistor. I was not disappointed, as the music matched the sci-fi/noir tone of the game extremely well. Whether you pick up the soundtrack or just chill out in the Sandbox, this music is a good time.
2) Hyrule Warriors
A late contender, but no less deserving of its placement. Hyrule Warriors has its share of remixed tracks, but still feels fresh and new considering that I don’t have much affinity for the music of most Zelda games beyond Wind Waker. Besides that, the music is still good enough to stand out on its own and gets you pumped to play with its power rock style. While not as tricky as Xenoblade Chronicles, I still had a hard time narrowing down which tracks to pick as my recommendations. Really, almost every single track is that good. That said, there is one more game that tops the list and it narrowly beats Hyrule Warriors.
1) Shovel Knight
Suprise! Among all of 2014’s games, Shovel Knight has my favorite original soundtrack. Out of all the games on this list that capture what I love about video game music, Shovel Knight does it the best. While music composed in NES-style isn’t new, the talent of composers Jake Kaufman and Manami Matsumae makes the music stand out on its own without aping genre classics. I keep listening to it again and again this far after release, and it still sounds just as amazing as when I first heard it. Not only does the music fit the gameplay perfectly, it also sounds great to listen to on its own. Most of the games on this list do this well, but Shovel Knight does it in spades.
Honorable Mention – Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
I really love this soundtrack, but I felt it wouldn’t be right to put it in this list officially. Why? As it turns out, the composer of this soundtrack happens to be Jake Kaufman as well. Incidentally, it’d be a little unfair to have two entries from one artist. However, I’d still like to recommend it for its wonderful tone and cohesive track design. Since finding YouTube links this soon after release is proving rather difficult, I’ll link you to Jake Kaufman’s BandCamp page instead to take a listen.
Recommended Tracks: File Select, Back to the Roots, Scorching Dunes, Darkest Night
So, what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Either way, lists like these are great for discussion. I just hope that showing off this music can help you expand your horizons a bit and check out some awesome artists. Of course, feel free to share your favorites in the comments below.