I’m a person who likes to listen to music when I read and write (two things I do a lot). A lot of videogame music is great for this. Videogame music is made with the direct purpose of being listened to while completing another task. But there are also plenty of game soundtracks that stands on their own, including the ones for the ten games below. I am not a music critic, so don’t expect great music analysis from me. I just wanted to share some great soundtracks and why I think they are great.
10. Owlboy –Jonathan Geer
Owlboy was a late addition to this list, and as such it’s a soundtrack that I have not listened to a lot. In fact, I’ve only listened to it once. However, it filled me with so much joy and wonder that I needed to make room for it on this list. I can’t speak for the game as I have yet to play it, but the soundtrack does a great job of evoking the Super Nintendo era of videogame music while also feeling modern. At its best moments it weirdly reminded me of soundtracks from games like Final Fantasy VI, and that’s no small compliment. This soundtrack has greatly increased my desire to play this game.
9. Civilization VI – Geoff Knorr, Ronald Rizzo, Phil Boucher, Christopher Tin
The soundtrack to Civilization VI is one of the most impressive of the year. First of all, Christopher Tin’s theme song is obviously fantastic. It does a great job of capturing the sense of wonder that the series is known for. The in-game music is also great, with wonderful renditions of classic tunes. But what makes this soundtrack stand out the most is the way that the music changes as a game goes on. What starts as a few notes on a banjo in the ancient era gets expanded to an orchestral composition throughout the game while retaining that original melody.
8. Hyper Light Drifter – Disasterpiece
The Hyper Light Drifter soundtrack’s biggest flaw is that it is not the Fez soundtrack. This is not the most memorable work that Disasterpiece has done for a videogame, and I think this caused a fair amount of people to be disappointed in this soundtrack. However, I think it’s an excellent soundtrack on its own merits. Moody and atmospheric, it fits the style of its game perfectly. It is not the most exciting thing on its own, but soundtracks at their core are supposed to be punctuating background noise. In this aspect, Disasterpiece has succeeded.
7. Abzu – Austin Wintory
Abzu‘s soundtrack felt like a bit of a known quantity when it released this year. Since Journey came out in 2012, Austin Wintory has become one of the most respected composers working in videogames. His recent discography includes AAA titles like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and indie darlings like The Banner Saga. The Banner Saga 2 also launched this year with a great soundtrack, but I think Abzu takes the award for ‘Best Austin Wintory Soundtrack of 2016’. Abzu‘s soundtrack is, from top to bottom, the best work Wintory has done. Every track is memorable, and the music does a great job of contributing to the underwater aesthetic of the game. For a game that is mostly an audio-visual experience, the music of Abzu holds up its end of the bargain.
6. DOOM – Mick Gordon
Mick Gordon’s DOOM soundtrack might be the soundtrack on this list most befitting the game it came from. The intense metal conveys a love of both brutal murder and demons. The combat loop in DOOM is great on its own, but bfg Division is a necessary compliment to it. It’s the final push you need to work your way through a battle. DOOM unlocks something primal inside the player, and the soundtrack helps bring that out. It made me want to Rip, and it also made me want to Tear
5. No Man’s Sky – 65daysofstatic
No Man’s Sky is a game with promise that falters in a lot of ways. Hello Games talked a lot about wanting to capture a science fiction atmosphere in the style of Isaac Asimov. And while the game has its moments, it ultimately fails in this regard. However, the synth-fueled soundtrack nails that feel. When I think fondly about No Man’s Sky, I think of particular moments of discovery that I had when playing it. The soundtrack was a big part of all those moments.
4. Furi – Carpenter Brut, Waveshaper, The Toxic Avenger, Lorn, Danger, Kn1ght, Scattle
Furi wins the ‘Hotline Miami Spirit Award’; a soundtrack made up of music from a collection of known electronic artists, tied to a game with a lot of visual flare and intense gameplay. However, Furi actually outdoes Hotline Miami in one regard; all of the music in Furi is original. As opposed to licensing pre-existing music, The Game Bakers were able to get Carpenter Brut, Waveshaper, and the rest to compose new music for their game. The results range from super intense battle music to trippy dream-like tunes that play when you’re walking around. Furi is a great game in general, but the music elevates it even more.
3. VA-11 HALL-A – Garoad
VA-11 HALL-A aesthetic can roughly be described as ‘anime Blade Runner’. That’s how it was first described to me, and I could immediately picture that in my head. However, I also had a distinct idea of how that would sound. Turns out, I was exactly right. The VA-11 HALL-A soundtrack does a great job of setting up that world in both its surface level grandness and the more seedy underbelly that a bartender would get to see. It does this while also adding on a bit of an anime flair that distinguishes it but doesn’t change that mood. It’s a soundtrack that does everything its supposed to.
2. Bound – Heinali
Bound is a game that stars a ballet dancer, so it kind of needed to have great music. Luckily it does. Heinali’s mellow score is incredibly soothing, and the way the main character moves to it is part of what makes Bound a great game. I personally like to listen to videogame music a lot when I read and write, and the Bound soundtrack has been my go to since the game launched in August.
1. Samorost 3 – Floex
It’s strange that my number one soundtrack is from a game I have yet to play, but almost all of my interest in Samorost 3 stems from listening to this soundtrack. It starts as a really nice atmospheric score with some interesting tunes and instrumentation, but it eventually gets crazy. There are songs where you hear these creatures making noises over top of the music, singing in whatever their weird language is. It’s equal parts disturbing and adorable, and it makes an otherwise great soundtrack my ‘Soundtrack of the Year’.