I’m not one to normally pay close attention to game music, viewing it more as an additive experience that highlights emotional moments or helps pump up action sequences. But this was a particularly great year for video game music, with several soundtracks being ones I listened to outside of the game. But this isn’t just “Best Original Soundtrack.” As with other categories, this is about executing on a vision, and how well the music fits the world and gameplay.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
The music in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just catchy as hell, and I found myself often tapping my foot or bobbing my head while racing.
Nier: Automata’s music reminds me quite a bit of the music from Final Fantasy XIII, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s the best thing about this game.
Night in the Woods
Most of the music in Night in the Woods is fairly simple, but similar to the visual design, it helps transport you to Possum Springs. The Rock Band style songs are also catchy.
Yooka-Laylee’s music really transports me back to the days of the mascot platformer. I’d call it late 1990s retro, which I can’t believe is a thing I just typed.
5. Life is Strange: Before the Storm
On its own, the music in Life is Strange: Before the Storm is merely average indie punk rock. But similar to how comparable music was used in Gone Home, the tracks in Before the Storm help transport you to the world of the game and establish the characters of Chloe and Rachel. Music means a lot to them and helps them express things they otherwise couldn’t. For as “hipster rebel slacker” as the lyrics and vibe can be, it absolutely works to the game’s benefit.
4. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
Final Fantasy music is often a highlight of the games, and Final Fantasy XII’s is among the best. There are so many memorable tracks, including the Rabanastre theme, Salikawood music, and the main theme. Even better, all of the original tracks were re-recorded for The Zodiac Age. With the 2x and 4x gameplay speed boosts, it’s easier than ever to relax, grind away, and listen to the music in the background.
3. Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey has some of the weirdest music I’ve ever heard in a Mario game, so it deserves special mention just for that. There’s more than one track that has actual vocals throughout, and — what’s even more surprising — those tracks totally work. The game’s aesthetic is all over the place, so it only makes sense for the music to match. Going between 3D and 2D levels also changes the songs from modern to more chiptune style, which is a nice touch.
The emotional journey of Rime is quite vast, and frankly a bit exhausting. But those emotional moments would not work if it wasn’t for the help of the music, which reminds me quite a bit of Journey’s soundtrack. It’s very well-composed orchestral music that you can tell was created by someone that knows how to use music to elicit emotion. And in a game where there’s no true dialogue and only bits and pieces of an overt narrative, the storytelling relies even more heavily on the scoring. Rime’s music elevates every moment of this emotional story.
Pyre’s music is the reason I decided to create this category, as I normally wouldn’t pay such close attention to a video game soundtrack. But the music in Pyre is so amazingly varied and well thought out that it’s worth a listen even when you aren’t playing the game. It doesn’t have all that many tacks that I’d consider “rocking,” which would normally make for good out-of-game listening, but the guitars and drums that are present help drive the music. Unsurprisingly, the tracks with vocals are also amazing and fit in line with previous Supergiant Games efforts.
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