Erica June Lahaie is an illustrator and game artist based out of the frozen wastes of Canada. She’s done art for games like The Shrouded Isle and Children of Zodiarcs, the occasional art on videogames.com, but is mostly on Twitter occasionally posting artwork between music tweets, rampant shitposting, and fawning over Camilla. You can support her on Patreon for cool art, purchase prints of that cool art, or follow her on Twitter @aurahack if you want to subject yourself to that.
Hi, friends! I keep a list throughout the year to track what releases I’ve played, poking at it every so often to keep an on-the-fly running of what my Game of the Year is. That lists exists and it’s full of great games but it’s nothing you won’t have read elsewhere in terms of games featured. Instead of having another list tell you that NieR:Automata is the best game this year, I’m gonna do something I’m a bit more invested in: listing my favorite game soundtracks this year.
Music plays an important part in my life, as something to listen to when working and to share with friends. I’ve had a lot of fun talking about some of my yearly favorite albums on my personal blog here and I’m excited for the opportunity to do it this time about all the games I’ve played!
10. Tekken 7
Tekken 7 whips in a way that most soundtracks--in any form of media--just don’t. It’s a cacophony of metal, hard trance, neurofunk, electro, rock, and god knows how many other genres and sub-genres that, at its most engaged and electric, is juST CONSTANTLY YELLING MUSIC AT YOU.
IT’S SO LOUD. IT’S SO MUCH. It’s perfect for Tekken 7.
It is available for purchase on CDJapan.
Numerous are the list of things that Assassin’s Creed Origins surprised me with this year, and the soundtrack was absolutely one of them. Sarah Schachner’s (Assassin’s Creed Unity, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare) score for Origins is surprisingly energetic and punchy in a way that I was just not at all expecting. It’s an eclectic mix of styles that, on paper, shouldn’t fit especially well together but not only has Schachner managed that with aplomb, she’s also made a soundtrack so varied and enjoyable that it’s a great listen outside of the game itself--a rarity for me when it comes to big-budget scores.
It is available for streaming on Spotify.
There is no game this year I wish I had more time for than Absolver, and I am fortunate its soundtrack scratched that itch, at least a little bit. Austin Wintory (Journey, The Banner Saga) composed a score that befitting the game’s gorgeous, abstract look. An unstructured mix of atmospheric and aggressive, the Absolver OST is as wonderful working music as it is an important complement to a unique and strange game.
7. Persona 5
Though Persona 5 was ultimately a game that left me disappointed and wanting, I can’t say its soundtrack had anything to do with that. The sounds of Shoji Meguro’s acid jazz are alive and well in Persona 5. The later third of P5 has some super catchy tunes, with vocalist Lyn Inaizumi delivering her best performances in the series yet, and the quieter songs in the soundtrack continue to be good mood music that I go back to often. It’s not a huge leap stylistically from P4 but it’s damn refined and, to me, the best thing about Persona 5.
The… Mummy? Surprise! The Mummy Demastered isn’t just a cool little game by WayForward. Thanks to synthwave musician and composer Monomer, it’s also a great soundtrack. In a year absolutely rife with synthwave releases, The Mummy Demastered’s OST manages to stand out as atmosphere-heavy, punchy, and fun. Unlike any other score on this list, The Mummy Demastered is more than a great soundtrack, it’s a great album, something I haven’t felt since Shatter’s OST back in 2009.
There aren’t many soundtracks in games, even those who share a direct license or inspiration, that really sound Anime, but Gravity Rush 2 is that and then some. Its particular style of whimsy, that of carelessly wild strings and joyful piano, is unlike anything else this year. Kohei Tanaka (Sakura Taisen, Gunbuster) has an absolutely staggering discography, having been around since the early '80s, and it’s inspiring to see a composer still capable of creating something breathtakingly unique and enthusiastic so far into their careers. Gravity Rush 2 and its OST will likely go overlooked by many from having released so early in the year but I hope that’s not the case.
It is available for purchase on CDJapan.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for overlooking Final Fantasy XIV or its expansions, as it tends to escape the general conscious of most, but XIV has always had an exceptional soundtrack, with Stormblood being no different this year. Masayoshi Soken’s penchant for the dramatic and energetic shines in the latest expansion like it did in both A Realm Reborn and Heavensward. Though Final Fantasy XIV surfaces as light-hearted, its true tone is that of tragedy and Stormblood’s soundtrack superbly executes on delivering both.
The soundtrack has not currently seen a physical digital release but will likely do so early next year, available through Square Enix’s online shop.
3. Destiny 2
This year has been no slouch for “this AAA game’s soundtrack is better than it has any right to be” and Destiny 2 is easily the front-runner. Even if a small army worked on its score, Michael Salvatori, Skye Lewin, C. Paul Johnson, Rotem Moav, and Pieter Schlosser have composed one of the most structurally, stylistically, and emotionally varied soundtracks of this year--generation, even. The strength of Destiny 2’s OST almost comes in a form of whiplash; an ability to fluidly go from emotionally weighted ambiance to the sounds of blaring horns, aggressive percussion, and distressing glitching and noise. To accomplish all this while establishing some truly memorable tracks like “Journey”, “The Hunted”, and “Ikora” is no simple feat and absolutely worth championing.
I need to keep these brief, so I will, but know that I could write an entire article about RUINER. Its score isn’t just integral to the game as mood setting, it’s the reason the game exists in a far broader sense.
RUINER is the video game manifestation of Synthwave, a subgenre of music that took the sounds of Vangelis and John Carpenter and paired them with the visual themes of cyberpunk. Crafted and honed by the likes of Danger, Perturbator, and Kavinsky, synthwave evolved into a dark and industrial electronic future that is reliant on abstract and aggressive imagery. It’s the playground of visual artists and one of the most important influences of my artistic life.
The score to RUINER is a licensed soundtrack largely formed with the work of Zamilska, a Polish musician who’s sounds are as haunting as they are captivating. Her work (As well as that of Memotone, Sidewalks and Skeletons, and Antigone & François X) give life and power to RUINER’s action. It’s a soundtrack curated for a game built around it and its culture, an absolutely perfect melding of inspiration and execution. I not only encourage you to seek out its music but to play RUINER and experience an actual music genre incarnate for yourself.
The soundtrack to the original Nier is, perhaps like the game itself, something that by all accounts shouldn’t exist. It’s so bizarrely arranged and composed, so eccentrically structured, and so reliant on atypical instrumentation that it’s wild it was ever given a budget.
NieR:Automata’s score, while perhaps slightly more traditional with its choice of orchestration, is every idea Keiichi Okabe introduced in Nier refined and matured. The soundtrack is a character unto its own, an element of the world that is as dynamic, frightened, angry, terrified, and vulnerable as the characters that inhabit it. Its percussion is violent and the language indecipherable but emotionally charged. Every part of the world is characterized by its respective melody, the quiet parts of the game and score providing catharsis to an adventure that incessantly ratchets up the strain on your, and the characters’, emotions.
The score still features, alongside some new talent, the masterful Emi Evans’ vocals, with some of Nier’s original songs making their return as set-pieces that go far beyond a simple rearrangement. Though those songs carry emotional weight like precious little else is capable of in video games, it absolutely doesn’t take away from what Automata creates on its own.
Through distressing emotions, an unflinching examination on the vulnerabilities that make us human, that make us weak and terrified, the things that make us cling to the slightest semblance of hope and love, of attention and affection, to fear every moment of loss and pain, that drives our desire to simply understand why emotions can affect us so deeply, NieR:Automata is a window into my own personal issues that I was terrified of gazing at. An abstraction of my strongest worries and fear, presented through characters that personified depression and anger, the game hit hard. Like, really hard.
A character unto itself, NieR:Automata’s soundtrack takes those emotions and embellishes them into the most unique, captivating, masterfully written, composed, and arranged soundtrack this year. With only but a small percentage of its language comprehensible, it adeptly communicates so much about what its accompanying game tries to say. An abstraction of human emotion. Even if its words seem meaningless, it's like it’s carrying the weight of the world.