My Favorite Video Game Music of 2018

Say what you will about the games themselves, but I think 2018 has been a genuinely incredible year for video game music. It’s great to see developers experiment with all sorts of fresh styles, and the form is becoming so much more diverse and artful than I could have ever imagined. And it’s just high quality stuff across the board, in ways that elevate and empower the games we play. Even within my own tastes, I find myself looking at this list and marveling at the diversity and quality of sounds on display. Music is making video games better no matter your preferences.

So as a fan of video game music, I’d like to honor the medium by sharing my 10 favorite soundtracks among games I played from 2018. It’s one of my favorite personal traditions every year, and 2018 has plenty of great music to go around. I narrowed it down to 10 games, and picked a representative song from each of them. They are ordered by original US release date, not by preference. I hope you enjoy listening, and please share some of your own favorites too!

Also, a quick shout out to Octopath Traveler, which by all accounts has great music from what I’ve heard. I simply have not played it, and I only include games I’ve played. Sorry!

Celeste

Featured Track: Confronting Myself (by Lena Raine)

One of the reasons Celeste is such a wonderful game is that it’s able to express its themes on multiple fronts, music included. As your emotions shift up and down, so too does the soundtrack, which produces tension, joy, relief, frustration, sadness, panic, elation, acceptance, and more. This game was a remarkable journey, and its music made its important moments land that much harder.

Into the Breach

Featured Track: Old War Machines (by Ben Prunty)

I spent a lot of time (too much?) playing Into the Breach this year, and I’m still not tired of this soundtrack. In true Ben Prunty fashion, it combines mystery, whimsy, action, and determination into a magical cocktail that pulls me right in every time. It fits the tone of the game so well, and kind of became the soundtrack of my year. That’s only partially because Into the Breach became my year. The rest is because Ben Prunty makes great music.

God of War

Featured Track: God of War (by Bear McCreary)

The original God of War games had awesome, epic soundtracks, and this soft reboot does too. But what I appreciate about it most is how it’s different. It retains the bombast that defined those games, but shifts the style perfectly from Greek to Norse themed. It also has more quiet, moody sections that impart gravity on the game’s more serious moments. It’s the subtle things that work best here.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

Featured Track: Defiler of Taboos (by Michiru Yamane)

Perhaps nowhere is it easier to see the Castlevania in Bloodstained’s veins than in its soundtrack. Castlevania has some of the most iconic and awesome music in video game history, and for my money, Bloodstained matches it note for note. These are some rocking tunes with catchy melodies that I’m nowhere near tired of listening to. Like, seriously. Listen to this shit.

The Banner Saga 3

Featured Track: Only We Few Remember It Now (by Austin Wintory)

Each chapter of The Banner Saga has had incredible music, and the third and final entry is as good as any of them. While there’s a lot of overlap with the previous games’ scores, this one ratchets up the tension and drama to match the increased level of desperation of the game’s events. And in the end, even a little acceptance. Plus, it’s still just great music.

Dead Cells

Featured Track: ClockTower (by Yoann Laulan)

There is a focus and intensity to a good run in Dead Cells that is expertly captured in its soundtrack. Better yet, the instrumentation has an exotic feel to it that matches each of the game’s varied, exotic levels. It knows when to cool down between levels, and ramp up for boss fights too, making this a well-rounded soundtrack with some great songs.

The Messenger

Featured Track: Hills of Destiny (by Rainbowdragoneyes)

The Messenger pays homage to gaming’s evolution through the 8 and 16-bit eras in many ways, but to me the music stands out more than anything else. It has some incredibly catchy and awesome tunes in both 8 and 16-bit styles that capture what made those eras great. And then the way it transitions between them really elevates it to something special. It’s rad.

Return of the Obra Dinn

Featured Track: Main Theme (by Lucas Pope)

Lucas Pope seems to enjoy life off the beaten path, his music included. Less a full musical score than masterfully timed instrumentation, Return of the Obra Dinn really captures the feel of its mystery through it’s ominous and dissonant strings, horns, and drums. Some of these riffs are downright chilling, perfectly capturing the dread of the Obra Dinn’s grizzly fate. I love it.

Tetris Effect

Featured Track: Always Been, But Never Dreamed (by Hydelic)

I never knew I could have an emotional reaction to playing Tetris, but that’s exactly what this soundtrack did for me. Not only is it a lengthy list of incredible songs that cover a wide variety of musical styles, but the way it all reacts to your every move makes the music an integral part of your play. It’s kind of magical, and ranks among the most impactful musical experiences I’ve ever had in a game.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Featured Track: Bloody Tears/Monster Dance (by Michiko Naruke)

Super Smash Bros. has always done a wonderful job at taking large swaths of gaming’s most iconic songs, and adapting them to the rambunctious nature of Smash. And while most of Ultimate’s 800+ songs (!) are recycled from previous Smash games, there are just enough new bangers to stand out. This series remains the biggest celebration of video game music out there.

Bonus - Burnout Paradise Remastered

Featured Track: Girlfriend (by Avril Lavigne)

HEY HEY YOU YOU I DON’T LIKE YOUR GIRLFRIEND

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