My Favorite Video Game Music of 2021
By majormitch 6 Comments
It’s time yet again for one of my favorite annual traditions: a look back at my favorite video game music of the year. And 2021 was another year full of varied, excellent, and just plain kick-ass video game music, including the 10 scrumptious soundtracks I’ve chosen to highlight below. Music is a huge part of what makes video games special to me, and each of these games were made much better by the sweet tunes that accompanied them; a fact that brings me endless joy within this medium. Taking this look back is my way of showing that appreciation.
The usual disclaimers: I only considered soundtracks from games I actually played, I picked a single representative song from each soundtrack to feature (where possible), and these games are ordered by their original US release date; not by preference. Thanks for reading and listening, and have a wonderful day!
Featured Track: Cosmic Temperance (by blinch)
I admittedly only played through the first act of Loop Hero, but its aesthetic was immediately striking, and that includes its soundtrack. I don’t know precisely how to describe it, but it has a sound that’s as broken and as mysterious as the game’s world itself, which contributes greatly to the mood. And while its music is, appropriately, slow and plodding during the normal loop gameplay, its boss themes slap incredibly hard.
Astalon: Tears of the Earth
Featured Track: All I could find was this soundtrack trailer (by Matt Kap)
Every year seems to have at least one totally rad, throwback 8-bit style soundtrack, and this year Astalon: Tears of the Earth’s score stood out to me. It’s upbeat and jaunty in the ways I remember many of my favorite NES-era soundtracks for, but also feels just modern and distinct enough to stand out from this year’s pack. I happily hummed and nodded my head along to these tunes every time I played Astalon. It rocks.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale
Featured Track: Supper Woods (by Lena Raine)
It was difficult to pick a single featured track here, as Chicory’s lengthy soundtrack has so much variety. And what’s magical about it is that every song is not only wonderful on its own, but they all match their moment perfectly. From the big band vibes of the big city, adventurous music through the woods, peaceful melodies by the river, the introspective music of the game’s quiet moments, determined and heroic themes of scaling the mountain, and even some intense boss battle themes; Chicory’s soundtrack captures all the ups and downs of its touching and personal narrative, yet pulls it all together to form a beautifully powerful and cohesive vision.
Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights
Featured Track: North (by Mili)
Ender Lilies’ soundtrack is interesting because it showcases neither the adventurous heroism nor the moody ambiance that the genre typically ventures towards. Instead, Ender Lilies’ music is consistently full of sorrow, while also conveying a quiet but strong sense of determination. For a tale about trying to, against all odds, save a kingdom that is already dead, it’s both an incredibly fitting and also a very high quality score.
Featured Track: Inner Furnace (by David Fenn)
Death’s Door contains some really fantastic music moments and touches: such as when, in the inner furnace, the music ramps up in intensity and the pistons that you have to dodge start clanking in rhythm with said music. There’s simultaneously a drive and a whimsy to Death’s Door’s soundtrack that regularly stands out, which matches the tone of the game perfectly. It can be somber, adventurous, or downright bombastic, but it’s always great music that feels very intentional for its moment.
Axiom Verge 2
Featured Track: Monsoon (by Thomas Happ and Mayssa Karaa)
The first Axiom Verge was a great Metroid-inspired throwback that had an equally great Metroid-inspired soundtrack… until it didn’t. Axiom Verge was arguably at its best when it subverted expectations, and what I love about Axiom Verge 2’s soundtrack is that it leans even harder into the series’ weirder tendencies. It’s a varied soundtrack that gets deliciously weird at times, yet it also captures the otherworldly nature of the game’s setting extremely well. And then it ALSO mirrors the game’s narrative themes in its tone and instrumentation, which goes the extra mile in delivering an impressively holistic creative work.
Featured Track: Glider (by Japanese Breakfast)
The excellent vocal tracks from Japanese Breakfast get top billing on Sable’s soundtrack, and the rest of the soundtrack is nearly as strong. One thing I really appreciate is how personal and representative the soundtrack feels. Every area of the game has a distinct sound that fully captures the vibe of said area, which includes both the empty, open areas as well as the various settlements scattered among them. It lends the game an honest quality, which makes its most touching moments feel earned.
Featured Track: Scorching Steelworks (by Fernanda Dias)
Unsighted’s soundtrack has a really fun and varied use of instrumentation, which also lends it a really distinct sound; especially compared to similar types of games; it’s great to see this kind of experimentation even within established genres. One example: in its Zelda-like dungeons, Unsighted often leans into a jazzy, downtempo style, which it pulls off surprisingly well and I got really into. At other times it’s very piano heavy, sometimes very rock, but no matter where it goes, Unsighted’s soundtrack is always a treat.
Featured Track: Artaria Theme 2 (by Soshi Abe and Sayako Doi
By Metroid standards, Dread is not one of the stronger soundtracks in the series; and many of its best songs are rearranged versions of the established classics at that. Yet a subpar Metroid soundtrack still compares well among the general landscape, and Metroid Dread’s score still hits more than it misses. I most appreciate when its original songs stand out more than background noise, and there are a handful of really solid new tracks that generate atmosphere in the way Metroid music often has.
Featured Track: Own Two Feet (by Jeff van Dyck)
Unpacking’s soundtrack does an absolutely wonderful job at capturing the feeling of moving; even more impressively, it captures how moving feels different at different stages of life. In childhood, moving is bright-eyed and curious. In young adulthood, moving is exciting and hopeful. After a breakup, moving feels like a reset button. And at some point, if we’re lucky, moving feels like being at peace with life. Unpacking’s soundtrack nails all of these emotional beats throughout the journey of life, and is such a special example of how a game’s score can elevate the experience.