Another year on the calendar means another healthy selection of soundtracks that moved me to hype, moved me to tears, or at least got my head moving back and forth. Here's my list of my favorite game music from 2015, which includes an indie darling, two AAA action titles, a Japanese import, and one game that doesn't exist in a playable form anywhere yet. All of these games have soundtracks worth buying, or at least worth streaming over and over on your phone while you're trying to write an interesting intro blurb for Music of the Year.
Toby Fox, the architect of all things Undertale — from the code to the story to the sounds — put an enormous amount of thought and care into Undertale's soundtrack. Mixing directly recorded piano and guitar audio with a variety of sample libraries, Undertale's music creates specific moods beautifully while also seeming to be aware that it's a video game soundtrack and couldn't be produced for any other medium. Don't dismiss Undertale as chiptune homage music; it's an incredible soundtrack that's enhanced by in-game context, and I'll continue to listen to it for a long, long time.
Have you heard...
Okami Henkyokushuu Vol.2 Jazz
Amaterasu and Issun walk into a bar...and enjoy some sweet jazz, courtesy of Zac Zinger.
Tokyo Xanadu came out in Japan in September of 2015, and it's right at the top of my wishlist for release in English-speaking territories. I couldn't resist buying Tokyo Xanadu's soundtrack last fall because, well, it's so damn cool. A Nihon Falcom executive wrote a memo to Sound Team JDK and told them "give us your take on Persona 3." The result is delightful. There are cheery school tunes, smooth dungeon music, and intense boss fights that evoke recent Persona music, sure, but also check all the boxes in a good Falcom soundtrack. As a big fan of both Falcom and Persona music, Tokyo Xanadu's soundtrack is right in my wheelhouse.
Bloodborne music won't be entering my gym playlist anytime soon. Like the best audio in a horror game, Bloodborne's soundtrack uses ominous chords and dissonance to create feelings of discomfort and dread. The boss fight music does this especially well, usually paying off into powerful, slightly more upbeat orchestral music that fits Bloodborne's Gothic aesthetic and is a pretty cool listen, if you can afford to focus on something other than not getting brutally murdered by plague-infested monsters. And if you don't mind giving yourself nightmares for a few weeks. Without this soundtrack, Yharnam wouldn't have been quite as beautifully twisted a setting.
Have you heard...
Through Time and Space: Chrono Piano Album
Relax to Laura Intravia's soothing piano arrangements of Chrono Classics.
In February of 2015, fans got the first extended trailer of Persona 5 gameplay, and in RPG circles it broke the internet. Part of why that trailer was so awesome was its soundtrack, an instrumental version of the song in Persona 5's opening video. It's a jazzy, confident tune with infectious bass and electric piano that I've listened to dozens of times in 2015. The electric guitar carrying the melody is so good that I'm slightly bummed that it'll be replaced by a vocalist in the finished product. I would've been excited for Persona 5's soundtrack even if this trailer never dropped, but this song raised my personal hype level to critical mass.
I've only played one Assassin's Creed game at length, 2009's Assassin's Creed II. It was pretty good, but it didn't make me thirsty for more Assassin's Creed in my life. So after passing on the series for six years, I'm keenly interested in trying Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, and it's all Austin Wintory's fault. Using a small chamber orchestra, Wintory has created some of the most compelling parts for strings in any video game soundtrack I've ever heard. Murdering noblemen and dodging guards in Victorian London to this music sounds like a pretty good time. The cheeky tavern songs are icing on the bloodstained cake.