Media saturation is a very real problem for music critics who try to achieve both breadth and depth from year to year. When I look at the past year's release calendar, I'm loathe to admit this truth: I've probably listened to 10%, no more than 20%, of the relevant RPG OSTs and arranged albums of 2015. That being said, I did try to curate my own listening experience to that music which I suspected would be of the highest quality. Based on those results, I give you the following lists.
Kenji Ito teamed up with a handful of impressive arrangers to dish out a memorable soundtrack for a game that, as far as we know, is totally forgettable (I can't say one way or the other, since Square Enix is unlikely to ever localize it). In any case, this soundtrack is a strong return to form for Ito, akin to much of the Romancing SaGa trilogy, but with access to the latest and greatest in audio engineering. This is one you do not want to miss.
Have you heard...
Xenoblade Chronicles X OST
"We're stuck on a different planet"...with some epic music from Hiroyuki Sawano.
Anyone who picked up XSEED's physical "Everafter Edition" of Corpse Party: Blood Drive for PS Vita got a stunning artbook and this two disc set of music. It contains near-complete OSTs for all three games in the original Corpse Party trilogy. Mao Hamamoto has a knack for holding onto his best original themes across titles while mixing in powerful new tracks with each successor. Also, the vocal tracks. There are many of them, and they are all amazing.
Chris Schlarb's soundtrack for the indie point and click clown-venture of the century is a studio-recorded acoustic masterpiece. The contrast of MS Paint graphics with very real saxophone, piano, guitar, and drums (brush sticks, hallelujah!) can be jarring at first; after a full playthrough, I can safely say that project lead Jay Tholen picked the right man for the job. This is a beautiful soundtrack that deserves recognition.
Check out Dropsy on Chris Schlarb's Bandcamp page!
I've been waiting 15 years for a Chrono Cross arrange album. This isn't what I wanted. However, once I learned to accept what it is — namely, a concept album about Schala and Kidd that spans both games — I began to fall in love. The album's one weakness for me was the lack of a "Star-Stealing Girl" arrangement. Then I found out that beautiful melody was nestled comfortably in the instrumental break of track 4, "Schala's Theme." Now I have no reason to complain, and I listen to this album regularly. I implore you to ignore the naysayers; To Far Away Times is a must-have for Chrono fans.
This one came out of left field. When the Mana box set was released forever ago, a leaflet in the box advertised one arrange album per major composer in the series (Ito, Kikuta, Shimomura). Ito and Kikuta did theirs pretty quickly, but I assumed Shimomura's was dropped thanks to all the coverage Legend of Mana got on drammatica and memória! Boy, was I wrong!
Promise features no arrangements by Shimomura herself. The individuals who did the arrangements, and the studio session musicians handpicked to perform them, gave a five-star effort. This is the kind of jazz arrange album that makes people who hate jazz go "well, I guess I could enjoy this." It blurs boundaries and surpasses expectations at every turn. I have a confession: I've never really liked the song "Hometown Domina," but the version found on this album made me like it. Also, the new recording of the opening/ending vocal theme is glorious. Don't miss this one.
Well, I may as well round out my favorite arrange albums with more Square Enix love, right? Seriously though, this one deserves special attention. Neal reviewed it earlier this year, and I agree with all his praise...and then some. Of the three SaGa Battle Arrange albums, this most recent one has to pull at straws to find more battle themes. It even strays from the path a bit when arranging "Vanguard Liftoff!," which is a flight theme, not a battle theme. In any case, though, the general band lineup of "Falcom JDK Band meets Kenji Ito and friends" stays in place, so the performances are airtight. And for SaGa Frontier fans who have loathed the game's lack of musical arrangement in the past, getting "Battle 4," "Red's Last Battle," and "Emilia's Last Battle" is thoroughly satisfying. Absolute perfection.
Also See Our Review:
Re:Birth II -Ren- / SaGa Battle Arrange Review
Have you heard...
Valdis Story: Abyssal City - Dark Side of the Abyss
Parrish the thought of not checking this soundtrack out!
You know what's better than three arranged albums from Square Enix? Adding a fourth for a Square Enix game, properly licensed, but published by a smaller team! Scarlet Moon Records published two Prescription for Sleep albums this year: Volume II, and Lullabies of Mana. The latter is an entire album dedicated to music from Secret of Mana. The P4S style is Norihiko Hibino on saxophone and AYAKI on piano, keeping a cool tempo and breathing new life into classic VGM. Davi has the full review of this album. It was another one of my favorites. I needed you to know.
Also See Our Review:
Prescription for Sleep: Lullabies of Mana Review
This is another "out of left field" release. SuperSweep worked out a deal with the rights-holders to the first three titles in the Langrisser series (the only ones technically made under Masaya) and pumped out a massive six-disc box set. Only one of the six discs is a straight reprint of a previous release; the other five include previously-unreleased music, and different versions of said music (Genesis vs SNES vs PlayStation), primarily for Langrisser II / Der Langrisser. This set snuck right into the tail end of 2015, with a retail release date of December 15. Nearly half of all the music here is written by Noriyuki Iwadare, much of it before or during his time writing the soundtrack for the classic Sega CD RPG Lunar: The Silver Star. Here's a hint: his contributions are awesome. For all you classic Warsong fans, be sure to pick up this release before it goes out of stock. Once it's gone, it might be quite difficult to find, which tends to be the case with box sets.
Also See Our Review:
Masaya Game Music Collection Vol.1 ~Langrisser I•II•III~ Review
Chiptune artist ZEN ALBATROSS released his first work in over five years: an EP available digitally or on cassette tape. It is weird, it is wonderful, and I'm pretty sure it was made on the equivalent of two Game Boys. Check it out here. I can't emphasize it enough: get the cassette tape. And then drive in an old car and jam out to super-digital chips on a super-analog cassette with your super-crappy car speakers. Take it from me, it's a magical experience.