Sound design goes beyond just music, voice acting, and sound effects. It's in how all these elements dance together to create an immersive game world that feels like a living, breathing, organic place that transcends a game from being a game to being an experience. Final Fantasy XV's sound design does that, and transforms this ambitious game into a memorable experience. The bombastic cacophony of grunts, weapon clangs, thunks of blade hitting beast, and the like are one thing, but it's in the game's quieter, more subtle moments where the sound design really shines. The whir of a car engine serving as a background to the music playing on the car radio while your buddies engage in playful banter sounds like the most natural thing on an actual road trip, but takes a skilled hand to recreate in a game. The music, sound effects, and voice acting are all excellent in Final Fantasy XV, but even the finest ingredients need to be integrated effectively to create a delicious dish, and Final Fantasy XV's sound team did just that.
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One thing is immediately apparent in Dark Souls III: no matter where the player stands, the environment is teeming with sound. There is always some ambient noise, whether it's the flickering of ten thousand candles, some spooky chains rattling, a snarling beast hidden in the mud, the sizzle of a searing brand glowing in the darkness, or the churning of an icy, black wind. Dark Souls III utilizes sound to emphasize the different tones and moods in each area. As skin-draped skeletons emerge from the cemetery ground, they burp and gurgle, spewing vomit. Deep in the catacombs, the thunderous roar of a skeleton ball echoes ceaselessly, untamable. Half-rotten, indescribable enemies lurch out from the shadows with a mournful, hungry groan, Dark Souls III's version of the jump scare. The juicy cries of anguish from fallen ghouls makes the already visceral combat more of a sensory experience. And like many of the most well-designed games, the small moments, breaking pots, the transition of treading on carpet and then marble, and opening and closing the menus, are completely memorable and add to the weight of the game due to their sound design.
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The staff and reader awards may be in agreement, but this is another category with a very clear winner: you gave Final Fantasy XV almost two and a half times as many votes as you did to its runner-up.