KINGDOM HEARTS – III, II.8, Unchained χ & Union χ [Cross] OST
by Adam Luhrs
I previously described Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s soundtrack as a “musical smorgasbord of absurd dimensions.” I realize now that I should have kept that superlative in my pocket because the soundtrack to Kingdom Hearts III is even bigger. With 10 hours of music spread across 8 discs, this release is (checks thesaurus) a melodious buffet of extravagant scale. This is partly because the album includes new selections from Kingdom Hearts II.8 and mobile games Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ and Kingdom Hearts Union χ. However, even with these additions, the vast majority of that 10 hours is from Kingdom Hearts III. Yoko Shimomura, Tsuyoshi Sekito, and Takeharu Ishimoto have taken their established style for the series and polished it to a sheen. It’s a delight to see how they continue to adapt this style to the various worlds Sora visits. The world of Hercules is full of brass-heavy cinematic fanfares. The Frozen world leverages low strings to evoke a beautiful, brooding landscape. The Gummi Ship segments sound just like Mario Galaxy, and I LOVE Mario Galaxy. The classic Disney tunes peppered throughout are also a treat, even if the full inclusion of “Let it Go” feels a bit gratuitous. Overall, this is a generous and lovingly-assembled package. Series newcomers will find a lot to love here, but for longtime Kingdom Hearts fans, this is an absolute treasure.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Original Soundtrack
by Mike Salbato
The Switch release of Link’s Awakening fascinates me. At first glance, you’d never mistake the remake for the original… or would you? The world looks like a toybox: plastic Link battling plastic foes. It’s a style that lets the new game feel very much like the original, despite first impressions. The music, too, follows this theme of all-new and yet instantly recognizable. With new instrumentation, the likes of “Mabe Village” and each dungeon have never sounded better, and even the Instruments of the Sirens have wonderful new sounds. Outside of the great music is the soundtrack’s extra content. Not only does it contain all of this new music across two discs, it includes bonus music such as the vocal version of “Ballad of the Wind Fish” used in the game’s Japanese TV commercial. If all that wasn’t enough, the remaining two discs have the complete and until-now-unreleased soundtrack for the 1993 Game Boy version. It’s literally the complete package.
Necrobarista Original Soundtrack
by Adam Luhrs
I never thought I would say this about a visual novel, but I think Necrobarista is one of the most visually appealing games of 2020. I love the character designs, the world’s aesthetic, and how the game merges text with its graphical presentation. This game exudes craft, and I am glad to say that Kevin Penkin and Jeremy Lim’s soundtrack perfectly complements the onscreen experience. Punchy electronic tunes like “Gamble” and “Spill the Coffee” feel reminiscent of Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy work, but somehow even more Daft Punky. The soundtrack also features some simple but effective piano work, with “Nostalgia Trip” and “Memoirs of Memories” as noteworthy examples. There is an elegant economy — almost minimalism — to every single track here, and it’s so refreshing. I love being able to hear all of the moving parts on each track. Just like a good latte, Necrobarista‘s soundtrack is warm, bittersweet, and goes down smooth.
NieR Orchestral Arrangement Album – Addendum
by Patrick Gann
In 2018, NieR creator Yoko Taro facetiously wrote in the NieR Orchestral Arrangement album liner notes that Square Enix would milk the NieR soundtracks for all their worth, to the point that it would be the catalyst of a global economic collapse. While such a prophecy has not occurred, it might be fair to say that Taro was taking aim at his own employer for taking MONACA’s amazing soundtracks just a wee bit too far. Now, in 2020, we find the Addendum disc for the Orchestral Arrangement Albums, and just at the tail end of the year, a fourth Blu-ray concert (the 12020 concert). And who knows what 2021 will hold for NieR music with the remake of NieR Replicant?
Even so, I cannot find fault in the company’s choice to bring even more of this franchise’s music to us. The Addendum album focuses on new full orchestral arrangements that also feature the vocals of Emi Evans and J’Nique Nicole — often in places where they didn’t exist before. For example, there is an arrangement of “Song of the Ancients” where Evans takes one part, and Nicole takes the other. Whereas Evans was the songstress for both Devola and Popola in 2010, now Nicole takes one half, and the two harmonizing on one of the first game’s most iconic tunes is glorious. Another great track is the full-English “Weight of the World” from NieR: Automata. Typically, Evans would sing her own version in the fictitious chaos language, while Nicole would sing the English version. Here, Evans and Nicole trade off on the English version alone, also harmonizing with one another.
All of this, backed with a full orchestra, makes Addendum a must-have for NieR fans, perhaps even more than the 2018 boxed set. The vocals truly do make the difference.
Paradise Killer OST
by Stephanie Sybydlo
…Remember? We hung out, like, every day that Summer. I had the latest issue of Nintendo Power, and you’d play a mix tape you made. We’d cool off each afternoon by my pool, then walk to the local strip mall as our hair and clothes would dry in the sun’s heat. You’d rent a new game for us to play, and I’d grab pizza before we’d head back to your place (because you had that extra big TV) (and it’s always set to Channel 3!). We’d play games, watch movies, and laugh all night long… And it felt like those days would last forever…
But Summer would always end, and now, decades later, I’ll randomly hear one of your mix tracks and I swear it’s like I can feel that same hot Summer sun again. And it makes me smile.
And it’s perfectly by design. Paradise Killer is a modern soundtrack imbued with a retro-inspired flavour. One that’ll take you back 20–30 years ago, to a time when denim and neon was all you wore, and SNES graphics were still mind-blowing. Barry “Epoch” Topping employs bops and beats that are jazzy and sassy in all the right ways; it’s a quintessential Vaporwave-styled video game OST. With a heavy dose of synthesizer, some sexy saxophone, and that perfect city pop sound that’ll make your mind feel like it’s Summer of ’91 forever.
SQUARE ENIX Chill Out Arrangement Tracks – AROUND 80’s MIX
by Mike Salbato
At the risk of repeating my personal writeup for this album, Square Enix’s Chill Out (etc.) album was a pleasant surprise this year. Square Enix is no stranger to more relaxed renditions of classic music, though it usually comes in the form of piano, acoustic, or lately, jazz arrangements. This album feels very much like SE’s take on the popular lo-fi/chill genre easily found on YouTube. Focusing on their roots, the tracklist is limited to early Final Fantasy and SaGa music, and the instrumentation is just delightful. It’s the perfect album to cozy up by a window and listen to with some freshly-brewed tea in hand. Hopefully the album did well for Square Enix and we can look forward to similar explorations of their back catalog, with more NES games and of course, some SNES-era classics.
Supergiant: The 10th Anniversary Collection
by Alana Hagues
For an indie studio that has shone brightly for 10 years — with music that has transcended the medium and captured the hearts of many — an anniversary vinyl collection like this is the only worthy celebration. Encased in a box designed by artist James Gilleard, this release was limited to 1000 copies. The gorgeous collection includes 12 LPs, all coloured appropriately to match with their games. And five of these LPs had never before been released physically: the Extended album for Transistor, The White Lute and The Black Mandolin releases of Pyre‘s music, and a preview of the then-unreleased Hades‘ music. And if you’re familiar with Supergiant Games or Darren Korb and Ashley Barrett, you know the music speaks for itself. Let’s hope we’ll be back here in another 10 years to celebrate the next decade of Korb’s outstanding music.
Trials of Mana Original Soundtrack
by Greg Delmage
Back in 1995, North Americans missed out on the gem that was Seiken Densetsu 3, unless they were willing to import and had the Super Famicom to play it on. For many others, it wasn’t until the internet and emulation that SD3 became available through less-than-legitimate means. But for those of us that dabbled, we were treated to not only a great game, but another fantastic score from Hiroki Kikuta. When the remake of the now-titled Trials of Mana was announced, no doubt many were excited about the enhanced visuals and storytelling, but what would surely be a beautiful take on the soundtrack as well. With nothing added and nothing lost, Kikuta oversaw a stellar team that reinvigorated his work beautifully. The very few rough edges of the original were smoothed out with a richer sound to call upon and a live orchestra behind it. Although this remake played it safe, recreating the soundtrack largely to the letter, it’s still a fantastic piece of work that was truly elevated for this game, and has stood the test of time.
by Kaleb Curry
What is there to say about the Undertale soundtrack that hasn’t already been said? “Fallen Down” still whisks me away to another land on somber waves. “Dogsong” still throws me into giggle fits. “Death By Glamour” still SLAPS. Fifth House Ensemble has managed to preserve all that raw genius from Toby Fox’s original while also making it feel like Sans is root-toot-tooting directly into my ears. There is no higher praise! Listening to each track on Undertale LIVE was like reliving my first playthrough of the game, the undeniable character of each song planting me square in the middle of the action. It was a journey, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. A word of warning, however: if you’re like me and never bought a donut from those accursed spider-salesmen and had to fight Muffet without it, this will give you war flashbacks. Enjoy!
Ys I & II Soundtracks (Special Edition Vinyl)
by Adam Luhrs
Ys I & II are royalty in the world of video game music. Composed by Mieko Ishikawa and Yuzo Koshiro, these two soundtracks solidified Nihon Falcom’s reputation for musical excellence, a reputation they still enjoy over 30 years later. The games were released on the PC-88 in 1987 and 1988, and while this makes them practically prehistoric in video game years, the compositions have aged remarkably well. “First Step Towards War” is still one of the best overworld themes ever composed, “Palace of Destruction” and “Tower of the Shadow of Death” are still some of the best dungeon themes ever recorded, and “To Make the End of Battle” is still a certified banger. Now, thanks to Streaming Arrow Records, these timeless classics have been newly remastered on vinyl. These new releases are beautifully packaged and include a generous helping of version exclusives, unused tracks, and arrangements. These two soundtracks have been given the full deluxe treatment, and I couldn’t be happier. Long live Ys I & II.