RPGFan Anniversary

Patrick Gann’s Top 25 RPG Soundtracks (Part 2)

Patrick Gann's Top 25 RPG Soundtracks

9. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

I had a much more difficult time ranking the modern Final Fantasy music compared to the original nine Uematsu solo efforts. Seriously, this was a stressful choice. I love the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, especially the XIII-2 soundtrack. However, in terms of quantity and quality, it’s hard to ignore the prowess of Final Fantasy XIV.

That said, each expansion has a soundtrack large enough to count as its own game, meaning I had to narrow my pick further. Lead composer Masayoshi Soken has written nearly 30 hours of music across its expansions, and there is plenty to appreciate. For my money, though, I have to give it to Soken’s first foray, the soundtrack (and game update) that revived the MMORPG that was once on the brink of failure. A Realm Reborn brought new life to the game, and Masayoshi Soken (alongside Uematsu, Sekito, and Mizuta) brought nearly seven hours of new music to round out the incredible gaming experience. Mike Salbato’s soundtrack review tells the rest of the tale better than I ever could. It’s truly a wonderful, overwhelming treat, and if you’ve never listened to it, you owe it to yourself to finally check it out.

Hades Original Soundtrack (Front Cover)

Soundtrack review: Hades Original Soundtrack

10. Hades

As we all eagerly await Hades II, it’s worth remembering the breakout hit from Supergiant Games that captured our hearts. After three great titles from the team, all with music by in-house composer Darren Korb, Hades had that perfect balance of ingredients that brought major critical success and sales figures to match. Korb’s ability to write intense dungeon and battle themes, as well as moving soul-filled vocal themes, made for something extra special here. While I’ll never forget the power of Zia’s Theme, “Build That Wall” from Bastion (Supergiant’s first game), I don’t think anyone can argue that “Good Riddance” (not to be confused with the Green Day song of the same name) has become Korb’s best-known vocal theme. It doesn’t hurt that there are three versions of this song: one with Orpheus (Korb) solo, one with Eurydice (Ashley Barrett) solo, and a third with the pair singing together. Fans of the multiple versions of NieR’s “Song of the Ancients” will surely appreciate this concept.

Beyond “Good Riddance,” the other vocal themes “Lament of Orpheus,” “Hymn to Zagreus,” and “In the Blood” are also noteworthy. “In the Blood” serves as the end credits music, appearing just after the beautiful orchestral piece “On the Coast,” which was orchestrated by Grammy winner Austin Wintory. Beyond all these gorgeous pieces of music, much of what makes the Hades soundtrack what it is involves Korb knowing how to make a guitar sing. Many of the dungeon themes are phenomenally lengthy, which is helpful for a game built on looped gameplay.

If you don’t own this soundtrack, now would be a great time to check it out. It’s available digitally, and if you look for secondhand copies, you might be able to find it in its 2 CD or 4 Vinyl physical formats!

11. Legend of Mana

Among the many beautiful, memorable scores by celebrated composer Yoko Shimomura, Legend of Mana is my favorite. I could have just as easily selected Kingdom Hearts, LIVE A LIVE, or others. But, after much deliberation, I had to land on Legend of Mana.

Though a younger version of me spoke ill of the game’s town themes (see the linked review link I wrote a full 23 years ago!), my mind has changed on this matter significantly. Though I still think “Hometown Domina” is overrated, I have come to love “Moonlit City Roa” and “Magic City Geo.” Other town themes (“Polpota,” “Gato”) are also worth celebrating.

But Shimomura’s soundtrack for this unique entry in the Mana series is perhaps most praised for its dungeon and battle themes. The battle themes “Pain the Universe” and “The Darkness Nova” are some of the best songs out there, with incredible electric guitar work that you might not expect from a game with an otherwise soft, acoustic soundscape. And as for “Colored Earth” / “Earth Painting,” however it’s translated (disc 1 track 11), has there ever been a more perfect dungeon theme from Shimomura? Equally impressive is the sorrowful music of “Ruined Sparkling City,” a piece forever etched into my memory.

Top it all off with the Swedish vocal theme “Song of MANA,” and you have a killer OST. I’ll end this entry with a fun fact: the Swedish vocalist for this tune was Annika Ljungberg, who was a band member of the band Rednex. Yes, the team behind the ‘90s dance hit “Cotton Eye Joe.” We live in a strange and beautiful timeline, folks.

12. Lunar 2: Eternal Blue

Composer Noriyuki Iwadare is a personal hero of mine. He is a sweet, humble man with an incredible range of compositional styles. His contribution to Game Arts alone (Grandia and Lunar series) are enough to cement his name into the annals of game music. Add in his work on the Langrisser and True Love Story series, and you begin to see the breadth of his musical styles. Going even deeper, you’ll find his work in the Ace Attorney series and the underrated Radiata Stories all the more interesting and surprising.

Among these many soundtracks, one of Iwadare’s most impressive skills is composing for pitched percussion/mallet instruments (timpani, orchestra bells, xylophone, marimba, etc). In Lunar: Eternal Blue, these instruments are often matched alongside pizzicato strings for a beautiful effect. Examples include “Field Towards Tomorrow” and the “Eternal Blue Main Theme,” especially on the Sega CD version. When Working Designs published the “Complete” soundtrack as part of their over-the-top Limited Edition packaging for the PlayStation remake, you can hear a varied soundscape with the original “Star Dragon (‘95 Mix)” and “Gypsy Heart (Jean’s Theme).”

I would implore fans of Iwadare’s style to grab hold of this somewhat elusive soundtrack, whether the imported SEGA CD soundtrack from Toshiba EMI or the pack-in soundtrack with the PlayStation game from Working Designs. It’s just that good.

13. Napple Tale

What do we have here? It’s a soundtrack so good that the publishers felt justified in releasing the two-disc OST as separate releases, partially to increase sales figures. I would say they were justified, given the incredible production value here. This obscure, import-only SEGA Dreamcast title has a soundtrack from the incredible Yoko Kanno, whom you might know from great anime soundtracks like Cowboy Bebop or classic Koei games like Uncharted Waters and Nobunaga’s Ambition. All told, however, I cannot get Napple Tale out of my mind. It is perhaps the most unique soundtrack in her discography.

Here, we find an incredible mix of carefree impressionism, expert melodic craftsmanship, and whimsical use of vocals. On volume one, vocal themes “Tail Song” and “Green Wings” are excellent Sondheim-esque pieces with performances from one Maaya Sakamoto, an accomplished voice actor and singer. Sakamoto returns in the second volume to perform a number of shorter, incidental pieces. But the songs I find most compelling on the second volume are the dreamy “Rabbit Bed” and the trippy “Dreams in a pie.” The latter makes such fantastic use of winds and strings, and the English vocals (presumably from Maaya Sakamoto, though technically uncredited on the album) are out of this world. This AMV from YouTube user wiiplaythewii2 utilizing stop motion and paper cut-outs while acting out the lyrics is something I strongly recommend watching.

14. NieR: Automata

This one speaks for itself. If you haven’t heard the NieR: Automata soundtrack from the MONACA team yet, I implore you to listen to it. I’ll cite a portion of my 2017 soundtrack review to demonstrate how its originality meets homage:

“[T]he excellent ‘Copied City’ with its piano-centric fugue sounds like some kind of Shimomura-Sakimoto love child: honestly, I hear equal parts Legend of Mana and Vagrant Story in this piece. And I take no issue with that! I love it!”

And there it is. Two of my favorite soundtracks from the PS1 era — also in this list — find a stylistic equivalent in a single song across the three-disc OST to this PS4 milestone soundtrack from 2017. And we haven’t even touched the superlative vocals from Emi Evans, J’Nique Nicole, and more. Read the review for more details.

The greatest challenge in adding NieR: Automata to the list was whether to choose this sequel or its predecessor, NieR Gestalt & Replicant. I ultimately had to hand it to Automata because while both soundtracks have strong qualities, Automata boasts a greater quantity of tunes. That, and my favorite song from the original (“Song of the Ancients”) finds its way into the sequel.

15. Octopath Traveler II

The Octopath Traveler II soundtrack is the only 2023 release on this list. However, I had no problem choosing it, as it is clearly one of the greatest soundtracks I have ever heard. As I predicted when I reviewed the album earlier this year, it is indeed my pick for soundtrack of the year, head and shoulders above its competition. Composer Yasunori Nishiki’s first outing with Square Enix was 2018’s Octopath Traveler, another worthy soundtrack. Then, after years of arrange albums, live performances, and some interesting new music via the mobile game spin-off Champions of the Continent, Nishiki was tasked with the impossible: improving upon the original with six hours’ worth of new music.

And somehow, he did it. He really did it.

The eight new character themes perfectly fit the characters themselves, with my favorites being “Ochette, The Hunter” and “Temenos, the Cleric.” These themes become motifs used expertly throughout the soundtrack, particularly in their respective environments and final boss chapter themes. A special shout-out has to go to Agnea with her “Song of Hope,” which becomes the game’s de facto theme (beyond the standing “Octopath Traveler Main Theme,” which pulls from, and improves upon, its predecessor).

Add to this the day/night variants of every environmental theme in the game, including the title screen itself, and you have a winning formula. This one is simply unparalleled. Buy it. Own it. Cherish it. You’ll thank me.

16. Persona 3

Are there any among us who can deny the prowess of Shin Megami Tensei composer Shoji Meguro? Though he is not the only person to craft the overall soundscape of Atlus’ mega-franchise, his influence changed the direction of this series’ music, most notably in Persona 3, 4, and 5. It was among these three soundtracks that I found myself internally conflicted: which would take the top spot and find its way on its list?

Ultimately, I cheated. If I included all versions of each game (Golden for P4, Royal for P5), I found that pound-for-pound, Persona 3 took the win by including FES and P3P. This gives us three epic opening vocal performances: “Burn My Dread,” “P3 fes” (a mashup of “Memories of You” with “Burn My Dread”), and the angsty-rock tonal shift of “Soul Phrase.” Then there are the unforgettable rap performances by Lotus Juice on “Mass Destruction,” “Deep Breath Deep Breath,” “Burn My Dread -Last Battle,” and the P3P exclusive “Wiping All Out.” These great songs stand out as the highlights, mixing great jazz brass and funky bass lines with well-produced rock and rap styles from one track to the next.

Then there are beautiful, simple, repetitious tracks like “Paulownia Mall” and “Changing Seasons” that become instant earworms, though the latter has a surprising build to a perfect B section with someone speaking French in the background. It all just oozes style, and I have nothing but fond memories of these songs. When you combine all forms of Persona 3, it’s the cream of the crop, at least for me. I can’t wait to see what Persona 3 Reload will add to the audio library of this excellent game in February!

17. SaGa Frontier 2

One of the earliest soundtracks from savant Masashi Hamauzu, the SaGa Frontier 2 soundtrack sports piano-centric impressionist compositions leaning heavily on two or three main motifs. Spanning three discs, this OST has remained a personal favorite over the years. The German track names fit the provincial European tone of the game itself. And of these track names, might I point you to the following songs as a sample of this soundtrack’s greatness: “Vorspiel,” “Besessenheit,” “Zaubermärchen,” “Freiluftmusik,” “Todfeind,” “Rückerinnerung,” “Einsamkeit,” “Mißgestalt,” and “Todesengel.” Feel free to check these out alongside the full OST on Spotify or YouTube.

Hamauzu would go on to compose Final Fantasy X (with Uematsu and Nakano), Final Fantasy XIII, The Legend of Legacy, The Alliance Alive, portions of Final Fantasy VII Remake, and more. But this early entry in his music career will always remain a personal favorite. When SaGa Frontier 2 gets its inevitable Remaster, will it feature a handful of new tracks as SF1 did? I can only hope.

A short postscript: as stated earlier, I am not including arrange albums. But if I did, Piano Pieces “SF2” ~ Rhapsody on a Theme of SaGa Frontier 2 would be in the top three. Here you will find piano solo, piano duet, and chamber orchestra all on one album, perfectly capturing the spirit of Hamauzu’s vision. And I must again boast that when I met Masashi Hamauzu, this piano album was the one thing I asked him to sign. If you want to hear this album, it is also on Spotify and YouTube! Be sure to check out ”α”1 (based on “Einsamkeit”), ”α”4 (based on “Untergrund”), and ”β”5 (based on “Arrangeur”).

Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.