Shin Sakura Wars Kayou Zenshuu (New Sakura Wars Vocal Songs)
Picture an alternate history in which Mel Brooks was born in Japan, he directed a series of Tokusatsu musicals in the 90s, and then SEGA dug up his work decades later and said, “This…but EVEN MORE!” That’s Kohei Tanaka’s soundtrack for Sakura Wars. Heck, even this bizarre scenario cannot do justice to the sheer joyous abandon of this game’s vocal tracks. I am physically incapable of sitting still while these songs are playing. Even their karaoke versions are a blast. Sakura Wars’ soundtrack was split between two releases, one containing its instrumental tracks and the other containing its vocal tracks. While both releases are worth your attention, I have to recommend the latter, as the vocal tracks are undoubtedly the stars of the show. No album in 2020 gave me more joy per minute than Shin Sakura Wars Kayou Zenshuu.
LunarLux Chapter 1 Soundtrack
Some albums require a few listens before you can truly appreciate their quality, and some albums grab you by the collar within minutes. LunarLux Chapter 1 had me at its title track. At just over 30 minutes, it’s a short, sharp shock of high-energy synths with a touch of noir and bouncy cosmic weirdness. If Mega Man X were a space detective, this would be his soundtrack. I dig it. LunarLux Chapter 1 is essentially a free demo and all proceeds from the soundtrack will help fund future development. We still have a long way to go before seeing a full release, but I am 100% on board. I want more music from this crew, like, right now.
FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE Original Soundtrack
Nobuo Uematsu changed my life. When I heard his iconic score for Final Fantasy VI as a child, it sparked a love affair with video game music that has lasted to this day. For many gamers, that transformative score was Final Fantasy VII, and it still stands tall as one of his best and most beloved works. I got goosebumps when I heard the familiar Mako Reactor theme, and then again when I heard its main motif repurposed in a battle theme. In a way, these two tracks provide an early snapshot of the soundtrack as a whole. It’s the old iconic melodies given new life, but it’s also brand new compositions lovingly informed by the originals, and they all come together miraculously well. Bravo to the many talented composers and arrangers involved in this undertaking. They tackled one of the most famous soundtracks in all of gaming and they absolutely did it justice.
Phoenotopia Awakening Original Soundtrack
Phoenotopia Awakening is an expanded remake of Phoenotopia, a celebrated platformer released on Newgrounds in 2014. Despite being a free flash game, the original Phoenotopia was a lengthy and robust action-adventure with a surprisingly strong soundtrack. With Phoenotopia Awakening, it got even better. We got new arrangements of the old tunes and a slew of fantastic originals. It’s nostalgic, but not in a way that limits its creativity. It has a broadly whimsical tone, but it pulls off mysterious and introspective tracks with equal success. It also has, without question, the best boss theme of 2020. This boss theme is so good, I wish I were a boss in this game. Sadly, the developers have yet to respond to my emails, but I’m still optimistic. Maybe they can add me as DLC…
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Original Soundtrack
I remember speculating on what kind of game 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim would be. From the start, Vanillaware gave the impression that 13 Sentinels would be something different, but I never would have guessed that “something different” would be a visual novel/real-time-strategy hybrid. Vanillaware further defied my expectations by delivering one of 2020’s most confident and compelling video game narratives, as well as an equally confident and compelling soundtrack. Hitoshi Sakimoto and Basiscape succeed on every single front here. The soundtrack contains nearly 5 hours of music, but it’s remarkably free of filler tracks. It handles an enormous range of tones with superb grace, delivering blistering techno battle themes, genuinely chilling ambient tracks, and a handful of infectiously optimistic tunes. 13 Sentinels’ soundtrack has breadth, consistency, originality, and spirit. It’s the best soundtrack in Vanillaware’s portfolio and easily one of the best soundtracks of 2020.
Dreamscaper Original Soundtrack
Dreamscaper is the story of a girl trying to connect with others while struggling under the weight of her own personal demons. Every night, she uses the power of these budding relationships to hack her way through dream dungeons full of literal manifestations of her traumas. I admit it’s not the first RPG to leverage the power of friendship for demon-slaying purposes, but the trope works because it illustrates a universal truth. We need people. It also works because of Dale North’s simply outstanding score. Each track is beautifully layered and strikes a perfect balance between atmosphere and melodic drive. It’s appropriately tense and stormy during combat, but I believe the soundtrack truly shines in its contemplative moments. Dale North somehow managed to capture the perversely appealing leisure of melancholy and the flickering hope that spurs us to reach out when we would rather withdraw. Dreamscaper may not have the polish, variety, and sheer scope of this year’s biggest releases, but it stirred my soul a little bit. For me, it was the most remarkable surprise of 2020.