The “Overlooked Final Fantasy Music” Award: Final Fantasy III: Four Souls
So, I may have been touting FFIII music as overlooked ever since “Elia, the Maiden of Water” showed up in the A New World concert repertoire. Whether you’ve heard it there, in the extremely well done Crystal Tower series in FFXIV, or even in the original game (!?), Four Souls is a great collector’s item for someone who appreciates these themes. Four Souls shows each song some much-needed love and attention. I adore how each of these four unique pieces of music is deftly arranged for particular stand-out instruments: harp for lovely Elia, piano for the Crystal Tower, guitar and bass for “Battle 2,” and nothing says wanderlust and traveling like the chromatic harmonica and marimba in “Eternal Wind.”
Best Music I am Glad to Hear Again: Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening OST (2020)
This music. This music was my childhood. It will forever be tied to the times I went on vacation as a kid and got to explore new locales at the same time I was unlocking the mysteries of Koholint Island. Redoing this music could have ended either very well or very poorly, and I’m glad to say that the new arrangements for the remake of Link’s Awakening are spot on. They expand what was possible with the original without ever losing its spirit, which is especially important in a game where you are collecting instruments. I feel like I’m back on Koholint, but this time I am old enough to sip a drink on the beach and truly take it all in.
Best Use of/Incorporation of Chiptunes: Ikenfell OST
I was not entirely sure what to expect when I started to listen to the Ikenfell OST, except that Sammus was there and I am always up for that. (I guess I should have expected strong character music given the game’s strong Steven Universe pedigree, but I have to admit I realized this after the fact.) What I found was a smartly-crafted, cohesive album with extraordinary use of character motifs and a chiptune sound woven so well throughout the whole thing that I couldn’t imagine any of the tracks without it. Sometimes the melody is chiptune style, and sometimes chiptune sounds create the background, but it always works with the instruments to create lush, full compositions.
The “All the Feels” Award: Haven OST
From the moment I heard the EDM-influenced intro to the game and saw the opening animations, I knew the Haven soundtrack was going to go places. Not only does it create the perfect atmosphere for gliding around a planet and battles where timing attacks with your partner is everything, but it is some of the most evocative electronic music I’ve heard in a long while, full stop. There is something raw and vulnerable about the underlying percussion and how it couples with the phrasing and building of each track. It makes me feel things, and I especially appreciate that this year.
The Best Year for Coffee Music: 2020
One of the true boons in 2020 has been the abundance of café music it has offered. We have the soundtracks for two café games, Coffee Talk and Necrobarista, and even Square Enix is officially in on this trend with SQUARE ENIX Chill Out Arrangement Tracks – AROUND 80’s MIX. It’s all good music and steady, relaxing comfort. “Sunrise in Limbo” still gives me chills, and I’ll just be over here vibing until…maybe MOTY next year.
Honorable Mention to Simon Poole for his work on the Moons of Madness OST. Horror can be very tricky to score, and somehow he has formed some uncomfortable industrial noise and unsettling atmospheric music into something that works for the Lovecraftian feel of the game. I also just really want to spotlight him as an artist because I deeply love his work on Dreamfall Chapters.