Best Original Soundtrack
KINGDOM HEARTS – III, II.8, Unchained χ & Union χ [Cross] – Original Soundtrack
Well, we have been waiting quite a long time for this one. But it finally happened. And not only did we get the full KHIII soundtrack, but — as has been done in past releases — Square Enix decided to cram in the soundtracks for all manner of other KH games that were released in the meantime. Yoko Shimomura and crew have kept the dream alive with more incredible music that fits Disney realms and areas unique to the KH world alike. The only thing that could have made me happier would have been cramming the Melody of Memory OST in here as well.
If Found… Original Soundtrack
One of my all-time favorite game/soundtrack combinations of the past decade was 2064: Read Only Memories. The game’s soundtrack, by Matthew Hopkins (aka “2 Mello”), always manages to transport me back to that world.
Fast forward to 2020, and 2 Mello drops this amazing soundtrack to the indie title If Found… with a handful of other collaborators involved. This soundtrack isn’t quite strong enough to award it my favorite OST of the year, but it was darn close. Simple, soft drones, intentional dips from tonality to bent and stretched quarter-step madness … at times, it feels like staring at Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and imagining the melting clocks fall out of the frame. You can get lost in the atmospheric sounds of this one, then shocked awake by a beautiful melody, like the guitar work on the track “The Back of Beyond.”
Suffice to say, among all the triple-A releases this year (I’m looking at you, FFVII Remake), the fact that this little gem is my runner-up OST for 2020 ought to tell you something.
Best Arrange Album
Romancing SaGa Orchestra Festival LIVE CD
With the title being a bit of a misnomer, this two-CD set features new arrangements from the original Romancing SaGa trilogy, as well as arrangements from tracks unique to the RS1 remake Minstrel Song, the RS2 live stage show The Stage, and finally the new mobile title Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe (which is a direct sequel to RS3).
Though I was worried I wouldn’t find this album all that enjoyable after so many amazing SaGa albums from the past decade — the re:birth and re:tune albums, the other orchestral releases — this set proved to be a powerful reminder of how versatile Kenji Ito’s source material is and how masterful the arrangers and performers can be. I was especially pleased with the Re;univerSe arrangements, as they put the original tracks from that game’s OST to shame by soaring to new heights. I was also intrigued by the choice to have three full songs from Minstrel Song included, with the inclusion of “Mazewood” being perhaps the best choice of all.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Acoustic Arrangements
Look, there was no way I’d be getting out of here alive without giving a nod to at least one FFVII Remake album — and trust me, there have been plenty to consider. For me, the surprise was this little underdog that snuck in at the tail end of the year (November 25, to be exact). As a follow-up to the generic “Square Enix Acoustic Arrangements,” a 2019 arrange album that I sadly slept on until recently, this set of chamber works-style arrangements might just be the nostalgic road trip you need at year’s end. With talented arrangers like Yuya Mori, Atsuki Yoshida, and the venerable young prodigy Kevin Penkin, this album taps into a side of FFVII and the Remake-specific music (such as Jessie’s Theme) in a way that Square would never have even considered trying 20 years prior. We have come a long way… a long way from Midgar…
Best Reissue / Box Set
Grandia Complete Soundtrack
We all officially owe a debt of gratitude to Wayô Records. You see, the original Grandia had its OST released in two volumes (two discs each), with an amazing and ridiculously rare arrange album called “Vent” releasing as well. These three albums, published by King Records in the late ‘90s, had never been reprinted … until now.
Wayô Records put all three releases into one set, and it is absolutely glorious. Oh, and at a price point of 25 Euros, it’s marvelously affordable, especially when compared to the task of hunting down used copies of the original Japanese prints. Celebrate Noriyuki Iwadare’s incredible score and self-arranged album in style with this new box set!
GATE OF STEINER 10th Anniversary
Two discs packed with music from nearly every Steins;Gate-related project to date, this album may well be considered a “best” or “sampler” set. It is by no means complete. But if you want a musical refresher on one of Takeshi Abo’s most renowned soundtracks to date, from what is easily the most popular (and for good reason!) entry in the Science Adventure series, this 10th anniversary collection is definitely worth checking out.
Best VGM Outside RPGFan’s Coverage
Sackboy: A Big Adventure Original Soundtrack
Sackboy is back! Rather than keep the counter going with “LBP4,” Sackboy is the star of the show in a new title! However, the hodge-podge ensemble soundtrack feels wonderfully familiar, and at the same time, also quite new. From mainstays like Winifred Phillips and Jim Fowler to newcomers like Lena Raine (Celeste), as well as fun arrangements from mainstream contemporary music (see Ms. Phillips’ Material Girl, a Madonna classic), the new Sackboy soundtrack is a wonderful, whimsical collection of music that you simply need to hear for yourself!