RPGFan Music

RPGFan Music of the Year 2021: Part 2

RPGFan Music of the Year 2021

Endwalker: Final Fantasy XIV

by Steven Mattern

Final Fantasy XIV has a long history with its music. Each expansion brings new compositions, adaptations of previous songs from the game, and callbacks to prior entries in the Final Fantasy series. Endwalker’s music does all of these things in spectacular fashion. This soundtrack has it all, from its musical callbacks to Final Fantasy IV to rearranging previous trial themes to give them some extra flair and an even more epic scope. On top of that, composer Masayoshi Soken and his team continue the trend of creating a fantastic theme for an expansion and then using it as the base for a wide range of themes with different moods, from mellow to triumphant. The variety of styles and instruments used is astounding, and it all fits together to make this expansion truly feel like a finale to the story thus far.

Final Fantasy III, IV, and V Pixel Remaster

by Audra Bowling

Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy IV, and Final Fantasy V‘s soundtracks are filled to the brim with memorable and spectacular songs that are beloved by fans. The Pixel Remasters take those classic songs and rearrange them with orchestral undertones to incredible effect, creating truly beautiful renditions that are a joy to listen to again and again. Songs such as “Eternal Wind” and “Aria, the Maiden of Water” from FFIII, “Rydia” and “The Dreadful Fight” from FFIV, “My Home, Sweet Home” and “Battle at the Big Bridge” from FFV are all incredible to listen to in any variation. These new versions are no exception!

Final Fantasy VII Remake INTERgrade Original Soundtrack

by Steven Mattern

Final Fantasy VII Remake really knew how to show a lot of compassion for the 1997 original through it’s soundtrack, and INTERgrade is no exception. Even though the DLC attached to the base game clocks in at around seven hours, Episode INTERmission is densely packed with high-quality arrangements that have received the same love and care the songs in the main game did in 2020. “Descendant of Shinobi,” and the variant that plays during battle, really represents the pep in Yuffie’s step, and just like the ninja girl herself, the motifs therein are the stars of the show. The soundtrack also continues the duality of the slums compared to the Shinra building across its two chapters while throwing out a standout wildcard like “The Happy Turtle Fight Song” into the mix. The INTERgrade release of Final Fantasy VII Remake is perfect in terms of musical variety in Midgar and is, just like any other component of the game, the complete package.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Original Soundtrack

by Sam-James Gordon

Fire Emblem: Three Houses‘ soundtrack really is a rollercoaster of emotions, as is the game itself. I can think of few soundtracks that require the diversity of expression to move so easily from the fluffy slice of life segments through to… national war grounds and the potential death of your allies. However, the team consisting of Takeru Kanazaki, Hiroki Morishita, and Rei Kondoh pulled it off masterfully, and anyone looking to feel some emotions is in for a ride. 

On one end of the spectrum, we have “Respite and Sunlight,” a lighthearted and uplifting piece that you hear in some of the more carefree social moments of the game. Going from 1 to 100 is “Blue Skies and a Battle (Thunder),” which quite honestly makes me want to mount a horse and charge off into battle to save the bishop of the church that raised me as an orphan (not a real-life anecdote). It’s powerful stuff.

Impostor Factory Original Soundtrack

by Patrick Gann

The third (and maybe final?) entry in the To the Moon series, Impostor Factory, continues to stun and impress players and listeners alike with a simple tonality and evocative melodies that we have loved more and more with each entry. There are some quirky moments throughout this full soundtrack, too. But there is a lot of thematic, appropriate, and interesting content that all bring structure to this OST as well. Steady on, Kan Gao. Steady on.

Legend of Mana Remastered: The Soundtrack

by Patrick Gann

Though my favorite remaster of 2021 was SaGa Frontier, the music for said game was not updated in any way (though some new compositions were added!). In contrast, the remaster for Legend of Mana had some seriously spruced-up tunes, with arranger Ryo Furukawa leading the charge, and ten performers recording live tracks for the otherwise-synth OST. Notable performers include Haruka Shimotsuki for vocal parts and Yu Manabe on violin! For fans of this, one of Yoko Shimomura’s defining works, the upgraded experience is absolutely worth checking out!

NieR: Become as Gods

by Patrick Gann

ROZEN and REVEN return for even more NieR: Automata goodness with a follow-up to their Glory to Mankind arranged album. I wrote at length about how much I enjoyed NieR: Become as Gods, particularly on tracks like “Forest Kingdom” which flew under the radar and were harder to appreciate on the OST, but with some tender love and care could be brought to new life. If ROZEN and REVEN can do that with an under-appreciated, under-arranged track, imagine what they can do with mainstays like “Birth of a Wish” and “Bipolar Nightmare!”

NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… Original Soundtrack

by Alana Hagues

While I always knew that the arranged music for NieR Replicant would be incredible, there was always a tiny bit of doubt that these new renditions wouldn’t meet the standard of the original. Those worries were quickly washed away when I walked into the village library for the first time and heard the chimes of “Song of the Ancient / Popola.” I stopped moving. This was that same haunting feeling I’d felt when I first played the game, recaptured and preserved for a new audience.

What MONACA have done to elevate NieR‘s music is wondrous, and it shows how much the team have improved over the years. New sections have been added to existing songs to wholly embody the character or place. Okabe has written new tracks to accompany the new story segments, all of which are breathtaking. From “Snow in Summer” to “Kainé / Salvation” to “Repose,” NieR Replicant is a reminder that the original NieR‘s music stands toe-to-toe with Automata‘s, and it always has done.

NEO: The World Ends with You Original Soundtrack

by Audra Bowling

The World Ends with You boasts one of my all-time favorite video game soundtracks. I love the instrumentation of every piece, and the way lyrics are incorporated into the songs to brilliant effect. It truly captures the feel of a bustling urban landscape teeming with energy and all types of people. NEO: The World Ends with You‘s OST very much shares the same vibe as its predecessor, albeit perhaps in an edgier, more contemporary manner. With both colorful new tracks and excellent remixes of older songs from the first game for players to lose themselves in when listening to the soundtrack, it’s one of 2021’s best.

Persona 5 Strikers Original Soundtrack

by Patrick Gann

Though this soundtrack was initially a limited edition bonus with the Japanese release in 2020 (and has since been announced for separate publication in 2022), the English version of Strikers came out in 2021. With that in mind, we are happy to count it among our favorite soundtracks for the year. While Shoji Meguro ran point on Persona 5 itself, Atlus sound team member Atsushi Kitajoh led the charge with Persona 5 Strikers. Yes, there is some overlap from the original Persona 5 OST here, but much of what makes the Strikers soundtrack good is its own, original work. From the upbeat battle themes to the chill, moody environmental and character dialogue background tracks, there’s no question in my mind that anyone willing to purchase the Persona 5 OST would do so while also picking up Strikers. It’s that good.

Scions & Sinners Final Fantasy XIV ~ Arrangement Album ~

by Alana Hagues

Another expansion means another album from Keiko and THE PRIMALS. Just like Final Fantasy XIV itself, Scions & Sinners doesn’t stray from the traditional format of half piano and half rock arrangements, but that doesn’t make these renditions any less brilliant. With music as good as Shadowbringers‘ own (with one or two Heavensward and Stormblood songs making an appearance), the album takes a tiny smattering of some of the best and updates them perfectly. Even when songs like “What Angel Wakes Me” and “A Long Fall” get multiple versions, they’re so vastly different from each other that they feel removed from one another, evoking different atmospheres. And seeing songs like “Shadow’s Withal” getting some love, embracing the jazziness while both speeding up and slowing down the tempo, is wonderful. The whole album is one delicious big fat taco that’s too good to just listen to once.

Shin Megami Tensei V Original Soundtrack

by Adam Luhrs

Shin Megami Tensei has a long history of oppressive soundscapes and brutally tense battle themes. The series’ latest entry leans hard into this tradition, offering a brooding monolith of industrial ambience and grungy synth-rock. The game tips its hand with “Da’at – Tamachi,” featuring a desolate, distorted guitar riff on a bed of ambient noise and formless vocals. The main battle theme, “Battle – Da’at,” employs a practically identical soundscape but focuses on a more deadly edge, making it an excellent snapshot of the soundtrack as a whole. Shin Megami Tensei V never lets you feel comfortable, and even safe zone tracks like Cathedral of Shadows” make you feel like a trespasser in dangerous territory. It’s certainly not the most hummable soundtrack of 2021, but it is powerfully immersive. The music of Shin Megami Tensei V is what it sounds like to dance with angels and demons at the end of the world.

Tales of Arise Official Soundtrack

by Sam-James Gordon

Series composer Motoi Sakuraba returns with triumph for Tales of Arise’s soundtrack, and is the first time in the series history that he’s been able to use a full orchestra complete with vocals. While it’s certainly a new direction for the series, it’s still unmistakably Sakuraba, replete with jazz organs, ripping guitar riffs and percussive punches. However, the soundtrack isn’t particularly full of catchy melodies and forgoes traditional earworm hooks for a more atmospheric structure. This new direction is utilised effectively in-game, where field themes seamlessly transition into a varied arrangement for area-specific battle themes (avoiding spoilers).

Arise’s use of music to give different environments their own identity is excellent and serves as another medium to drive the story. Sakuraba’s growth is evident, both as an individual artist and alongside the series. His compositions rely less on highlighting melodies and instead show his intent through instrumental finesse. This is possibly a divisive soundtrack amongst Tales fans, but successful in its own right.

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars Original Soundtrack

by Alana Hagues

It’s perhaps unsurprising to see the amount of MONACA music on this list. Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars carries all of the hallmarks of an ethereal, haunting, and beautiful soundscape from the team, but with a little more folk flare than fans of NieR might be used to. It’s the perfect kind of music to accompany a tabletop-inspired game.

Okabe takes the lead on the softer piano and vocal tracks, such as hum-worthy “Pursuing the Dragon (Field Edit).” But there’s a real mix of styles for such a small 14-track soundtrack. Oliver Good’s lighthearted “Dance of the Woodlander” captures the spirit of the forest. The one constant throughout is the gorgeous implementation of strings, from guitar to viola, all of which sing to the listener to create something rousing for adventure. Just because Voice of Cards snuck in later in the year doesn’t mean you should ignore its stunning soundtrack.

Alana Hagues

Alana Hagues

Alana was with RPGFan for nearly seven years and did a little bit of everything, but writing is her passion. A lover of baking and animals (especially dogs and reptiles), she apparently has a pretty cute accent. If you talk to her about Skies of Arcadia, you've made a friend for life.