Higher Plain Music: Top 10 Game Soundtracks of 2012

Game music continues to spread its wings and blur into all kinds of mediums. It’s strange but in 2012, in some ways I’ve struggled to find soundtracks that I think “Yes, that is instantly a game soundtrack”. I guess I still hanker for and enjoy those 2 minute loops of pure fresh melodies that catch your imagination and stay in your head. That said, when the soundtracks I loved hit me – they really clouted me and for that I am reminded exactly why I love VGM.

There’s a couple of honourable mentions I’d like to make before the list starts. One is Ben Landis whose chip story album is fantastic but isn’t really a game so can’t make the list. The other’s go to Jessica Curry’s “Dear Esther”, The SQ Chip series and to a lesser extent the Final Fantasy Chip series which I’ve not had the time to digest yet. TheSword & Sworcery arranged album misses out purely because I only bought it on New Years Eve! Finally the “Dustforce” OST sat in 11th spot after a massive tussle for 10th so sorry Dustforce! Onwards then…

 

10) Jasper Byrne – Lone Survivor OST

The Lone Survivor soundtrack is a strange one because it is very low-fi but has an aura around it that likens it to a MIDI Silent Hill soundtrack. There’s plenty of guitar and bass and the track “Survival” has such a tense keyboard arrangement on top of the rest, you really get where the ambience is coming from. It really hits its stride with the big tracks and tries some interesting low-key stuff too.

09) Chikayo Fukuda – Asura’s Wrath OST

A few of his Hack works, Asura’s Wrath is a soundtrack of epic scale containing all the elements I like in game music. Strong melodies, plenty of drama, a wonderful fusion of Ancient Instruments and orchestrations to boot and a traditional Japanese singer going nuts in despair over the top. Seeing themes come up with different versions – all of which are beautifully accented is always a plus.

08) Various – Beer SQ

Square Enix went arrangement mad in 2012 and this is my second favourite of the ones they released. Beer SQ takes themes from Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Live A Live, Saga Frontier, Unlimited Saga & Seiken Densetsu and turns them into Irish jigs, gypsy travelling music, a good sing-along an eastern boogie. It’s one of the most adventurous arrange albums they’ve done and I absolutely loved it. Having only had the album a week, it’s already risen to number 8 and would have been higher  if I’d had more time with it. Now when can they follow Suikoden’s lead and start doing Celtic and Asian collections?!

07) Winifred Phillips – Assassins Creed 3 Liberation

Often I enjoy cinematic soundtracks but then they don’t stay with me beyond that listen because they aren’t as memorable even if the musicians craft is superb. For once, Assassin’s Creed 3 Liberation proved me wrong. Strong melodies and a wide range of genres keep things moving as well as recurring signatures and a very percussive push with the album. Phillips finest to date.

06) WiL Whitlark – Snapshot OST

“This soundtrack took 22 months to make” says the note attached and you can certainly see the labour of love involved. About as close to an old skool soundtrack as we’re getting in this top 10, the epic 46 track collection stays firmly in the electronic zone but proves many catchy riffs and melodies, never sitting still and always entertaining. There’s always something interesting going on with the instrument frequency levels too, like some are imprints fading away and others are freshly pressed. Superb.

05) Skyler McGlothlin – Retro/Grade OST

Retro/Grade’s excellence comes in the form of its 10 tracks, all of which sound like a complete synthpop album even without having a game to play shooting with. Each one has its own song structure and catchy riffs. Each song clocks in around the four-minute mark too and feels perfectly complete. Other tracks finish off the album too but this is chip-snyth at its finest!

04) Casey Ormand – Final Fantasy XII Piano Collections

I’m such a sucker for piano and wondered why FFXII had been missed out, much like VII on the piano collections front. I struggled with the original soundtrack as was curious to see these arrangements as I found the melodies were so hidden in the original works, I didn’t have the interest to find them. They certainly are there and are brought  to life dripping in emotional in what is more an ivory suite than a collection. The way each track seems to have passes and movements shifting from euphoric climaxes to the gentle plinks of high minor keys in a breath – it’s a joy to listen to and a far superior work than its source (for me at least).

03) Brian D’Oliveira – Papo & Yo OST

This soundtrack oozes Brazil. From the native percussion to the intricate guitar work to the hushed singing child, it’s all shimmering and perfectly balanced. It has a tone where things are playful but underneath you can still tell something is wrong – much like the game and its narration itself. There’s a sadness and a mystery in the mbira and woodwind – an emptiness even though there’s a warm tone to all the instruments. It’s clever and engaging and each time I hear the soundtrack I’m lost in its world.

02) DVA – Botanicula OST

Narrowly missing out on the victory (the top 4 are way clear of the rest) DVA put together an absolute blinder of a soundtrack from Botanicula. Sounding like a happy Sigur Ros on helium is no small accomplishment and once passed the magical main theme you’re into obscure percussive beats, double bass melodies, weird vocal ticks, industrial noises and animal sounds over god knows what. It’s a work of art that will stay in my heart for many years to come.

01) Austin Wintory – Journey

I’m not sure what can be said about the Journey soundtrack that hasn’t already been said before. It simply breaks my heart, rips it to pieces and then mends it with eye watering beauty. Coupled with the game its moving to the core. As a standalone musical work it is still one of the most impressive, important and emotional hours of music I feel like taking time and time again. Timeless.

All of the soundtracks here deserve your attention. I can’t wait to see what 2013 offers us.

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Categories: arrangements, best of, composer, game music, music, news, review, VGM

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