This year we saw a lot of amazing games. Not only were there a lot of big anticipated titles like Fallout 4, Metal Gear Solid V, and The Witcher 3, there were some great titles from smaller developers like Undertale, Ori and the Blind Forest, Life is Strange, and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Of course with many of these games we also got some excellent soundtracks.
More than previous years, it’s been incredibly hard for me to pick just a few from the many great soundtracks that were released this year. It goes to show just how much talent there is out there in the game industry for creating memorable game music and audio. With so many artists and albums worth mentioning, I will have runners up and some special mentions included in my list. So without further fanfare, here are my personal picks for 2015’s Game Soundtrack of the Year and Arrangement Album of the Year.
Game Soundtrack of the Year: Bloodborne
By: Ryan Amon, Tsukasa Saitoh, Cris Velasco, Yuka Kitamura, Michael Wandmacher, Nobuyoshi Suzuki
Bloodborne was my first time delving into a game by FromSoftware and its music left a big impression on my experience. Nightmarish orchestral textures, dissonant choirs, and all sorts of great experimental effects made for some chilling and unforgettable gaming sessions.
For me, what makes Bloodborne’s music stand out from other horror games is that while it does incorporate tonally dissonant writing, there are still discernible melodies, harmonies, and motifs for the listener to latch onto. Pieces like “Cleric Beast,” “Queen of Vilebloods,” and “The One Reborn” find a great balance of maintaining an eerie tone, while still keeping just barely enough of a foothold in traditional harmony and melody writing to not overwhelm the listener.
The one thing that makes the music of Bloodborne work so well is how sparingly it’s used within the game. Like its predecessors Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne’s music cues are usually restricted to playing during the bigger climactic moments in the game. This helps create a true sense of dread whenever you hear music playing. I don’t think I’ve had a gaming experience more terrifying than hearing a music cue buildup in Bloodborne, not have any clue as to why it’s happening, and being left to dread what unspeakable horror I’m about to bump into. Is it another boss, or is the game music simply messing with me?
While I’m sure many people will remember this soundtrack for the more intense boss themes, there are some pieces like “Hunter’s Dream” that provide a more relaxing, if still a bit eerie, tone to the game’s world. The soundtrack and its implementation in the game really made Bloodborne an incredibly engaging experience for me, which is why the Bloodborne OST makes my pick for Game Soundtrack of the Year.
Runner Up: Undertale
By: Toby “Radiation” Fox
Coming in from the tonally opposite side of the spectrum, both in terms of music and gameplay, my runner-up pick for Game Soundtrack of the Year is the soundtrack to Undertale. This was a late entry for me, as I only just picked up the game at the start of the Christmas holiday break. The game and its soundtrack, all created by Toby Fox, really surprised me. The praise that this game has been receiving this year is definitely well deserved.
What makes the soundtrack really stand out to me is how eclectic it is. While there are certainly the expected chiptune tracks for this retro style game, there’s also plenty of 16-bit era tunes, ambient synth tracks, and orchestral pieces thrown into the mix. Each shift in tone perfectly matches the different and often strange cast of characters that you encounter in this game. This also helped evoke more variety in the game world and the album as a stand-alone work. The music varies from uptempo battle music and fanfare to calmer town tunes and relaxing house interior tracks.
I thoroughly enjoyed every piece on the soundtrack. Everything from the relaxing music of “Home” and “Snowy” to the more comical pieces like “Bonetrousle” make this a well rounded soundtrack. The shorter jingles and fanfares also make it onto the album, which managed to get a chuckle out of me. It’s a soundtrack with tons of personality and it suits the game and its cast of characters perfectly. Definitely check out both the game and the soundtrack if you haven’t already.
While Bloodborne and Undertale were absolutely my top soundtracks for this year, there were plenty of other close contenders. Other soundtracks that I really enjoyed this year included Jessica Curry’s Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture; Austin Wintory’s Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate; Gareth Coker’s Ori and the Blind Forest; Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikolai Stroinski and Percival’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt; and Toru Minegishi and Shiho Fuji’s soundtrack for Splatoon. There were plenty of soundtracks from this year that I didn’t get the chance to listen to, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two other titles that are worth mentioning. This year really had a large selection of excellent work from many different composers, but these special mentions were among my other favorites and they’re definitely worth checking out as well.
Arrangement Album of the Year: Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies Volume II
By: Norihiko Hibino and AYAKI
Last year I selected the original Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies album as my Arrange Album of the Year. This year its sequel album Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies II manages to grab the top spot again for collaborators Norihiko Hibino and AYAKI as the duo Gentle Love. Once again these two artists managed to create some incredibly tranquil and relaxing game music covers on saxophone and piano.
The primary reason for this return victory is how well they improved their selection of source material and arranging style for this new album. On this second album, the arrangements were much more relaxed and mellow. Game Music Lullabies Volume II also featured arrangements of some of my favorite game pieces including “Kid’s Run Through the City Corner” from Final Fantasy VI and “Oath to Order” from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. So once again another great collection of lullabies from Gentle Love. I’m curious to see how they’ll top themselves next year.
Runner Up: Chozo Legacy
For whatever reason, this year I started getting into more electronica and dance music, so it makes sense that one of my other remix picks this year would be something in that genre. The Metroid series is one of my favorite Nintendo franchises, so I was glad to see this new remix album, Chozo Legacy, from music producer bLind.
The album tells a music narrative based around the events of Super Metroid, so I’d recommend listening to the tracks in order all the way through. The album has enough change ups in music styles to keep it fresh and the tracks flow from one to the other quite smoothly.
Standout tracks for me included “Varia Catacombs,” with a healthy mix of acoustic, synth, and 8-bit elements; and “Aran” which acts as a great celebratory finale for the album. There’s also some great cameo vocals from Jillian Aversa on the track “Kindred” that I really ended up enjoying. Overall, just a fun electronic remix album for one of my favorite game franchises.Tags: Arrangement Album of the Year, Bloodborne, Chozo Legacy, Features, game audio, Game Music, Game Soundrack of the Year, OSVOSTOTY 2015, Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies II, Soundtrack of the Year, Undertale