Another year has come and gone, and we merry audiophiles were once again bombarded with music of all kinds, in terms of both genre and quality. When I look back over the year’s releases (usually by using vgmdb’s calendar), I feel overwhelmed. I’m getting to the point where I dread this time of year, where I say “I’m too old for this!”
Nonetheless, I feel honored to be invited to continue with OSV’s grand tradition of celebrating OSVOSTOTY (OriginalSoundVersion’s Original Soundtracks Of The Year). We change it up from time to time, and we hope you like what we’re doing with individual staff picks this year.
Game Soundtrack of the Year: Dropsy
By: Chris Schlarb, Jay Tholen
Full disclosure: I’ve developed a lasting friendship with Jay ever since I first discovered and began covering his unique blend of chiptune and Gospel music. So I do have admit to some bias. However, Jay didn’t compose the full score for this soundtrack. Despite having the talent to do so, he instead managed to convince one of his own musical heroes, Chris Schlarb (whose game music contributions also include NightSky, though he is better known for his original works with Asthmatic Kitty Records and now Joyful Noise Recordings). Schlarb’s start-from-scratch homemade soundscapes are a joy to behold: soft drums, organs, saxophone, piano, guitar and bass, and anything else he needs to gussy up this or that piece.
The Dropsy soundtrack isn’t just amazing for what it is on its own: in the context of the game, an MSPaint-driven point-and-click adventure about a friendly clown that everyone hates for reasons beyond the clown’s control, it becomes all the more powerful. And, as hip indie things must go, you should know that the Dropsy soundtrack is available not just digitally on Bandcamp, but also on Vinyl. A beautiful, orange-ish vinyl. If you’ve begun to build a vinyl VGM collection, why not add this wonderful item to the mix?
Runner Up: Corpse Party: songs of the dead
By: Mao Hamamoto, et al
I was tempted to put Imperial SaGa in this spot. It certainly deserves some love. But I had to go with XSEED’s incredible two disc compilation album, if only because of what they’ve done to make previously inaccessible music very accessible. Corpse Party: songs of the dead comes with the limited “Everafter Edition” of Corpse Party: Blood Drive for PlayStation Vita. For $50 retail (currently $32 as I write this for holiday sales), you get the game, a thick artbook of great art from the trilogy of games, and a two disc soundtrack of music from that same trilogy (Corpse Party, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, and Corpse Party: Blood Drive).
What makes the soundtrack special, alongside the eerie, haunting quality that Mao Hamamoto and other artists put into it, is that you’re getting a big bang for your buck. These two discs were originally three discs, previously available only in Japan, and only by buying each of the three separate Japanese games. I can’t imagine collecting those soundtracks without spending at least $200. So XSEED Games just saved soundtrack collectors a boatload of money by publishing their own, superior version. And I say superior because, honestly, less discs is better. Two 80 minute discs instead of 3 50-ish minute discs is good stuff. Don’t miss this one: you can buy it at Amazon, among other places.
Arrangement Album of the Year: Seiken Densetsu Legend of Mana arrangement album -Promise-
By: Yoko Shimomura, Takuro Iga, Mitsuhiro Ohta, Taroma Koshida, Jun Hayakawa, Tango-jack, Jusqu’à Grand-Père
Now *this* was unexpected. The third in a trilogy of albums Square Enix promised in an end-note to the booklet that came with the Seiken Densetsu 18 disc box set, “Promise” features no arrangements by Shimomura herself. Instead, Takuro Iga, Mitsuhiro Ohta, and a host of other accomplished jazz arrangers hand-picked some great performers to do wondrous new things to the beloved Legend of Mana soundtrack. I thought we were all Mana’d out after drammatica and memoria! But I was wrong. This disc even includes two tracks from the DS game Heroes of Mana, which I also thought might be a mistake. Again, I was wrong. Every arrangement on this album is lively and memorable. “Hometown Domina” is finally in a form that I can appreciate (I really hate that song in most other forms … don’t tell anyone). And the new vocal version of “Song of MANA” is truly striking. This team of musicians really brought Shimomura’s work to life, and I’m so glad this album happened. I don’t think anyone was really expecting it to be this good. It currently holds a 4.88 out of 5 rating on vgmdb, which is a mighty high average (hint: the runner-up listed below proved far more controversial among vgmdb’s user base).
Runner Up: To Far Away Times: Chrono Trigger & Chrono Cross Arrangement Album
By: Yasunori Mitsuda, Tomohiko Kira, Sachiko Miyano, Kumi Tanioka, Yasunori Mitsuda, Laura Shigihara, Natsumi Kameoka, Kazune Ogihara
Forgive me (or don’t) for being conventional. I picked two Square Enix arranged albums. And I’d have picked a third if asked for a number 3 (the “Ren” SaGa album was so good!). But I waited 15 years for this album, and darned if I won’t have my chance to speak about it.
The controversial choice, for me personally, was that I rated “Promise” higher than “To Far Away Times.” I can tell you which album I anticipated more, and I bet you, dear reader, shared my anticipation. We all wanted this album to be the best thing to ever come from Yasunori Mitsuda and his wily troupe of musicians, “Millennial Fair.” What we got was … well, a “your mileage may vary” kind of response from fans, based on how willing you were to accept the album’s premise.
Said premise, for the record, is that this is a concept album about Schala (of Chrono Trigger) and her cloned self Kid (of Chrono Cross). One is represented by vocalist Laura Shigihara, the other by Sarah Àlainn. The key to enjoying this album is to accept the project for what it is and just take it all in. There are only four instrumental tracks of 10 total tracks, so this is a vocal-heavy album (Japanese, English, and pseudo-language all make appearances). For me, Shigihara’s songs as Schala (“Schala’s Theme,” “Corridors of Time,” and “On the Other Side / Epilogue ~ To Good Friends) were the powerhouse emotional pieces, though Sarah’s additions are not to be forgotten either. Especially important for me was that, within Schala’s Theme, the arrangers (Mitsuda himself and Ms. Shigihara) saw fit to include an instrumental bridge from “Star-Stealing Girl,” my single favorite piece from Chrono Cross. This was a stroke of genius. And for those of you who wanted a strong instrumental piece? Look no further than “Marbule,” track 6. It is absolutely brilliant, and totally on par with Xenogears: CREID. Do not miss out. Get this album… and again, for you vinyl nuts, there is a double-vinyl version of this album to procure.Tags: 2015, Arrangements, Awards, Featured, Features, OSVOSTOTY, Soundtrack of the Year, Soundtracks