Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Top Ten Favorite Video Game Soundtracks (2012)

Music has always been a very important part of my gaming career. Video games often exhibit such a beautiful musical presentation that these soundtracks stay with me long after the game is over. Here is my list of my top ten favorite video game soundtracks of all time. I tried to limit things to one game per series, but I had to make a few exceptions. There are also many games that did not quite make this list, but were very close. It was a tough list to make!

10.) Streets of Rage 2: The entire Streets of Rage series has excellent music and part two is the best of the bunch. From the memorable intro theme (which doubles as the haunting melody that plays on the final stage), to the iconic music of Stage 1 all the way to the endlessly badass theme of my favorite boss in the game, Shiva; this game has a beautiful score. Every track is composed to not only suit the atmosphere of the situation but also to get the player pumped up to clean up some streets. Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima did some truly fantastic work here.

9.) Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards: Like many other games on this list, Kirby 64 is part of a series with a tradition of excellence in music. Kirby 64’s varied soundtrack stands (or floats) at the top of the pink cream-puff’s musical legacy for me personally. I’ll always remember themes like “Ruins”, “Shiver Star”, “Factory Inspection” and of course my favorite final boss theme of all time: “02 Battle”. The game’s tunes range from traditionally cheery Kirby stuff to haunting and atmospheric pieces like the Ruins theme and “Factory Inspection”, to some really moving stuff like the 02 battle theme. Jun Ishikawa and Hirokazu Ando are to thank for this beautiful selection.

8.) Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Knuckles: The Sonic series is known for always being stellar in the music department. For me, Sonic 2 and 3 have always been the best musically, but in the end, part three manages to spin dash into first place. I just love the melodies and instruments used in the game. Angel Island Zone, Hydrocity Zone, Ice Cap Zone, Launch Base Zone, Flying Battery Zone, Lava Reef Zone…the list goes on and on. The music is upbeat, jazzy, thoughtful and always enjoyable. Sonic 3 and Knuckles has a very long list of composers (including some help from Michael Jackson himself) and all of their talent really shows in the final product.

7.) Skies of Arcadia: RPGs usually always have memorable soundtracks and Skies of Arcadia is no exception. I love almost every single track in this game. From the moment the beautiful title screen theme begins to play, the player knows they’re in for a fantastic soundtrack. The Kingdom of Ixa’taka theme, The Valua City theme, the adventurous Delphinus world map theme (which dynamically changes depending on which part of the world you are in) and so many more are all brilliant. Every track in the game perfectly suits the location or situation is is played against and is enjoyable to listen to. Yutaka Minobe and Tatsuyuki Maeda accomplished stunning work here.

6.) World of Goo: Oh man, World of Goo…World of Goo. I don’t even know where to begin. Composed by just one man, the incredible Kyle Gabler, World of Goo’s soundtrack is one of the most original and breathtaking I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing in a video game. From the nostalgic “Ode to the Bridge Builder” to the haunting “Years of Work” to one of the most moving ending themes ever composed in “Best of Times”, this soundtrack elevates itself high above so many other works. Seriously, you have to listen to some of this stuff.

5.) Silent Hill 2: Here we are at the top five and Akira Yamaoka’s masterful work in Silent Hill 2 is more than worthy. Really, just about any of the following contenders could be number one as they all exhibit the very top of their class. The Silent Hill series has incredible music and sound design and Silent hill 2 is the best of them all. This soundtrack is at times melancholic and haunting and at others extremely moving. It is alternately uplifting and depressing and always atmospheric and fitting. Have a listen to just a few tracks from this stellar score, "Theme of Laura" and "Theme of Laura (Reprise)".

4.) Shadow of the Colossus: Like Silent Hill 2, Shadow of the Colossus is a video game that blends atmosphere and music with perfection. Ko Otani composed a true masterpiece here. The slow and thoughtful opening theme, the grand and epic music that plays during a colossus encounter, the emotional ending theme: everything is perfect. The soundtrack fits the game so well because it dances between an epic and melancholic score and anyone who has played Shadow of the Colossus knows how appropriate this is.

3.) Castlevania series: It’s here in the top three that I cheat a little bit. I can’t honestly single out one Castlevania soundtrack from all the rest because for one thing they are all just so damn fantastic. Secondly, the entire series features perhaps more remixed and different versions of recurring songs than any other and for that reason it is almost like the whole series has one giant soundtrack. And what a gorgeous piece of work it is. Dozens of composers over the years including the incredibly talented Michiru Yamane created a true legend. Have a listen to "Vampire Killer" and "The Sinking Old Sanctuary".

2.) TIE: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: I had a very hard time choosing which soundtrack from the Zelda series to pick, so hard in fact that I decided on picking two games from the bunch. Majora’s Mask features a very emotional and at times disturbing soundtrack which includes some of my favorite themes in the entire series such as “Clock Town, First Day”, “Giants’ Theme” and perhaps my favorite song in the entire Zelda series: the “Song of Healing”. Koji Kondo and Toru Minegishi did wonderful work here. The Wind Waker has an extremely well-balanced and gorgeous soundtrack. I love almost every single track in the game. From the cheery and cozy “Windfall Island” to the haunting “Sage Laruto” to the epic music that plays during the final boss battle; everything is atmospheric, moving, and joyous to listen to. Kenta Nagata, Hajime Wakai, Toru Minegishi, and Koji Kondo all worked together to create something truly special here.

1.) TIE: Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross: I couldn’t choose just one of these stellar soundtracks because they both mean so much to me. I’ve honestly listened to the soundtracks for Chrono Trigger and its sequel, Chrono Cross, more than any other game and I still listen to them on a regular basis today. They just never get old and remain touching and beautiful to me to this day. Chrono Trigger presents the best of the 16-bit best and has my favorite video game song of all time: “Time Circuits” (or “Corridors of Time” as it is also known). Yasunori Mitsuda, Nobuo Uematsu and Noriko Matsueda are legends. Chrono Cross followed suite with a beautiful and stirring soundtrack of its own composed by Yasunori Mitsuda once again. The opening theme “Time’s Scar” really gets the player excited to begin the game and the haunting themes of the Dead Sea and Chronopolis will always stay in my memory. And then there are the ending themes of “Life~A Distant Promise” and “Radical Dreamers”, two of the most, if not the most moving ending themes I’ve ever heard in a video game (along with Chrono Trigger’s own “To Faraway Times”).
                But it’s more than just beautiful music. The soundtracks to Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross have truly inspired me over the years. They’ve influenced my writing and sparked my imagination. They’ve cheered me up when I’ve felt sad or lonely, and as corny as it might sound, they’ve truly touched me and given me back my enthusiasm for life when I’ve needed it most sometimes. They are my favorite video game soundtracks of all time and I will continue to listen to them again and again and again for as long as I can.