Recognizing the best video game soundtracks of 2018.
A game’s music is almost never at the forefront of an experience. The things that you notice first and foremost are things such as how it plays, how it looks, what kind of a story it tells. But a soundtrack is something that can single-handedly make or break an experience. Excellent, weighty cutscenes can fall flat without the use of proper or appropriate music, while moments that are otherwise tepid and forgettable get elevated to new heights if they’re set to memorable tunes. Games are a collaborative art form, after all, and though it’s not for anyone to conclusively say what aspect of a game is the most important, the significance of music is undeniable. Here, we’ll be recognizing ten games of 2018 that we felt had some of the most excellent and memorable soundtracks and music we’ve heard all year, before impossibly picking out the best of the best.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
THE NOMINEES ARE…
How do you improve something like Tetris? How does one make a Tetris game and do something that similar games haven’t already done before? It’s Tetris- it’s mechanically complete and, arguably, perfect. The answer to those questions lies in Tetris Effect. You turn it into a game that is as much about the music as it is about the puzzle. Every moment of Tetris Effect is intrinsically tied with its sound, and for a game that relies as heavily on music as this does, having a bad soundtrack would be pretty much a game-breaker. The fact that Tetris Effect is one of the best games of the year should, as such, tell you all you need to know about how good its music is.
GOD OF WAR
Much like all of God of War (2018), its music is completely different from what we’ve seen (or heard) from its past six entries- but still very much the same. But while it’s the same in that it consists of epic tracks that convey the series’ famous sense of scale to absolute perfection, it’s also much better than it’s ever been. That’s because the new God of War has an emotional range that extends far beyond “angry” and “angrier”. It is, unlike its predecessors, also a deeply character driven game, wrought with a vast range of emotional beats, and its soundtrack does justice to every one of those moments every step of the way.
SUPER SMASH BROS. ULTIMATE
The soundtrack is often cited as one of the core pillars that any Smash Bros. game is built on- as a celebration of the medium at large, Super Smash Bros. games have a responsibility to represent all of its best aspects as perfectly as possible, and as a culmination of the series, Smash Ultimate’s responsibility in that regard is even weightier. Unsurprisingly, it lives up to those lofty expectations. On top of an excellent soundtrack of its own, it also brings together music from a large number of franchises from across the industry, presenting their tracks both, in their original form, and in the form of typically amazing remixes. The sheer ambition of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s soundtrack is staggering – there are over 900 tracks in the game – which is something that it leverages very impressively, by also doubling as your go-to music player for video game music. And then there’s the World of Light theme song- we just can’t get it out of our heads.
POKEMON LET’S GO, PIKACHU! AND EEVE!
As a series, Pokemon has come to be associated with some of the best music you can get in games. Every single game in the franchise has head excellent soundtracks- but it all started with Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow, games that, to this day, have some of the catchiest tunes you will ever hear in a game. Living up to those high expectations as remakes of those titles must have been a heavy burden to bear for Pokemon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee!, but it’s a burden it bore like a champion. Remixing classic, beloved tracks can go wrong very easily, and very often does, but the soundtrack of Let’s Go is an aural treat for Pokemon fans, and the perfect blend of nostalgia and modernization.
YAKUZA KIWAMI 2
Yakuza Kiwami 2’s soundtrack is a perfect representation of how ambitious of a remake it is. While the game brings with a few tracks from the original Yakuza 2 and remixes them excellently, a large portion of its selection of music was composed entirely just for Kiwami 2, which is well above and beyond what most remakes would do. And while whether or not Kiwami 2’s soundtrack is better than the one in Yakuza 2 is simply a matter of taste, on its own, the remake’s soundtrack, with its mix of jazzy tunes and adrenaline-charged tracks, is undeniably excellent.
SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS
The importance of music is keener in a game like Shadow of the Colossus than it is in most other kinds of games. As a game that is by design about the absence of stuff as much as most other games in today’s day and age go for the complete opposite, Shadow of the Colossus relies heavily on visual and aural communication to deliver a massive chunk of its experience, both of which are, of course, intrinsically tied to each other. The soundtrack of Shadow of the Colossus is, just as it was in 2005, the perfect foil for the game’s solemn, desolate world and gloomy atmosphere. Not only does it work very well to uplift those parts of the game, it’s also just an excellent composition in and of itself, when several memorable tracks that have stood the test of time, and will continue to do so for a long time.
In the build up to Octopath Traveler’s launch, there was a lot that players were excited for- its combat, its beautiful visual style, how it was a throwback to classic 16- and 32-bit RPGs. And while all of those things were excellent, as expected, not many people could have expected that its soundtrack would end up being one of Octopath Traveler’s best aspects. The music in this game changes gears constantly, opting for a unique flavour for different characters, different situations, and different locations, and it’s rarely ever off the mark. When a soundtrack consists of half a dozen tracks – at the very least – that you just can’t stop humming along to, you know it’s done something right.
RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2
Like the rest of the game itself, Red Dead’s Redemption 2’s soundtrack can best be described as ambitious. It takes many forms throughout the course the entire playthrough- sometimes upbeat, sometimes melancholic, sometimes furious, and sometimes peaceful. The game and its composer Woody Jackson deserve endless praise for the fact that all of it always lands perfectly. Moments of action are punctuated by confident tracks of drums and guitars, rising and falling and rising again perfectly, kicking in at just the right moments, and fading away just as the dust after a shootout settles down. Pivotal moments in the story are accompanied by some of the best music we’ve ever heard, making you feel like a badass and unstoppable gunslinger one moment, and then making you break down into tears with a sombre, introspective track the next. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game that shoots for the stars constantly, and is always taking bold and unexpected turns, especially with its narrative, and its music is always there to propel it through the stratosphere.
NI NO KUNI 2: REVENANT KINGDOM
It’s fair to say that Ni no Kuni 2 isn’t as widely beloved as its predecessor was, and their are many staunch lovers of the first game that feel that the second, in spite of all its strengths, fell a little short in some ways. But one of the ways in which Ni no Kuni 2 meets all expectations, and then some, is with its soundtrack. While the OST isn’t without inconsistencies of its own, there are several standout tracks that will be stuck in your head the entire time you’re playing the game, and the majority of it is a perfect companion for Ni no Kuni 2, its colourful world, its charming characters, and its beautiful visuals.
Celeste is the kind of game where all moving parts work in conjunction to deliver a solid, cohesive whole. It’s a game with a moving and emotional story, but it’s also a game with entertaining and challenging platforming- somehow, its music suits both those sides just perfectly. From setting the tone for vital story beats to providing excellent and catchy tunes for when you’re actually playing, Celeste’s soundtrack is amazingly consistent. It’s good enough to function as an album in and of itself, contributes to the game’s overall experience immensely.
AND THE WINNER IS…
RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2
What can we say about Red Dead Redemption 2’s soundtrack that we haven’t said already? It succeeds in so many ways, and does it so convincingly. No matter what mood or emotion the story is portraying, no matter what new sight the world takes us to see next, no matter how funny, how tense, or how sombre a situation is, Red Dead Redemption 2’s music is always there to punctuate it all perfectly and in the boldest way possible. If the purpose of a soundtrack is to enhance the core essence of a game’s DNA in every way possible – which it is – then Red Dead Redemption 2’s plaudits deserves all the plaudits it can get, because that is exactly what it does, and does it better than most soundtracks we’ve ever seen in a game.