A look back at the musical highlights of 2020.
Great music can make a game, just as bad music can break it, and this year, thankfully, we had plenty of examples of the former. From soulful soundtracks to set the mood to headbanging tunes to go along with high-octane action, there was a good variety of excellent music in games this year, and here, we’re going to recognize that, as we talk about some of the games with the best soundtracks of the year, before crowning one of them as the winner.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
RESIDENT EVIL 3
Resident Evil 3 may have fallen short of expectations in a variety of ways, but in terms of the game’s audio visual experience and its production qualities, it left no stone unturned. From moments of slow, palpable horror to action-packed set-pieces, Resident Evil 3’s music was always right there with you, heightening the atmosphere every step of the way.
PERSONA 5 ROYAL
Persona is a series that’s always been known for its excellent music, and with 2017’s Persona 5, it seemed like the series had peaked. Then Persona 5 Royal came along to prove us quite wrong. Of course, the game would have qualified easily in this category even if it had been an exact replica of the original release, but Royal also introduces several new tracks that, in true Persona fashion, will be stuck in our heads for a long time to come.
GHOST OF TSUSHIMA
The look and feel of the island of Tsushima was a big part of why Sucker Punch’s open world samurai epic resonated with people as much as it did, and the game’s excellent music was hugely responsible for that. From sweeping orchestras underpinning the majestic beauty of the island to slower tracks to go alongside Jin’s internal conflict, Ghost of Tsushima’s music never missed a beat.
Astro Bot has quietly come along and become one of Sony’s best properties in recent years, and this year’s PS5 pack-in title Astro’s Playroom proved yet again just why this series has so many fans. And its soundtrack, appropriately enough, was full of charm and whimsy. Astro’s Playroom is, in many ways, a celebration of the history and the future of PlayStation, and the game’s music works overtime to ensure that it keeps capturing those jolly vibes.
Giant Squid’s The Pathless has a very unique meditative quality, one that pervades everything from the world and the art design to the traversal and exploration. None of it would have been half as effective if it weren’t for the excellent music. The soulful soundtrack elevates every second of the experience to all new heights- which isn’t surprising, considering the fact that it’s been composed by Journey mastermind Austin Wintory.
Souls games are known for their grand, majestic music, and that all, of course, started with Demon’s Souls. And just as it does in every other way, Demon’s Souls’ remake takes that soundtrack and makes it even better. This is a game that is simultaneously horrifying and epic, tense and peaceful, depressing and rousing, and the role that its music plays in letting the game hit all of those notes cannot be overstated.
We and countless of others have praised Hades to hell and back for a number of things, so it’s fitting that we’re enamoured by its music as well- that’s what being an all-rounded experience means, after all. From the tense and chaotic riffs that blare in the background during the game’s bombastic combat encounters to the much more relaxed tunes you get to listen to in moments of relative silence, the music Hades is playing is almost always the kind that will burrow its way into your head and refuse to leave.
XENOBLADE CHRONICLES: DEFINITIVE EDITION
Much like Persona 5 Royal, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition would have been an easy game to include in this category even if it had brought over the original game’s music as is. But Monolith Soft weren’t content with just replicating excellence- they wanted to build upon it. Not only does Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition’s remastered soundtrack sound better than it ever has (which is saying a lot), the new tracks added to the game also elevate its already amazing music to even greater heights.
THE LAST OF US PART 2
Given how expertly Gustavo Santaolalla composed an iconic soundtrack for the first The Last of Us, it’s not surprising that he managed to do just the same for its sequel. Bringing with it the very unique musical style that defined the first game’s music, The Last of Us Part 2’s OST, like the game itself, swerves and changes constantly, hitting all the right notes as the story veers from one unpredictable and tense moment to the next.
FINAL FANTASY 7 REMAKE
The original Final Fantasy 7 has one of the most widely beloved soundtracks in video game history, with multiple pieces of music that have become synonymous with not only the series, but the game itself. There was immense pressure on Square Enix to ensure that the legacy of that music would not be tarnished with the remake, but thankfully, they didn’t buckle that pressure. In fact, they thrived under it. Some of the best Final Fantasy tracks ever have been remade gloriously in this remake, with a few coming at unexpected moments and lending even greater weight to narrative moments that were already pretty damn impactful.
ORI AND THE WILL OF THE WISPS
Ori and the Will of the Wisps, much like its predecessor, has been widely praised as a masterful piece of artistic expression, not only thanks to its visuals and art style, but also its excellent music. Gareth Coker composed one of the best soundtracks of the year in 2015 for Blind Forest, and this year, he managed somehow to outdo himself. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is legitimately an all-time great, so it’s fitting that its music is worthy of similar praise as well.
Ripping and tearing was taken to bloody new heights this year with DOOM Eternal, and as anyone who’s played the game (or its 2016 predecessor) would tell you, none of that delightfully gory violence would have been nearly as exhilarating if it weren’t for the music that accompanied it. Mick Gordon’s ridiculously metal compositions have become an icon in and of themselves in recent years, and DOOM Eternal is yet more proof of his excellent- not that that was even needed at this point.
Valve is yet another developer that takes great pride in the music it puts in its games, and it’s proven that time and again with some truly excellent soundtracks over the years. This year, they added another name to that list with Half-Life: Alyx, which is defined from beginning to end by rousing music that does complete justice to the nature of the series’ stupendous, long-awaited return. In fact, Alyx legitimately has some of the best tracks we’ve ever heard in a Half-Life game, which is truly high praise.
THE LAST OF US PART 2
The Last of Us Part 2, like its predecessor, is a story that constantly works on many levels, from the state of humanity in a grim, post-apocalyptic world, to the captivating struggles that its main characters are constantly having to put up with and get through. Composing a soundtrack that can do justice to a story like that is not an easy task, but composer Gustavo Santaolalla is more than capable of doing just that, as he has proven before as well. Appropriately enough for a game with impactful storytelling and constantly engaging gameplay, The Last of Us Part 2’s soundtrack is the best we’ve heard this year, and one of the best we’ve heard in games throughout the course of this generation.