Speaking for myself, the soundtrack to a game is one of the most important cog in the machine. Of course gameplay is important, as are aesthetic and story, but for a truly emotional experience, something that truly grips you, there’s nothing like the power of music to sell a scene as joyful or sorrowful and everything in between. So for our first awards category this week, we’ll be nominating our Best Soundtrack of 2015.
As always, sound off in the comments below – or on Facebook or Twitter (@Official_OnlySP) – with your favorite soundtrack this year. Remember, today we’re just talking about the soundtrack in its entirety and how that grouping of music as a cohesive whole drew us into the experience of the game. We’ll be looking at individual songs tomorrow, so be sure to come back then to discuss some great tunes.
Reid A Gacke, Editor in Chief (@OnlySP_Reid) – I’m not getting sick of Undertale yet, are you? Good. But surprisingly, I’m not going to nominate it here, although it is a strong honorable mention from someone for whom “boss battle” is in his top ten favorite music genres (and Undertale had some great ones). I still listen to old (and remixed) eight- and 16-bit video game tunes and this soundtrack scratches that itch nicely. And it’s from the guy who did the music for Homestuck, which has better video game music than many video games. So it’s definitely a contender.
But I actually think my nomination for best soundtrack has to go to Rebel Galaxy, a game that got kind of lost in the shuffle this year. I actually found myself enjoying the game despite not being much of a sci-fi geek…and a large part of it was its twangy, hokey, atmospheric soundtrack. In much the same way that Fallout 4 (another strong, strong contender) set its atmosphere with 50’s music (I have a whole Pandora playlist dedicated to the Ink Spots thanks to Fallout 3), Rebel Galaxy had a soundtrack that sounded like it was straight out of the backwoods of some remote, soulful, perhaps even slightly dangerous back of beyond…in space. The game was solid but it was the music that really made me feel like I was a Space Cowboy.
If you loved the soundtracks to Firefly and Cowboy Bebop, Rebel Galaxy will be right up your alley. I just wish there were more tracks so they didn’t repeat themselves quite so much…
Lance Roth, Editorial Writer (@RPGameX) – Like Reid with his Undertale, I too am going to beat a dead horse. Not only is it one of my biggest gaming surprises of 2015, but Life is Strange has an equally amazing soundtrack. What else would you use to fill the quiet parts of a game about artsy teenagers in the Pacific Northwest but some appropriately folksy indie music? The Life is Strange soundtrack has it in spades. Not only does the game license tracks from the likes of Amanda Palmer, Bright Eyes, and Mogwai, but the score was actually composed by Jonathan Morali, the frontman of the band Syd Matters. It’s this brilliantly-composed and curated soundtrack that helps make this terribly frank, and fantastical tale as authentic as it is.
Rhys Cooper, News and Editorial Writer (@Dizzee_Rhyscal) – I can’t talk about the best soundtracks of the year without mentioning Fallout 4. There isn’t a song on the Diamond City playlist I would skip (if I could) despite hearing them all multiple times over and over! Just like in Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, a bunch of the songs have been heard sung somewhat awfully in my shower and will stick with me for the rest of my life.
However, my choice for soundtrack of the year is actually from a DLC expansion for a game that was released in 2014. I’m talking about Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows. I only got ’round to playing the main Shovel Knight game this year, a couple of months before the DLC release, and I absolutely fell in love with it. The re-emergence of 8-bit games hasn’t caught my imagination a whole lot but Shovel Knight certainly dug up some nostalgic desires within me and the free DLC (lasting as long as the original game) managed to brew up some more brilliant and original gameplay and fantastic tunes. A bunch of new songs were added and I’ve been jamming to the retro mixes ever since.
Nick Calandra, Owner (@OnlySP_Nick) – My favorite soundtrack of the year was no contest. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had a track for every big moment in the game that fit perfectly. The music developed for the game fit the world perfectly and added another element to the experience to make it all that more immersive. There’s only a few game soundtracks that I’ve listened to that have stuck with me as strong as The Witcher 3’s has, and that’s the Halo series.
When I first heard the tune found in The Sword of Destiny trailer from 2014, I knew the soundtrack was going to be among my all-time favorites. There’s not a track in the long list that I don’t like from The Witcher 3’s original score.
James Schumacher, Lead Reviewer (@JamesInDigital) – Picking a soundtrack is by far the hardest task of these year-end awards. Do you go with soundtrack, licensed or otherwise, or the sometimes more appropriate “musical score” choice? Each could have their own set of distinct entries. The bulk of my music collection, digital and physical is comprised of soundtracks and scores and they cover a wide variety of genres. So with that in mind here are a bunch of entries I liked. Maybe by the end of it, I’ll have a final “winner”.
Most recently, Fallout 4’s music impressed me with the reworking of some familiar themes and some added ethnic instrumentation. The composed music, to my ears, suffered from the same issue that their licensed soundtrack did in that there wasn’t enough of it… thank Cthulu for mods that allow extending the radio. The other top sequel of the year, Witcher 3, would be an easy choice here as well. There is a huge tracklist and many strong thematic moments littered throughout. The chanting vocals do get repetitive with long play times, but standing by itself the score is fantastic.
A few lesser known works also jump to mind. Indie Homesick’s sound is almost solely piano and cello. It fully fits in the realm designated as “haunting”, a word I tend to overuse, but perhaps never more accurately than when describing that title. Shelter 2 and White Night both play off mostly instrumental soundscapes with varying degrees of jazz. White Night makes its home in the night club, smoth jazz, loungey, noir realm of the 20s and 30s, with a song or two for good measure.
Life is Strange was not what anyone expected and that includes the indie, folksy licensed songs that are the soundtrack of young Max Caufield’s life. They create a unique mood for a unique story. And speaking of music that sets the tone for some truly distinct worlds, how about Bloodborne and Sunless Sea? Bloodborne’s menacing undertones and soaring chorale pieces somehow manage to separate themselves from their spirtual forefathers yet retain a level of familiarity. Sunless Sea also capitalizes on quiet menace mixing it with hopeful exploration. Without being able to explain exactly why, it simply sounds like an underground nautical adventure into the unknown.
There are so many more, and I know I’ll kick myself later for missing something. But I think my decision comes down to Ori and the Blind Forest or Jason Graves’ The Order 1886. Ori runs the gamut of emotions: happy and playful, somber and heartbreaking, and of course dark and foreboding. Whereas Ori dabbles in that darkness, The Order 1886 bathes in it. Dark and deep violins and cellos, which I’m a sucker for, dominate this heavily moody and atmospheric score. It’s the kind of stuff I can listen to outside of a game while I write or just relax.
My pick for the best soundtrack of 2015 goes to… The Order 1886 from Jason Graves with special mention to the amazing Austin Wintory. Here’s why from my review: “Jason Graves’ musical compositions cover the full range – the chords jab at our ears, quick, deliberate and driven as combat reaches its apex. Then they float through our heads, a sort of lament matching the gloom of our surroundings during slower moments. Key tones pique our interest as we struggle to understand the expanding enigma encompassing London. All of these traits can be experienced in the singular co-composed track which was created with Austin Wintory, The Knights’ Theme.”
Sep Gohardani – News and Features Writer (@SepGohardani) – There are some excellent choices in here, but I thought I’d throw my lot in for Jared Emerson-Johnson. The composer has excelled in his role as Telltale’s chief musician, creating great scores for The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us among others. This year, he returned to score Game of Thrones, a daunting task that meant working off Ramin Djawadi’s score on the TV show. He succeeds with aplomb, taking the essence of Djawadi’s work and creating an intimidating soundtrack that serves to accentuate the action, making the emotional moments (and there are many) pack more of a punch and making sure to remain understated when necessary. It may not be his greatest work, that title goes to his work on the aforementioned Wolf Among Us, but it’s another example of his ability to bring more to a game without ever overpowering it. He’s a perfect fit for Telltale.
Gareth Newnham, News Writer – Best soundtrack for me was an easy choice; Life is Strange. Yes I know that I also said it was one of my biggest disappointments of the year as well, but the caveat was that the soundtrack was brilliant, and I stand by that. The decision to use a fully-licensed soundtrack including the likes of Bright Eyes, Mogwai and a reformed Dresden Dolls (Amanda Palmer & Brian Viglione) hit all the right note in regards to the games coming of age, indie movie sensibilities.
Not only that, but DONTNOD used every track in such an effective way, punctuating each scene these tracks were in, enhancing the message they were trying to convey while being genuinely entertaining at the same time.
This was elevated by some superb sound design, having each of these carefully curated songs weave in and out of key scenes in unique and often brilliant ways was an absolute master stroke. From having Max and Chloe simply turning on a stereo and listening to the calming yet melancholic Loa by Bright Eyes (from It’s Wide Awake It’s Morning. If you don’t have a copy go get one. That album will change your life for the better) creating a moment of calm before the storm of the game’s bleak climax to having them shift from non-diegetic to diegetic sound and back again, as the credits for the 2nd episode rolled while Alt- J something Good plays as Max gets ready for class.