Photo by NieR Concert/SquareEnix
Skyrim by Jeremy Soule
Skyrim’s soundtrack is a perfect example of mood music. While certain tracks can often be sweeping and operatic, others are small, personal, and playful. Its main theme, “Dragonborn” is powerful and menacing and became one of the most iconic pieces of game music. But I think of entries like “Secunda” and “Distant Horizon” which perfectly capture images of a cold sun rising over the frozen tundras of Skyrim.
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward by Masayoshi Soken, Nobuo Uematsu, others
Final Fantasy XIV easily has the most entries of any other soundtrack on this list. With over 200+ songs in the game, XIV takes the best of the Final Fantasy series and remixes it. Composer Masayoshi Soken and his team also have a Guinness World record for “Most Original Pieces of Music in a Video Game”. And without exaggeration some of his creations rival that of the great RPG soundtracks. With so much music the selections are eclectic, and literally every boss raid get its own theme. There WILL be something you love from the FFXIV Soundtrack. One of the highlight tracks comes early in the story where you fight Titan. The music shifts every time there’s a phase change and it’s all different. It’s one of Soken’s finest moments.
Octopath Traveler by Yasunori Nishiki
If there is one thing that SquareEnix does, it’s good music. And Octopath Traveler is no different. In this 2017 hit, the hardcore RPG heads lauded its soundtrack before any other aspect of the game. In an era where people were talking about single-player experiences being dead, Octopath released and reminded an industry that the RPG was here to stay. And it would sound amazing.
Celeste by Lena Raine
Over the past decade we’ve seen an explosion of critically acclaimed indie games. Every year, one of them rises to the fold and in 2018 it was Celeste. This punishing platformer built its difficulty into its narrative as you help the main character overcome a literal mountain that serves as an allegory for anxiety and depression. This is reflected in the soundtrack expertly as its opening tracks are hopeful and light. But as time goes on, and the mountain becomes more oppressive, so does the soundscape. It’s a gem of a game and partnered with an amazing pseudo-retro OST that pairs perfectly.
Undertale by Toby Fox
When Undertale stormed onto the scene in 2015, it took the gaming world by storm. Its simple graphics, charming story, and absolute disregard for the traditional rules of games made it incredibly popular and a cult classic. The soundtrack for Undertale is a contender for best of all time, let alone of the 2010’s. Toby does a masterful job of making every character’s theme fit their personality and design. He emulates the likes of Nobuo Uematsu and John Williams in his ability to make music iconic with the characters. One play-through and you’ll be humming it for months.
Persona 5 by Shoji Meguro
Persona 5 is the “coolest” game of the decade, by far. Its art and music direction are second to none and its acid-jazz based soundtrack are a big part of it. Shoji Meguro is known to theme the soundscape of Persona games by genre. Persona 3 is known for its J-pop/Hip-Hop inspirations, and Persona 4 for its harder, rock tone. With Persona 5, he knocks it out of the park with a Rhodes piano heavy OST that still sounds unlike any other game out there.
Nier Automata – Keiichi Okabe, Keigo Hoashi and Kuniyuki Takahashi
Nier Automata is a story that is driven forward by exploring the question of what makes something “alive”, and that’s exactly the feeling you experience when hearing this soundtrack play out. With its world of high fantasy and sci-fi, the music must be equally outrageous, and yet capable of showing emotion at the same time. The most well known track has to come from a boss battle that leaves the player questioning if they are truly the bad guy after defeating her and learning of her desire to just feel love, requited and true. Can a soundtrack make you experience what it means to be a living being?
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Hajime Wakai
How many games are defined by their loud and bombastic score, beating players over the head with the messages they hope to convey? That is the opposite of what BotW attempted to accomplish, and accomplish it they did. This soundtrack is at its best not when a large event is happening on screen, but when you sit and take a minute to just observe what is happening around you. From small thematic elements, to the perfect light touch of story telling through it, the music of Breath of the Wild should serve as a guide for how future Legend of Zelda titles handle their soundtracks.