Iconic music can stay embedded into the subconsciousness for years. We all know the motifs of Mario, Sonic, Zelda, Mega Man, Crash Bandicoot, and even more recent examples like the Uncharted and Fallout themes. In 2017, we’ve been spoiled for choice with more than a few absolutely stellar soundtracks that have amplified already great games in one way or another.
This was quite the contested category, as there were passionate arguments for many of the following games. Our nominees have either utilised a particular style, revisited familiar motifs to expand the scope, or integrate their music into the action. After all the discussion though, there was a clear winner.
If there’s one thing classic Sonic games can be counted on, it’s to have a stellar soundtrack. What Sonic Mania does with that notion is turn it on its head by having a soundtrack that is familiar, but also fresh and exciting. Composed by Tiago ‘Tee’ Lopes, a Portuguese composer who started out making fan remixes of classic Sonic music, the music in Sonic Mania’s zones take inspiration from the older games, but modernise it rather than lazily use the Mega Drive/Genesis sound chip like previous forays into Sonic’s past have.
On top of this, Tee Lopes has created new tracks that not only insert themselves well within the Sonic franchise, but capture what made the music so iconic. It’s a long forgotten art that fewer soundtracks are using: Melodies. There’s a reason why when you ask the fans which single track they liked out of Sonic Mania’s many pieces of music, chances are it’s either one of the Studiopolis Acts, Press Garden Act 2, or one of the many boss music tracks.
There’s others beside that, such as Oil Ocean Zone Act 2 having a more Middle Eastern feel, while both Acts of Titanic Monarch Zone feel oppressive and imposing, appropriate for a late-game level. But rather than go on about it too much, just listen for yourself. This is but a sample of the music found in the soundtrack, but pay particular attention to how Studiopolis Act 1 and Act 2 are fundamentally different but share similar motifs. Also, Dr Robotnik’s (I refuse to call him ‘Eggman’) boss music is the best normal boss theme in a Sonic game, period. This award is for you Tee Lopes and well deserved too!
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Runner Up
As The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sought to modernise and reimagine what it means to be a Zelda game, its themes and feel were supported by the fantastic soundtrack by Manaka Kataoka. The Main Theme is mournful for what has been lost one moment and hopeful of the light that Link can bring back to Hyrule the next, making use of unconventional sounds such as accordions and synthesised sounds alongside a full orchestra.
Step out into the game’s open world, and the soundtrack fades away to emphasise the space and freedom you’ve been given with light and irregular twinkles of piano music, but the frequency of these and melody emerges as soon as you find and start riding around on horseback, leaning on the classic Zelda motif. For action sequences the music is off kilter with shifting rhythms and irregular time signatures, and Battle (Field) is distinctly reminiscent of Aaron Copland’s American classical music of the early 20th Century.
As bold and different as Breath of the Wild was as a game, the soundtrack matches it every step of the way.
NieR: Automata – Runner Up
A great narrative deserves to have a great soundtrack to accompany it. We’ve already established that NieR: Automata has the best narrative of 2017, and it also weighs in as a strong contender for the soundtrack award too. What makes Nier Automata’s soundtrack so aurally pleasing is its eclectic mix of styles from smooth tracks that accompany you as they play in the background to more bombastic pieces that are as attention dominating as what’s on the screen.
Many tracks become familiar as you spend time in the world, yet they never outstay their welcome. Each region has its own music to accompany it, each fight a score that mirrors the intensity. Throughout the long journey of Nier Automata new music makes itself known to you, marking not just another track on the soundtrack but poignant moments within the gameplay. Without it those moments would not have the same impact.
Nier Automata’s soundtrack is a fantastic collection of music overall, with no dud tracks that could be considered filler. Every piece has its place and the music can be just as surprising as the main narrative.
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
- Persona 5
Are there any other soundtracks in games that have been overlooked? Did your favourite not even get a mention? Feel free to sound off down in the comments below!