Monday, December 23, 2013

Best of 2013 - soundtrack.

The best video game music of 2013 is a broad swath, and - unlike every other year - not dominated by open-world games and with their well-chosen licensed playlists.  Grand Theft Auto V certainly makes an appearance, here, but most of the sweet sounds of 2013 are pure original scores.


far cry 3 : blood dragon

One of two synth-heavy eighties-inspired scores on this list, Blood Dragon's soundtrack directly recalls the heyday of the big, stupid action movie with straight riffs on everything from the post-apocalyptic Californian wastelands of Terminator to cheesy American ninja movies to - when you're sneaking up on guys in the jungle - the tribal drums from Predator.


Tearaway's beautiful score - a cheerful, upbeat collection of folk instruments and electronica - gives the game one of the most unique sounds of this or any year.  Its an earnest, wide-eyed collection of music for one of 2013's most earnest games, and a huge part of Tearaway's substantial charm.

honorable mentions


Like Tearaway, Guacamelee's soundtrack mixes traditional instruments and sounds (in this case, the unique flavor of a mariachi band) with modern electronica.  The result is a catchy, energetic track list that offers rich character to each environment - and one that plays double-duty, as each zone effectively has two complimenting songs - a livelier one for the land of the living, and the same song re-mixed for a cool, mysterious sound when you swap into the land of the dead (skip above to 3:05).

dragon's crown

Above is the song that plays as you stroll from the Dragon's Haven Inn and through the town that serves as your base of operation in Dragon's Crown.  Vanillaware is an old hand at crafting (gorgeous) original scores, with Odin Sphere providing a similarly high-caliber sountrack back on the PS2.  Like Odin Sphere and Muramasa, the instruments, arrangements and melodies of Dragon's Crown are carefully chosen to reflect the game's world - in this case, European high fantasy - with Gregorian-like chants, choirs and the full compliment of harps, flutes and horns.  The most is made, here, of music's ability to influence tone in a game almost devoid of context, whether you're getting bad news, cruising through some ancient ruins on your way to face a gigantic boss or back at the Dragon's Haven, relaxing as your pour over your loot.

Why doesn't this game have an official soundtrack release?!

hotline miami

Hotline Miami's sountrack is all sultry, sweaty synth, slithering its way around your brain and driving you a bit mad as you contemplate your next bloody murder.  Its music does far more to set the tone of the game than the 16-bit title's graphics, and informs a... comfortably hazy mindset.


the last of us

The Last of Us employs what one would be tempted to call the "simplest" soundtrack on this list, with a few well-chosen (and well-played) instruments, elevated by some subtle work in the studio.  It's a beautiful, understated score - one that offers smartly-chosen spikes of tone when needed, but otherwise content to sit in the background and inform the emotional through-lines of the heady, heavy themes of the game it supports.

runner up

grand theft auto v

When I finished my first playthrough of Grand Theft Auto V, I said the soundtrack was underwhelming when compared to the series' past.  In hindsight, I should have said that GTA V's tracklist - like the game itself - is not as instantly impressive as GTA IV's or San Andreas's, but familiarity in this case breeds affection.

Two months on, the GTA V soundtrack is one of a mere handful of playlists that enjoy daily attention on my iPod - and when the chips are down, that is how I judge a game's music.  Most games end up on my iPod - I've even got Bionic Commando's 2009 reboot on there - but almost none of them see as much use as GTA V's - and as it was with GTA IV, half the pleasure here is in discovering artists you'd never heard of.

There's a hipster-ish charm to showing friends great songs they've never heard of.  Driving around while listening to Boogie In Zero Gravity, Sleepwalker or Cold Air and having your companion ask what "what's this song?" is weirdly thrilling.  Introducing someone to the glittering Mirror Maru by the Cashmere Cat, replete with what sounds like the slightly-rusty springs of a bed squeaking in time with the music is always cool.  Yacht's deeply weird and weirdly charming Psychic City always elicits some raised eyebrows until you tell you friends to pay attention to the lyrics, and rare is the personality that won't get a grin out of it.  Nissim, Waveforms, Made - all cool, new sounds, buoyed by familiar rock, soul, rap and old-school country.

GTA V's soundtrack is killer.

best soundtrack



At least once a day, as a general rule, I find myself flipping to Colorful Flowers A.

And from there, I tend to just let the playlist roll through Lightning Speed A, Murderous and the gorgeous Losing Consciousness A and Losing Consciousness B:

Vanillaware have always given us... sumptuous games.  Luxurious games, across all facets, and Muramasa Rebirth represents music house Basiscape at the top of its craft.  Like Dragon's Crown, its instruments and arrangements are entirely informed by its setting - like Guacamelee, almost every track in the game has an alternate version, flipping from a groovy ghostly song as you dash along a haunted stretch of road to a crazy, complimenting high-energy remix when a pack of ninjas jump you, and your blade sings free of its scabbard.

Kick their pajama'd butts and, the moment you sheath your sword, the music flips back to its A-side track.  Muramasa's music pulls far ahead of Dragon's Crown's, though, in terms of sheer quantity of quality.

The game is a mini-epic, with two narratives that each take about fifteen hours to see through, and beautiful, original songs have been crafted for every moment, from strolling through a graveyard after dark to lounging in a hot spring to nomming on some sushi at a roadside restaurant.

This is the song that plays as you sit down to eat:

It's so full of character and thought and love and craft.

The list of excellent tracks goes on and on - 65 songs in all, and Muramasa's score has gone on to inspire a re-arrangement concert. I don't want to let you go before telling you about the awesome boss music Turbulence or the lovely Natural Life A or the powerful-sounding Powerful Looking, but you've been more than generous enough with your time, so let me just say that Muramasa Rebirth, with its grand, sweeping, sprawling, rich soundtrack, as gorgeous as the game it warbles from, boasts the best video game soundtrack of 2013.   

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