A Music Nerd’s Favorite Video Game Soundtracks of 2018
Games in 2018 had some really good and varied soundtracks, so much so that I found it nearly impossible to rank them. Because of this, I’ve included my favorites in no particular order.
God of War (Composer: Bear McCreary)
God of War’s soundtrack, much like the game itself, is a journey. Characters and locations have distinct, recognizable themes and motifs. The opening song is a booming march-like track with a choir of low-voiced men that calls to mind the hulking figure of Kratos. Meanwhile “Memories of Mother,” the theme of his deceased wife Faye, is a more flowing, natural composition. The way these two themes interact on “Ashes” tells a story in itself, one of sorrow and farewell. The entire soundtrack is a wonderful companion to the journey of a bear and a wolf.
Standout Track: Ashes
Celeste (Composer: Lena Raine)
Celeste is a beautiful platformer whose story themes of determination, self-loathing, and acceptance blend perfectly into the challenging but fair gameplay. Madeline, a young girl struggling with anxiety and depression, decides to climb Celeste Mountain in order to prove to herself that she can accomplish something. Along the way, she learns to cope with her mental health, while remaining determined to push forward no matter what. The music is wide-ranging, from hopeful and soaring, to mysterious and melancholy. And the B-Sides, tracks that accompany challenging bonus levels, all really well-made remixes of songs from the campaign’s soundtrack, are pretty much universally great.
Standout Track: Resurrections
Cytus 2 (Various Artists)
Cytus 2 is a mobile rhythm game, and as such, would be a failure if the music wasn’t good. I expected the music to be good, but was also pleasantly surprised to find that the actual gameplay was very engaging as well. I don’t play a lot of mobile games, but this one stood out, and its selection of music is in no small part why. The game’s tracks are organized by the fictional artists of the story, with each one representing a different genre. Many of the artists use different forms of electronic music (Paff, Neko, ROBO Head, and Cherry), but others branch out into other genres, such as classical artist ConneR, jazz artist Joe, and hard rock/metalcore artist Xenon.
Standout Track: Bullet Waiting for Me (James Landino Remix)
Red Dead Redemption 2 (Various Artists)
Red Dead Redemption 2 is the most conflicting game I’ve ever played. The story, characters, and writing are maybe the best I’ve experienced in a game, but I just didn’t enjoy actually playing it. But I digress. My opinions on the gameplay are for another time.
Much like the story, the music in Red Dead 2 is also top-notch. There is a consistent quality to the music, from the more dynamic soundtrack in gunfights, to the composed pieces for cutscenes and the like. Additionally, developer Rockstar continues its amazing use of vocal tracks in pivotal story moments. Somehow they managed to top the “riding into Mexico” moment from the first game multiple times.
It was hard to pick just one standout track, especially considering the quality of the vocal tracks and how they’re used. I decided on Unshaken because it seemed like the safest to me as far as potential spoilers go; however, all of the vocal tracks are standout, particularly when their context and use in the game are considered. For all my complaints about gameplay, the music reminds me that the story this game tells is something truly special.
Standout Track: Unshaken
Monster Hunter World (Composers: Akihiko Narita, Zhenlan Kang)
Monster Hunter World took me by surprise. Having never played a Monster Hunter game before, I didn’t know what to expect. However, after release, I found myself drawn into the New World. The environments that the team at Capcom have created feel alive and populated like a real ecosystem, and the music that accompanies each location and the battles against giant creatures is suitably adventurous. I’m a sucker for motif-heavy soundtracks, and each location has its own theme that is used for ambiance, battles against small creatures, battles against larger creatures, and so on. Each theme is distinct and instantly recognizable due to the different instruments that are used. For example, The Ancient Forest uses traditional horns and strings, while the decaying Rotten Vale employs synthesizers in a way that is unexpected, yet fitting.
I’ve chosen the main theme as my standout track here, but there are any number of tracks that could accompany it. The Rotten Vale music that I mentioned earlier is fantastic, as is this game’s rendition of the Proof of a Hero theme that has appeared in all games prior to this. However, I’ve chosen the main theme because I feel it perfectly captures the feeling of adventuring into and exploring a completely new world that Monster Hunter World provided me.
Standout Tracks: Main Theme — Stars At Our Backs
I may be showing special preference for Monster Hunter here by including two standout tracks, but oh well, here’s the Rotten Vale theme, “Murmurs from the Land Forbidden.”
Destiny 2: Forsaken (Composers: Michael Salvatori, C. Paul Johnson, Skye Lewin)
Destiny has always had some of the best music in games, and the latest Forsaken expansion is no exception. Forsaken is unquestionably Destiny 2’s best expansion, and it may be the best in the series to date. It begins as a Western-style tale of revenge that morphs seamlessly into space elves and eldritch horrors, and the soundtrack reflects that. The tracks from the Western-inspired location The Tangled Shore are fantastic, using horns and guitars to great effect while including strings and chorus to maintain Destiny’s science fantasy feel. The soundtrack later takes a hard turn into more mystical themes and motifs when it gets to the tracks that accompany the Dreaming City, or “basically space elf Rivendell,” as my fiancée called it.
The track I’ve chosen here, Queen’s Oracle, plays while you fight into the Dreaming City for the first time, and is a bombastic track driven by low brass and strings and accompanied by a high trumpet part that sings the original Destiny theme over everything, and then the track turns into an arrangement of “Bow to No One,” the Awoken Queen’s theme from Destiny 1’s Taken King expansion.
Yes, I really like Destiny.
Standout Track: Queen’s Oracle
Tetris Effect (Composer: Noboru Mutoh)
Tetris Effect is beautiful. I’ve written about this game already, but it is such a meditative experience because of its fantastic visuals, engaging Tetris gameplay, and of course, the soundtrack. The soundtrack drew me in because while playing, I was helping create it. Moving, flipping, and dropping Tetris pieces creates sounds that are tailored to each stage’s soundtrack, and morph along with each song. I found myself timing my moves so that they matched up with the beat of the music. For example, in the first level, the sounds start out as small vocal samples, and change to piano notes and ride cymbal hits later in the song. Oh, and the controller vibrates and pulses in time with the music too.
The only problem with Tetris Effect’s soundtrack is that it loses some of its magic when one simply listens to it. Part of the joy of the songs is contributing to them while playing, and the official releases don’t include any of the sounds that happen when flipping and moving the blocks around. Still, the first trailer theme “Connected” got me emotional in ways I didn’t think a trailer for Tetris, I repeat, Tetris could.
Standout Track: Connected (Yours Forever)
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Various Artists)
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the biggest game soundtrack I’ve ever listened to the entirety of. The entire soundtrack, including victory themes and various jingles, contains 1055 tracks and is over 48 hours long. It’s a wonderful collection of original songs from different video game series, remixes from Smash Bros. games past, and new remixes created specifically for this game. I can’t overstate how big this game’s soundtrack is, and more importantly, the quality of the songs in it. I do have minor complaints about a few missing songs, such as the vocal Bayonetta tracks (licensing is difficult), but the sheer enormity of the soundtrack makes these complaints seem petty.
There are far too many songs for me to choose from here, so I’m probably going to cheat and pick more than one standout track again. I guess I would choose to highlight some of the new remixes from this game. Newcomer King K. Rool’s theme “Gangplank Galleon” did not need to go as hard as it does, but here we are. It’s a weird mariachi-rave song with a rap verse and halftime breakdown in the middle, and it just slaps. In addition, the remix of the 2017 Breath of the Wild trailer is amazing. They added an electric guitar and solo vocalist to the intro, which is pretty cool in and of itself. Then they added Tchaikovsky-eqsue orchestral stings and an entirely new sounding choir to one of the best parts of the original trailer, along with more guitar, and it took one of my favorite songs ever and added even more to it. Lastly, Ridley’s new theme for the game. Now that he’s a playable character (finally!) he needed a new theme. They took his original theme from the Metroid games and added metal guitar riffs and a drum track. It’s a more intense theme than it’s been, and it suits him perfectly.
Standout Tracks: Gangplank Galleon (Remix)
Breath of the Wild 2017 Trailer (Remix)
Vs. Ridley (Remix)
Marvel’s Spider Man (Composer: John Paesano)
Marvel’s Spider-Man on PS4 is my favorite superhero game. Swinging around New York as Spider Man is so joyful and satisfying, in no small part because of the soundtrack. It’s an original theme written for the game, but it fits right in with other themes from various Spider Man movies, and it really helps drive home the feeling of being Spider Man. The main theme is heroic and sweeping, and the entire soundtrack uses a lot of strings, both plucked and bowed, to set the tone for Spidey’s adventures around the city. The soundtrack sounds like it could fit right into a movie, which is probably for the best, but also leaves it feeling a little familiar. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with something a little familiar from time to time.
The standout track here is the main theme, since it permeates pretty much every other song in the game, and is what plays while swinging around. It perfectly fits the mood of swinging around New York, searching for crimes to stop.
Standout Track: Spider-Man
Donut County (Composers: Daniel Koestner, Ben Esposito)
Donut County is a short game, which I love. It’s a two-hour experience that could’ve been a little more complex, but I love it for what it is. You play as a self-absorbed raccoon with a tablet and you control a hole in the ground that grows every time an object is sucked down into it. Throughout the game, you suck everything from flower pots, to cars, to entire houses into the hole. The story also has some not-so-subtle gentrification subtexts. It’s got an engaging and distinct visual style and well-written quirky characters, and the soundtrack compliments this perfectly. There’s a lot of ukulele in this soundtrack, and it’s appreciated.
This is the last place I’ll cheat and add more than one standout song. The main theme “Garbage Day” encapsulates the game’s tone perfectly, and “Quack Anthem” plays at the end of a level when everything you swallowed into the hole is shown falling, and it’s the kind of perfectly distilled ridiculousness that I love.
Standout Tracks: Garbage Day
Special Shout-Out — Warframe: Fortuna “We All Lift Together” (Composer: Keith Power)
This song has been stuck in my head since it was used in the reveal for the Fortuna expansion back in July. It’s a cyber chain gang song about the Solaris- citizens of Fortuna, a debt-internment colony on Venus. They are kept eternally in debt so they can be used as slaves by the Corpus (space-capitalists who worship commerce). The Solaris have their limbs and organs replaced with mechanical ones by the Corpus, who then force them to work off the debt accrued by being “given” mechanical body parts. If they fall even further into debt, they may have their body parts repossessed, as in the case of one character aptly nicknamed “Legs” who has his arms repossessed and is left with just his legs. I love that Warframe is completely unafraid to get weird with their stories, and Fortuna is even one of their more grounded ones. This song describes the Solaris’ plight as debt-slaves, and it’s really catchy to boot.
Standout Track: We All Lift Together