Soundtrack Central The best of VGM and other great soundtracks

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Adam Corn Dec 10, 2018 (edited Jan 3, 2019)

With 2018 having drawn to a close let's have a look back at the top game soundtrack releases of the year. Any game music album from 2018 is eligible, including OSTs, official arranged albums, and fan-arranged albums.

Album comments are optional (but welcome!), and as always feel free to mention runner-ups and other thoughts in the forum comments as well.

Results will be tallied January 12, 2019.

Adam Corn Dec 10, 2018 (edited Jan 16, 2019)

1. Bra Bra Final Fantasy VII Brass de Bravo - The previous three albums in the Bra Bra series of Final Fantasy brass-centric arranged albums have been surprisingly solid efforts, but the arrangement and production quality reach a new level in this latest entry, dedicated exclusively to Final Fantasy VII. The three tracks that already had full orchestral arrangements hold up surprisingly well (even a chorus-less "One Winged Angel"), but the nine tracks that had previously lacked dedicated orchestral renditions are the real treat. Themes like the jazzy "Cait Sith's Theme" and march-like "Rufus's Welcome Ceremony" suite the album perfectly, as do lighthearted themes like "Descendant of Shinobi" and "Farm Boy". Newly arranged battle themes "On We Fight", "Jenova Complete", and "Birth of a God" have surprising intensity, and even delicate themes like "Tifa's Theme" and "Words Drowned by Fireworks" sound great. As much as I'd love to hear a full orchestral (strings included) FFVII album with arrangements of this quality, when every one of the album's twelve tracks is a four-star effort I'm content calling it my favorite VGM album of the year as is.

2. The Tomb Raider Suite - Having never heard a second of Tomb Raider music I had zero expectations for this Kickstarted orchestral arranged album dedicated to the original three PlayStation-era titles. It just about floored me on first listen with its arrangement, performance, and recording quality. From the Rey's Theme'esque, track two "Tomb Raider Theme" arrangement onward you very much get the feeling of exploring cavernous, isolated, wondrous environments. It's atmospheric yet at the same time melodic, musical, and beautiful.

3. Moss (Original Game Soundtrack) - A perfect soundtrack to the nature-set adventure of a sword-wielding mouse, with folk-tinged violin, flute, and oboe solos accompanied by acoustic guitar and understated orchestration. It's a mostly quaint and peaceful affair with just a touch of melancholy, along with a couple of eccentric action cues at just at the right moment to liven things up. A full orchestra would have made the thematically rich score even more beautiful, but the combination of live solo instruments with sampled orchestra still makes for one of the most memorable soundtracks of the year.

4. Seiken Densetsu 25th Anniversary Orchestra Concert CD - As with the Legend of Zelda 30th anniversary orchestral album from last year, it's hard to go wrong with an original orchestral best album for a series like the Seiken Densetsu (aka Mana) series, with 25 years of themes from such fan favorites as Secret of Mana and Legend of Mana behind it. I use the "original" here somewhat loosely, as several of the arrangements are quite similar to those in earlier albums like Seiken Densetsu: Let Thoughts Ride on Knowledge, Drammatica, and the Orchestral Game Concert albums, but even fans with the full collection of existing series arrangements will likely enjoy the slight differences here, not to mention the several themes getting orchestral renditions for the very first time.

5. God of War (Playstation Soundtrack) - The orchestral-choral action themes and somber, atmospheric cinematic pieces in Bear McCreary's God of War score are produced at the level of the best game and film scores. Folk-ethnic touches matching the game's Norse mythology separate it further from the standard epic-adventure crowd, while a tragic female solo-led main theme gives the score further emotional resonance. You won't find the same number of standout themes as other top game soundtracks, but those who appreciate serious drama (with its share of action) and expert orchestration should most certainly check it out.

6. RuneScape: The Orchestral Collection - The first orchestral album for the long-running MMORPG, featuring tracks from the orchestral RuneScape 3 soundtrack as well as newly recorded arrangements of other themes from the series, sounds very much like what you would imagine of a Western medieval fantasy RPG. Fortunately the themes are memorable enough (I was sold on first listen, having never heard a singe melody from the game) and the orchestral renditions - which generally favor small instrumental sets with featured solo instruments over a bombastic large-scale orchestrations - are of high enough quality to elevate it well above the level of the many similarly styled soundtracks. It also joins Bra Bra FFVII as one of the most consistently high quality albums of the year - a rare 100 minute-plus soundtrack that I can take in all at once with patience intact.

7. Super Mario Odyssey Original Sound Track - I'm not sure which impresses me more, how great Super Mario Odyssey sounds as a Mario soundtrack, or how great it would sound as a non-Mario soundtrack. On the one hand you've got excellently arranged classic Mario themes, Galaxy'esque new themes like "Fossil Falls", and lively big band pieces (including a surprisingly good English vocal) that fall right in line with the sound of the series. On the other hand you've got ethnic-accented town themes, atmospheric environment themes, and dramatic orchestral pieces that could easily pass for a JRPG soundtrack - and a very good one at that. There's even some hard electric guitars and traditional Japanese instrumentation and chanting thrown into the mix for the boss battles. Whatever the sound, the musicianship of an expert live ensemble (and quality sound design on the synth side) permeates the score with an energy rarely found with such consistency in OSTs of this length.

8. Prescription for Sleep: Celeste - The sixth album in the Prescription for Sleep arranged album series takes the melodies of the indie synth OST Celeste and gives them the series' staple piano and sax treatment, along with an extra element new to this installment - violin. That extra addition is huge - whereas saxophone and piano alone is hard not to associate by default to jazz lounge music, the violin adds a new range of moods that suit Celeste's themes very nicely (and that I venture will hold more appeal to many game music fans). Despite the title I find the album best suited to background music when working at the PC or otherwise trying to focus - there are plenty of less interesting albums to fall asleep to.

9. Monster Hunter Orchestra Concert ~Hunting Music Festival 2018~ - Monster Hunter World has gotten a fair amount of attention for its soundtrack (available as a three-disc OST), but I much prefer the higher hit ratio of this single disc (but meaty 75 minute) orchestral concert album. Thanks to the track selection and quality arrangements and performance, just about every track is a keeper. With only a couple of exceptions they're all battle themes, and heavy, intense battle themes at that. In that sense it's reminiscent of the same studio's Dragon's Dogma, albeit with a more primal, Monster Hunter sound (both titles include Tadayoshi Makino among their composers). For anyone looking for an orchestral action music fix, this is a good place to get it.

10. Fallout 76 (Original Game Score) - This Fallout series prequel score is a good example of an action/sci-fi soundtrack in the modern cinematic style done right. The string swells, the low brass tones, the rhythmic percussion, even the often understated melodies are similar to what you might hear in so many bland and uninspired modern film and game scores, but Fallout 76 is anything but, thanks to excellent orchestration, emotive solo violin (given just a slight folk quality to match the game's Appalachian setting), and modestly used but extremely effective themes (particularly the album opening main theme). Even many of the heavily atmospheric, nearly ambient pieces are well worth listening.

I've yet to listen to Symphonic Suite Suikoden, which was released late in December. Red Dead Redemption 2, Tetris Effect, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider are all noteworthy titles that didn't receive a separate soundtrack album release during the year (maybe 2019).

And for comparison's sake, here's a list of other major releases from the year I've listened to. Several among them are still recommended, just not to the level of my top ten.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey / Beat Saber (Original Game Soundtrack) / Beat Saber (Original Game Soundtrack), Vol. II / Caravan Stories OST Vol.1 / Celeste OST / Detroit: Become Human OST / Dragon Quest XI Symphonic Suite / Far Cry 5 (Original Game Soundtrack) / Final Fantasy XV OST Vol. 2 / Guacamelee! 2 OST / Into the Breach Soundtrack / Marvel's Spider-man / Metal Slug Attack OST / Monster Hunter: World OST / NieR Gestalt & Replicant Orchestral Arrangement Album / NieR: Automata Orchestral Arrangement Album / NieR: Automata Piano Collections / Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom OST / Octopath Traveler OST / Pode / Rockman 11 OST / Tangledeep / Under Night In-birth Exe:Late [st] OST / Vampyr / Video Games Live Level 6 / World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth / Xenoblade2 OST / Xenoblade2: Torna ~ The Golden Country OST / Yoku's Island Express

vert1 Dec 19, 2018 (edited Jan 12, 2019)

1. Hokuto ga Gotoku Original Soundtrack - Lots of powerful themes. Synced excellently with Marvel vs Capcom 2 tournament footage.

2. Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] - A lot better than what I remember hearing from past related compositions of Melty Blood titles. Very energetic.

3. Destiny 2: Forsaken - Haven't listened to the whole soundtrack but this tune is really good at evoking an epic feel.

4. Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee - Excellent remixes of the original Pokemon music.

5. Super Smash Bros Ultimate - Too much good music to sort through.

Standout music tracks:
1. Hokuto ga Gotoku Original Soundtrack
2. Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st]
3. Destiny 2: Forsaken
4. Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee
?. Dies irae - Animation OST: Amantes Amentes

jb Dec 20, 2018

2018 has been an awesome year for music generally. Taking me a bit longer than usual to tally my 2018 purchases but I’ll get there.

jb Dec 20, 2018 (edited Dec 30, 2018)

1. Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Original Soundtrack - It should come as no surprise that this is in my Top 10 for the year given who it's composed by. The themes and motifs here are top notch Hisaishi. Kingdom by the Sea is one of, if not the best, town theme that I've ever heard in a game. A lot of peoples opinion of this soundtrack negatively suffered because they only listened to it in-game and thus only heard very short phrases (usually the beginning of songs) when they're quickly going in and out of town of from overworld to battles, or the repetition of the theme that plays when you build your Kingdom. It is much, much better as a standalone listen, as all Hisaishi compositions are.

2. Brave Frontier 2 Original Soundtrack - I have been eagerly awaiting this release and wasn't even sure if it would happen but I'm really, really glad it did. After purchasing the Brave Frontier Soundtrack Box last year and falling in love with it shortly before Brave Frontier 2 was released, I started following all their social media presences for news and info about the game and they started promoting Brave Frontier 2 shortly thereafter. The more I looked in to the game through videos on YouTube and the more news I read about it, the more I wanted. The music is partly composed by one of my new favorite composers (Minako Seki) *and* it's orchestrated by Tokyo Philharmonic. What's not to love?

3. Super Mario Odyssey Original Soundtrack - Everything about this game, including the soundtrack, was just perfect.

4. Bra-Bra Final Fantasy VII Brass de Bravo - Final Fantasy VII is the game that introduced me to this hobby and it's the first video game soundtrack I owned so suffice to say the game and it's music holds a special place in my heart. I normally despise brass instrumentation but I think this is really well arranged to not be annoying. I'm eagerly awaiting the February Bluray release of the live performance.

5. Octopath Traveler Original Soundtrack - A surprisingly good throwback RPG with a surprisingly good throwback RPG score.

6. Seiken Densetsu 25th Anniversary Orchestra Concert CD - Some really great arrangements on this album, especially the SD2 Crisis arrangement. What a trip.

7. Final Fantasy XV Original Soundtrack Volume 2 - Just a continuation of more greatness from all the new DLC.

8. Omega-Force 20th Anniversary Complete CD-BOX - Earns a top spot for sheer volume of content alone - 60 CDs!!!

Honorable Mentions / non-VGM

Xenoblade2 Original Soundtrack - Doesn't quite hit top 10 for me and I don't think I regard it anywhere near as a highly as some other people do. The orchestral tracks are pretty good but they are few and far between. I could do without almost all of the ACE tracks.

Nier Orchestral Arrangement Special Box - Good but again, I don't think I regard it as highly as some people do. There's a bit too much choral for my liking.

The Silver Guardian Original Soundtrack / Black Clover Music Collection Vol. 1 & 2 - More Minako Seki music (anime works)

Your Name.

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms Original Soundtrack

2018's Top Disappointments

Secret of Mana Original Soundtrack - When it was on point, it was mostly nostalgic. When it missed, it *really* missed. The decision to go with so many arrangers was a very bad idea and the soundtrack was an uncohesive mess.

Dragon Quest XI Symphonic Suite - The only good thing about this soundtrack is the Ole! Sylvando spanish-themed track. The rest are your typical DQ rehashes. Add in the debacle of Sugi not licensing the orchestra for the game and putting the MIDI tracks in instead and you've got yourself a contender for worst soundtrack of the year.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild  Original Soundtrack - I don't get the hype about this game or soundtrack. They are both wildly overrated, in my opinion. This soundtrack really didn't need to be 5 CDs. 75% of the tracks are short and forgettable. I'd rather they made a 2 CD soundtrack that included just the themes instead of everything but I'm sure Nintendo/Zelda fans would be screaming about another incomplete Nintendo soundtrack if they did that.

Pedrith Dec 28, 2018

1. Octopath Traveler Original Soundtrack - By far the best soundtrack I listened to all year.

2. Secret of Mana 25th Anniversary

3. Zelda: Breath of the Wild

4. Caravan Stories Vol 1-6 - Not perfect,  but more good than bad.

5. Xenoblade Chronicles 2

6. Bungo and Alchemist Orchestral Concert

Adam Corn Dec 30, 2018

Thanks for the detailed comments, jb. I'd like to add Brave Frontier 2 OST to my listening list, but its availability seems to be limited. SaGa Orchestra Concert 2016 is a late 2017 release so you can add it to your picks for last year if you like.
http://soundtrackcentral.com/best-game- … -picks/u16

Pedrith, are there any of the Caravan Stories OSTs you would recommend over others? Particularly to people who haven't played the game.

I've added a few orchestral albums to my picks that I acquired since first posting - Moss OST and RuneScape: The Orchestral Collection (both available on streaming services), and The Tomb Raider Suite (which isn't but is well worth tracking down anyway).

The_Paladin Dec 30, 2018

Adam Corn wrote:

I've added a few orchestral albums to my picks that I acquired since first posting - Moss OST and RuneScape: The Orchestral Collection (both available on streaming services), and The Tomb Raider Suite (which isn't but is well worth tracking down anyway).

Moss has cd and vinyl releases on its bandcamp and I'm still waiting on the physical album of Tomb Raider Suite to ship, not sure about RuneScape (in case someone wants physical over streaming)

jb Dec 30, 2018

Adam Corn wrote:

Thanks for the detailed comments, jb. I'd like to add Brave Frontier 2 OST to my listening list, but its availability seems to be limited. SaGa Orchestra Concert 2016 is a late 2017 release so you can add it to your picks for last year if you like.
http://soundtrackcentral.com/best-game- … -picks/u16

I always do that because i end up looking for "We shipped your order" 1/1/20xx ~ 12/31/20xx. wink

TheGazelMinistry Dec 31, 2018 (edited Dec 31, 2018)

1. ROCKMAN 11 Original Soundtrack - By no means among the best Mega Man soundtracks, but I like this soundtrack more than I expected. I didn't think much of it while playing the game, but I found myself enjoying it quite a bit while listening to the soundtrack alone. Still, I am far more partial to the chiptune Mega Man soundtracks.

2. Guacamelee! 2 Original Soundtrack - A solid soundtrack and a solid follow up to the first game's soundtrack.

3. God of War (Playstation Soundtrack) - There are some standout tracks here. I've had no interest in the game itself, but I was absolutely looking forward to the soundtrack.

4. Octopath Traveler Original Soundtrack - A serviceable soundtrack. Really, since not much has blown me away this year, my list is comprised of what was "good," not necessarily "great." The Octopath Traveler is certainly good, and I'd recommend it, but not with any degree of excitement.

5. Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Original Soundtrack - I have about the same reaction to this soundtrack as I do to Octopath Traveler. It's serviceable, though I'd say that, here, there are a couple of standout tracks. I'm kind of surprised to have seen people call this soundtrack "bad" elsewhere; it is most certainly not bad.

6. Marvel's Spider-Man Original Video Game Soundtrack - This soundtrack is surprisingly great. I say that it surprised me because it has a couple of themes that are rather cliche ("Spider-Man," "Eight Years in the Making," and "The Golden Age"); not bad, they are just exactly what I'd expect from a game based on a superhero. They are so familiar, I'd swear I've heard them before. Notwithstanding those couple of themes, the action- and stealth-oriented themes are great. I'd recommend this soundtrack more than anything else on my list (thus far), at least to anyone that appreciates more action-oriented music like I do. (I'll note, also, that the City That Never Sleeps EP is just as good as the main soundtrack.)

I have some other soundtracks to listen to. If I get through them before January 7, I'll come back and edit this further if I am able to do so. I just wanted to contribute something to the poll.

Wanderer Jan 2, 2019 (edited Jan 2, 2019)

Wasn't blown away by soundtracks this year so just a few:

1: God of War: I love Bear McCreary and this is one of his finest, featuring bold orchestral writing and some very strong thematic writing.
2: Octopath Traveler: Just one good tune after another, with excellent production values. It helps make the game better than it actually is.
3: Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Its sheer length hurts this release a bit as there's a fair amount of filler but the highlights are strong and plenty. I especially love Mitsuda's contributions.

Others:

1: The Alliance Alive, ineligible since the soundtrack came out in 2017 but I played the game in 2018 and enjoyed both it and Hamauzu's music.
2: Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, ineligible since there's no soundtrack yet but man, there's some real bangers here, all 8-bit versions of pieces that'll be heard in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
3: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, ineligible since there's no soundtrack yet. A bunch of Japanese composers get together and go nuts. It's fantastic.
4: Celeste. Not blown away by its soundtrack release (which could use some pruning) but in context, the music melds effortlessly with the game (which was my GOTY).

Pedrith Jan 9, 2019

Hi.  Sorry for the delay.  Of the Caravan Story soundtracks my personal favourites are volume 1, 4 and 5.  I am in the process of making a personal mix of what I consider to be my favourite tracks from across all 6 volumes.

Cheers,

David

Adam Corn Jan 12, 2019

I'm planning to tally up the results the night of the 13th. If anybody would like to add or edit their picks before then just punch that Answer Poll button. After several late-year additions I've pretty much settled on my top ten.

Qui-Gon Joe Jan 13, 2019

1. Zelda: Breath of the Wild - My new favorite game of all time and a gorgeous soundtrack to go with it.  I 100% understand those who don't like this OST due to the fact that it is so vastly different in both composition and use within the game for which it was written, but I do NOT understand commentary that the game "has no soundtrack."  As someone who actively listens for music in games, I recognized in all 200+ hours just how much music was in the game and how subtly and effectively it was put to use.  I'm also super happy that Nintendo is back into letting companies release physical soundtracks at retail after such a long time of Club Nintendo only releases if anything.

2. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 - Another soundtrack I'm glad actually happened with the vast amount of content it has.  I wish the release had been less of a mess, but I'm glad I managed to get the edition I wanted.  While this gets my #2 spot for the year, it actually was a BIT disappointing at the same time.  I feel like the whole thing was more disjointed than the first game's OST.  I understand when the quantity of music you have to put in a game is too vast for one composer, but I am starting to miss the stylistic consistency of hiring one person or at least a couple who are very similar and work well together to score games.

3. Octopath Traveler Original Soundtrack - Honestly I haven't spent as much time with this as I should (partially because I'm waiting until I've played more of the game), but what I've heard is super super awesome.

4. STORMBLOOD: FINAL FANTASY XIV Original Soundtrack - I got to go to a launch event and meet Soken in Tokyo, which made this one extra special to me.  Yet another FFXIV expansion and yet another awesome selection of music from it.  Still irritated these are on Bluray instead of multi-disc sets, but what are ya gonna do.

5. SINoALICE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK - Pretty much just sounds like more Nier music.  Can't complain about that!

6. Bra Bra Final Fantasy VII Brass de Bravo - Another one partially influenced by real-life experience - I got to go to the live concert this summer.  Also it's great to have more FF7 music with live instrumentation.

7. Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Original Soundtrack - More Joe Hisaishi is never a bad thing.  Very much like what I've heard of this one (though like Octopath I'm waiting to listen to it a LOT until after I've played the game).

8. Super Mario Odyssey Original Sound Track - Most disappointing 3D Mario soundtrack since Sunshine, but still a pretty good listen overall.  What happened to Yokota??

9. NieR Orchestral Arrangement Special Box Edition - Cheating and using the box set version of this so both albums can be on my list.  I rather enjoyed the orchestra CDs, but I'm not sure I prefer listening to them versus their OSTs.  They do have a different sound, though, which gives both a place in my listening repertoire.

10. Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu!・Let's Go, Eevee! Super Music Complete - Full disclosure: Let's Go Eevee is the first Pokemon game I've been able to stomach my way all the way through.  I've always found the Pokemon games to be tedious grindfests that take all the unfun parts of RPGs and strip away the characters and story that make those things bearable.  Having been gotten into Pokemon Go by friends playing it and as a way to motivate myself to go out walking more (40 pounds lost! woo!) this was a game I found streamlined enough to actually get through.  The music was also pretty delightful, and it led to my owning my first-ever Pokemon soundtrack, too!  The bonus disc of the original music was great too (and wow I understand now why people talked about the horror of the Lavender town music after listening to that).

STC Poll System Jan 20, 2019

Top poll results out of 23 unique answers submitted, as calculated by Soundtrack Central's poll system.  In parentheses are the percentage of respondents who selected that answer and the average ranking it was given.

1. Octopath Traveler Original Soundtrack (83%, 3)
2. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Original Soundtrack (50%, 3)
3. Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Original Soundtrack (50%, 4)
4. God of War (Playstation Soundtrack) (33%, 2)
4. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Original Soundtrack (33%, 2)
6. Seiken Densetsu 25th Anniversary Orchestra Concert CD (33%, 4)
7. Bra Bra Final Fantasy VII Brass de Bravo (33%, 5)
8. Super Mario Odyssey Original Sound Track (33%, 6)
9. Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu! Let's Go, Eevee! Super Music Complete (33%, 7)

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