The top three soundtracks on the list are interchangeable, each representing the best of their respective genres for the year. The remaining entries similarly could likely move up a spot or two depending on the mood of the day - all are in their own way impressive musical efforts.
1. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Original Game Soundtrack - "Vampire Killer" and "Bloody Tears" it most certainly isn't, but as a cinematic orchestral approach to Castlevania, Oscar Araujo's trilogy-capper nails the thematic heart of the series - gothic action-adventure. The battle themes are dramatic and relentlessly intense, while the more somber compositions establish not only the Gothic mood but also some crucial emotion. The closing 25 minutes are one fantastic cue after another - probably the most satisfying series conclusion I've heard in an orchestral score since Return of the King.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shell Shocked - OverClocked ReMix lovingly dedicate 90 minutes of melodic and energetic '80s-style guitar rock arrangements to Konami's classic SNES and Genesis beat-em-ups. Interestingly it's the same approach Konami themselves took in their early '90s "Battle" series of arranged albums, and to say that this free fan effort could pass as an official followup is a compliment of the highest order. The arrangers make great use of some distinctive synth sounds from the OSTs (as well as the theme from the old series), and the album as a whole is one of OCR's most consistent productions yet.
3. Shuttle Rush OST - Coming into 2014 I wouldn't have expected a soundtrack for an indie Wii U eShop game to be one of my top soundtracks of the year, but Shuttle Rush OST is that surprisingly, delightfully good. The chiptunes and more upbeat melodies have all the qualities of a retro game soundtrack, while the more chilled dance grooves could easily pass for modern pop-electronica. Emery "DaMonz" Monzerol's perfect combination of the two is what makes Shuttle Rush OST such an enjoyable album.
4. Harmony of Heroes (Super Smash Bros.) - This collaborative fan project offers a whopping seven-plus hours of arranged music for Super Smash Bros, which in turn means themes from Nintendo series like Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Donkey Kong, Kid Icarus, Pikmin, and Earthbound, along with some third-party guests like Metal Gear. There's a huge variety of styles on tap, and though the quality varies widely, it's very much worth sorting through the entirety to score some fantastic (and free) takes on favorite themes.
5. Legend of Zelda: Lime of the Season - This arranged album for the Game Boy Legend of Zelda title Oracle of Seasons boasts the most creative chiptune arrangements of the year, accompanied (sometimes in the same track) by some nice acoustic instrumentals. The generally lighthearted and often quirky tone seems well suited to a Game Boy Zelda title, and as with the other two fan-arranged albums on this list, it's free to download and enjoy.
6. Journey: Transfiguration - Even being only a modest fan of the OST, I've found myself enamored with this arranged album from the first listen. The solo piano is well suited to the lonely atmosphere of the game, and Laura Intravia's arrangements add a steady emotional pull that for better or worse was only occasionally found in the original. Even the short running time is something of a virtue - with not a minute of filler to be found, every moment feels like an important part of this almost spiritual musical journey.
7. Shovel Knight Original Soundtrack - Among 8-bit game soundtracks this is most certainly the album of the year, if not the decade thus far. Though the genre generally isn't my own cup of tea, there's no denying the excellence of Jake "virt" Kaufman's NES-authentic soundtrack, with several tracks showing vintage VGM energy and melody at its very best. Old-school game music fans, party likes it's 1989.
8. Halo 2 Anniversary Original Soundtrack - Having never jumped on the Halo bandwagon I can't say how this remake soundtrack compares to the original, but I can say in comparison to the first Halo Anniversary OST I've found it a more impressive score on its own merit. The orchestral arrangements cover the action sci-fi bases nicely and have a surprising, almost classical gravitas in places, while the electronic pieces offer some nicely done ambient music and several interesting combinations with chorus.
9. The Sailor's Dream Original Soundtrack - Here's something you don't find often in game music - a whole album of quaint, charming folk instrumental and vocal music. True to the title, it's very much akin to what you might imagine of an old-time European harbor town, and though Jonathan Eng's compositions largely forgo drama for simple beauty, as an alternative to the usual action and adventure I think it's a fair trade.
10. From Astral to Umbral ~Final Fantasy XIV Band & Piano Arrangement Album~ - The piano arrangements in this album belong among the best Final Fantasy piano collections - wonderfully, patiently developed and possessing the most fantastical quality of the lot. The rock arrangements that comprise the remainder are utterly disparate and really shouldn't be on the same album, but for people not averse to buying the piano tracks digitally, they make up a 40-minute album on their own and are well worth enjoying as such.
- Flower OST (if this weren't mostly a re-release of the PSN edition it likely would have been top 10)
- Dragon Age: Inquistion OST
- Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
- Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris
- A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy
- Memoria: The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura
- Strike the Earth! Shovel Knight Arranged
- Gods Will Be Watching OST
- Super Mario 64: Portrait of a Plumber
- Harmony of Heroes: Final Smash
And for comparison's sake, here are most of the other VGM albums I've listened to for the year. Many of them have nice tracks of their own, but as albums they aren't on the level of the ones above.
Assassin's Creed Unity OST 1 & 2, The Banner Saga OST, Broken Age: Act 1, Chrono Trigger Symphony Vol 3, Destiny OST, Final Fantasy VII/VIII/IX Piano Opera, Final Fantasy Explorers OST, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, The Floor is Jelly OST, Granblue Fantasy OST, Killer Instinct: Season One OST, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Sound Selection, Persona Q OST, Shuttle Remix, SQ Swing, Super Time Force OST, Transistor OST, World of Warcraft: Warlords of Dreanor OST