It was a slow year for official releases but a pretty great one for the indie scene, led by very good independent arranged albums for Square's trifecta of classic SNES RPGs.
1. Final Fantasy VI: Balance and Ruin - The cynic in me would like to say this is over-hyped, but no, this five-disc collaborative fan effort arranging every single piece from Uematsu's masterwork is worth the hype. It reminds me a little of Square's SQ series in its wide variety both in style and quality, but Square themselves would never attempt anything this ambitious, and even factoring out the missed attempts there are easily a couple hours of great FFVI arrangements, featuring everything from piano sonatas to raging rock, poignant instrumentals to quirky electronic pieces (and even a Tom Jones parody that somehow works).
2. Spectrum of Mana - Hardly any less ambitious than OCR's Balance & Ruin is this independently produced arranged album for fan-favorite Secret of Mana. As another collaborative fan effort the quality varies (especially on the first disc), but there's still a good two hours' worth of excellent arrangements, split almost evenly between peaceful piano, acoustic, and new age music and feisty progressive rock.
3. Chrono Trigger Symphony Volume 1 - Finally a full-length orchestrally arranged Chrono Trigger album. Though not a live orchestra, the sampled instrumentation on the whole upgrades the SNES OST nicely, and the few parts where it does fall short are compensated by some very tastefully done arrangements. The same arranger's Banjo-Kazooie Symphony might actually be the stronger album, but for me this one wins out on nostalgia.
4. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate Original Game Soundtrack - Maintains the high orchestral production values of the first Lords of Shadow soundtrack, but with some much more potent compositions this time around. The survival horror'esque boss themes are impressive in their evil intensity (even for someone like myself who usually doesn't care for the genre) and are balanced nicely by a few beautiful event and stage themes.
5. Banjo-Kazooie Symphony - I can't think of a single game soundtrack that achieves the classic-era Disney sound as delightfully as this one (and I doubt whether even any recent Disney scores do). Credit composer Grant Kirkhope for managing such a quirky and creative original soundtrack on the N64, but give equal credit to arranger Blake Robinson for giving them a whole new level of charm and charisma with his surprisingly robust sampled orchestrations.
6. Bionic Commando ReMixed: OK, We'll Groove - A just-right mix of VGM synth and electronic dance powered by driving action anthems. As a modern update of an energetic '80s action soundtrack it nails it.
7. Be Aggressive!: A Gunstar Heroes Tribute Album - Stretched a bit thin over two discs, but its highlights boast a combination of guitar rock and synth perfect for the title, and like its OCR sibling Bionic Commando it features some great action anthems.
8. Chrono Trigger Symphony Volume 2 - Though a weaker segment of the OST than the oh-so-nostalgic first volume, an equally strong adaptation, with some beneficial tweaks to the sampled instrumentation, and exciting arrangements in a few unexpected places.
9. Electronic Super Joy OST - Melodic, high-energy trance and techno so remarkably similar to the "cyber trance" music of the early millennium Tokyo club scene I can't help but wonder if composer "enV" was a part of it himself (along with yours truly). At 35 minutes it's a bit short on substance, but still well worth the $4 FLAC download for fans of club music.
10. Sonic CD: Temporal Duality - The quality of the arrangements is much more mixed and the early impression not as favorable as the other OC Remix albums on this list, but once you sort through the three-plus discs of material there's a good amount of catchy synth-fused funk to be found, along with some bright and energetic pieces in the classic Sonic vein.