Emily looks back at her favourite gaming music of the last ten years.
I swear, I started this list with the best intentions. I had clear guidelines for judging an excellent game soundtrack, complete with a sliding scale and everything.
Then someone demanded I add The Witcher to this list, and I threw out all my morals because I hate Geralt of Rivia with an all-encompassing fury I usually reserve for Tories and Jane Austen fans. So, saying my personal bias affected this list is a mild understatement.
I played on mute to see if the soundtrack was as important as I thought
The main element I considered when compiling this list was how the music enhances the gaming experience. For some choices, I played on mute to see if the soundtrack was as important as I thought. I also factored in how the music works with game mechanics and plot, and whether or not they were fun to listen to on their own.
So, without further ado, here’s my (very biased) list of the top ten music soundtracks of the decade:
#10: Planet Coaster
Opening with a curveball, Planet Coaster has one of the most surprisingly wholesome soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s a published album called You Me & Gravity: The Music of Planet Coaster by Jim Guthrie and JJ Ipsen, and every single track fills me with the exact same feeling that absentmindedly stroking my dogs does. Not to mention, the menu music, The Light in Us All. How can music be so catchy and yet so wholesome?
#9: Mr Shifty
Team Shifty’s Mr Shifty is a really basic game. You play as a massively overpowered teleporting superhero. It’s excessive and dumb – my personal favourite part is when knocking on a door sends it flying across the room – and the soundtrack reflects that.
It’s loud and brash and totally hypes you up; without it, the game loses its satisfactory edge, the element of je ne sais quoi that makes the whole experience. However, it’s still just a rock backing track that happens to sync nicely with me punting people out of skyscrapers.
#8: Stardew Valley
I’m so upset that I’ve had to put Stardew Valley down in eighth position. It’s a banging soundtrack, creating a pixelated soundscape that’s still varied and beautiful. However, without the music, Stardew Valley is still just as charming and easy to play. There’s nothing that makes the soundtrack vital, nothing that lets me push it further up the list. Is it pretty? Yes. Does it add something vital to the game? No.
#7: Fran Bow
Talking about music adding a vital component to games, horror games need amazing soundtracks or some of the tension is lost. I limited myself to one horror-slash-psychological horror game for this list and had a serious sit down to think about what game uses the soundtrack in the most interesting way.
Then I remembered every single creepy thing Fran Bow inflicted on me with its music blasting in my ears so I couldn’t escape its weird world even if I closed my eyes, and trauma made the decision for me.
#6: Doom (2016)
Is Doom (2016) here purely because of At Doom’s Gate? Yes. I mean, it’s a fun game that’s only added to by the sick heavy rock destroying your eardrums, but… Man, that opening sequence? Your shotgun going off in-sync with the soundtrack? I have dreams about that cutscene.
There are other really great songs from Mick Gordon in there: Hellwalker is a creepy bop, Flesh and Metal sounds like the walk-on song for Ozzy Osbourne, and Transistor Fist is the content Skrillex thought he was making. Best of all, it all has a coherent theme, which allows the player to reach the perfect balance of hype without noticing the music at all, which, honestly, is what you want for an FPS.
#5: Dragon Age: Inquisition
As well as horror games, I’ve also tried to dodge RPGs. They’re just too easy to fall in love with; there’s almost always plenty of variance in settings, quests, and emotiuons to give you a full range of beautiful tracks.
HOWEVER, this is where my personal bias kicks in. Dragon Age: Origins is probably my favourite game ever, so hearing Inquisition bring back its motifs and themes at emotional moments? I was not prepared to deal. Also, Dark Solas Theme is somehow scary and heart-breaking at the same time, and anyone that can do that deserves some serious accolades. So, go you Trevor Morris, go you.
#4: Hotline Miami
I really don’t have to explain this one, do I? It’s a musical masterpiece. ‘Nuff said.
#3: Ori and the Blind Forest
Ori and the Blind Forest made me weep the first time I played through it. It’s one of those strange games where the base mechanics aren’t anything special, but the story and the soundtrack elevate it to something otherworldly. I would strongly recommend playing this game through, or at least watching a playthrough. It’s beautiful – I know I say that a lot, but this game really is something special, and the music influences that in a big way.
#2: Civilisation VI
Why did Civilisation VI’s audio go so hard? Sean Bean’s voice wasn’t enough, you had to add a soundtrack for each era of each individual civilisation!? Calm down Sid, enough is enough.
The best part about Civ VI’s soundtrack isn’t even the music itself. It’s all about how that content is used: Introducing the new civilisations you meet with distinct themes is such an excellent way to expand the game’s world as you explore and absorb its cultures. The sound matches the player’s mentality perfectly.
I REFUSE TO BE ASHAMED. Undertale has the best soundtrack a game has ever had, period. Toby Fox is a musical genius. He had an electronic keyboard and a theme and by God, he created a song for every conceivable human emotion. Megaloveania is the music I want to be played when I inevitably fight god. These are all facts, and I will die on this hill.
Image use licence here.