Macaulay’s Top Ten Soundtracks of 2016
2016’s coming to a close, and that means it’s time to kick off with some Top Ten lists. Returning from 2014 is one of my favorite categories; my Top Ten Favorite Soundtracks.
For this entry, the game’s don’t necessarily have to have come out this year. Rather, this can apply to any game music that I enjoyed listening to over and over again in 2016. Even though Persona 5 did technically come out this year, I’d rather save that for next year.
As before, each entry will include links to some sample tracks on YouTube, so feel free to check them out. With that out of the way, let’s get started!
10) I Am Setsuna
When I first heard the music of I Am Setsuna, my reaction was very similar to games like Hyper Light Drifter. How well can just a piano convey the range of melodies required in a classic-style RPG? Simply put, it handles it very well.
Granted, I am Setsuna cheats somewhat with its more intense music having more instruments. Not that I’m hating on these; in fact they are some of my favorite tracks in the game. Soft piano fits the wintry landscape and the touching emotional moments are composed so well. There’s an art to simplicity, and I Am Setsuna takes that to heart with an awesome soundtrack.
9) Killer Instinct
When this free-to-play Xbox One fighting game came to PC earlier this year, I figured it would be a great time to check it out. While I honestly didn’t put much time into it, one thing that really stood out to me was the music.
With Mick Gordon at the helm of Seasons 1 and 2, I knew that I was in for a good listen. His recent work on Doom produced some insanely heavy tracks that made me like metal music again. What surprised me after hearing that was how varied Killer Instinct’s soundtrack is. From heavy rock to electronic to orchestral, this soundtrack has something for everyone’s taste.
It does feel like I am cheating a bit here. Atlas Plug and Celldweller ended up replacing Mick Gordon for Killer Instinct Season 3. As a result, the music takes quite a dip for the finale. Nevertheless, this soundtrack is still fitting for my Top Ten Soundtracks of 2016 (even if its best part wasn’t composed this year).
8) Bravely Second: End Layer
As was the case with Killer Instinct, switching composers for a sequel may not always be better. That was a worry I had going into Bravely Second since I loved Bravely Default’s so much. Fortunately, those worries were unfounded (for the most part).
Although I was saddened that the original version of the battle theme was ruined by guitar screeches, the rest of the soundtrack still carries it. It has its serious moments, but the music does a good job of making the goofy moments stand out. The boss themes are also great even if one of them is reused from Bravely Default. Even though it runs parallel to the first instead of exceeding it, Bravely Second still has an excellent soundtrack.
7) Azure Striker Gunvolt 2
Azure Striker Gunvolt 2’s soundtrack was the only one that didn’t feel like an immediate shoe-in for this list. While the music is by no means bad, it doesn’t really do much to stand out. This is even more true when compared to the original.
“How did this make it to 7th place?” you may ask. Even with the stage and boss themes holding it back, the new vocal tracks practically carry the game. Lumen’s vocal style returns, but I was most surprised by Lola’s tracks. Her synthetic voice and upbeat style gives the soundtrack a totally different tone even if they’re similar songs. This soundtrack is an easy favorite despite how limited my enjoyment is of select tracks.
6 – Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X
It feels a little cheap to include a music game in a list of Top Ten Game Soundtracks. That doesn’t change how much I liked Project Diva X’s. More specifically, I liked how well the music meshed with the game as a whole.
After caving in and getting my hands on Project Diva Future Tone, It had a different “aura” about it. This arcade port has fun gameplay, as well as an excellent selection of songs to pick from.. Comparatively, Diva X’s smaller library allowed it to focus on its stronger aspect; its replayability.
For the completionist in me, this need to replay songs as much as possible for modules and accessories made any songs that were lukewarm grow on me. Now, I love every single song in the game. That alone justifies Project Diva X as one of my favorite soundtracks of 2016.
5 – Fire Emblem Fates
There are a lot of things I remember from Fire Emblem: Awakening, but the hardest thing is probably the music. While it has its peaks (with Id: Purpose and its lead up being the standouts) most of the moment-to-moment music was just there.
Thankfully, Fire Emblem Fates improves on this dramatically. Three campaigns gives the moment-to-moment music much needed variety. There are some tracks that are shared between the games, but most of these have little tweaks to feel more at home in their paths.
The highlight of this is the final boss theme, End of All. Being the only song with audible lyrics, the nice touch of changing the verse depending on the campaign makes up for the identical composition. On top of that, the song is excellent even after hearing it at least three times during play. That aside, the other lovely tracks in this game makes for a pleasant listening experience.
4 – Xenoblade Chronicles X
Hiroyuki Sawano’s music is very good at getting you hyped up. His bombastic score and Engrish lyrics hit that perfect pitch of anime. As such, how much more anime can you get than Xenoblade Chronicles X as a game? And before you ask, no, anime games don’t count.
Epic tracks for equally epic moments is all fine and dandy, but how does Sawano’s direction fare for the rest of the game? From a technical standpoint, not really well. Don’t get me wrong, Xenoblade X’s soundtrack is fantastic and well-deserving on its spot on this list. The implementation is what leaves something to be desired.
Audio mixing, while not directly his fault, makes Sawano’s music feel out of touch with events that aren’t dramatic. The most basic trait of video game composition (music loops) is non-existent. Even the NLA day theme, which is the perfect candidate for a loop, doesn’t have one. Ultimately, it’s more frustrating than anything. Most importantly, it doesn’t stop me from enjoying Xenoblade X as one of my favorite soundtracks this year.
3 – Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth
This is a game I wasn’t expecting to be on this list in any capacity, but here we are. The surprisingly fun Digimon RPG Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth also has an amazing soundtrack. As expected of a game with Digital Monsters, the heavy electronic tone runs the gambit of battle and character theme styles.
While normal battles have an upbeat feel, boss battles wind it down for a more menacing tone. The Digital World music has its moments, but they don’t peak as well as the battle music does. There’s also something about Kyoko Kuremi‘s character theme specifically that get stuck in my head.
The only real bummer about the music is that there’s no music that plays in the real-world overworld. Besides that, Cyber Sleuth’s soundtrack is well worth a listen even if Digimon isn’t your cup of tea.
2 – NieR
With NeiR: Automata on the horizon, my mind went back to how much I enjoyed NeiR. While the gameplay was tolerable, its theming and unorthodox moments helped it stand out. What I didn’t realize until prompted by other NeiR fans was how amazing the soundtrack was.
Combining piano melodies, symphonies, and tribal-sounding music may seem chaotic, but Keiichi Okabe does a fantastic job of blending it all together. The especially daunting task of creating a language just for the lyrics is also rather impressive. It feels unfair to include it in any of the other categories for Gaming Month 2016 since I didn’t play it this year, but after rediscovering the music of NieR, it feels right to include it in my Top Ten Soundtracks of 2016.
1 – Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that music produced by a Japanese entertainment company (namely Avex Group) would be catchy. It almost seems like a given. However, I was more concerned if the rest of the music would hold up. Considering that the composer had never really worked on games before, I was afraid that something would feel off. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE’s soundtrack didn’t just meet my expectations. It surpasses all expectations I had!
The juxtaposition of musical composition that I love so much from games like Persona is on point here. Tokyo feels lively and energetic with light poppy music, the Fire-Emblem-inspired areas and moments have appropriately orchestrated music, and the dungeons and battles darken it with heavy electronic tones. While quite a few tracks are repeated, the unique ones really help to differentiate the dungeons. The sheer number of battle themes is also impressive. Most importantly, all of the music acts like game music and loops properly (unlike Hiroyuki Sawano’s). Everything about this soundtrack is virtually perfect, and it’s fitting that this is my favorite soundtrack of 2016.
It feels like I say this every year, but this year was easily one of the best years for video game music. In many ways, I surprise myself with the sheer variety of genres and composers that continue to discover and enjoy. I hope that you have the chance to experience that if you take the time to check out something new. In the meantime, stay tuned for my Top Ten Characters of 2016 next Wednesday!Top Ten Characters of 2016 Top Ten Gaming Moments of 2016