Monday, November 11, 2019

The Ten Best Video Game Soundtracks of the Past Decade

The past ten years of gaming showed us impressive new tech, fantastic new games, and as far as this writer's concerned, some of the best music ever put to games. While most sites look back and debate about the best games of the past decade, SuperPhillip Central takes a different approach. We're going to look at (or is it listen to?) the best video game soundtracks of the past ten years (subjectively speaking, of course). There is but one main rule: the soundtrack cannot be a licensed one. It must be comprised of original or remixed/rearranged tunes made for a video game. At any rate, this list is quite literally music to my ears (and it hopefully will be to yours as well!). Let's begin with this alphabetically ordered list!

Bravely Default (3DS)

Japanese musician and composer Revo, alongside his group Sound Horizon, performed plenty of the music within 2012's Bravely Default for the Nintendo 3DS. The entirety of the Bravely Default soundtrack can be described as progressive rock with a fantasy approach. It's essentially a classical suite of marvelous melodies, sophisticated rhythms, and catchy themes, whether they're during traditional fields and dungeons, the fast-paced, rockin' battle songs, or the well done character themes for each of the four protagonists within Bravely Default. The latter is incorporated beautifully into the game's wondrous final boss theme, Serpent Eating the Ground.

Gravity Rush 2 (PS4)

We turn our attention (and our ears) to Gravity Rush 2, a supremely overlooked PlayStation 4 exclusive with a fantastic soundtrack attached to it. Kohei Tanaka composed the music for the game, and much like his other works, including a certain anime called One Piece, Gravity Rush 2's soundtrack is a fine mix of boisterous big band brass, symphonic sweetness, and a touch of melancholy thrown in for added effect. From the sultry and hyperactive sax heard in Night Gale, to the oriental delights one can appreciate in Yin & Yang, whether it's the batch of brand-new compositions heard in the game or remixed and rearranged familiar tunes from the first game, Gravity Rush 2's soundtrack is a stellar one. 

Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS)

Imagine if you will, taking some of the very best and prominent video game composers in the land of the rising sun and bringing them together to create one of the finest soundtracks of not just the past ten years, but also in Nintendo's history. Big words from me, but when you have the talents of proficient composers like Yasunori Mitsuda, Yuzo Koshiro, Motoi Sakuraba, just to name a few, then you can see (and hear) what I mean.

The soundtrack of Kid Icarus: Uprising brings together this all-star parade of composers, something that's become a bit of a trademark with game director Masahiro Sakurai, and sees it syncing up with the action of the game brilliantly, most notably in the heavily cinematic, but still fully playable flying sections of the game. You can bet that Kid Icarus: Uprising won't be the last venture led by director Masahiro Sakurai on this list.

Kingdom Hearts III (PS4, XB1)

While we still await an official soundtrack release (perhaps Square Enix waits for the DLC to come out first before bundling everything together for prospective purchasers of an official soundtrack), Kingdom Hearts III was a glorious return of familiar themes from the entire series redone in a way that they never sounded better, and wholly new themes that became instant classics. Yoko Shimomura, longtime series composer and just longtime video game music composer in general, channeled her greatest strengths in creating memorable melodies and emotional, heart-tugging themes to create the series's best soundtrack. It's truly one of the greats of the past decade, and this comes from someone without much emotional investment in Kingdom Hearts as a series.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (NSW)

Nintendo certainly knows how to crank out quality games (for the most part), and most who play said games know how enormously creative, catchy, and well composed many of these soundtracks are. The sound team behind Mario Kart 8 and for the sake of it being a catch-all to make it easier for discussion, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, crafted an insanely energetic soundtrack to drift, boost, and chuck items at other players to during the frantic races. Shiho Fuiji, Atsuko Asahi, Ryo Nagamatsu, and Yasuaki Iwata brought plenty of original content to the table musically, but the remixed music from other Mario Kart games from the racetracks from past titles never sounded better. Overall, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is another essential soundtrack for any music lover of the past decade.

Octopath Traveler (NSW, PC)

The music for our next game was composed by a relative newcomer to making music for video games, Yasunori Nishiki--but you certainly wouldn't be able to tell from listening to the actual soundtrack to Octopath Traveler! It's a masterful, often majestic, always spectacular, never dull soundtrack that comes from this novel and original RPG on the Nintendo Switch and PC. From the constant uses of leitmotif that permeate throughout the soundtrack, especially the eight character themes, various locales visited in each of their individual journeys, and all wrapping up nicely and neatly with the touching, tear-inducing ending theme, Octopath Traveler's soundtrack is simply sensational.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

It's time for some more Mario! One of the two games on this list, both on the Wii, that both almost don't qualify for this list by virtue of releasing in 2010, Super Mario Galaxy 2 has a soundtrack that is like the game it serves as the successor of--it serves as a nice expansion of ideas from the original Super Mario Galaxy. With Mahito Yokota as the lead composer, and the rest of the composition talent doing a bang up job, the the majority of Super Mario Galaxy 2's symphonic, orchestrated soundtrack is most definitely superb and fitting for the out of this world adventure and gigantic stakes Mario faced on his 2010 galactic adventure.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (NSW)

Now, I must admit myself that this pick for one of the ten best video game soundtracks of the past decade is cheating quite a bit. Okay, maybe MORE than quite a bit, at that. However, when you have what is basically a "best of" or "greatest hits" soundtrack of gaming that will most likely never be seen or heard again, it's hard to omit. Hence, why Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a collection of who's who of video game composers in both the east and the west, the likes of which came together for one purpose, to celebrate gaming's illustrious history, sports an impressive, ever-expanding lineup of game tracks. Picking just six musical examples to represent the soundtrack was a challenge enough, but what isn't so much of a challenge is to say just how important and wonderful hearing classic, retro gaming themes--especially all of the more obscure ones--remixed and rearranged really is to my--and so many others'--ears.

Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii, 3DS)

From the brilliant musical minds of Yoko Shimomura and the team of ACE+ comes the Xenoblade Chronicles soundtrack, a game which just got in with its 2010 launch (Japan), then its European launch in 2011... and then finally its 2012 launch in North America. Phew! What a staggered release, no thanks to Nintendo of America, of course. It's a good thing that the game finally came out on this side of the Pacific (and this side of the Atlantic in the case of our PAL pals), as North Americans would have not only missed out on an excellent game but wouldn't have gotten to allow our ears to experience this stellar and sensational soundtrack.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PS4, NSW, PC, Vita)

For Ys fans, it's no real surprise to see the soundtracks of the game held to such a high standard. The series continues to put out some of the best music within the industry. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana somehow managed to rise above its already stellar predecessors and contemporaries with an engaging, emotionally-charged, sensationally put together soundtrack that touches on so many emotions. Between the melancholy and moving opening theme of the game, the intense and catchy battle themes inspired by progressive rock, and the field and dungeons pieces heard throughout, there's never a dull moment with the Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana soundtrack, and it's certainly up to the massive pedigree brought forth by the Falcom Sound Team.


Now that you've read and heard SuperPhillip Central's picks, which game soundtracks of the past ten years are your favorites that you consider to be the best of the best? Let the SPC community know in the comments section below!

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