Thursday, January 4, 2024

SuperPhillip Central's Best of 2023 - The Ten Best Game Soundtracks of 2023

Oh, hey there! Been awhile, huh? You think I'd be better about providing for you, the reader, better on this blog of mine! After all, what kind of writer throws some scraps in the way of a mall level list, and then goes AWOL for another three months!? Well, that certainly sounds like your pal Phil here... Ahem.

Regardless, it's 2024! First and foremost, sending everyone positive wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year. Here's hoping your 2024 is a fantastic one for you all. With a new year comes new opportunities--as well as resolutions. For instance, "how about posting more on SuperPhillip Central, Phil?" While I can't promise the world here, it's a goal of mine I'd like to accomplish, in all truthfulness. 

Let's begin with a subject that is near and dear to my heart: that of game soundtracks. 2023 was an incredible year for games. Note: I'm talking about video games released, not so much the industry itself, which continues to see disappointing and depressing layoffs for its employees who put forth incredible work, time, and effort to make the games we enjoy. (Not to sour or spoil the mood here, of course.)

At any rate, it feels like a good time to dust off "SuperPhillip Central's Best of" end-of-year series of articles that I used to enjoy doing, and retool them for the year that was 2023. Rather than doing several top fives for various categories and a final top ten list, I'm doing something different this year--Not just for my workload's sake, but also to mix things up. (I love keeping readers on their figurative toes, after all!)

This year we're going to start SuperPhillip Central's Best of 2023 with a look (and listen) to my ten favorite game soundtracks of the past year. These are listed in alphabetical order with the name of the game (that's obvious enough), the composer or composing team behind the soundtrack, as well as three sample tracks picked directly off of YouTube for your listening pleasure and perusal. I hope you'll enjoy this musical journey through the year that was 2023 that we're about to go on together. 

Of course, I'd love to hear your picks for favorite game soundtracks from the past year as well, so please feel free to share your selections (and even soundtrack samples) in the comments.

Disney Illusion Island (NSW)

Composer: David Housden

Sample Tracks: 

Illusion Island 

Downtown Gizmopolis 

The PostOfficer

Let's begin our tour of some fantastic favorite 2023 game soundtracks of mine with an often overlooked game both generally and musically, too. Released over the summer of 2023 exclusively on the Nintendo Switch, Disney Illusion Island essentially presented itself as a beginner's Metroidvania, readily accessible and suitable for all ages. Fun? Yes. Musically captivating? Yes, as well. Composer David Housden delivered a superbly composed soundtrack full of perky, happy, and peppy orchestral arrangements. The main theme, Illusion Island, presents players and listeners with an introduction to just the kind of spirited adventure they can expect with the game proper.

Final Fantasy XVI (PS5)

Composers: Masayoshi Soken, Takafumi Imamura, Daiki Ishikawa, Saya Yasaki, Justin Frieden

Sample Tracks:

Title Screen

The Grand Duchy of Rosaria

No Risk, No Reward

Say what one will about Final Fantasy XVI itself--whether that is its disregard for traditional RPG gameplay for a more action game-oriented feel, a dramatically dark and rather generic medieval world, or its lack of compelling side quests (I'm cutting into the game too much here, and I apologize)--but there can be no mistake that XVI's soundtrack in every facet is masterfully written. Helmed by Masayoshi Soken with support by Takafumi Imamura, Daiki Ishikawa, Saya Yasaki, et. al, Final Fantasy XVI's music harks back to compositions by the great Nobuo Uematsu himself. That's certainly some of the highest praise I can give, and it's wholeheartedly given, too. The latest mainline Final Fantasy delivers music for all moods, and it accentuates the action, melodramatic moments, emotional happenings, and more quite fantastically. 

Fire Emblem Engage (NSW)

Composers: Yasuhisa Baba, Kazuki Komai, Hiroki Morishita, Takeru Kanazaki, Fumihiro Isobe, Takafumi Wada

Sample Tracks:

Engage (Main Theme)

Your Journey

Faraway Holy Land (Flare)

Another RPG--though of a different type, of course--that received quite a divisive opinion from both fans and critics alike, Fire Emblem Engage may have delighted and disappointed many, but the soundtrack of this series continues to impress and, well, engage listeners (I HAD to say it). It's no different with Fire Emblem Engage, offering sublime songs, action-packed, rocking melodies, subtle and somber tunes, and a magnificent mix of music for all moods. The main theme is used as a leitmotif throughout a number of pieces in the game's soundtrack, much like Three Houses utilized the same trick before it. It's a good trick, too, as it only heightens the pieces that it's reused and refurbished in, while also providing plenty of original songs to suit any vibe you're looking--or in this case, listening--for.

Hi-Fi Rush (XBS, PC)

Composers: Shuichi Kobori, Reo Uratani, Masatoshi Yanagi

Sample Tracks:

Production Destruction

Through the Halls of History


While Hi-Fi Rush certainly has myriad licensed songs used to brilliant effect, with my pick for the game here, we're focused solely on the original songs composed and performed for this superb, shadow-dropped game of early 2023. Those within the Xbox ecosystem certainly got a glorious gift in gameplay, presentation, and--as it's relevant for us right now--musically as well. Hi-Fi Rush absolutely rocks with high-adrenaline, groove-driven music, perfect for taking out enemies and baddies in beat with the rhythm. Full of awesome anthems, rocking instrumental songs, vocal delights, and supremely catchy ditties as well, there's no limit to how well the crew behind Hi-Fi Rush blended the music with the action on screen so mightily. 

The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails (NSW, PS4, PC)

Composers: Hayato Sonoda, Takahiro Unisuga, Saki Momiyama

Sample Tracks:

To the Undiscovered World

Temple of the Continent

Illusions on Ice

Although The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails previously released on the PlayStation Portable back in the early 2010s, it never saw our shores or sides of the world. In fact, the recent fall port on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC gave Western gamers our first officially localized version of the game. And, thankfully, the wait was most certainly worth it. Not just for the addicting action and stage-based RPG goodness, but for the subject at hand of this article, a stellar soundtrack worthy of the Falcom Sound Team name. With The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails, you get everything from casual, chill themes, pulse-pounding action tunes, and also catchy songs to accompany you during dungeons and stages. The Falcom Sound Team continues to make some of the most stunning, impressive game music out there, and have done so for decades. This tradition definitely continues with The Legend of Nayuta.

Octopath Traveler II (NSW, PS5, PS4, PC)

Composer: Yasunori Nishiki

Sample Tracks:

Main Theme (Day)

Ochette, the Hunter

Partitio, the Merchant

The original Octopath Traveler is a game that I've not played, but I loved its soundtrack to bits. It invoked so many positive feelings, so much admiration, and left a strong impression on me, even without fully knowing the context behind many of the tracks and themes I listened to. That's no easy feat for a game soundtrack to perform for this tough critic, but Yasunori Nishiki was up to that challenge. (Although, to be fair, Nishiki-san probably didn't know he was taking on that challenge to begin with!) Regardless, Octopath Traveler II continues where the original game's soundtrack left off, creating more marvelous and magnificent music that tugs on the heartstrings, gives goosebumps, and takes an emotional toll on its listeners, in and out of the game. Maybe I'm speaking for myself here, but that's most definitely what it did for me. Again, no easy feat! As expected, each track takes its listener on an adventure, much like the adventure our eight heroes go on throughout the game. Although this is an adventure of the musical variety, it's one that has the same emotional highs and lows that makes a stellar soundtrack.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R (NSW, PS5, PC)

Composer: Motoi Sakuraba

Sample Tracks:

The venerable forest

Field of Exper

Shower of blossoms

The following two soundtracks are not only returning favorites of mine redone and remade for a new generation, but they also come from two veterans in the game music biz. Our first stop is to the great sea of stars. No, no. Not THAT one. I'm talking about Star Ocean: The Second Story, namely its remake released this past November, Star Ocean: The Second Story R. Everything received a facelift and improvement in this remake--from the graphics, to the lighting, to the camera angles, to the battle system, and of course, our focus currently, the soundtrack. I was skeptical about how much I'd enjoy this remake's remade renditions of a soundtrack I already thought was next to perfect with its warm synths giving me such nostalgic feelings. However, Motoi Sakuraba took his famed compositions from the original Second Story and made them even more impressive. Field of Exper, the world map theme of the game, gave me chills upon hearing it for the first time with its goosebump-inducing choir. Each song is lovingly remade to make for a whole new listening experience, and one I absolutely adore.

Super Mario RPG (NSW)

Composer: Yoko Shimomura

Sample Tracks:

Still, the Road is Full of Dangers

Forest Maze

Nimbus Land (Let's Do the Fooka Fooka!)

Speaking of veteran composers and classic games remade, we have Super Mario RPG, which was like a dream come true. It was a game that most figured would never, ever get a remake, and lo and behold, the magical deed was done to most everyone's delight. Super Mario RPG brought a beautiful new coat of paint to the Super Nintendo classic in terms of graphics, and in terms of audio, it brought the wonderful works of Yoko Shimomura and turned them into musical near-perfection. Heck, maybe we can strike out the word "near" and just call it perfection! Is that too much? Either way, hearing familiar tunes that I loved during my childhood get remade with gorgeous instrumentation in glorious new arrangements made the kid in me beam from ear to ear upon hearing each theme reimagined. Yoko Shimomura is one of gaming's greatest gifts to music, and Super Mario RPG's remake is strong evidence of that.

Tchia (PS5, PS4, PC)

Composer: John Robert Matz

Sample Tracks:

Main Theme

The Sea Race

The World

Another soundtrack that came out of nowhere for me, Tchia was an early 2023 release (a PlayStation Plus title, if memory serves correctly) that I dabbled with playing as the premise looked fun and the art style seemed charming enough. What I got was not only a thrilling and cozy adventure, but it was accented by an absolutely astounding soundtrack. Whether it's the folksy island vocal themes, the catchy tropical beats and melodies, or the main theme that serves as a leitmotif throughout many of the game's tunes, Tchia offers a breathtaking world and an equally breathtaking musical package. Most of it will easily put a smile on your face listening to its lovely vibes, and for me, that's after multiple repeated (and I DO mean repeated) listens.

Trinity Trigger (NSW, PS5, PS4, PC)

Composer: Hiroki Kikuta

Sample Tracks:

Nome della Rosa


Unsteady Love

Although Trinity Trigger received a staggered release (it originally launched in Japan in 2022), North American and Europe only got the game just last year in 2023. Thus, I'm counting it as a 2023 release. (But really, it's 2024 now, can we stop with the staggered releases if at all possible, please?) At any rate, Hiroki Kikuta composed Trinity Trigger's soundtrack, and if that name is at all familiar, he was the composer behind various games in the Mana series, particularly Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana. His same signature style and touch is present and accounted for in Trinity Trigger's soundtrack. Now, don't get me wrong--that doesn't mean you won't be surprised or impressed by the music in this game. Far from that! While you may get some familiar vibes from Trinity Trigger, the music itself offers a blend of cozy town themes, mystical dungeon tracks, and adrenaline-inducing battle themes worthy of cementing Trinity Trigger as a top ten game soundtrack of mine for 2023.


I hope this was an enjoyable read through some of my favorite game soundtracks of the past year. If you have any soundtracks from 2023 that you'd love to share, please post them in the comments for me and others to admire and enjoy! 

No comments: