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Weekend Hot Topic, part 1: Best video game soundtrack

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Hotline Miami 2

Hotline Miami 2 – at least the music is good

GameCentral readers discuss their favourite video game music, with classics ranging from Chrono Trigger to Journey.

The subject for this weeks Hot Topic was suggested by reader Ishi and was focused on the best overall soundtrack and not just individual songs. How much difference do you think a good soundtrack makes to a game and have any been ruined by a bad one?

We had plenty of suggestions from all eras of gaming, but a few names did come up repeatedly, including OutRun, Streets Of Rage II, and Tony Hawks Pro Skater.

Nice soundtrack, shame about the game

One of the easiest Hot Topics to answer, best soundtrack for me is Hotline Miami 2. While the game itself and levels are inferior to the first game, the soundtrack managed to outdo the already solid music from the first game.

Stand out tracks are Future Club, Divide, and Roller Mobster. The level with that last one took me quite a few attempts to get through, and the music definitely helped overcome the frustration of dying over and over. I still listen to the soundtrack regularly while driving (at least a couple of times a week), and Ive searched out more music by people who contributed to the soundtrack like Perturbator, Carpenter Brut, and M.O.O.N.

A recent game with great music I also want to mention is Undertale, which genuinely has some of the best boss themes Ive ever heard. Even more impressive that most of the game (including the music) was the work of just one person, something I wouldnt expect to see this side of the Commodore 64 era.
Ty Snowdon

See above

What I tend to find is that most peoples favourite music is from their favourite games, particularly if they are lengthy role-playing games.

This leads me to think that music doesnt really make that much of a difference to a game. If the game is good, and you listen to the music for a long time then youll probably like the music playing. Id be interested to see if we get any votes for poor to average games with great music

For myself Id probably go with Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Grim Fandango. The music in both game was really distinctive, fit the game itself really well, and was generally very good. I actually went as far as to buy the CD of the Deus Ex music, which is unusual for me as I dont tend to listen to that much game music.

The music in Tales Of Borderlands was excellent, albeit in a very different way, in that it was a series of very different licensed songs that I hadnt heard before but purchased individually afterwards, and actually listen to quite a lot.
Matt (he_who_runs_away – PSN ID)

Licensed memories

Im going to nominate Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for this Hot Topic. A strange choice given that the game is not my favourite entry in the series and a lot of the music was not to my taste but I have such fond memories of the tracks I do like.

When I hear one of my favourite San Andreas songs nowadays I get a flashback of what I was doing in the game when I was listening to it. For instance, hurtling around on a motorbike whilst listening to Runnin Down a Dream by Tom Petty.

L7s Pretend Were Dead was another brilliant track and in my mind its now forever linked with the game. I also loved Amos Moses by Jerry Reed, which Id never heard before.

San Andreas was often hard work (due to tough missions and scarce checkpoints) but the simple pleasure of joyriding to the games best songs was a wonderful experience that Ill never forget.
msv858 (Twitter)

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Then and now

My favourite soundtracks over the years, from the 16-bit console eras; three Yuzo Koshiro soundtracks come to mind, the first two being Streets Of Rage 1 and 2 – very catchy dance tunes that defied the abilities of the Yamaha sound chip to be found in the Mega Drive. Thirdly, his ActRaiser soundtrack on the SNES. Orchestral tunes that again redefined what the console could do.

In recent years it has to be the Persona 4 soundtrack. I played Persona 5 first and loved the soundtrack but then moved onto part 4 and that was even better. Tunes like Your Affection are great but the opening theme, Shadow World, has become a real-life favourite tune. The full length version sounds great when it comes up on random play in my car – its simply joyous.
dsb

Top three

Three games spring to mind:

1. Klonoa on PS1. Brilliant, clever game with a great soundtrack of memorable tunes ranging from jazz to orchestral.

2. Rocket Knight Adventures on Mega Drive. Fantastic, cool game with excellent tunes fitting each level perfectly.

3. Zelda: Ocarina Of Time on N64. Great game of course, but with a superb soundtrack and great sounds from synthesisers. The music is so evocative and fits perfectly with different areas of the game (special mention for Gerudo Valley).

I listen to this music often thanks to YouTube, bless it.
Alan Smith

Audio examples

My favourite video game soundtracks are those of Chrono Trigger, Mystic Quest Legend, and Breath of Fire III.

I wont waste any time talking about Chrono Triggers. All fans of the genre knows how good that is and what a genius the main composer, Yasunori Mitsuda, is.

Mystic Quest Legend is a SNES beginners role-playing game made to ease westerners into the genre. The soundtrack, composed by Ryuji Sasai and Yasuhiro Kawakami is by far the most impressive thing about the game, and is a very funky rock soundtrack while in battle. An example of one of the battle themes.

They know when to tone things down though, and the town themes have a much more mellow theme. Interestingly, all the towns use the same theme. but cleverly remixed to suit the vibe of the area: the calm Forest Town and the jazzy Faeria Town.

Breath Of Fire III is a PS1 game and for me a best Japanese role-player ever candidate, and has a soundtrack that matches that contention. Composed by Yoshino Aoki and Akari Kaida, at its heart it is a jazz-themed soundtrack but the music always feels perfect for the situation.

For instance, the first time you have a really sad moment in the game, youre hit with this. It has reuses throughout the game, but when what for me was the saddest scene in the game occurs, the composers gave it its own theme. Because while it is a sad moment there is still hope for the future, while the earlier track played over generally unrecoverable situations.

A good soundtrack can really add to a game, but I dont think Ive had one that ruined the experience for me. I own all the above soundtracks, and while I dont really sit down and listen to them, Ive ripped some of my favourite tracks from CD to my phone to play on shuffle.
Lord Darkstorm

Whistle while you play

To choose a favourite from such a wealth of amazing and memorable soundtracks over my time as a gamer is quite tricky, so I hope youll indulge me talking about a few notable examples. Firstly, from back in the day, the Sanxion loader music by Rob Hubbard. Not only was this a multi-layered, incredibly funky and memorable piece, Hubbard was pushing the envelope of what could be achieved musically during the 8-bit era, producing incredibly complex sounds. I remember Zzap!64 giving away a tape once with a remix version of this track and I must have played it to death. It was so atmospheric.

Next, the Okami soundtrack. Whilst I often find myself humming or whistling film scores, its not often that a game soundtrack becomes so ingrained that it has the whistle effect. The Okami soundtrack effortlessly matched the visual and cultural style of the game and the Shinshu Plains track in particular became a familiar ear-worm that Id find myself randomly humming at all times of the day.

Thirdly, the soundtrack for Journey. Like Okami, I was heavily invested in the game world and the story of Journey, with the emotional and life-affirming ending, in particular, elevated by Austin Wintorys beautifully haunting score. I bought the fancy art book when it came out, which was accompanied by a digital version of the album and still find myself transported to that mountain top, and that heart-breaking moment of loss, loneliness, and rebirth when I listen to it.

Finally, it seems fitting to note the passing of the great Ben Daglish. Like Hubbard, he was somehow able to coax impossible compositions out of the humble C64. The Last Ninja felt like the God Of War of its day (In my 15-year-old eyes anyway!) and Daglishs memorable soundtrack made waiting for the loading screen to finally stop worthwhile.
Rob

Opposite emotions

In terms of soundtracks, Ive got the Dear Esther, Hotline Miami, and WipEout soundtracks. I discovered some of my favourite bands through the WipEout soundtrack and still listen to it in the car if I need to drive fast.

Whereas I only listen to the Dear Esther soundtrack if I want to be really depressed.
DrIJN (gamertag)/DrIJN013 (PSN ID/NN ID)

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Nostalgia buttons

Best video game soundtrack is such a subjective question, certainly for me its difficult to know where to start.

The sheer variety of styles used in games currently is truly astounding, despite an over reliance on grand orchestra arrangements in the triple-A efforts. I genuinely believe that this the one area where games excel in comparison to film, both in original compositions and licensed soundtracks.

My descent into this great hobby of mine began with the greats of the Mega Drive era, including Sonic 2 and Streets Of Rage II. The music used in these two in particular push my nostalgia buttons every time I hear a snippet from practically any level.

The PlayStation era brought an expanded memory set fully exploited with epic new soundtracks, with the Final Fantasy games of that time standing out. My personal fave was without a doubt Metal Gear Solid, which swapped instantly relatable hummable tunes from the 16-bit generation with mood-setting ambient songs juxtaposed with a timeless theme tune. This era also brought about licensed soundtracks, the one I personally remember being from Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 which suited the grungy tone of the skating world and its antagonistic attitude.

Unfortunately, the following years produced rather too many Hollywood-lite soundtracks that, while occasionally hitting some memorable highs, produced ultimately forgettable average sounds.

I feel the rise of the indie genre has increased the range of soundtracks exponentially with lower budgets contributing to more well-suited oral-enhanced experiences. Journey with its more conventional mood setters, or FEZ with a retro chiptune classic which somehow managed to convey a childlike wonder in its wonderfully conceived levels. Thomas was Alone provoked similar feelings of awe together with fantastic use of speech to elevate fairly simple gameplay mechanics into something much more the sum of its parts.

I have two original soundtracks on CD which I would normally claim to be my favourites, these being The Last Of Us and Everybodys Gone To The Rapture, with Naughty Dogs modern classic being the best example of a big budget soundtrack I can think of. Even more impressive considering I felt the Uncharted series had a rather lacklustre sound which aped Hollywood matinees rather too closely.

However, one game series has captured my heart above all others. Life Is Strange and its prequel knocked me for six with their consistent beauty, especially considering they mix original music with indie gems that constantly tug at the heartstrings. The choice of songs for the end of episodes 2, 3, and 5 perfectly capture the despairing mood.

Then Before The Storm rocked up and upped the bar again with more emphasis on original pieces, my favourite being the one used for the school play which played on my mind for days afterward.
baby machine-5 (PSN ID)

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