The video games of 2015 often looked great, usually felt good, and probably smelled ok, too. But how did they sound?
We're glad you asked! With input from all of our staff — and in no particular order — here are our favourite video game soundtracks from 2015. Grab some headphones and listen along.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Composer: Austin Wintory
Lately, Assassin's Creed's musical scores had become defined by grandiose dirges, electronic soundscapes, and stoic chorales. What a surprise, then, that series newcomer Austin Wintory would mostly ditch his predecessors' walls of sound in favour of small string ensembles, rambunctious arrangements, plentiful soloists, and loose, human performances. Syndicate's musical score was as playful and fleet-footed as its building-hopping heroes.
Composers: Yuka Kitamura, Tsukasa Saitoh, and Nobuyoshi Suzuki
As with From Software's Souls games, Bloodborne's musical identity is as defined by silence as it is by actual rhythms and harmonies. Such strange, foreboding tranquility; such terrifying, grandiose action! Bloodborne lives in the careful contrast between the two.
Super Mario Maker
Composers: Koji Kondo, Naoto Kubo, Asuka Hayazaki
If everything in life could incorporate music as creatively as Mario Maker's level-making tools, the world would be a better place. This particular kind of music — menu music, interaction cues, cleverly tuned button noises, tiny inside jokes — remains something Nintendo does better than anyone else.
Composer: Toby Fox
At first listen, the Undertale soundtrack seems like it's going to be another retro-inspired indie score: Lovely, if a bit by-the-numbers. Give it some time, however, it gradually reveals itself to be something considerably more unusual and special. The relationships you forge within the game may change over time, but those relationships are always guided and anchored by an emotional, musical core. Each piece of music recalls not just a memory from the game, but a memory of an entire relationship.
Everybody's Gone To The Rapture
Composer: Jessica Curry
Jessica Curry's showstopping score for Everybody's Gone To The Rapture is an essential component of the game's identity, yet it stands just fine on its own. Few things are as beautiful as human voices singing in harmony; not the Orff-inspired, pseudo-Latin chants of so many video game boss battles, but the purer sounds of real human beings standing in a room together, picking up choir folders, and letting the music carry them away.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Composer: Marcin Przybyłowicz
Sometimes a game's soundtrack is implemented in a way that initially leaves me cold. So it was with Marcin Przybyłowicz's score for The Witcher 3, which suffers from being overused in the game's open-world explorations to the point that I would often mute it for prolonged stretches of travel and adventure. Despite that, the soundtrack itself is a beautiful, moving collection of compositions, with more standout tracks than almost any other game this year. And while many fantasy soundtracks do the whole "Dramatic Lady Wailing" thing, few do it with this much conviction.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails In The Sky: Second Chapter
Composers: Hayato Sonoda, Takahiro Unisuga, Ryo Takeshita
The Trails in the Sky games have a lot of good ideas and a great big heart, and both of those attributes are mirrored by the games' tremendous musical scores. Perhaps one of the less mainstream games on this list, but a soundtrack — and game — that should not be overlooked.
Composers: Toru Minegishi, Shiho Fujii
Splatoon's soundtrack is equal parts Jet Set Radio Future and Anamanaguchi concert, loaded with the sort of poppy, bouncing-off-the-walls enthusiasm that I wished last year's Sunset Overdrive had better captured. What kind of music best evokes a hypercolor world where squid-kids do battle with high powered ink weaponry? This kind.
Karmaflow: The Rock Opera Video game
Composer: Ivo van Dijk
Points for ambition on this one. Karmaflow: The Rock Opera Video game more or less delivered on its promise in its title, despite the fact that the game itself — aside from the music — wasn't actually all that exciting. I don't know how they lined up so many well-known vocalists for this project, but I'm glad they did.
Ori And The Blind Forest
Composer: Gareth Coker
When I fired up Ori and the Blind Forest for the first time, I was sceptical. The soft, glowing artwork and lush orchestral soundtrack were almost too much of a conscious evocation of Studio Ghibli and the famed composer Joe Hisaishi. Then I played the first fifteen minutes of the game and, well, I was moved. Just by the intro! I hadn't had time to form a connection to these characters or this world; I was touched by the beauty of the images on the screen and by their interplay with Gareth Coker's soaring orchestrations. Sometimes a beautiful piece of music is simply a beautiful piece of music, and that's enough.
Those are our favourite soundtracks of the year, though as with every year, there were some great ones that we could've also included. Honorable mentions go to Hotline Miami 2, Invisible Inc., Gravity Ghost, Fallout 4, N++, Halo 5, The Order: 1886, Life is Strange, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and that one game with the amazing soundtrack that we forget to include in the honorable mentions every year.
Let us know your own favourites — and your individual favourite tracks — in the comments below.