September Game Soundtrack Roundup

ReCore! Ace Attorney! Halcyon 6! Shin Megami Tensei VI Apocalypse!!!

Welcome again, fellow appreciators of the bizarre and varied world of game scores! I return once more, ever your humble servant, to array before you a buffet of sonic delights. Perhaps you’ve come to this roundup to discover an indie gem that has slipped beneath your radar, or you’re looking for a stirring sound to fuel your productivity. Perhaps you’ve come to hear me wax grandiloquent on the virtues of JRPG battle themes! (Please keep the browser tab open. I promise I’ll only do that a little.)

September is a veritable Whitman’s Sampler of game scores: a little bit of industrial synth, a little bit of swelling orchestra, some ambient electronica, some upbeat guitars, and inexplicably some coconut. Let’s pick it up at the top of the month with Earthlock: Festival of Magic, an indie RPG with a soundtrack composed by Eiko Nichols. Earthlock was born of a modestly-successful Kickstarter several years back and boasts a guest track by Hiroki Kikuta of Secret of Mana fame. Nichols’ score for Earthlock, however, sounds more inspired by Yoko Shimomura’s scores for Legend of Mana and Kingdom Hearts. The songs here aren’t quite as melody-driven as Shimomura’s work, but still do an excellent job of giving different locations distinct characters. Here, have a sample:

Listen: Bandcamp | YouTube

Next we take a hard turn into darker territory with the soundtrack to Mother Russia Bleeds, the gory beat-’em-up developed by a group called “Le Cartel” and scored by electronica band Fixions. David Jagneux, in his review impressions for Zam, said that the game nails the Streets of Rage feel despite lacking a little in the complexity department. I’m a little too soft for the game’s unbridled violence, but the dark, industrial synth of Fixions is something I can wholly get behind. Have a listen to “Night Brawlers”:

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify Buy: iTunes

Also released at the beginning of the month was The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, the eagerly-anticipated (by me) follow-up to last year’s Trails of Cold Steel, which deftly lifted some of the best bits of Persona, Suikoden, and Grandia to create a really lovely JRPG cocktail. I’m still making my way through the second entry, but I’ve been sampling the soundtrack in full ever since I discovered that it--like just about the entire works of the Falcom Sound Team--is available on Spotify. Some of the soundtrack is pretty standard JRPG fare--unremarkable town themes and low-key dungeon tunes--but Falcom has a knack for superb, energetic battle themes with guitars and electric strings. JRPG battle themes aren’t just up my alley, they pretty much are my alley, so of course I’ve had this one stuck in my head for something like eight months:

Listen: YouTube | Spotify Buy: Amazon | iTunes

I haven’t been properly caught up on the series in almost ten years, but the latest Ace Attorney game made its way stateside this month. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney -- Spirit of Justice is the latest outing for the eponymous lawyer and his zany crew of litigious misfits, and according to our own Steven Strom, it might be among the best the series has to offer. Phoenix Wright’s soundtrack, by series regular Noriyuki Iwadare (who I will always love for his work on the Lunar games), is full of memorable melodies that help to define its cast of larger-than-life characters. Almost all of the returning cast have revamped versions of their themes (check out those of Phoenix, Maya, and Edgeworth), but listen to the theme of Khura’in to really get a sense for the extra weight Iwadare throws behind this latest score:

Listen: YouTube Buy: CDJapan

Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander was released this month as well, a sci-fi strategy/RPG hybrid by developer Massive Damage, Inc. Zam’s Rowan Kaiser thought that it was pretty solid with the exception of some issues with pacing, and I’ll echo his praise of the soundtrack, which is an excellent combination of orchestra and chiptune. The score, by Steve London, often has a driving urgency but still is able to maintain an earnestness which befits the game’s somewhat cutesy visual aesthetic. You should give it a listen; it’s excellent writing music.

Listen: Spotify Buy: iTunes | Steam (DLC)

I’ll be honest, I have no idea what’s going on with the soundtrack for Pac-Man Championship Edition 2. The bass thump for this song had me grooving in my chair all afternoon. Will there be a soundtrack eventually? Maybe. The world is full of mysteries.

I saw a lot of interest and eagerness in my social media feeds surrounding ReCore, especially with some of the minds behind Metroid Prime involved with development--but it looks as though Comcept just can’t land a hit, with ReCore getting at best a lukewarm reception despite there being some good bits if you’re willing to dig deep enough beneath the drudgery. One bit you won’t have to dig to appreciate is the score by Chad Seiter, which does a very good job of imitating the feel of a Hollywood blockbuster. It includes some lovely vocals by Laura Intravia.

Listen: Spotify Buy: Amazon | iTunes

The 3DS saw two heavy-hitting JRPGs this month; the first, Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past, is a remake of a much-beloved PlayStation title whose score has gotten a complete orchestral overhaul. Many of the RPG enthusiasts on my Twitter feed were fretting terribly about whether or not this 3DS remake (or its successor) would make its way to American shores, and you can imagine their relief at finally having it in their hands (and native tongue). To date, I have still not played a Dragon Quest game. I should probably turn in my JRPG card. The music for DQVII, as with all the main Dragon Quest games, is composed by Koichi Sugiyama. The arranged version for 3DS was recorded with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra!

Listen: YouTube (partial) Buy: CDJapan

The other major JRPG for the 3DS this month was Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, a partner game to the original SMTIV starring a new protagonist and featuring a number of recurring cast members. Apocalypse falls somewhere in between remix and sequel, but almost everyone who’s reviewed it so far has appreciated the way in which it tweaks Shin Megami Tensei IV’s systems, characters, and world. Apocalypse’s soundtrack, by Ryota Koduka, is often mellower than I would have imagined, but it also has some excellent battle themes:

Listen: YouTube Buy: CDJapan

I was enormously surprised this month to see Wheels of Aurelia officially released, because I feel like I have been meaning to play Wheels of Aurelia for more than a year. As someone who has a constant thirst for road trips, Aurelia’s combination of driving and good conversation sounds like an excellent way to spend a couple hours. The soundtrack, by Santa Ragione’s Nicolò Sala and Gipsy Studio, is seven tracks of Italian prog-rock and electro, and is absolutely worth your while. Primo driving music. Have a listen to the main theme:

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

This month’s best ambient soundtrack is from Pavilion, a beautiful-looking game which bills itself as a “fourth-person” puzzler. I am an English major, and I can tell you with some degree of confidence that “fourth-person” is not a thing. The game’s score, however, by “space music pioneer” Tony Gerber, is lovely and meditative. (Is “space music” a thing? I don’t know as much about space as I do about English.) I would like to listen to the Pavilion soundtrack while I am getting a massage, or perhaps while taking sedatives.

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

There are a handful of games released this month which have either yet to announce their official soundtracks or which have thus far only released them as Steam DLC: The Bunker, an all-FMV horror title about being stuck in a nuclear bunker, has its score by Dom Shovelton available as Steam DLC. Likewise, first-person semi-navigating parkour-fest Clustertruck hasn’t released its soundtrack beyond Steam DLC yet, but it would be wise to keep an eye on composer Karl Flodin’s Bandcamp as it’s bound to manifest sooner or later.

As I was in the middle of writing this roundup, composer Lyndon Holland tweeted that his soundtrack to cinematic adventure game Virginia was available for purchase! It looks like it’s only available as Steam DLC at the moment, though it’s supposed to go up on the PSN storefront soon. I’ll let you know in my next roundup if it’s been released independently. While you’re waiting, you can go read what Zam editor Laura Michet had to say about it (spoiler: she loved it and wants you to play it and talk to her about it immediately).

Another of Zam’s favorites this month, Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, doesn’t have a soundtrack available yet, but the devs have promised an announcement soon. I’ll keep you up to date!

One last announcement this month: Mick Gordon’s soundtrack to the excellent DOOM is finally available in full! You can buy it over at iTunes or listen to it on Spotify. Rip and tear!

With that, this roundup has arrived at its natural conclusion. I hope you’ve found something that tickles your sonic fancy! I’ll see you next month, when we’ll no doubt be considering AAA titles like Mafia III, Gears of War 4, and World of Final Fantasy--along with a host of surprises. Who doesn’t like surprises? Until then, I wish you happy listening.