November Game Soundtrack Roundup
Greetings, friends! I’m here once again with a cornucopia of auditory pleasures--the best game soundtracks of the month! November wasn’t quite as busy as October was, but there are still a bounty of new albums to consider. If you need something to put in your headphones to block out the sound of ornery relatives at Thanksgiving, consider some of the following.
A few follow-ups to OSTs released at the tail end of last month: First, the soundtrack to World of Final Fantasy saw official release. The game skews a little young, but it has plenty of excellent tracks from series regular Masashi Hamauzu, whose sound you may recognize from the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy or some of the later SaGa games. If you wanted a Pokémon game that wasn’t actually a Pokémon game, maybe you picked this one up. Here, have a sample of the score:
Next, I mentioned in last month’s roundup that Battlefield 1’s soundtrack wasn’t officially out yet. That’s no longer true. It’s superb orchestral work that brings appropriate weight to the historically fraught subject matter. It’s also just a great listen. Have a taste again:
Last month I embedded Christopher Tin’s stunning opener to Civilization VI and linked to an official YouTube video containing the whole score--but it wasn’t available for purchase yet. It’s out now, and you should definitely go give it another look. Strategy gaming music at its finest:
Robot/human buddy cop comedy Titanfall 2 dropped at the end of October, just a hair too late for me to include its soundtrack in last month’s roundup. James O’Connor made a passionate plea to you last week to buy the game, and I can’t help but echo his sentiment: Titanfall 2’s campaign is clever, polished, and exhilarating. It’s almost certainly the best FPS campaign I’ve played in a long time. You should probably buy it. The score, by composer Stephen Barton (Modern Warfare), is bombastic in the style of a Hollywood blockbuster. Check it out!
Though the game released on the last day of September, the soundtrack to Masquerada: Songs and Shadows didn’t appear until the end of October. Masquerada is an isometric RPG in the style of Baldur’s Gate that has an intriguing faux-Venetian setting. Josh Whelchel’s orchestral score for the game is accompanied by a bevy of vocal tracks featuring some very strong performances. This is one album that’s definitely worth listening to. Here’s a sample:
After fully a decade in development, the pixel-art platformer Owlboy finally released at the beginning of November, to considerable accolades and, one must assume, considerable relief on the part of the five-person development team. The game’s score, by Jonathan Geer, is a lovely thing, punctuated by acoustic strings and whimsical melodies, and is quite at odds with the game’s troubled development.
This has been a surprisingly strong fall for first-person shooters. First Battlefield 1 doesn’t fumble its historical setting, then Titanfall 2’s campaign turns out to be one of the biggest surprises of the year, and then Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, well… it definitely came out! Zam’s own Steven Strom thought the game played it disappointingly safe, but if you’re a die-hard fan of Duty or things that are infinite, you’ve almost certainly taken to space with the intent to shoot many men. CoD:IW’s score, by Sarah Schachner, is par for the course for the series, which is to say that it is a very well put together cinematic score meant to get you amped up while you shoot many men.
Small Radios, Big Televisions was released this month, a short, atmospheric puzzler with gorgeous low-poly environments and a glitchy aesthetic. The soundtrack for the game, by composer Owen Deery, is low-key electronica that’s very relaxing. If you’re looking for something in the same vein as Disasterpeace’s score for Hyper Light Drifter or scntfc’s score for Oxenfree, this is one that you should make time for.
Dishonored 2 came out this month, letting us hop back behind the mask of assassin Corvo Attano--or, let’s be honest, probably behind the scarf of Emily Kaldwin. The original Dishonored has been sitting unplayed on my PS3 ever since it was a PS Plus freebie in April of 2015, so that’s my own little personal dishonor right there. The new setting of Karnaca looks to be every bit as lush and detailed as the original Dunwall, so if you’re looking to be somewhere other than the real world for a little while this holiday season, Dishonored 2 is probably a suitable choice. The score, by composer Daniel Licht (whose work you might recognize from Dexter), is only available for purchase on Amazon, curiously enough.
November also gave us Watch_Dogs 2, the second in a series of games which purport to be about dogs but are actually mostly about hacking computers. The good news (besides that there are actually dogs in this one, and that you can pet them) is that Watch_Dogs 2 seems to have gained a measure of humanity that was notably absent in its predecessor, and I’ve heard several people cite protagonist Marcus Holloway as one of their favorite game characters of the year, a marked departure from previous protagonist and noted wet-paper-bag-in-a-coat Aiden Pearce. The soundtrack to Watch_Dogs 2, besides a number of licensed tracks, has a score by Scottish producer and DJ Hudson Mohawke.
This month’s indie surprise on my radar was Shenzhen I/O, a puzzle game about circuit-building and code writing that looks totally beyond me but nevertheless seems quite charming. It’s by the same developer as SpaceChem and Infinifactory, so if you have any affection for either of those titles then this one is probably going to need to go on your wishlist. The soundtrack, by co-developer Matthew Burns, is mellow electronica that’s perfect productivity music if what you need to get done requires you to slow down and think about things carefully.
I’ve never played a theme park sim, but I’ve had my eye on Planet Coaster ever since this staggeringly heartwarming trailer dropped at last year’s E3. What I didn’t know was that Jim Guthrie, the folk-rock troubadour responsible for the Sword & Sworcery soundtrack, would be writing the score. The result sounds a little like somebody gave The Lumineers some Ambien and asked them to record an album in a field of wildflowers. In other words, it’s amazing.
Pokémon Sun & Moon dropped this month! It was my first Pokémon game ever, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly even if I couldn’t fully appreciate all of the callbacks to previous games in the series. The setting of S&M is a delight to traipse around, and it’s filled with charming characters. I know a lot of people who have a huge emotional connection to the music of the Pokémon games--I’m not one of them, but I think fans of the series will be pretty pleased with this latest soundtrack. It’s not up on iTunes yet, but Pokémon is the one game series whose soundtracks Nintendo seems dedicated to making widely available, so keep an eye on Game Freak’s artist page on iTunes. It’s not up as of this writing, but it might be by the time you read this!
And last, but certainly not least: Final Fantasy XV. I’m writing this before the game is out and before the soundtrack is officially released, but the score is by the legendary Yoko Shimomura, composer of Street Fighter II, all the Kingdom Hearts games, Legend of Mana, the Mario & Luigi games, and--you know what, maybe you should just scan her discography. FFXV’s soundtrack is worth getting excited over, in other words. If you want to pre-order a physical copy, you can do so from Square Enix’s online store, or whet your appetite by listening to the songs that Florence + The Machine are contributing to the soundtrack on YouTube or Spotify.
A couple vinyl tidbits before I go-- did you know that the Mass Effect trilogy is getting a vinyl release? So is the score from Deus Ex: Human Revolution! If you’re a vinyl collector or like throwing sci-fi electronica scores on your turntable at the holidays, those are two things you should check out.
That’s all for November! I’ll be back next month to wrap up the year, gathering the best albums of 2016 to let you know what you absolutely can’t afford to miss from the past twelve months. If you have any particular favorites you want to shout out to me, hit me up on Twitter! In the meantime, happy listening.