Best Game Soundtracks July 2017
Greetings once again, fellow game music enthusiasts! We're into the dog days of summer, sweltering afternoons tempting us to sequester ourselves in the cool confines of air-conditioned dens and basements. A fine time to don our headphones and relax with some new tunes. Though the summer game releases are a little more sparse than the first months of the year, there are still plenty of soundtracks to sample.
Without further ado, let's get to this month's offerings!
Though it's not (strictly speaking) a videogame, Netflix's Castlevania miniseries was released at the beginning of July, with a score by TV and film composer Trevor Morris. You may recognize his work from Iron Fist or The Borgias -- or, more likely, from Dragon Age: Inquisition, which he also composed. His work on Castlevania is, alas, not particularly Castlevania-like, mimicking neither Michiru Yamane's beautiful and haunting work in the later series nor the chiptune prog-rock melodies of the early NES entries. Nevertheless, it has its own tense and foreboding style. Well worth a listen, especially if you find yourself unexpectedly impressed with the series.
Also at the beginning of the month, Nintendo released Kirby's Blowout Blast on the 3DS eShop, a cutesy little score attack game that puts yet another spin on their pink puffball. Kirby's had so many outings at this point that it's a little hard to keep track of them all, but I've not heard anyone speak ill of them. Maybe they're afraid of hurting the little guy's feelings? The original Kirby's Dream Land was the first game I bought with my own money as a child, so I'm firmly in the puffball's corner. Blowout Blast's music is a bunch of remixes of classic Kirby tunes, which suits me just fine. I'm sure there'll never be an official soundtrack release, but absolutely go click around the YouTube playlist if you have any affection for these games. You'll get a kick out of it.
The game I've sunk the most time into this month has been Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, Square Enix's remastered version of its misunderstood 2006 classic. I wrote a little bit about why I didn't give the game a fair shake back in the day, but one element of FFXII I've always appreciated is Hitoshi Sakimoto's superb score. Sakimoto, who's also responsible for the soundtracks to Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story, has always produced remarkable orchestral pieces that help to give game worlds a distinct identity. The Zodiac Age offers a fully reorchestrated soundtrack, and it sounds phenomenal. I've been playing the game with headphones on just to appreciate it. Definitely check this one out.
The second week of July also saw the release of The End is Nigh, the latest from Edmund McMillen (Super Meat Boy) and Tyler Glaiel (Closure). The End is Nigh is another brutally difficult platformer in the vein of Super Meat Boy, but one that asks you to slow down and explore as you die hundreds of times rather than hurrying you onward to the next stage. The game is scored by a duo that calls themselves Ridiculon, and these chaps have rearranged classical pieces like "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and the "1812 Overture" with synths, guitars, and electronic percussion. Also, there's a whole slate of chiptune versions of the tracks. I'll never say no to a chiptune "Night on Bald Mountain." Have a listen!
I was tremendously relieved when Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy dropped a few weeks ago. I've played every one of the Layton games so far; each one has been a thoroughly relaxing virtual vacation to a version of our world populated with politeness and pleasantries as much as puzzles. Though the eponymous Professor is mostly absent from this newest entry, it retains the series' charm -- and, more importantly, its wonderfully chill soundtrack, once more provided by Tomohito Nishiura. Though the 3DS version is some weeks away, the game plays perfectly well on a phone, and I can't recommend it enough… Unless you're allergic to puzzles, I suppose. We're not likely to see a soundtrack release, unfortunately, but there are a handful of sample tracks up on YouTube for you to peruse.
One of the more interesting releases of the month is indie "Operating System RPG" Kingsway, a procedurally-generated adventure game that takes place within a fictional OS that mimics Windows 95. Some among you might be too young to remember canyon.mid, but everybody can appreciate a good progress bar or an annoying pop-up ad. Kingsway composer Landon Podbielski has done an excellent job of capturing this early-90's MIDI aesthetic, and the track titles even have lower-case names like "mshell" and "pagefile." It's a weird and specific kind of nostalgia being traded on here, but it's just silly enough to work.
Splatoon had one of the freshest soundtracks of 2015, and the just-released Splatoon 2 brings that weird squid-pop sound with it to the Switch. It's a little tricky to describe the sonic concoction that sound director Toru Minegishi has assembled for the Splatoon games: It's a little bit funk, a little bit pop, and perhaps it has just a hint of ska? In any case, it sounds like nothing else in gaming, so you should absolutely swim on over to check it out. There's no official soundtrack release yet, but unlike a lot of Nintendo properties, it might be worth keeping your eyes peeled: The first game got a soundtrack release in Japan, at least, and it seems like some folks in the press might have gotten some Splatoon 2 tracks on vinyl… Maybe there's hope yet!
Toward the end of the month, Team17 released city-builder-in-space Aven Colony, a game to satisfy those disappointed that SimCity takes place on boring old Earth. Reviews of the game have thus far been mixed, but one high point seems to be that the game is quite playable on consoles -- no mean feat for a simulation game like this to accomplish. If you've been hankering to colonize an alien planet from the comfort of your couch, this may be one for you. The game's score, by Alexander "FunkyRustic" Brandon, hasn't translated well to consoles: It's only available as Steam DLC.
Buy: Steam DLC
It'll be tough to call "Soundtrack of the Year" in a year that's given us Persona 5, Nier: Automata, and a new Splatoon. It's going to be even tougher now that Supergiant Games has released Pyre, which has another soundtrack by Darren Korb, the gentleman responsible for the scores to Bastion (probably the best soundtrack of 2011) and Transistor (probably the best soundtrack of 2014). Korb's combination of acoustic and electronic never fails to produce extremely compelling tunes, and he's once more joined on a few tracks by the lovely vocals of Ashley Barrett. I suggest that you check out every album that I highlight in these roundups, but I'm going to go one further on this one: Buy it. Buy it sight unseen. You won't regret it.
I can't believe I almost got to the end of this roundup without sharing the theme song to Dream Daddy! That was a close one, folks. This is the main theme from Dream Daddy, the dad dating game. The theme is by Baths. As someone who is literally a dad, I am wholeheartedly in support of this game. Anything to help the standing of dads go up in the world.
That's about it for this month, friends. For those record collectors out there, you might want to head on over to ThinkGeek to check out their recent release of the Dark Souls soundtracks on vinyl. For everyone else, happy listening, and I'll catch you next month, where plenty of excellent games await us: Tacoma, Nidhogg 2, more Uncharted, and a remake of Yakuza! I can't wait!