February Game Soundtrack Round-up
Welcome, friends! It’s been quite a month for game soundtracks, both in terms of quality and variety. I’m here to provide a sampling of excellent tunes and keep you up to speed!
At the beginning of the month, Cobalt was released, a 2D platformer developed by Oxeye Game Studio and released, funnily enough, by Mojang. The game’s sound evokes an 80’s sci-fi vibe, and while there aren’t any official plans to release the soundtrack (which was composed by longtime OC Remix contributor Mattias Häggström), it’s an excellent opportunity to point you to his Cobalt EP, a small collection of remixes of the game’s main theme, which has been out for years now and has been in frequent rotation in my own music collection. Here’s that main theme in its original incarnation:
And here’s a kickin’ remix by surasshu, whose name you might recognize as one part of the duo that does all the lovely piano/chiptune music for Steven Universe:
Also dropping on the second of the month were a pair of anime JRPGs, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth and Megadimension Neptunia VII, neither of which I remotely have time in my life to play but both of which have soundtracks totally worth sharing here. Cyber Sleuth’s was done by Masafumi Takada, who’s responsible for the jazzy-yet-unnerving scores to the Danganronpa games. Here’s the first track off that Digimon score:
Killer, right? It’s a dang shame there’s no way to buy the score digitally. You’d have to import a physical copy if you wanted to add it to your collection. (Here’s a YouTube playlist with some samples, anyway, in case you’d like to peruse.)
The new Neptunia is another album you won’t be able to get stateside, and for the most part you probably wouldn’t be missing much--the Neptunia series are games about anthropomorphized game consoles who moonlight as magical girls, after all, so a lot of the music tends to reflect the game’s goofy tone--but there are some excellent battle themes, and man, after listening to it, I just cannot get this transformation theme out of my head:
If those two JRPGs weren’t enough, hard on their heels came Adventures of Mana, the second remake of the original Seiken Densetsu, released on the original Game Boy in the States as Final Fantasy Adventure. I played both the original and the previous remake, Sword of Mana, and while neither left a particularly strong impression on me, they were both scored by the excellent Kenji Ito, one of Square’s longest-serving composers, who rearranged his previous work for this latest remake. These new tracks sound great, and are especially impressive as adaptation of material originally composed for the Game Boy. Check out this second overworld theme:
For an awful lot of people in my acquaintance, XCOM 2 was the most anticipated game released this month: a lot of folks, it turns out, are super excited about having their entire team killed by snake people. I have at least half a dozen other squad-based strategy games in my backlog, including the original XCOM, so I won’t get around to XCOM 2 for a while, but I’ll be listening to the new soundtrack (by composer Tim Wynn) anytime I want to feel really, really anxious. Here, take a listen:
This is great music to play while you’re working--every track is intense and oppressive, making you feel as though time is running out (which, if you’re playing the game, is almost certainly the case). The whole album’s on Spotify, and it’s available for purchase at Amazon and on iTunes. Kudos to Firaxis and publisher 2K for making the OST widely available day-and-date with the launch of the game. Would that more publishers did the same!
I don’t think any game has occupied more of my brainspace this month than Campo Santo’s Firewatch. Chris Remo’s score is understated but full of feeling, just like the game it accompanies, and it’s an absolute must-listen. Restrained but still tense, Remo’s use of slide guitars and subtle piano are a perfect complement to the game’s story of paranoia, grief, and loneliness (Remo also composed the score for Gone Home, to which Firewatch bears many similarities). Here, take a listen to “Camp Approach”:
You can listen to the whole album over at developer Campo Santo’s Bandcamp page, and I highly recommend that you do so.
Unravel also came out mid-month, and whether or not you love Yarny or feel weirdly antagonistic toward him, you might appreciate the game’s particularly Swedish score, which uses local folk music to create an intimate feel. Unfortunately, there appear to be no plans for an official soundtrack release--but some samples have snuck onto the web anyway. Why not have a listen and meditate on childhood and memory? (Or, if you feel angry toward Yarny, maybe chill out a little?)
Project X Zone 2 also released this month! You can check out our review here--it’s a strategy RPG that pulls characters from more game franchises than you can shake a copyright lawyer at, and it’s appropriately got a soundtrack crammed full of covers. You’ve got your Tekken, your Street Fighter, your Sakura Taisen, your Burning Rangers, your Resident Evil, and even your fictional, Japanese, Sega ad man. Mad props to any game which includes at least one track from Streets of Rage 2, one of the best game soundtracks of all time. The track I really want to share here, though, is “Pressing Pursuit ~ Cornered”, from Pheonix Wright, because this track always deserves another spin:
There’s a full playlist of PXZ2 tracks here.
The full soundtrack for Street Fighter V -- like most of the game itself -- won’t be out until March. (You can buy it as DLC through Steam, actually, but PS4 users--and us weirdos who buy soundtracks but not the games they come from--are out of luck.) Street Fighter characters have always been bestowed with some of the most iconic themes in gaming, and the themes for newcomers Rashid, Laura, Necalli, and F.A.N.G. do an excellent job of giving an extra splash of personality to each new combatant.
But I’m posting Ken’s Theme, because Ken has the best theme. I’ll brook no argument on this matter.
(Here’s a Soundcloud compilation of all the character themes, in the extremely unlikely event you think Ken’s theme isn’t the best.)
Californium came out recently, a visually eclectic game based on the writings of Philip K. Dick. It seems to have passed under a lot of people’s collective radar, but the score is very much worth paying attention to, foreboding and welcoming by turns. In some ways it feels similar to scntfc’s score for Oxenfree, one of my favorites from last month. Here’s one of the gentler tracks, “electronic birdland”:
The whole album is available to stream and purchase over at composer Xavier Thiry’s Bandcamp.
At the moment, everybody on my Twitter feed seems to be deep into Nintendo’s latest iteration of its premier tactics/smooching series, Fire Emblem Fates. My completion rate of Fire Emblem games is holding steady at about 25%, so I haven’t dived into this newest entry yet, but I’ve spent some time listening to the soundtrack, which has some superb tracks. Here, check out this battle theme from the Conquest route:
Nintendo hasn’t made any previous Fire Emblem soundtracks officially available (at least not in the States), so don’t hold your breath for this one. YouTube is probably your best bet to get a little listening in.
Composer Jason Graves, whose work you may know from Dead Space, Tomb Raider, or The Order: 1886 (among others), is responsible for the prehistoric score for Ubisoft’s latest, Far Cry Primal. Graves tends to be tapped for darker, grimmer games, and he has a tendency to favor unorthodox instruments. His score for Primal is percussion-heavy, and some of that percussion was made by using things like stones and plants. See if you can pick out some of these sounds in this track, “Takkar of the Wenja”:
And last, but definitely not least, we have an album that’s very unlike the vast majority of game music--and it just might be my favorite of the month. New developer The Molasses Flood commissioned country singer Chuck Ragan to write an album to accompany their freshman effort, The Flame in the Flood, a game about surviving in the wilderness of drowned America. The Flame in the Flood combines three things I love desperately: Americana, the post-apocalypse, and river stories. It’s no surprise that Ragan’s soulful crooning is a great fit. There are a number of great tracks on the album, but I can’t help sharing the main theme, which I’ve been listening to ever since I saw it in the game’s Kickstarter video more than a year ago. Here:
Whew! That was a lot! Didn’t that seem like a lot? Our music-loving cups runneth over this month, and 2016 is just getting started. I hope you found a groove that spoke to you! There’s a lot more to look forward to this year, so keep your ears perked.
Nate Ewert-Krocker is a writer and a Montessori teacher who lives in Atlanta. His first book, an adventure novel for teens, is available here. You can find him on Twitter at @NEwertKrocker, where he mostly gushes about final boss themes from JRPGs.