In lieu of an episode of The Speed Report this week, I’ve written down my thoughts on some of my favorite video game soundtracks. This is not a ranked list, nor is it exhaustive of all of my choices. However, these are a few that deserve their flowers.
The Last of Us
The emotions felt through Gustavo Santaolalla’s score are equal parts frontier-exploring and heart-stopping drama. Santaolalla’s work has appeared in films such as Brokeback Mountain and The Motorcycle Diaries, so he’s no stranger to emotive pieces. Each composition heightens the senses involved in processing each scene. I would’ve connected with the story of Ellie and Joel any way you slice it, but Santaolalla’s score grabbed me. When it did, it said “Speed, pay close attention to everything that goes on here. It will shape a bit of your further adulting.” I grew with the characters and the music helped hammer lessons in.
TLOU2 is coming in May, so it’s a great time to re-familiarize yourselves with this epic and its hauntingly beautiful soundtrack.
You’re probably tired of me gushing about P5 at this point–especially since I just announced a P5-themed beat tape, These Beats of Mine 3.
In other news, people seem to like when I chop and flip stuff. So…let’s take some hearts while we’re at it.
These Beats of Mine 3.
March 31 (the day I’ll be loading up Persona 5 Royal). pic.twitter.com/SWRNfuBqVc
— Speed on the Beat (@SpeedontheBeat) January 6, 2020
But I gush about it because everything about it was perfect to me–especially its soundtrack. From boot to conclusion, Persona 5’s soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard–and one of the few I’ve actually bought. Imagine the cool of Cowboy Bebop mixed with a heist film speckled with emotional scenes from your favorite anime. That’s…about 53% of what the P5 soundtrack entails.
“Last Surprise” is fun, funky, and I’m mad I missed the boat on all the memes. “Beneath the Mask” (especially the “Rain” version) is a beautiful composition about duality and revealing one’s true self. The Palace themes fit so well (cue “The Whims of Life” with Lyn belting out “GIVE INTO TEMPTATION!”). The boss themes get your blood pumping. The
fighting spirit Stand Persona awakening theme is heavy, but made me ready to beat asses with Arsene (or any other Persona). And “Rivers in the Desert?”
The way that the ATLUS Sound Team and Shoji Meguro reprised many of the main pieces throughout the soundtrack was also a nice touch, unifying the soundtrack and the game overall.
With Royal coming out March 31 (the same day as TBOM3), if you’ve missed out on P5, check it out on PSN (it should be on sale), get familiar, and get out there. Or else…life won’t change.
Wild Arms 2
This is a bit of an odd choice, I’ll admit. The Wild Arms series has never been all that popular in America, even with its blend of fantasy and wild west steampunk mythos. It’s a good series, but it often got beat by the Final Fantasies of the world. That’s okay. Not everything needs to be a world-beater. But there’s something about the Wild Arms 2 soundtrack that always brings a lump to my throat. I think it has to do with the nostalgia I feel every time I hear “You’ll Never Be Alone”‘s introductory horns and/or guitars announce its project’s arrival on your screen.
Wild Arms 2 was the first JRPG I finished with a 100% completion rate. Over the summer of 2000, I poured a good chunk of my vacation into finishing Ashley Winchester’s quest to find the truth about himself and the evils threatening his world. The music was quaint when it needed to be homey, vibrant when it needed to get listeners hyped up, poignant when big moments occurred, and adorably goofy when you needed to chase cats across rooftops.
Nostalgia aside, it’s a Western-influenced soundtrack done right, as is the case with the Wild Arms series. The game is 20+ years old and you may not be able to find a version of it without a YouTube rip or dropping $30-$50 on it. However, wherever you can find it, check it out (the game and the soundtrack). The game itself gets a bit cliched at times, but it gave me so many warm memories.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
I’ve spoken about this soundtrack before, specifically on Boi-1da.com. It completely encapsulates the 1990s and the tensions felt throughout the early part of the decade. Plus, where else where you get Tupac in the same arena as Rage Against the Machine and Rick James? The soundtrack was a playlist of what made the 1990s a great time for music, both new and old.
Final Fantasy VII
While Wild Arms 2 was the first JRPG I finished in an in-depth way and Persona 5 is my all-time favorite RPG, Final Fantasy VII had a stellar soundtrack that helped evolve some of the thematic shortcomings of the game. I discussed, albeit slightly unhinged, why I felt parts of VII were overrated years ago, and I still stand to reason that VII is a great but not GOAT game. But the soundtrack? The soundtrack was amazing.
There’s a reason why people hold Nobuo Uematsu in such a high regard. His compositions help flesh out the story and force gamers worldwide into the story.
“Aerith’s Theme” tells you all you need to know about the character before she opens her mouth. “Let the Battles Begin,” like “Last Surprise,” gets you ready to kick ass. “One-Winged Angel” is a music nerd’s wet dream. Uematsu did that. And for those reasons, you can feel however you feel about FFVII. What we won’t do is talk bad about the soundtrack. Ever. Play the game for the story, but stay for Nobuo Uematsu’s work.
I’m curious to see how Remake will do the soundtrack justice with 2020 technology.
God of War (2018)
God of War games always come through with get-you-hype pieces. In a game where you’re beating the snot out of gods, you need that. However, what made the reboot/sequel game much more poignant was its soundtrack.
Composed by Bear McCreary (The Walking Dead, Battlestar Galatica, etc.), the heart-pumps are still there, but things are slowed down, subdued, and allowed to breathe even more over the course of the game. This gives listeners a soundtrack that is equal parts badass and contemplative, red-blooded and emotive.
You could put any of the original Halo trilogy’s soundtracks on a favorites list and I wouldn’t bat an eye. However, there was something about 3‘s soundtrack that I hold higher than the first two. It could, like with Wild Arms 2, be a case of nostalgia.
Drizzle Sez and I played through Halo 3 in college together and beat the game on several difficulties. We would team up against folks throughout the world and rack up kills. I was the run and gunner, he was the sniper. Fun times. Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori put their foot into this one, as everything about it screams “finale.” Once you beat Halo 3, you felt accomplished. Part of this, for me, was because of the soundtrack.
Soundtracks help draw players into a game’s world. If the soundtrack is mediocre, the immersive experience suffers. An amazing soundtrack can make a decent game move up into “good” to “great” territory, especially when it connects on a personal level. As mentioned, there are so many soundtracks I could list. If I did, I’d be here all day. So check out these soundtracks and games and remember to support dope music in all its forms.