For the longest time, I’ve wanted to try something a little different.
When I first started writing for Ground Punch earlier this year, I soft pitched a monthly music-focused piece that would highlight the best new video game soundtracks releases. Life, as it is known to do, got in the way and suddenly months had passed—my time firmly consumed with the review cycle and the initial stages of the piece left floating around restlessly in the back of my mind. Now though, late on a Sunday night, I find myself without a review to write and beginning to wonder again what that piece could be, what kind of space I wanted to create. A space in which we could talk about the soundtracks that define the games we play, the movies and TV shows we watch and most importantly, the lives we lead.
Rezonance is that space.
Once a month (time permitting, maybe more) I’ll be bringing you interviews with composers, retrospectives on music, deep dives into sound design and so much more.
This post is a realization of that first draft I pitched all those months ago, when this list would have been three entries instead of nine. 2017 has been a dynamite year for games so far and the soundtracks have been phenomenal, so below is a list of the music that I’ve found to be the most engaging. Hopefully, you’ll find something that resonates with you (see what I did there?).
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Available on: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Capcom kicked off 2017 with its soft reboot of the Resident Evil franchise and boy oh boy did they nail it.
The game itself received critical acclaim, catapulting Capcom back into the good graces of horror fans around the globe. Initially teased through a series of cryptic short teasers, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was finally revealed in a surprise announcement at E3 2016—launching with an incredibly effective trailer featuring the game’s theme song, a new rendition of an American folk classic Go Tell Aunt Rhody.
The soundtrack is full of hair-raising delights. Despondent violin strings and piano chords weave in and out of silence, lulling players into a special kind of despair and isolation as the Baker family hunts you down. It’s disquieting, often deeply sad, and always tense.
Night in the Woods and Poochy and Yoshi’s Wooly World
Composer: NitW – Alec Holowka / PYWW – Tomoya Tomita and Misaki Asada
Avaiable on: NitW – PC, Playstation 4 / PYWW – Nintendo 3DS/2DS
February of this year saw a wide breadth of releases, and as such, the music available from that time is equally varied. While the PlayStation exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn dominated most of the conversation, several smaller titles dropped around the same time and two of them, in particular, have amazing soundtracks.
Originally released on the Wii U and then adapted to the DS family, Poochy and Yoshi’s Wooly World contains some of the most charming platformer music I’ve heard in a long time. Every song practically bounces out of your speakers, begging to make your day that little bit brighter. Perfectly paired with the game’s unique visual style this is a soundtrack that deserves a listen.
While Nintendo was busy mesmerising the child within us all, newly founded studio Infinite Fall sought to capture a different kind of magic. Night in the Woods seeks to tackle something deeper, something primal and dark brewing inside most young adults. A slow, meditative experience in which a college dropout returns to her hometown to tackle demons inside and out, the soundtrack echoes the subject of the game with exceptional accuracy. A synth-laden journey into “cool”, it’s a soundtrack that smacks of new wave retro revival.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Composer: Manaka Kataoka
Available on: Nintendo Switch, Wii U.
It should come as no surprise that this game headlines my pick for the best video game music of March.
Breath of the Wild recalls childhood wonder with its world design, an ethos applied equally to the game’s soundtrack. Seamlessly woven into the experience, the score is a varied collection of beautiful pieces that evoke a sense of adventure; quietly playing in the background as you roam Hyrule or rising to an epic crescendo while Link battles a boss, the latest offering from Nintendo reminds us once again why we call the music of Zelda iconic.
Breath of the Wild: Shrine Theme
Breath of the Wild: Main Theme
Stardew Valley Collectors Edition and Persona 5
Composer: SV:CD – ConcernedApe / P5 – Shoji Meguro
Avaiable on: SV:CD – Playstation 4, Xbox One / P5 – PS4
Technically, including Stardew Valley on this list is cheating but when the music is this damn good, whose complaining?
This marvel of a game, the product of years of devotion by Eric Barone (the ConcernedApe himself), captured the hearts and minds of almost everybody that played it when it was first released back in 2016. A huge, deeply engaging return to the classic farming RPG style of the Harvest Moon games, it was astoundingly accomplished entirely by one man, whose years of hard work paid off as the game would go on to become not only a critical darling but a commercial success too. Like everything in the game, the soundtrack too was brought to life by Barone; capturing the heart with its perfected use of classic gaming style music and infectious melody. Something familiar, with a dash of nostalgia, blended seamlessly with modern sensibilities, the expansive collection of music is yet another credit to a powerhouse of a developer and composer.
Persona 5, on the other hand, is not so much a game about the small, humble things in life.
Another technical cheat here, as the game was originally released in Japan in 2016 but later received a global launch in April of this year, Persona 5 is a bombastic, confident game in a series not known to shy away from the spotlight. Bold in both its presentation and tone, spinning a dark tale of the warped inner workings of the mind and soul, it may not have quite reached the heights of the revered Persona 4 but still left its mark. Not the least of which is thanks to one of the most interesting, and expansive, soundtracks of the year.
Primarily composed by Meguro, with the assistance of several other composers and artists, the 110 songs are a journey in and of themselves. It feels like something Quentin Tarantino would dream up (and I mean that as a sincere compliment). Choosing just one track was a nightmare but give it a listen—I think you’ll understand why.
Composer: David Garcia Diaz
Available on: Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC
The soundtrack to Rime was marooned; the general consensus on the game itself wasn’t overly glowing, which isn’t to say it was bad, but it failed to find the kind of awe that its inspirations had. Where Journey exploded onto the scene, Rime merely sparked and for all the whimsy it sought to bring forth, quietly faded into a rather dull month of releases. The reception to the game kept me away from playing it and as such, I only really heard the soundtrack for the first time while seeking out music for this list and man was that a mistake. Diaz has put together an absolutely stunning collection of music here, not at all dissimilar from the kind of magic found in a Zelda game or a Studio Ghibli film. If those things sound like something that resonates with you, then don’t sleep on this.
Composer: Ari Pulkkinen, Tuomas Nikkinen, Harry Kruege
Available on: Playstation 4
And now, for something completely different.
Housemarque has been making top-shelf gaming experiences for a while now and for those following along the journey has been nothing short of a blast. Nex Machina challenges players constantly with an aggressive loop of destruction and chaos, rewarding those willing to engage with the mechanic insanity exploded before them. The game is, in part, only able to achieve this heart-pounding excitement through a stellar array of blistering synth beats that Pulkkinen and his gang string together to form a soundtrack that never lets up. Much like the game, its aggressive styling won’t be for everyone but if you’re looking for something to get the blood going then you’ve come to the right place.
For more on Nex Machina check out Sam’s review here.
Composer: Darren Korb
Available on: PC, Playstation 4
If you’re a fan of the work that Supergiant Games do, then odds are you’re also a fan of their in-house musical director and composer extraordinaire Darren Korb. His signature blend of vocals, guitar, and ambient sounds have been utilized perfectly in all of Supergiant’s recent works, gaining notable attention for Bastion, but like the game itself, the soundtrack to Pyre feels truly special. Teaming up with vocalist Ashley Barrett, and clocking in at nearly two hours, the soundtrack is a beautiful walk through a distant, magical realm and a testament to just how far Supergiant and Korb are willing to go in the name of their art.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle & Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Composer: MR:KB – Grant Kirkhope / U:LL – Henry Jackman
Available on: MR:KB – Switch / U:LL – Playstation 4
Looking back on it now, the games released in August this year had so much to do with legacy franchises.
In the case of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle it was about actively subverting one of gamings oldest legacies, that of the little plumber man from our childhoods. The game was a mostly successful remix of franchises and genres but the soundtrack stood out as particularly fascinating for its reworking of Mario themes into something new and fresh. Kirkhope is an industry veteran and his work has more than likely popped up in something you’ve played before but what he managed to pull off with Kingdom Battle is nothing short of marvelous.
August also saw the (probable) end of the Uncharted series, a franchise that in a relatively short amount of time has cemented itself in the hearts of millions of PlayStation gamers. The Lost Legacy, while not as groundbreaking as it’s predecessors, sees the return of Jackman to craft another thrilling soundtrack. His work can be found across most mediums—from big-name Marvel films to Amazon original programming,—here it truly lends a cinematic weight to the game and provides a fitting end to such a prestigious series.
Cuphead & Pokemon Gold and Silver
Composers: C – Kristofer Maddigan / P:GS – Junichi Masuda, Go Ichinose, Morikazu Aoki
Avaiable on: C – PC, Xbox One / P:GS – Game Boy, Nintendo 3DS
The problem with me talking about the soundtrack for Cuphead is that I’m going to sound like an advertisement.
If the animations alone weren’t enough to convince you just how much effort developer Studio MDHR have put into this 1930’s inspired platformer, then the soundtrack should hopefully push you over that edge. Just shy of 3 hours worth of original music infused with the stylings of Jazz, Big Band, and Ragtime, 23 musicians, a solo vocalist, pianist and tap dancer—this is a bloody powerhouse and should be held up as a shining example of pure style.
Also, I know I’m cheating again in a big way with including Pokemon Gold and Silver on here but goddamnit, you tell me this still isn’t some of the most infectious, iconic and tone setting Pokemon music you’ve ever heard (and I’ll call you a liar). What these composers achieved with the relatively limited range of the Game Boy is truly impressive; crafting tunes that evoke so much with so little, music that carries players away into another world. Generation two are my personal favorite in the series and with them finally being playable on the 3DS now is the best time for us all to find some comfort in these timeless classics.
I’ll be updating this list at the end of every month with new music, culminating in an end of year celebration of gamings best music. If you have any suggestions, ideas, or want to just plain tell me how wrong I am about any of these choices sound off in the comments below.
Until next time, this is James and you’ve been reading (and listening to) Rezonance.