January game soundtrack roundup

Tune in for the freshest of new videogame sounds.

Greetings, friends! It’s the beginning of a new year, and I return once again, my proverbial knapsack laden with auditory delights. Do you need something to distract you from the terrible news that’s plastered all over your social media, inescapably surrounding you as though you were “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in a real-life version of John Carpenter’s They Live? Well, take your sunglasses off and put your headphones on. I’m here with the month’s game soundtracks.

One of the perpetual delights of these roundups is discovering soundtracks to indie releases that fly completely beneath my radar. The very first game soundtrack I listened to this year was the score to Mattis Folkestad’s adventure game Milkmaid of the Milky Way, which Folkestad developed, wrote, and scored by himself. This one-man jam in the style of a classic LucasArts adventure takes place in 1920’s Norway and is written entirely in rhyme. If nothing else, it’ll definitely be different from anything you’re likely to play this month. The soundtrack is ambient electronica that is mellow and peaceful, a perfect panacea if you’re feeling stressed over the state of our topsy-turvy world.

Listen: YouTube - Spotify Buy: Amazon - iTunes

The early days of January also saw the release of the console debut from Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team, a mouthful of an indie crew. The game is called Rise & Shine, a gorgeous-looking, side-scrolling shooter that’s apparently packed to the gills with referential humor. The critical consensus seems to be that its brutal difficulty is off-putting rather than engaging, but the game has a solid soundtrack by Spanish composer Damian Sanchez.

Listen: Bandcamp - Spotify Buy: Amazon - iTunes

Without question, the most eclectic release of the month (and, if I guess right, the entire year to come) is Glittermitten Grove Frog Fractions 2, a “game” “experience” almost three years in the making. Frog Fractions 2, like its predecessor, is a beautiful, unfolding flower of mini-games and jokes, and the soundtrack covers more moods and styles than eight other game albums put together. The majority of the composition was done by Ryan Ike (whose score to Gunpoint is a personal favorite), but it features contributions by VGM stars like Ben Prunty and Danny Baranowsky. There is at least one hilarious reference to Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?. You absolutely must check this album out.

Listen: Bandcamp - Spotify Buy: Amazon - iTunes

It’s only January, but the big games are starting to pile up already! I desperately wish that I had the time to devote to Sony’s Gravity Rush 2, with its beautiful environments and its charming protagonist. Reviews have suggested that the game isn’t without its faults, but I’ve also seen more than one person on my Twitter feed beg to be reminded of Gravity Rush 2 when the inevitable “Game of the Year” discussion starts up eleven months from now. If you like superheroes, falling, or plucky anime heroines, you might want to pick this one up. The score, by Kohei Tanaka, is as lovely and energetic as Kat herself--unfortunately, you can only buy it through the PlayStation Store! Let’s hope Sony gives it a wider release somewhere down the line. (The score to the first game, at least, is up on Spotify.)

Buy: PlayStation Store

Square Enix dropped another HD compilation this month, the bizarrely-titled Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, which I reviewed earlier this week. The amount of new material in the compilation is slight, and so it won’t get a full soundtrack release, but I had to share one of the new battle themes because Yoko Shimomura is so good at them. If and when Kingdom Hearts III gets a full release, it’s going to be a good day for game music. (Here’s the soundtrack to Dream Drop Distance, if you’d like some more Shimomura to tide you over.)

The game with the most to prove this month was Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which promised to take the series back to its roots--a necessary course correction after the blockbuster bloat of the last few entries! By all accounts (and against all odds), Capcom seems to have managed it. Everything I’ve heard about RE7 suggests that it’s taken the best parts of the recent indie horror renaissance and married them to its classic survival horror gameplay. The soundtrack, by Akiyuki Morimoto, is deeply unsettling. I wouldn’t advocate listening to it in headphones. Especially alone, at night, with the lights off.

Listen: YouTube Buy: Sumthing Else Music Works - Amazon

Tales of Berseria released this month, for those of you itching to get your JRPG fix. I’ve bounced off of most of the Tales series, but they almost always feature soundtracks by the prolific Motoi Sakuraba (who’s also responsible for the scores to Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile, and most of Dark Souls). We can’t expect a Western release for the soundtrack, unfortunately, and there’s no easy way to purchase it digitally. Import it is! (Or give it a sample on YouTube.)

Listen: YouTube Buy: CDJapan (import, physical)

Yes, I know this video sample is thirty minutes long. That’s because you’re going to want to listen to it for thirty minutes. I don’t know how I have failed to play a Yakuza game up to this point, but the effusive love for Yakuza 0 that’s spilling all over the internet is absolutely going to change that. Our own Miguel Concepcion praised it in his review, and my Twitter feed is chock full of fistfights, dramatic zoom-ins, and prize chickens. The soundtrack is as over the top as the rest of the game. Create a Japanese iTunes account and buy both halves. It’s the right thing to do.

Buy: iTunes JP (Part One) - iTunes JP (Part Two)

Lastly (but not leastly), I tend not to mention DLC soundtracks, often because they don’t warrant their own soundtrack releases, but not every DLC is for Crypt of the Necrodancer, which has one of the best game soundtracks of the last five years. There are only a couple new songs up at the moment, but composer Danny Baranowsky is planning on putting more up as they’re available. Don’t miss out! (And also, the lovely and talented folks at OC ReMix have done up the whole Necrodancer soundtrack in their signature style. Beats for days!)

That’s all for this month! Check back at the end of February, when we’re likely to see soundtracks for Nioh, For Honor, Night in the Woods, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and a host of other surprises. Until then, happy listening!

Disclaimer: Although Zam EIC Laura Michet worked on Glittermitten Grove, she has no input into the games Nate chooses to include in his monthly OST roundups. For a great look at Nate’s history of excellent independent musical taste in columns for Zam, check out this link.