Best Game Soundtracks March 2018
Greetings, fellow music enthusiasts! As we leave March in the rearview on our way toward (hopefully) warmer weather, I’ve returned to recap the soundtracks of the past month and present you with a sampler platter of fine tunes. This month has not been the most prolific soundtrack offering I’ve seen, but it’s one of the most varied: we have albums that are atmospheric and moody, cheerful and quirky, intense and energizing, and whatever the heck is going on with Chuchel.
Let’s begin, however, with a holdover from last year.
Divinity: Original Sin II came out in September of 2017, but it didn’t get an official soundtrack release until the middle of this month. I don’t always circle back to include albums from old releases in these roundups (I like to keep my offerings fresh, hip, and current), but the music to the Divinity games is really lovely, and I had such a good time listening to this one that I felt obliged to share. The score, full of that orchestral swell that I’m such a sucker for, is by Borislav Slavov, previously responsible for a couple of the Crysis games and Ryse: Son of Rome. One of the Divinity games’ best quirks is that they let you pick an instrument to associate with your character, which changes the battle music. Are you more of a bansuri person? Or do you prefer the oud? Maybe the cello? All I know is that I’m quite pleased the soundtrack includes all the variants. Give this one a listen, especially if you need some music to accompany your latest tabletop campaign. (There’s also a vinyl version available to pre-order!)
A soundtrack that I missed in my roundup last month is Andrew Aversa’s score to Tangledeep, a rogue-like by Impact Gameworks that cribs its visual aesthetic from Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger (pretty successfully, to my mind). Aversa, who OC ReMix regulars might recognize by his handle “Zircon,” is also the game’s programmer and designer. His score for Tangledeep adeptly evokes the feel of 16-bit RPG music (leaning more toward Mana than Chrono in this regard) with a much more modern sample library, so if you were one of the many who were somewhat disappointed with last month’s revamp of the Secret of Mana soundtrack, you might find some solace here. In fact, Tangledeep boasts guest tracks by Secret of Mana’s composer Hiroki Kikuta, as well as by Donkey Kong Country’s Grant Kirkhope and Metal Gear Solid’s Norihiko Hibino! If any of that is up your alley, absolutely give Tangledeep a listen.
Last month saw the release of Fe, a visually arresting adventure from Swedish developer Zoink. A 3D platformer which heavily emphasizes exploration, Fe seems to be somewhere in the same neighborhood as Journey, with perhaps a dash of Ori and the Blind Forest thrown in for good measure. The soundtrack, by Joel Bille, is atmospheric and ominous, with a heavy dose of cello and deep strings to mournfully push the player forward. If you’re looking for some music to make you wistful, this is a good album to check out.
Metal Gear Survive was also a thing that happened last month! Let no one ever say that Konami abandons franchises (as long as they are profitable and can be resurrected, Pet Sematary-style, into a shambling wreck of their former selves). Metal Gear Survive has earned a generally tepid critical reception, but just because the Konami Corporate Overlords are worthy of our scorn doesn’t mean we should heap it on the poor Konami Sound Team, who goodness knows must be doing the best work they can under somewhat unfavorable conditions.
Pit People, a hex-based strategy game from The Behemoth (the dev behind Castle Crashers and BattleBlock Theater), came out of early access at the beginning of March. The Behemoth games have a distinctive house style that is irreverent and over-the-top but usually good-natured, and if you have a taste for cartoon silliness, then they’re probably up your alley. The soundtrack to Pit People is by Patric Catani, who also worked on BattleBlock, and it’s a good sonic complement to the game’s visual zaniness. Catani’s music trends toward electronica with some occasional hip-hop beats, but a kind of eerie carnival vibe pops up often enough to be worth mentioning. Weird music, but in a delightful way.
Also released this month was Warhammer: Vermintide II, sequel to 2015’s original Gothic co-op rat-killing fantasy game. If you were worried there weren’t enough vermin in your life, well, the folks at Swedish developer Fatshark have you covered. I’ve never been able to get into any of the Warhammer games, multitudinous and varied as they are, but I’ve heard this one called “a worthy successor to Left 4 Dead,” which is pretty high praise in my book. The score here is by Jesper Kyd, a composer whose work you may recognize from the Borderlands and early Assassin’s Creed games. Kyd is always able to take a project which might lend itself to a rote, workmanlike score and elevate it into something with a little more personality, so this soundtrack is definitely worth a listen.
I don’t know what on Earth is going on with Chuchel, the latest surrealist adventure from Amanita Design (the group responsible for the wonderful Samorost 3 and the oft-overlooked Machinarium), but I have to say… I like it. Chuchel is the story of a grotesque, furry little creature who has had his cherry stolen from him, and the comically absurd lengths he must go to in order to reclaim it. The soundtrack is by Czech rock duo DVA, who were responsible for the score to Amanita’s early effort, Botanicula. It is wild. We’re probably not going to get many game albums this year that sound like this. At the moment, it’s only available as Steam DLC and through itch.io, but there’s a chance it’ll see a wider release later on. I’ll keep you posted.
Toward the end of the month, indie developer Demimonde released Octahedron, a platformer which looks a bit as though someone looked at Geometry Wars and thought “Nah, I can do more chaotic than that.” The mechanical gimmick in Octahedron is that you can create platforms under your avatar, but the real appeal lies in the neon visuals and the pulsing electronica soundtrack. Several artists contributed their talents here, including the game’s designer and programmer Marco Guardia, but my favorite tracks are by Chipzel, the chiptune master who made her name with the soundtrack to Super Hexagon. If you like electronica, this is definitely the album to check out this month.
Probably my biggest surprise of the month is an album I didn’t expect to like at all: Far Cry 5 does something really interesting with its music, even if the game fails to do anything interesting thematically with its potent premise. In addition to a traditional score (which is good!), composer Dan Romer arranged and recorded three sets of ten original hymns. These different variations, one alt-rock, one industrial, and one gospel, are assigned to each of the game’s three major areas, giving each a distinct sonic landscape while creating connective tissue that unites them. If I didn’t know that Far Cry 5 steeped itself in a toothless both-sides-ism, I’d be really excited for it on account of this music alone! Even if you don’t think you’ll pick up the game, please do take a moment to check these albums out: it’s a cool idea well executed.
A couple of this month’s big games don’t have official soundtrack releases announced yet: Sea of Thieves will presumably offer a soundtrack release after they actually put some stuff in the game for players to do, yuk yuk yuk (actually, the soundtrack samples that Rare has posted on their YouTube are so infuriatingly evocative that I’m actively angry the whole soundtrack isn’t available yet). Likewise, there’s been no word on a soundtrack release for A Way Out, Hazelight Studios’ co-op prison break adventure. Outside of a sampler CD bundled with the game’s special edition, you’ve no legal way to get the score to Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, which is a real shame, as this behind the scenes video tantalizes with the talents of Studio Ghibli master composer Joe Hisaishi.
It’s been a good month for video game soundtracks on vinyl, however! Christopher Larkin’s score to Hollow Knight has a 2-LP set up for pre-order over at Ghost Ramp, and it looks positively lovely. If you liked Grant Kirkhope’s bubbly score to Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, that too is getting a vinyl release (from the folks at iam8bit). Maddeningly, the most exciting vinyl release of the month was sold out almost immediately after it went on sale -- Mondo is putting the legendary soundtrack to Katamari Damacy on vinyl at long last. It’s a shame that it was available in such limited quantities. Still, there’s a place to put your email address if you want to be notified when it comes back in stock!
And that about does it for this month -- April will give us a new Yakuza game (Another one! Our cup runneth over!), as well as the reboot of God of War and a host of other titles. Check back in then, and I’ll have plenty of new albums for you to sample!