Best Game Soundtracks April 2018
Greetings once again, fellow soundtrack listeners! What sorts of interactive entertainments have occupied your time this April? Have you been living your life sixty seconds at a time? Spooking yourself with low-poly frights? Stomping enemies in a towering mech? Getting in some Dad Practice? No matter what sorts of games have been on your plate this month, there have been plenty of fine melodies (and ambiances!) to go around. Here, I’ve gathered eight albums worthy of your attention.
Let’s begin with some games and soundtracks from the very tail end of March. First, The Alliance Alive, an Atlus-published JRPG which is a spiritual follow-up to 2015’s The Legend of Legacy. Both Legacy and Alliance share design elements (not to mention development staff!) with the long-running SaGa series, games which I have always found beautiful but inscrutable. The Alliance Alive has a score composed by Masashi Hamauzu, whose work you may know from Final Fantasy X & XIII, but who I will always love for the marvelous battle themes he wrote for SaGa Frontier 2 and Unlimited SaGa. (Seriously. My goodness!) If you want The Alliance Alive’s soundtrack legitimately, you’ll have to import it, but with Hamauzu at the helm, you may well be tempted.
Buy: Monomusik (import, physical)
A game that slipped beneath my radar last month was the surreal, low-poly horror game Paratopic. Put together by a handful of indie devs, Paratopic ups its tension and confusion through jump cuts and juxtaposition, so if you were tickled by those techniques in games like Thirty Flights of Loving or Virginia, you should definitely check this one out. (I’ve seen other outlets call it “Lynchian,” if that’s a descriptor that entices you.) The dark, ambient soundtrack is by Chris I Brown, absolutely worth checking out if you’re in the mood for an unsettling soundscape.
On the very last day of March, composer Clark Aboud released his soundtrack to Make Sail, a shipbuilding game from developer Popcannibal that just recently hit Early Access. It’s always difficult to judge an Early Access game from a small dev -- just how far along in its development is it? How much needs to be tweaked, balanced, and finished? Nevertheless, the game has a lovely visual aesthetic, and the soundtrack is complete from the jump, full of orchestral verve, with strings and woodwinds very effectively ushering the call to adventure. Aboud’s music can be rousing at times, but on the whole is light and airy -- listening to it, I found myself looking forward with enthusiasm to the summer months ahead. A sonic balm, this one!
One more game soundtrack dropped right at the end of March, just after my previous roundup was submitted: the score to Orwell: Ignorance is Strength, the second season of the dystopian information-thriller by developer Osmotic Studios. Information is Strength is thematically darker than its predecessor, and the soundtrack reflects that. Australian composer “feeding | ear” uses synths and a sprinkling of piano to set a moody, ominous tone for the game’s story of surveillance, resistance, and disquieting decisions.
At the beginning of April, a ragtag crew of indies (aided by published Devolver) released Minit, a bichromatic, Zelda-inspired adventure game in which you die every 60 seconds and are forced to restart. Minit is an excellent example of how a single creative restriction can turn a genre on its head! Also, as a parent of young children, I appreciate a game that can be played in small chunks. Minit’s energetic soundtrack, a blend of electronica and chiptune with some nice acoustic samples, is composed by Jukio Kallio. Many of the tracks are longer than 60 seconds! Wrap your head around that one.
April saw the release of a much-anticipated AAA game ushering a beloved series into a new era with a revamped engine, a game that deals with weighty issues of fatherhood, redemption, and the question of whether one can ever truly escape from a violent past. I’m talking, of course, about Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, the final outing for Japan’s best gangster dad, Kazuma Kiryu. Have you read our editor-in-chief Kris’s review yet? This is a game that has it all: Cat cafes, spearfishing, baseball team management, the entirety of Virtua Fighter 5, and more. Much like its predecessors, it has a bangin’ soundtrack (Yakuza 0’s tunes are still in heavy rotation in my personal library). Sega’s sound team has created a bevy of pulsing, high-energy techno themes to accentuate the intensity of back-alley brawls in Kamurocho (and, uh, collecting cats). My busy life as an actual dad means that I haven’t gotten to spend nearly enough time as Kiryu as I’d like, but until my schedule clears up, at least I have these tracks to sate my appetite for crime.
Oh, huh! I guess there was another game released this month about being a dad, wasn’t there? I kid, I kid! It is, of course, God of War, Sony Santa Monica’s re-envisioning of their famous Murder Man of Antiquity. The new God of War is getting rave reviews from bald men, bearded men, and men who love throwing axes. (Do you know that many cities now have places where you can go expressly for this purpose? Organize your friends and have an axe-throwing night!) The score for the new God of War is by TV composer Bear McCreary, whose work you may remember from Battlestar Galactica or Outlander (or, if you like relatively obscure video games, Dark Void). McCreary takes the bombastic percussion and choirs present in the original God of War games and reworks them into something subtler and more emotive, consistent with the game’s new, somber tone. It’s lovely work, and even if you have no interest in spending any more time with Kratos, you might want to check out the album.
Lastly, the end of the month saw the release of BattleTech, the re-imagining of a decades-old tabletop wargame/sci-fi setting for the modern era. I’m not intimately familiar with previous incarnations of BattleTech, but reviews of this new entry seem to be in agreement that fiddly bits have been streamlined in an extremely satisfying way, allowing you to focus on the most important part: getting in close to have your mech punch another mech right in the cockpit. BattleTech’s score is by Jon Everist, responsible for scoring both expansions to Shadowrun Returns, and Everist has crafted a combination of orchestral and electronic music that fully conveys the drama of a ragtag mercenary outfit piloting their walking arsenals against a horde of space-fascists.
A couple of April’s major releases are still waiting on soundtracks: Frigid survival sim Frostpunk will have an official OST release at some point, but developer 11-bit Studios isn’t providing any details yet. Cartoonish Zelda-like The Swords of Ditto has a soundtrack available as Steam DLC, but a wider release has yet to manifest.
There are a couple of upcoming vinyl releases you might want to keep an eye on: Chris Christodoulou’s dark, compelling soundtrack to Deadbolt is getting a vinyl release from Black Screen Records, and you can check the album out on Bandcamp if you missed it in 2016. Also, Mick Gordon’s wonderfully demonic score to the 2016 DOOM is getting a vinyl release from Laced Records -- order now so you have it in time for your big Halloween party!
That’s it for this month -- I’ll be back again at the end of May with a new assortment of sonic baubles to lay at your feet. In the meantime, happy listening!