A-Z Game Music: Letter A, Pt. 1

Video game music has been a huge part of my life since I was born. With four older siblings all at least 8.5 years older, I was always chasing after their hobbies and passions — the greatest of which was gaming. Since I was often too little to play the games they enjoyed (and too little to read the dialogue), I would watch them for hours on end, attaching myself to the music instead. And thus, a very small game music supernerd was born.

Over the years, my love of video game music only grew. However, after hundreds of hours scouring the internet and investigating every recommended soundtrack I could find, I’d hit a road block. It became increasingly rare to find soundtrack suggestions that I hadn’t already seen (how snobby of me!). But I knew, with so many games out there, that there had to be soundtracks still worth discovering. And the only way I knew how to discover those was through slow, methodical madness.

So, in April 2018, I embarked on the A-Z Game Music quest. Using this handy dandy archive of game music, I began combing through thousands of game albums one-by-one to find new music. Although the process is far from quick (and I’m still not even halfway done! Damn you, letter J!) it’s been a wonderful learning process, and an amazing source of fun for me.

And now, thanks to this site, I can finally begin to share the fruits of my labor with all of you. Starting at the tippy top, I’ll be sharing my favorite game music from A-Z that I’ve accumulated over the years.

In the interest of sanity, I’ll be skipping over albums that only contain a few tracks I enjoy, and opting for soundtracks that are recommended on the whole. I will also be focusing mainly on soundtracks with more modern sounds — though I love me some old school tunes, my main focus here will be music that can be used for current inspiration.

If there are any soundtracks you don’t see here that you want to share, please let me know! Few things excite me more than new music to listen to 🙂

And, with that, lets get this show on the road! Below are my first 7 video game soundtrack recommendations.

Drum roll, please…

A-Z Game Music: Letter A, Pt. 1

Absolvera0487404242_10

Composer: Austin Wintory

Year of Release: 2017

Platform: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

Game Synopsis: In this online multiplayer game by developer Sloclap, players inhabit fighters who have recently awakened from a mysterious ceremony. They have been taken from their homelands and forcefully adorned with masks that eliminate their need to eat, sleep, or drink. Most of all, these mysterious masks seem to grant immortality. Overseers for these masked figures, called “Guides”, watch closely over the new recruits to determine who is worthy of joining their elite force of “Absolvers”. Players can choose between many character types, and can engage in PvP and PvE real-time combat in the game’s large open world.

Musical Style: Absolver displays a mix of traditional Japanese instruments, such as the koto and shamisen, with acoustic guitars, deep strings, and mechanical/manmade sounds. Overall, this lends to a dark, eerie, and modern sound that compliments the fantastical and futuristic aspects of the game.

Most tracks also lack a typical song structure, scarcely relying on repeatable choruses or memorable melodies. While they’re not exactly “hum along” tracks you’ll find stuck in your head, these tracks accomplish something different altogether. The vibe these pieces create is mysterious and ever-changing, just like the game it scores. The frequent use of echo and dissonance also creates a strange, unsettling vibe that leaves listeners on edge — a feeling that lingers even after one stops listening.

Favorite Track:Path of the Prospects”

 

Abyss Odyssey Abyss_Odyssey

Composer: Patricio Meneses

Year of Release: 2014

Platform: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

Game Synopsis: Made by Chilean developer ACE, Abyss Odyssey is a procedurally-generated side scroller set in late 19th century Santiago, Chile. Players inhabit one of three main characters (or any monster whose soul they have collected) to reach the bottom of an infinite and horrifying pit. Using special abilities, analysis of enemy patterns, and unique droppable items, players fight to reach the bottom of the pit without dying, or they are forced to start over at the very beginning. Lauded for its adherence to Chilean mythology and grim, fantastical atmosphere, Abyss Odyssey was a success for both ACE and its composer, Patricio Meneses.

Musical Style: Abyss Odyssey features an eerie, hauntingly beautiful soundtrack to accompany the player’s descent into the abyss. Piano, strings, bells, harps, choirs and drums combine to create a variety of atmospheres, from creepy cathedrals to fast-paced battle tracks.

A few of the tracks can feel overly abrasive or heavy handed, while others may feature occasionally generic melody lines. However, the stand-out tracks are well worth the listening time, with beautiful, unsettling, yet satisfying harmonies between the low instruments and vocals.

Favorite Track:Santa Lucia”

 

Abzû

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Composer: Austin Wintory

Year of Release: 2016

Platform: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

Game Synopsis: Lead by director Matt Nava (art director for Journey and Flower), Abzû allows players to explore the mysterious depths of the endless ocean. It’s focus on brilliant and breath-taking visuals turns the game into a visceral artistic experience as players continue downward to see what secrets lie beneath the surface. It’s a casual game, but not without challenge — even if that challenge is simply surviving without being distracted by the sheer beauty of the ocean’s luminescent coral.

Musical Style: Abzû’s soundtrack is full of ethereal, sweeping sounds that lull you right into the game’s calm, aquatic theme. While some tracks carry a sense of dark urgency for those chance encounters with dangerous creatures, the majority of Abzû is scored by beautiful choral arrangements, wind instruments, strings, and deep, formless tones. The lingering notes and gentle echoes capture the gorgeous expanse of the underwater world, and are excellent to listen to as gentle, inspiring background music. It’s hard to pick a favorite when the songs all flow so beautifully together, but it’s hard to beat the stunning sounds of the album’s opening track.

Favorite Track: “To Know, Water

 

Actraiser (Symphonic Suite)

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Composer: Yuzo Koshiro

Year of Release: 1990

Platform: SNES

Game Synopsis: This early classic Enix game for the SNES made the bold decision to combine two entirely different gaming genres together: side-scrolling and city-building “god-like” games. In Actraiser, players control “The Master” (God) who has awoken in his realm, powerless, with citizens that no longer worship him. In order to regain his powers and protect his people from “The Evil One”, the player must rebuild cities, assist the townspeople, and delve into deep dungeons to destroy monsters that threaten the world. The player alternates between controlling an angel that oversees city growth (similar to an early Sims game), and an animated sword-wielding statue that fights  its way through monster-infested lairs (a la Mega Man or any Metroidvania game).

Musical Style: Though the original game was released in the age of chip tunes and synths, its music still stands the test of time. With catchy melodies, memorable hooks, and a vast range of styles from ballads to hard-rock battle music, this game is well-scored through and through.

However, composer Yuzo Koshiro did us one better, and produced an orchestral album of the Actraiser soundtrack in the early 90’s. What was my favorite track in the original game became a slow, Baroque string piece that completely revamped an already-wonderful soundtrack. The entire orchestral album is worth a listen, but this piece in particular (from both the classic and orchestral soundtracks) will always be a favorite.

Favorite Tracks: “Filmoa” from Actraiser

 

“Filmoa” from Actraiser Symphonic Suite

 

Age of Empires III R-3891430-1348261131-7497.jpeg

Composer: Stephen Rippy

Year of Release: 2005

Platform: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS

Game Synopsis: Age of Empires III is the third installment in one of the most famous RTS franchises to-date. Players begin in the age of Discovery with nothing but a wagon, a few villagers, and a whole New World to explore. Game play changes drastically depending on the player’s chosen civilization — Spanish, British, Portuguese, French, German, Dutch, Russian, or Ottoman. As the player learns to farm, build structures, recruit military, and lead a civilization (all with the help of their chosen politician), the player can advance through the Colonial Age, Fortress Age, and Industrial Age until they reach the illustrious, final Imperial Age. With enough skill and luck, players will advance faster than their foes, and succeed in being the last civilization standing.

Musical Style: AoE III’s music spans across the board, varying depending on the player’s chosen civilization and historical age. However, through lines in the soundtrack include sweeping orchestrals, beautiful choirs, and a whimsical flair that’s hard to find in any other RTS game soundtrack.

It’s also impossible to talk about this soundtrack without addressing the sheer hilarious randomness of its song titles. Composer Stephen Rippy is an oddball to be certain — with track names like “A Pirate’s Temper”, “Major Rewrite / General Chunks”, and the old classic “Where’s My Uncle?”, it’s impossible to tell what you’ll get before you listen. But this strangeness lends much-needed humor to a serious genre of games, and it in no way undercuts the beauty of these compositions.

Favorite Track: “Felonious Junk”

 

Age of Mythology 73633-age-of-mythology-collectors-edition-windows-other

Composer: Stephen Rippy

Year of Release: 2002

Platform: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS

Game Synopsis: Much like the previous entry, Age of Mythology is an RTS title within the Age of Empires series. However, instead of choosing politicians from past civilizations, players instead pick from among different mythological gods that will oversee their burgeoning empires. On initial release, players could choose between the gods of three different civilizations — the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Norse. Later expansions added mythological options from the Atlanteans and from Chinese culture, with an expansion in the works now (16 years after release!) to add Celtic mythology into the mix. Even still, AoM receives critical acclaim for its intuitive UI and entertaining replayability.

Musical Style: As is characteristic of Stephen Rippy, AoM’s soundtrack is a mixture of the beautiful, the atmospheric, and the downright odd — and it’s a wonderful combination. Being Rippy’s first foray into large-scale composing, he took full advantage of his resources and employed a 70-piece orchestra to complete this soundtrack.

Tracks like the main theme (titled “A Cat Named Mittens”) showcase catchy melodies with hard-hitting brass and dozens of strings that instantly catch the ear. And yet, other atmospheric tracks throughout the game make use of some truly strange instruments, such as the toy piano, the tabla (an Indian hand drum), and the ney flute (a 2,000-year-old Middle Eastern wind instrument). Somehow, it all comes together harmoniously time and time again, making this soundtrack a go-to for almost any mood.

Favorite Track: “Flavor Cats (In the Comfort Zone)”

 

Alan Wake

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Composer: Petri Alanko

Year of Release: 2010

Platform: Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

Game Synopsis: In this action-adventure game from Remedy Entertainment and head writer Sam Lake, players embark on a journey as the harrowed novelist Alan Wake. Throughout the game’s 6 episodes, Alan investigates the disappearance of his wife while on vacation in Bright Falls, Washington, while trying to understand his life’s eery similarity to his most recent novel — a book he doesn’t even remember writing. Players must continue through the game while fighting off hordes of Taken — shadow-engulfed enemies that are weak to both firearms and the light of Alan’s flashlight, which drives the darkness away. Full of plot twists, tense gameplay, and artistic visuals, it’s no wonder Alan Wake was lauded so thoroughly upon release.

Musical Style: It’s easy to hear the unique beauty of Alan Wake’s echoing piano and strings. However, what this soundtrack captures better than most is the sheer terror, mystery, and desperation of loneliness.

Listeners who haven’t played the game can still easily understand the plight of Alan as he fights for answers in the search for his wife. Tracks like “Vacation” leave us feeling as empty and hopeless as Alan in his darkest moments. Other times, the appearance of warlike drums and sharp dissonance in “Hunters” convey the fierce determination of Alan on the run. Even apart from the game, the soundtrack of Alan Wake is a journey worth taking.

Favorite Track: “A Writer’s Dream”

 

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If you enjoyed what you heard, or have any suggestions for game music I need to hear, please leave a comment below!

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