Alas, it is high time to continue our daunting game music adventure with A-Z Game Music: Letter B, Part 1.
My apologies that this article is a wee bit late. I’m currently in the midst of some pretty great personal projects (one of which will have its own blog post very soon!) so I’m excited to share those with you all soon 🙂
As mentioned before, going alphabetically through my favorite game soundtracks has led to some pretty fantastic juxtapositions. Seeing a heavy, emotional soundtrack like Beyond: Two Souls in the same article as a hunky-dory Banjo-Kazooie game is just hilarious to me. But I think it’s wonderful that all of these different soundtracks can be so varied, yet still sit comfortably next to each other in a line-up like this. The capacity of game music to touch on these different facets and feelings continues to boggle my mind and make me so proud to be a gamer.
Oof. Nerd love levels TOO high.
Anywho! Onto the main event — enjoy this first round of some amazing music from Letter B, Part 1!
A-Z Game Music: Letter B, Pt. 1
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts
Composer: Grant Kirkhope, Robin Beanland, & David Clynick
Year of Release: 2008
Platform: Xbox 360, Xbox One
Game Synopsis: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts reimagines the Banjo-Kazooie franchise first created by Rare in 1998. While the original game centered around a bear and bird’s upgrading and platforming adventures to defeat an evil witch, Nuts and Bolts instead puts Banjo and Kazooie behind the wheel of a car. Players travel to different worlds (many of which pay homage to the original game) while unlocking car parts and creating vehicles to complete quests. Bosses are varied and defeated by strategies of the player’s own design, whether you opt for power, speed, or trickery in your car of choice.
Though the game received mixed reviews from die-hard fans of the original franchise, the game was considered a successful, challenging, and fun departure from expectations.
Musical Style: From the beginning, one of the most iconic parts of the Banjo-Kazooie franchise was its music. For those who haven’t heard the original games’ soundtracks, both Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie have some of the most consistent and fantastic soundtracks in gaming. They are whimsical, strange, and absolutely unique, with a sound that amplifies the downright joy of the initial two games.
However, I’ve chosen to include Nuts and Bolts in this list because the soundtrack is the perfect love letter to those original games. Over 80% of the Nuts and Bolts soundtrack features recurring themes from the original games — only this time, performed by the otherworldly beauty of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. As Kirkhope’s last soundtrack for Rare, he wanted to go out with a bang and use every tool in his modern wheelhouse to create a versatile, deep, and gorgeous soundtrack worthy of the franchise. The result is a bouncy, quirky, and rejuvenating sound you won’t find anywhere else in game music, even to this day.
Favorite Track: “Discovering Banjoland”
Composer: Darren Korb
Year of Release: 2011
Platform: Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Game Synopsis: Bastion is set in the dark remains of a world fractured by an unknown catastrophe. Players awake as the silent protagonist (the Kid) on his journey to reach the Bastion, where all people are told to go in troubled times. Players fight diverse enemies with upgradable weapons and live combat, as all their actions are narrated by the gruff storyteller, Rucks.
Bastion is filled with rich story, fantastic dialogue, hand-painted environments, satisfying action-packed gameplay, and (of course) beautiful music. As the very first title from developer Supergiant Games, it’s no wonder that this title is what launched them to fame.
Musical Style: I could go on for an entire article about the reasons why I love this soundtrack. In fact, I already have here in my first ever game soundtrack review. However, I will always take the chance to gush about it again, so here’s a more succinct version for those who are curious:
Bastion’s soundtrack, composed by Darren Korb, is a beautifully choreographed smattering of instruments, styles, and atmospheres. Using modern mechanical sounds, classic strings, ominous echoes, and exotic instruments from around the globe, Korb creates the beautiful, yet fractured atmosphere which players experience in the game. The sounds can swell to create cacophonous chase tracks, or simplify to underscore haunting vocals sung by artist Ashley Barrett and Darren Korb himself. Somehow, the blend of country, folk, futuristic, and hard rock make a home together in this soundtrack — a home I find myself coming back to time and time again.
Favorite Tracks: “Build That Wall (Zia’s Theme)”
“Spike in a Rail”
Composer: Tilman Sillescu
Year of Release: 2009
Platform: Microsoft Windows
Game Synopsis: BattleForge was an online real-time strategy (RTS) game published by EA for the PC in 2009. Unlike most RTS games, BattleForge centered around a card draw mechanic that gave players abilities, elements, and spells based on the build of their card deck.
While the game was lauded by some as an innovative take on the RTS genre, the majority of players criticized the game for its heavy reliance on micro-transactions. Although the game was possible to play without purchasing cards, retrieving them through normal means was inconsistent and painstakingly slow. For these reasons, EA shut down the servers for the game in 2013. Fortunately, some aspects of the game (such as its soundtrack) continue to live on.
Musical Style: Tilman Sillescu’s BattleForge’s soundtrack focuses on a very classic orchestral sound, with versatile use of brass, strings, winds, drums, and a large choir. It feels like the score to an epic fantasy movie — you can almost hear the anxiety of marching warriors in “Northern Steel”, or the clash of weapons and war cries in heavy tracks like “A Storm of Fire”. It’s sounds are familiar and satisfying, with enough power and melodic twists to keep the OST fresh and intriguing.
And, unlike many soundtracks, BattleForge’s track list is extremely consistent. Typically, orchestral-only soundtracks can grow a bit dull or unimaginative by the time you hit the middle of the CD. However, BattleForge kept me pleasantly intrigued and invested through all of its 21 tracks, which was a wonderful surprise. Whenever I have a writing session or tabletop game in need of a classic warlike atmosphere, this soundtrack will always be on my list.
Favorite Track: “A Light of Winter”
Beyond Good & Evil
Composer: Christophe Héral
Year of Release: 2003
Platform: PlayStation 2, Playstation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, GameCube
Game Synopsis: Beyond Good & Evil centers around Jade, a photojournalist on a mission to protect her planet from the evildoers known as the Alpha Sections. With the help of her friends Pey’j (a giant boar man) and Double H (a military operative), Jade hopes to stop the destruction of her people. Though the choppy and occasionally unreliable battle mechanics were a downfall of the game, its futuristic themes and whimsical, outlandish atmosphere were in many ways ahead of its time.
Though not as popular upon initial release, Beyond Good & Evil is now a cult classic and considered a proud staple of the Playstation 2 era of gaming.
Musical Style: The soundtrack for this game is as quirky and full of whimsy as the game itself. Listeners can expect every successive track to seem disjointed from the previous song, but somehow still hold onto that wild imaginative sound that makes the OST so damn fun. Even the song “Hylian Suite” contains about 4 vastly different locations in one, making for a fascinating 4.5-minute experience.
Throughout the auditory adventure, prepare to be thrown from aboriginal Australia, to ancient China, to the deep Southern American countryside, to an echoing Roman cathedral, to a party in the Caribbean, and even to a funky spaceship. It’s weird, at times confusing, and completely wonderful — you’ll never find another soundtrack quite like it.
Favorite Track: “Fun and Mini Games”
Beyond: Two Souls
Composer: Lorne Balfe
Year of Release: 2013
Platform: Playstation 4, Playstation 3
Game Synopsis: In Beyond: Two Souls, players follow the main character Jodie and her strange bodiless companion Aiden. Throughout the 18 years during which the game takes place, players will gradually uncover more about Jodie’s unique ability to interact with and control Aiden. Unfortunately, this also causes those around her to question her sanity and well-being. As the game progresses, players will find themselves in increasingly compromising situations that require them to make potentially game-changing choices.
Initially, Beyond: Two Souls received mixed reviews overall, particularly for its simplistic gameplay. However, standout performances by main actors Ellen Page and Willem Defoe helped pave the way for the future of acting and motion capture in gaming.
Musical Style: Beyond: Two Souls features a wonderful, sweeping soundtrack to match the cinematic style of the game. Most notably, the pairing of piano and solo violin creates a lonely, mysterious atmosphere that mimics Jodie’s confusing journey. The introduction of gentle choirs, swelling orchestras, and surprising minor chords make the listener feel like it is them against the world in their own harrowing adventure.
It is rare for a soundtrack to make me so emotional before knowing the context of the game — and yet, Lorne Balfe works wonders to capture dark and complex emotions here. If you’re still unconvinced of its greatness, just listen to “Jodie’s Suite” below. The entire song is wonderful, but damned if that key change at 2:37 doesn’t give me chills every time.
Favorite Track: “Jodie’s Suite”
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If you enjoyed what you heard, or have any suggestions for other game music I need to hear, please leave a comment below!