Music has played a huge part in gaming since day one. There are many tracks people that don’t play games would even know. The styles of music are just as far ranging as the games themselves, which we can see in our five nominees.
Here’s the list of nominees (and here’s the list of nominees for all categories):
- Cuphead (Our Review)
- NieR: Automata (Our Review)
- Persona 5 (Our Review)
- Super Mario Odyssey (Our Review)
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Our Review)
To kick it off, here’s what you, the readers, chose as as the winner of the Best Soundtrack Award for outstanding overall score. Our top three follows after.
Reader’s Choice – Cuphead
Studio MDHR’s first outing was a triumph, which is due in large part to its presentation. The first thing that caught everyone’s eyes was of course the gorgeous hand-drawn art, but what elevated the experience to another level was Cuphead’s music. It’s used smartly for the highs and lows of the game, and the turn of the century jazz solidifies Cuphead‘s presentation as one of the best of all time.
Third Place – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
By Nick Maillet
Video game music is always underappreciated in the music world. Film scores, top 40, even underground metal core seems to get more praise as an “art” than the absolutely incredible scores from the likes of Austin Wintory (Journey), Chris Tilton (Assassins Creed), and Norihiko Hibino (Metal Gear Solid). The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has some of the best use music in a video game ever, not for the reason that its music is great (it can be argued that its average at best) but instead how developer Nintendo implemented the score into the game as an emotional aid, as well as a way to subconsciously build the world around Link and tell a story to the player. I understand how pretentious that sounds, but bear with me for a moment.
The music in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a small but crucial piece in a larger puzzle because of how the game uses its score. While most video game music is more or less a supplemental device to help drive the tone of the game (Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance) as well as help motivate the player to finish the task at hand, the soundtrack in Breath of the Wild does much more than this. Instead of hearing music play on a loop while exploring the wilds looking for Koroks hiding under rocks, Breath of the Wild chooses to only play small bits of music when it’s necessary to accentuate what’s happening to Link. Get into a fight and the score ramps up to battle music, start climbing a tall mountain side and you’ll hear a few bars trickle from a piano come and go with the wind, sneak into an enemy lair and the music suddenly takes an ominous tone as if the music was another character just off screen taking part in Link’s adventure. The music in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild manages to push the art form to a new height in a very different way and absolutely deserves to be recognized for it.
Second Place – Persona 5
By Robert Grosso
The unmistakable jazz-beat sounds of the Persona series are always an aural hallmark, and Atlus’ Persona 5 is perhaps the best soundtrack composition they ever put together for your listening pleasure. Composer Shoji Meguro leads the charge with additional compositions by the likes of Toshiki Konishi and Kenichi Tsuchiya, to name a few, and we get a full 110 song soundtrack that never feels overstuffed. Filled with a diverse range of musical motifs, themes, and re-arrangements of classic Persona tunes, what makes Persona 5 work as an audio experience is the sort of laid-back casual pieces intermixed with kinetic, pop, and hard rock riffs. It sounds, and feels, both familiar yet otherworldly at the same time, and that is a hard feat to pull off with any soundtrack.
Mixing in now classic tunes, from the Velvet Room’s Poem of Everyone’s Soul to brand new, smooth jazz beats fitting for a Phantom Thief, Persona 5’s soundtrack has a lot going for it thankfully due to its diverse range and masterful compositions. It also contains excellent vocal work by Japanese singer Lyn Inaizumi, who lends her vocal talents to the familiar yet fresh take on the titular track, Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There along with six other compositions found in the game.
Persona 5 is a massive game, but if it did one thing right throughout the entire enthralling adventure, it was the musical journey it brought its fans on, taking them for a ride that was the perfect blend of cool and triumphant in a long time.
Winner – Cuphead
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By Nick Maillet
Artistically, Cuphead has to be one of the most impressive indie titles ever. From its absolutely mind bending Tex Avery era throwback art direction to its addictive but fair difficulty, the first entry from developer Studio MDHR has left a huge mark on the gaming industry as a whole. And while it’s easy to gawk at the eye candy and point out its difficulty having a social impact on the gaming industry, its chart-topping jazz soundtrack is one of the biggest assets to the game’s overall charm and believability. Not only did composer Kristofer Maddigan manage to bring that high energy big band jazz sound to a new generation of people, the Cuphead soundtrack was highly placed on the billboard jazz charts for over 7 weeks, a feat very few video games have ever accomplished.
The Cuphead soundtrack is much more than a supplemental addition to help make a great game even better. Songs such as Floral Fury and Forest Follies harken back to the era of silent cartoons starring a familiar mouse in such a convincing way that you would think they were written almost 100 years ago for a silly symphony. While songs such as Clip Joint Calamity showcase the sharply focused but chaotic nature of turn of the century era jazz music with a driving melody and complementary time signature changes.
The music in Cuphead is so much more than just 50 something throwback tracks playing on a loop while you die a lot; it’s something special and should be regarded as one of the best musical achievements in the games industry alongside the soundtrack for Journey and Chrono Cross. Cuphead’s soundtrack is an integral part of the overall experience as well as a solid jazz record and definitely deserves TechRaptors top pick of 2017.
What did we miss? What did we get wrong? What game would have won the award for you?