Apart from a few iconic songs, gaming soundtracks are one of the most overlooked aspects of gaming. They play crucial roles in creating an atmosphere, and sometimes you can tell what a game will be like before you see or play it at all. They often lift an okay game to greatness, and while they may go by undiscussed, we'd all notice if they suddenly vanished.
Here's the list of nominees (and here's the list of nominees for all categories):
- God of War (Our Review)
- Octopath Traveler (Our Review)
- Red Dead Redemption 2 (Our Review)
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Our Review)
- Tetris Effect (Our Review)
Here’s what you, the readers, chose as the winner of the Best Soundtrack Award for outstanding overall score. Our top three follows after.
Readers' Choice - God of War
God of War is somber and lonely most of the time. Kratos and Atreus are alone for most of the game and their quest is a mournful one: to scatter Faye's, Atreus' and Kratos' second wife's, ashes on top of the highest peak in the Nine Realms. There's no quest for glory or revenge. No seeking out anyone or anything in particular. Only what stands in the path of completing that very important quest. The music in God of War matches that perfectly, helping to cement the melancholic, sober atmosphere. Plus, it knows how to ramp it up when it needs to.
Third Place - God of War
By Samuel Guglielmo
There’s one moment in God of War’s soundtrack that really stood out to me. The game’s first boss fight against a mysterious and seemingly immortal stranger that taunts Kratos throughout the fight. The music choice here is rather interesting already, more of a single plucky theme carried by a lone string instrument. It’s not your usual God of War fare, but it’s an impressive tune that manages to carry the fight much better than it has any right to. As the fight ramps up in intensity, so does the music. However, it never seems to quite hit that level of the original games.
This is a pretty common theme through my time with God of War. It stands contrast to the big booming choir-heavy themes from the originals, and most of the songs from this game are the same.
Yet at one point during this boss fight, Kratos got mad. Like, really mad. Word of advice: don’t threaten a god of war’s family. And as he got mad I noticed something kick in: the original God of War theme. It was quiet, it was only for a few notes, but it was there. As if Kratos’ pure rage put him back in that mindset and for a few seconds brought back the old god in every way, including in his musical theme.
The motif is clever, and it makes its way in and out of the game several times before exploding in one dramatic scene I just don’t want to spoil. Fans of the original games will have even more of a connection to the scene thanks to the music, and those who haven’t played it will just have something awesome to listen to. The music fits the game so well that it's no surprise we’re giving it an honor today.
Second Place - Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
By Alex Santa Maria
Having Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in the category for Best Soundtrack is almost unfair to other games. Even if it only reaches second place in our voting, it reaches first place in the “Most Soundtrack” category I just came up with. Packed with tunes from across gaming history, you can get a crash course in the history of NES music with just this one purchase.
Every character (outside of Final Fantasy’s Cloud) has a long list of songs to listen to, each serving as an option to play on appropriate stages. A good number of them are unique remixes for the Smash series, with some songs even having an original, a remix from a past game and a new remix for Ultimate. It’s an overwhelming list even at the start, and you can unlock more and more music over time as you play.
If we were to discount the archive of tunes from the past, Smash Ultimate still rocks it with its own soundtrack. The main theme, seen in the trailer for the game’s World of Light campaign, is a vocal track that really portrays the epic scale of this crossover. It continues Nintendo’s flirtation with more traditional songs after 2017’s insane choices for Mario Odyssey’s final boss music. Some may find it a little over the top, but in a game where you can swallow Pac-Man as Kirby and then launch him into Sonic the Hedgehog and Dr. Mario, that fits the experience to a tee.
Winner - Octopath Traveler
By Robert Grosso
The word "classic" is often indiscriminately thrown around, but in the case of Octopath Traveler it is a perfect descriptor to the entire game. A purposeful throwback to a 90s style SNES RPG, Octopath Traveler oozes style and humble charm throughout the entire package for players and is easily one of the best games to come out on the Nintendo Switch. Yet, the most emblematic aspect to represent how good Octopath is its soundtrack.
Composer Yasunori Nishiki gets all the credit for the games major compositions, which features an orchestral score that painstakingly tries to provide an individual leitmotif for eight main characters. Nishiki himself pointed out that the primary themes of Octopath “reflect character details in the musical expression.” Numerous instruments would be featured exclusively for each character, such as an alto saxophone for Alfyn or a chromatic harmonica for Tressa, adding to the breadth of instrumental arrangements to the game,
Every aspect of the game’s soundtrack is ultimately a musical treat for the player. The battle arrangements, which Nishiki notes were the most difficult to compose, invoke a sense of power and urgency with the use of fast-paced strings, invoking a memorable, exciting reaction to those listening to the arrangement. The travel themes for the eight different regions were designed to reflect the current environment, from the soft flute found in the snow realm to the more guitar-heavy desert lands.
The crowning achievement, however, must be the game's primary theme. The titular track begins small, building to a full-blown orchestral piece as more and more instruments add to the main melody. In a lot of ways, it is emblematic of the game's theme of exploration and traveling—humble in its origins but growing into a grand adventure that becomes, frankly, epic.
Nishiki personally is glad that he did not disappoint fans with his work. For him, Octopath Traveler was to update the old-school RPG and his music had a significant role in bringing that concept to life. It says something that his work is the only set of tunes to overshadow the video game smorgasbord found in the likes of fellow Switch title, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Nishiki successfully created the next "classic" soundtrack, with memorable leitmotifs, character themes, and overall nostalgic throwbacks to a time when music gave more character to gaming than it does now. Octopath Traveler deserves a lot of praise for being a fantastic game, but if anything is to be remembered, it is no doubt the music.
What would your pick be for our Best Soundtrack Award? What do you think we got right? What did we get wrong? Let us know in the comments below!