2011 was a great year for games, I’m sure you’ll all agree. Many of them had outstanding soundtracks to boot, so a few of us here at Press X or Die decided to highlight some of the aural pleasures on which our ears have been gorging. So listen up.
For Arkham Asylum’s main theme, a more understated menacing sound was chosen. While it fit the game perfectly, Arkham City is much larger in scope, therefore, demanding a more striking theme. Nick Arundel delivers with this track, which takes its cues from the respective film scores by Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer while finding its own identity. The pace is slower than its inspirations but this allows for a wonderful build-up of tension that releases in a bold heroic motif underscored by tragedy: a perfect fit for Batman. Overall, the game’s score is a wonderful mix of darker, subtle pieces suited to Batman stalking in the shadows as well as louder, thrilling themes for when he has to lay the smackdown.
I can’t really say much for fear of spoiling elements of the story but if you’re aware of the plot of The Witcher 2, you’ll know it bifurcates quite definitively. This piece is just one side of that; painting a picture of a town experiencing a calm before the storm. Further emphasising the contrast already told by the visuals, the serene atmosphere it invokes lends this particular fork a more positive feel than its counterpart. Despite an increased focus on action and spectacle, The Witcher 2 is still an RPG at heart. The quieter moments allow the story room to breathe and players to get a sense of their environment. This humble yet elegant piece by Adam Skorupa & Krzysztof Wierzynkiewicz helps sell that idea.
One of the soundtracks that really grabbed me this year was Frozen Synapse. In itself, it was a strong, original game that combined the thrill of a shooter with the slow pace of strategy. Its entire soundtrack is an absolute marvel, and definitely helped define the game, with both methodical, down-tempo music determined to help put over the tension of the experience, and faster music to evoke the feeling of a spy thriller with lots of gunplay. Paul Taylor (credited as nervous_testpilot) really helped bring out the mood of Frozen Synapse through the music in the game, and it doesn’t lose its edge, even when you listen to the music outside of the game.
One of my favourite tracks from the game is “Triumph”. It doesn’t come from a particular scene or level in Frozen Synapse. In fact, aside from the menu screen music, none of it does. Perhaps that’s why it’s easy to listen to and can still be appreciated by itself.
Readers who’ve encountered my Ar Tonelico Qoga nomination article were likely expecting a flourish of its soundtrack. That would be both disingenuous and dastardly; it’d be a blemish upon this morsel. A single heaving of heavenly harmony is all you’ll get from me. But celestially anointed it is. Donna Burke—whose mighty, mellifluous pitch graces the woebegone tune—sings her friggin’ heart out and, in doing so, goes about a courtship with untrammeled affection.
Since I found the derivative game, God Eater Burst, relatively humdrum, I don’t even have proper context. Yet the hopelessness, the anguish, the loss, the slight slip into demure apprehension one-hundred and twelve gripping seconds in: it’s all vivid enough to paint a story of its own. Somehow I feel the original narrative would diminish what God and Man is capable of when left to its own lyrical locomotion.
For well over a year I have wallowed in the song. It has embroiled me in stories wholly removed; followed me through hundreds of pages of writing (inspired many!); on those diurnal, early morning and late night bike rides, the saturnine siren was there, seducing—and not once has its capacity to stir weakened. To this day I revel in the song’s ministrations. That is, to me, the true measure of a melody’s potency: the lasting strength to stir and inspire despite the situation.
Whilst my colleague above is correct in that providing only one example of Ar Tonelico Qoga’s songs is in many ways a travesty and insult to the entire set available, I would feel it remiss to not include one in my personal selection of top pieces of music from this year, especially when one in particular touched me so.
To go into full detail about why the songs – or to be more accurate, hymns – in Ar Tonelico Qoga are so incredibly moving would be a entire article on its own, but to get a good grasp as to why will require a summary: the developers of Ar Tonelico created their own language based upon the most emotive sounds built from many existing languages including English, Japanese, Sanskrit and German. These songs are then used by a select number of characters as a way of drawing magical power, for lack of a better term. The more emotive and powerful the hymn, the more power cast. Add to the mix two amazing vocalists and we have some truly soul-moving music, my favourite being the following. Sang by a personal favourite in the game, it conveys more sadness with a glimmer of hope than any one person should realistically endure, which for the character in question is hugely fitting.
It’s been a good year for game music too, but my personal soundtrack of choice has been Bastion’s. There’s a good reason that Steam offered a soundtrack bundle, and that’s because it is fantastic. Rare is the game whose music I can enjoy outside of the game. By that I mean that I’m also a big fan of the Portal 2 soundtrack, but I can only listen to a select few tracks in my headphones or without playing the game… Bastion is not like that. Every track is a great standalone piece of music, with what I find to be a rather difficult genre to describe. Sometimes energetic, sometimes melancholy, always brilliant.
You can listen to the full soundtrack here: http://supergiantgames.bandcamp.com/
Other honourable mentions include Jamestown (another indie game whose soundtrack was sold with the game), The Binding of Isaac, Minecraft, Portal 2 and Skyrim.
So, that’s just a few choices from our writers, but we know there was so much more, and would like to hear from you too. Feel free to comment below or join us on the forum.
…Thanks for listening!