Jason Arriola’s Top Ten (Mostly) Game Albums of the Year

 

 

We put up John’s favorite albums from 2017 earlier this week. To jump on the bandwagon, these are my favorite game-related albums from last year. Most of them are direct soundtracks, but some are fan made remixes that stuck with me throughout the year.

 

Honorable Mentions: Shadows of Adam – Tyler Mire, Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King – Visager

 

10 – MaSKArades Volume X: Video Games – Holophonics

Surprised I’m into ska? Well, truth be told, I’m just barely into it. I really only gave it a shot because of the band The Reigning Monarchs, who one of my favorite comedians, Greg Behrendt, is in. Anyway, I’m not even sure how I stumbled on this one, but I was skimming through it and the Armored Armadillo track is the one that grabbed me.

I wasn’t too sure how I was going to feel about the Chrono Trigger theme being pulled off in this format, but The Holophonics put their own spin on it while keeping the essence of what makes that track so iconic.

A bit of an oddball in my library, but it clearly made enough of an impression for me to include it in this list.

 

 

9 – ZODIAC: Final Fantasy Tactics Remixed – Various Artists

This is one hell of a compilation album, with styles ranging from metal…

to jazz…

to electronic pop…

to something that sounds like it was taken out of the musical version of Final Fantasy Tactics.

Some tracks don’t quite do it for me, but there are enough that I enjoy that, if your tastes line up with mine a bit, I think you’d be hard pressed to argue with the project as a whole. There’s a little something for everyone in this collection, even as Falcom Sound Team jdk fans.

I appreciate the variety here, but some of the genres included aren’t up my alley, otherwise, this would probably have found its way further up this list.

 

 

8 – Singles – Kirby’s Dream Band

Look, we know I like Kirby a bit. I’m looking at a few stacks of them in different poses on my desk as I write this. We ran a whole week’s worth of nothing but Kirby content a few years ago. It should then come as no surprise that one of my favorite video game cover bands is Kirby’s Dream Band. Namesake aside, they’ve done some of my favorite covers and I was happy to see them put out another collection this year.

Shibuya Shift is a great way to kick off the collection and is definitely getting added to my running mix.

Wave Race 64 Medley is another strong track here, although why I dig it as much as I do is a little hard to explain. Just does something to that lizard part of my brain I guess.

My favorite track here is Epoch ~ Wings of Time. It, much like the original version, is just a nice relaxing track, making it an easy listen.

Some pretty cool tracks on this one aside, that cover art alone warrants this being on this list.

 

 

7 – Switched On: A Link to the Past – Switched On SNES

This one is probably another oddity on my list. Last year’s Metroid: Resynthesized by Luminist was one of those albums that snuck up on me, not only in terms of release but with how much I enjoyed it. Metroid’s soundtrack and 80’s synth was a match made in heaven, really emphasizing just how well composed it is, even if the game itself hasn’t aged as well.

Switched On: A Link to the Past uses that same approach, but does so to a soundtrack that would seem less conducive to the style.

The Opening track makes me wonder what a cyberpunk Link would look like. Long trenchcoat and huge squared off sunglasses? Probably. I’m sure someone’s already done this on deviantart, but I am not putting that in my Google search history.

The Lost Woods theme feels a bit trippy, which is fitting considering its where you find the Magic Mushroom.

While the Dark World theme is normally a bit more robust, this slightly more subdued, melancholy feel is something I dig.

 

 

6 – Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap – Michael Geyre and Shinici Sakamoto

You want to talk about a surprise? The loving recreation that this game is from top to bottom is astounding. Listening to this soundtrack on its own is a treat, but knowing just how much heart went into it made me appreciate it all the more. Having a strong reverence for the source material and incorportating that into their work seems to be the mission statement  of the game and its soundtrack.

There’s so much going on with the instrumentation for each individual track, that, while the soundtrack more than comes together as a whole, they each sound so distinct from one another that it’s easy to overlook just how much variety is in each track.

One of my favorites, Desert Zone, has an additional six different mixes on the soundtrack.

Almost seems minimal compared to the eight different arrangements the Shop track gets. Never really thought you could do enough with one track to warrant nine different mixes of it, but Michael Geyre pulls it off.

Even if you weren’t a fan (or even knew it existed) of the original, the Reveal Trailer track gives a pretty clear indication that this game was being made by people that held it in high esteem.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw in the prog rock remix of the Vs. Dragon track because, well, I’m a sucker for prog rock sometimes.

 

 

5 – The Legend of Heroes: Sen No Kiseki III – Falcom Sound Team jdk

Surprise! A Falcom Sound Team jdk release made it on my favorite albums of the year.

Really, I’m having a hard time placing this one just because it came out in November and I don’t think I purchased it until December, giving me barely a month to sit through it. Sure, that sounds like a lot, but when you’re sitting at 90 songs totaling up to nearly four hours, this is no easy investment of time. I haven’t had as much time to really sift through the album as a whole, but I’ve definitely found a few favorites, even if they tend to lean on the more fast-paced side.

A bit of forewarning, some of the track titles might spoil some of the plot points, so I’m going to just play it safe and not mention any of them.

A strong opener made it “well, guess I know what I’m doing for the next few hours” affair.

A couple of more early tracks got added to my running mix nearly as soon as they kicked in.

This takes a bit to kick in (nearly halfway through) but when the full complement of the orchestra kicks in, man, I really dig it. Falcom Sound Team jdk doesn’t do stuff like this too often, but it’s a pretty simple piece that has a great buildup.

I don’t know when this one happens in the game, but I’ve got a good feeling I know when. If you’re familiar with their stylings, Falcom Sound Team jdk does something like this at certain points in their games. While they almost all follow the same theme, each one is easy enough to discern from the other. This one, the final piece is definitely a favorite of mine.

 

 

4 – Torment: Tides of Numenera – Mark Morgan

Mark Morgan’s experience in composing for these sorts of games really shines through here, evoking so much of what made Planescape: Torment, which I’ve played depressingly little of, a special game. The main title alone is something I could leave on repeat for a good hour.

The brief swell about a minute in when the strings kick in made Sagus Exterior Exploration a track I kept going back to properly digest it.

And just the intensity of Sticha Lair Crisis…man, I really need to make time for this game.

 

 

 

3 – Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age – Hitoshi Sakimoto

Hitoshi Sakimoto has collaborated with Yasumi Matsuno on quite a few projects, including Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, and Final Fantasy Tactics, to name a few. I skipped over Final Fantasy XII initially for an entirely superficial reason – it was a game that did not blow up to a big screen very well and I had a hard time looking at it. With the recent HD remaster, it gave me an opportunity to give it another go. I enjoyed what I played of it and see myself going back to it eventually, but this soundtrack is something special. It’s nice to have something else to turn to aside from the orchestrated version of the Tactics Ogre soundtrack as a go-to when it comes to time to write. It’s an incredibly lengthy album, totaling in at 99 tracks with a run time of five hours and 46 minutes, so I can’t say it has gotten multiple listens. What I’ve listened to has been enjoyable if Sakimoto’s work is your jam. I mean, just listen to his take on the Final Fantasy theme.

Fan of the series or not, that track does a marvelous job of conveying that you’re about to embark on some grandiose quest and this version hints at the work Sakimoto’s put into this beautiful soundtrack.

 

 

2 – Psycho Somatic Generation – chibi-tech

This is the only album on this list that isn’t from an actual game or games, although you’d be forgiven in thinking it might be a compilation of some NES/Famicom games. It was originally a Kickstarter stretch goal tier for Bitmpa Books’s Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom: A Visual Compendium and chibi-tech has since put it on her Bandcamp page for purchase. It only came out a couple of weeks ago, but it’s strong enough to warrant this high up a spot on my list.

Chibi-tech makes some really great, peppy stuff that not only are the type of stuff you’d expect on a high quality NES soundtrack but has the benefit of really fleshing out the tracks since they don’t have too loop as frequently as tracks on the NES would, allowing her to really dig into what makes each track special.

Meta Within Meta sounds like something from a lost Kirby game.

You can almost picture some 8-bit zoot suit douche swinging around a chain while Smugface Mafia plays.

And if you can’t picture Mega Man going through a stage to this, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Chibi-tech does some great work and this is definitely my favorite album of hers. Just when I think she can’t top herself, she goes and does it again each time that makes it seem almost effortless.

 

1 – Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana – Falcom Sound Team jdk

I’ve talked nigh endlessly about this one on the podcast. Its soundtrack is just top notch, showing off Falcom Sound Team jdk’s range. From the endlessly replayable Sunshine Coastline…

to the opening song, Lacrimosa of Dana…

to Iclucian Dance, which feels like more than a subtle a nod to The Boy’s Got Wings from Ys III: Wanderers from Ys…

to Crimson Fighter, which is the type of track that keeps me coming back to Falcom Sound Team jdk – butt rock with a well placed violin to add some slight contrast to it.

There’s really only one track on this album that gets passed over when it comes on from me, Night Survivor. If you’ve played the Playstation 4 version of the game, you might be familiar with it. It’s not terrible, but whatever the hell they start doing around 10 seconds in just does not sit well with my ears. Once it trails off, it’s a largely decent track, but it’s short and loops, so repeated listening while playing can make it grating.

This soundtrack has been in my rotation rather heavily for the last few months and I don’t see it falling out of it anytime soon. Most of the tracks not only are great to listen to on their own, but almost immediately bring me back to the parts of the game that they come from. Goes without saying, but that’s when you know you’ve got a hit on your hands.

In a catalog going back as far Falcom Sound Team jdk’s does, to stand out as much as it does is no menial feat. It does exactly that and stands easily above everything else I’ve listened to this year.

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