Videogame soundtracks are an essential part of the overall gamer experience, with great soundtracks being capable of elevating a mediocre game into something far more enjoyable. However, the difficulty comes when trying to strike the right balance between gentle ambience and memorable hooks, thus allowing a game to remain enjoyable for long play sessions while still maintaining a sense of identity that lingers with players long after the closing credits. Today then, on our trip down the Otaku Rabbit Hole, I’ll be highlighting five of the best videogame soundtracks that I feel hit all the right notes. A small disclaimer – this list is my personal selection and is listed in no particular order. These soundtracks will be considered as somewhat separate from the game they stem from, so a game that may not be an absolute standout for its gameplay may make this list thanks to an amazing soundtrack. If your favourite soundtrack wasn’t on this list, then please do leave a comment below because I’m always on the lookout for fantastic soundtracks to enjoy! With out further ado, buckle up everyone and let’s get right into it!
NieR/ NieR: Automata
If nothing else can be said for the games directed by the genius that is Yoko Taro, they are blessed with some of the greatest soundtracks in all of gaming! For this spot I was hard pushed to decide between both of the NieR games, so I decided to give the spot to them both. Both soundtracks possess an ethereal quality, thanks to the vocal stylings of the fantastic Emi Evans. For those of you who are unaware, Emi Evans was asked to create a language unique to the world of NieR, which she would then use to sing many of the songs that make up its soundtracks – an act she fully committed to, crafting something incredibly unique as a result. Each and every track found in these soundtracks is a masterpiece in its own right, but what sets this soundtrack apart from its peers is its ability to invoke an empowering sense of grandeur and majesty in tracks such as “The Beautiful Song”, and then turn that on its head with melancholy and heart wrenching tracks such as “Emil ~ Sacrifice”. If you have an appreciation for relaxing yet emotionally charged OSTs, then these soundtracks will definitely be ones you’ll want to check out. Additionally, as an honourable mention here, Drakengard 3 is also worthy of some great praise – particularly the track “Phanuel” and any of the tracks featuring the vocal stylings of Emi Evans. Ultimately, all I can say is that these games hold a special place in my heart with the music encapsulating everything that makes the NieR franchise a one-of-a-kind experience, and to miss out on this soundtrack would be an absolute crime!
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, then you’ll probably be more than a little aware of my love for the Nintendo Switch title, Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Seeing as I look for any opportunity to sing the praises of this game and its soundtrack, I suppose it’ll come as no surprise that this game has found its way onto this list. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a grand adventure spanning many continents, each of which being home to a unique civilisation and diverse habitats that feel alive and distinct from one another. One of the true joys of this game is how well the expansive soundtrack compliments the world and builds upon its strong foundations to form something wholly spectacular. To try and summarise this soundtrack in only a few words is difficult, however if I had to, I would say that this soundtrack has a sense of cohesive diversity – every track feels interesting and unique while also having a sense of similarity, thus helping tie the soundtrack together. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 also employs a fantastic array of vocal and instrumental arrangements, with different instruments and themes chosen for each continent that further ingrains that continent’s cultural identity into the game. To fully encapsulate this, you need look no further than the twin themes “Our Eternal Land” and “We Are The Chosen Ones” of the Indoline Praetorium, the religious epicentre for Xenoblade Chronicels 2, where the soundtrack makes use of choral arrangements that really drive home this area’s sense of ethereal divinity, which stands in stark contrast to the themes of Torigoth (“Torigoth” and “Torigoth(Night)“), home of the cat people – the Gormotti. The use of different tracks for both day and night is also genius. Day tracks tend to take advantage of instruments and tempos that inspire a feeling of energised excitement, whereas the night tracks invoke a sense of calm and relaxation. Truly, this soundtrack is one that demands respect and attention thanks to its status as a masterpiece seldom seen in modern games.
Dark Souls 3
As a series that prides itself on its difficulty, amassing a huge following as a result, the Souls-Borne franchise is one that many a gamer can both love and respect. However, for the majority of the games, the player is robbed of any noise apart from their footsteps and the wailing of nearby beasts, driving home that feeling of isolation. However, Dark Souls 3 uses what few tracks it does possess sparingly, only to build tension and further inflate the over-the-top spectacles that are the boss battles. Dark Souls 3 has a haunting soundtrack that will often emphasise the feeling of dread in players as they face whatever monstrosity stands before them. The tracks also help to weave these incredible encounters into the dilapidated and dying world while simultaneously allowing each encounter to feel special and a true feat to overcome. If you want a taste of what musical morsels await you in this game, you need look no further than the “Main Menu Theme“, a simple yet effective track that encapsulates the grand and difficult journey that awaits you in this game! I for one will also never forget the “Pontiff Sulyvahn” theme. This boss proved to be one of the most satisfying encounters I had in this game, thanks to its quick attacks and the gorgeous arena chosen for this fight. When coupled then with the ever-building OST, my pulse was racing and following my eventual victory, I truly felt as though I had overcome a difficult trial that was both rewarding and invigorating – and it is a gaming experience I won’t soon forget! Honestly, if you are a fan of grand musical scores with extensive instrumentation and choral arrangements, then this soundtrack will send a shiver down your spine, for all the right reasons.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea
Atelier Shallie is the 16th entry in the mainline Atelier series developed and produced by Gust. It follows the story of two alchemists, Shallotte Elminus and Shallistera Argo, as they set out to uncover the mysteries of the dusk – an event that is drying up the world’s water supplies. This franchise of games is generally light-hearted and has a relaxing atmosphere and gameplay loop consisting of gathering, synthesising and exploring. While Shallie possesses a more melancholy vibe than many of the games to come both before and after, what its soundtrack does excellently is to capture the sense of place and tone that the Atelier games are known for, while still holding a sense of identity to set it apart. Many of the tracks make use of sitars and other instruments commonly associated with sandy climates and environments. This game is my personal favourite in the Atelier series, and the soundtrack really helped to ingrain that sense of wonder and magic the series is known for, further driving home my enjoyment of this game. In particular, the battle theme, “Sweep!”, is a strong favourite track of mine as when in the heat of battle, you truly feel excited to continue fighting and overcome the enemies that stand in your way. Additionally, the tracks “Girl of the Blue Sky and Brooms” and “Daisies and Suzukake” are absolute pleasures to listen to due to their blissfully light-hearted melodies. Ultimately, what Atelier Shallie’s soundtrack does is invoke a sense of joy and fun that’s simultaneously balanced by a somewhat more melancholy world and story than we’re used to in Atelier. While it’s not the grandest soundtrack in the world, I feel it’s one that’s grossly underestimated and definitely worth a listen!
Final Fantasy XIII-2
Our final selection on this list comes from the somewhat divisive Final Fantasy XIII-2. Due to the lukewarm reception of Final Fantasy XIII, when Square Enix announced that there was going to be a sequel, this was not met with a great deal of enthusiasm, with many questioning why this game was even being made. However, many of the flaws found in the original were remedied in this game, and I will admit that Final Fantasy XIII-2 stands as one of my all-time favourite Final Fantasy games thanks to its characters, story, monster-taming mechanics, and the phenomenal soundtrack that, without a doubt, is one of its finest features. This game covers an expansive timeline with diverse locations, where players visit a bustling futuristic metropolis one moment and a dystopian future filled with sand the next. As such, this soundtrack has the unenviable task of faithfully providing an immersive sense of place that simultaneously implements some of the musical themes used in the original Final Fantasy XIII. This is something that this game inarguably excels in doing. Final Fantasy XIII-2 has an often delicate and subtle soundtrack, recycling key motifs within the music to allow tracks to blend seamlessly from one to the other while simultaneously unifying the soundtrack and its various musical styles. This is undeniably a Final Fantasy soundtrack, but this is meant as only the highest praise. Songs feel mystical, melancholy and exciting, all while invoking a sense of fantastical wonder. The Chocobo riding theme, “Crazy Chocobo”, is one of my favourite re-imaginings of the classic theme with its heavy metal take coming totally out of left field. The battle theme “Last Hunter” is a wonderfully arranged piece that remains just as invigorating regardless of whether you’ve heard it once or a thousand times, which is good, seeing as you’ll be hearing this theme a LOT! Additionally, all of the character themes are appropriately stunning and faithful to the characters – for a particularly beautiful track, you can’t go far wrong with “Noel’s Theme ~ The Last Travel”. While I feel that this game is one of the Final Fantasy franchise’s most under-appreciated gems, its soundtrack in particular definitely needs a lot more attention due to its merits as a well realised and diverse collection!
Well with that, we’ve finished yet another trip down the Otaku Rabbit Hole and have seen my top 5 soundtracks in all of gaming. I really hope you guys enjoyed this and that it’ll convince you to give these soundtracks a shot – you won’t be disappointed! We’ll be back again next week with more otaku goodness, so until next time, keep it weeby!