2018 may have been one of the most packed years for good video gaming in recent memory. Not only did we have ourselves a wonderful time conquering and exploring vast new worlds and adventures, but we had a packed library full of great music to go with it all. There was almost too much music to sift through when it came to 2018’s year of gaming, but we managed to narrow it down to the soundtracks that wowed us the most. Between a wealth of emotional sound and some of the best easy-listening around, inside and outside their games, these were some of the best video game soundtracks of 2018!
Hades – Darren Korb
Hades was a late comer to 2018’s gaming circuit, but if Supergiant Games and longtime composer Darren Korb have taught us to expect anything, it’s a good soundtrack to go with a good game. Hades delivers. The journey to escape the deadly gauntlet of the underworld is accompanied by a great collection of music that is sometimes foreboding, sometimes intense, and always enchanting. In particular, the sounds of a steel guitar and Theremin come together frequently in the Hades soundtrack and offer this land of the dead a suitably spooky vibe before often ripping loose into the meaty action of the game with a heavy drumline and electric guitar. Out of Tartarus was introduced to us from the get-go with the trailer and set the bar, but later, tracks like Through Asphodel take us on an amazing roller coaster of emotion to accompany our moody struggle in Hades’ realm. If (fate forbid) we ever go to Hell and are forced to endure uncountable deaths, we should hope our underworld overlord at least has the mercy to treat us to a soundtrack this good during the endeavor.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – Various Composers
This might seem like cheating to some readers because of how much Super Smash Bros. Ultimate borrows from what came before it, but honestly, that’s just the cherry on top of what makes Smash Ultimate’s soundtrack a perfectly suitable candidate for this list. Yeah, there’s hundreds of songs from every game that’s been involved with or ever even grazed a Nintendo environment, and it is really fun to be able to listen to those songs in game or at will. You can even go into the music player and make playlists of the songs you really like, but it’s the new remixes from so many amazing composers and sound engineers that really grab our attention. The reimagined Brinstar Depths theme from Yasushi Asada set to haunting string section is Goosebump City with a fantastic electric guitar and riveting drum and baseline to accompany. There’s multitudes of similar-quality remixes spread across all our favorite titles, from the heroic upbeat nature of Pokémon to the gothic moods of various Castlevania games, to the just-plain-fun, bounciness of Splatoon and Mario Bros. remixes. Even on the aural side, Smash Bros. Ultimate has a little bit of something extra for everyone.
Celeste – Lena Raine
For a game that plays somewhat like a reskinned Super Meat Boy, there’s something absolutely fascinating about Celeste all around. It’s got an interesting narrative, a very likable protagonist to get attached to and root for, some cool mechanics, and a fantastic soundtrack to tie it all together. Lena Raine crafted a mix of electronica and traditional sounds that jump between quirky and calm, between riveting and restful. Sitting down to the gentle beat of a track like Checking In is a heartwarming endeavor, and then you get to the likes of Scattered and Lost which is bouncy with its mix of striking piano and chiptune sounds before really getting fun with a solid percussion section featuring an awesome array of solo creativity to go with the beat. In all of these songs, it really builds interesting mood upon interesting mood with a multitude of diverse approaches to make each track its own while still fitting the whole of creative platforming prowess that is Celeste.
A Way Out – Sam Hulick & Gustaf Grefberg
The developers at Hazelight Studios know how to create a mood. They know where the emotions are and exactly how to get at them. A Way Out starts as a Shawshank Redemption-like affair with seemingly simple criminals Vincent Moretti and Leo Caruso trying to escape prison and return to their lives, but nothing is ever so easy. This is a journey punctuated by the orchestral arrangements of Sam Hulick and Gustaf Grefberg. The two built an amazing musical accompaniment to the suspense, drama, triumph, and tragedy that punctuate Leo and Vincent’s journey from beginning to end. There are parts of this soundtrack that will get your heart pumping and there are parts that will break it, and by the end, if Farewell doesn’t close the deal on the power of this score, we doubt much else will.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom – Joe Hisaishi
Just like any JRPG, Ni No Kuni II is a game that demands a widely diverse array of sounds, from the sweepingly heroic, to the dark and moody, to the quirky and joyful, to the sad and emotional. The difference is that Ni No Kuni is a world bathed in reference and love for the style of art and expression made famous by Studio Ghibli. Given the bar this game reaches for, any old JRPG soundtrack won’t exactly do. Fortunately, Joe Hisaishi has the talent to make musical notes dance in time to the magical world Ni No Kuni II lays out before the player. He clearly has that understanding of pace that makes a heart dance in time to the emotion on the screen. Even without looking at the game, Hisaishi’s score is expressive enough to just feel fun and full of spirit as you go through each track. At its core, it’s still a JRPG soundtrack and does well to fit the gameplay it adheres to, but there’s a lot to love about Ni No Kuni II’s music outside the context of the game.
Red Dead Redemption 2 – Woody Jackson
Red Dead Redemption is both an idolization and lampoon of the legends and mythos of the old west and it bears the cross of conveying a shifting world where civilization attempts to tame the savagery of nature by any means necessary. All too often, games like this can rely a little too much on a twangy mix of horn sections, whistles, and other western musical stereotypes, but composer Woody Jackson most certainly goes beyond. Red Dead Redemption 2 runs the gamut of emotion with an Americana soaked tour of intensity, peace, comedy, somberness, empathy, and cold isolation. Though music doesn’t punctuate every corner of the vast wilds in the game, it is worthwhile where it does appear and does its part to make the moments of melody matter that much more. For a game, Red Dead Redemption 2’s soundtrack is great as is, but even just for listening outside the game, this lengthy soundtrack has a lot of great music to enjoy.
God of War – Bear McCreary
The fourth God of War was a trip in so many ways. Where at once, this was simply a blood-rage beat’em-up that continued to push the scales of violence ever harder, the journey of Kratos and Atreus (“Boy”) to come to terms with their relationship and being is one that demands a far deeper emotional depth than simply epically angry and murderous. As such, the soundtrack that Bear McCreary had the task of putting together had to convey just as much. And boy (“BOY!”), does it. This full-orchestra score is soaked in Nordic influence, from sweeping string sections and choirs for that emotion to pulse-pounding percussion for moments when Kratos must put his foes six feet under. It is definitely not to say that McCreary had a harder task ahead of him than any God of War composer before him, but 2018’s God of War soundtrack brings something to the table just a little unlike anything to have come before it, perfect for the odd-duck-out style that the game brought to its long-running series.
Octopath Traveler – Yasunori Nishiki
Octopath Traveler was something Square hadn’t done in a long time. Not since the SaGa series, which had languished somewhat had the studio taken on the effort of creating a multi-branching JRPG from the perspective of so many playable party members. With such a splintered point of view, it’s a game that also requires an eclectic score to meet the tones of its diverse cast and settings. Even if Yasunori Nishiki had a challenge to create that vast variety, it comes together greatly and even manages to build an underlying layer of connectivity between all points. This is a soundtrack that uniquely favors its woodwinds sections. Some sections feature beautiful strings, some sections feature bellowing brass, but often, this game’s soundtrack goes back to a trademark woodwind tone to bring some level of unique familiarity to its overall style. Just like its many playable characters and the mechanics and narratives they bring to Octopath Traveler, the soundtrack is a solid grab bag of quality listening to accompany this splintered journey.
Into The Breach – Ben Prunty
There are a lot of good strategy game soundtracks out there between the likes of hard-hitting rock fests like Red Alert and more orchestral arrangements like Final Fantasy tactics. Into The Breach occupies a middle ground that’s not too intense and not too light, but it somehow fits just right. Ben Prunty builds a solid methodic balance in his use of solid baseline, guitar, and electronica in harmony with a pretty decent piano and string sections. Tracks like Pinnacle Robotics are a great example of this harmony in motion. It’s just riveting enough to give you goosebumps and just methodic and calming enough to cultivate thought and consideration as you plot your next moves on the battlefield. Ultimately, it also makes Into The Breach an awesome soundtrack to have on even when you’re not playing the game. It treads that line between gripping and out of the way perfectly to make for some excellent background noise.
Marvel’s Spider-Man – John Paesano
Making the soundtrack for a game with the qualities of a fun blockbuster movie, especially a hero movie, must make for an interesting challenge. There’s the effort of matching the cinematic experience of the story while not sounding out of place when the gameplay kicks in. Marvel’s Spider-Man is a visual spectacle to say the least, on par with any one of the movies that has come out in the last two decades, but the soundtrack to this game doesn’t miss a bit. Joe Paesano did what needed to be done here. He crafted a Spider-Man soundtrack that would perfectly suit the action of Spidey chasing after the Sinister Six while also playing well when the player starts throwing the punches. It’s an enjoyable experience in game to see how seamlessly Paesano and the sound techs for this game managed to blend the music between the moments of Hollywood flash and video game functionality. Outside that, it stands on its own as a good orchestral collection with some fantastic beats. If you didn’t know it came from a game, you might full-well think Paesano’s soundtrack came from a feature film.
And that caps off our list! Of course, this is only 10 soundtracks in a cornucopia of music that punctuated some of the best games this year. All of these soundtracks were picked for the wonderful memories we had of them, but it was no easy choice at all. Which were your favorites? Which video game soundtracks in 2018 delighted you the most as you played? We hope you enjoyed ours as we keep these in our saved libraries and playlists and get ready to hear all new great music throughout 2019!
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