It’s one of the inevitable facts of life that every given year you’re going to get legions of game journalists writing at least one “Top [whatevers] of [whatever last year was]” for just about every conceivable topic. Best graphics, best moments, biggest flops, best dark horses, best performance by Nolan North etc etc. However there’s one subject that often gets shafted, something that’s so fundamental it’s easy to forget it’s even there until it really isn’t. I speak of course, of that which brings game worlds to life through our ears: the soundtrack.
Music is a vital yet underappreciated element of almost every game; you just have to try and imagine Mario without the ditty tunes or Fallout without the vintage harmonies and you realise music can be an integral part of an entire franchise’s identity. So I present to you my little celebration of the unsung arts of gaming music: In no particular order, 9 soundtracks from games released in 2010 that I humbly feel are worthy of note.
Tatsunoko vs Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars
I’m being a bit cheeky with this one; this arcade fighter did get a limited Japanese release back in 2008 under the name of Tatsunoko vs Capcom: Cross Generation of Heroes, but it was essentially a rather primitive arcade port. It wasn’t until 2010 when heavy fan demand resulted in a remake released in every territory titled Ultimate All Stars. It saw huge improvements over the arcade original including a host of new characters and gameplay tweaks.
But that’s all irrelevant at the moment as we’re only concerned with the music, so what did it sound like? Well let’s just say that even the Daftest of Punks might feel compelled to tip their cyberpunk hats at All-Star’s hyperactive techno remixes of classic Capcom and Tatsunoko themes. It’s fast paced rhythms had perfect synergy with All-Stars unrelenting light speed combat; guaranteed to get most potential combatants hearts pumping before they’ve even selected their character.
Favourite track: Orbital Ring Systems Cargo Bay
If bringing in 90s Tatsunoko legend Tekkaman-Blade (or Teknoman for those who grew up with the English version) wasn’t good enough already, we also got blessed with possibly the best song on the soundtrack to be his theme!
Mass Effect 2
Nothing quite relaxes like the smooth soothing synth of a good sci-fi space epic such as Eve Online or Sunshine (the 2007 movie, not the Mario game), and the OSTs of the Mass Effect franchise are no different. Its slow relaxing rhythms fill you with a sense of wonder at the incomprehensible vastness of the void that lies before you, as well as the sleek cyber-punk technologies of the future.
Favourite Track: New Worlds
Anyone who’s played much of Mass Effect 2 should recognise this pretty fast, at least you should do considering how long you spend in the Galaxy Map! You may even recognise it even if you only ever played the first Mass Effect, as it’s a remix of the original Galaxy Map tune “Uncharted Worlds”. But don’t misunderstand; it’s far more than cheap rehash of an old song. While it retains the deep space exploration vibes, there’s something else just beneath the surface; a reflection of the underlying urgency in your supposed “Suicide Mission” and the unknowable dread of what lurks beyond the sinister Omega 4 relay…
The problem with launching a game early on in the year, especially if it’s a new IP, is that it often gets ignored when these sorts of yearly retrospectives come around. But Bayonetta was different, because I could never forget Bayonetta after how it gave the tired old beast of Devil May Cry “character action” style games a firm kick up the ass. Nor could I ever forget its soundtrack of pure unadulterated funk that was about as smooth and stylish as the witch herself, something that couldn’t paint a harsher contrast with the standard grim dramatic tones of the genre.
Favourite Track: Let’s Dance, Boys!
Even with such a large number of amazing tunes to choose from, I had no hesitation in choosing what I feel is the definitive track for both Bayonetta the game as well as Bayonetta the character.
I chose not to include the really awesome music video that goes with it because it’s one of the unlockables for finishing the game. But for those who don’t intend to play at any point, the video’s still worth a look. If watching that doesn’t make you interested in Bayonetta, I don’t know what will. Oh, and the game that’s named after her is pretty good too I guess…..
Another Century’s Episode: R
What? You haven’t heard of this game? You been living under a rock or something?!? Okay yeah seriously, this game is about as nerdy and niche as it gets; available only in Japan the A.C.E games (of which this is the 4th) pits pilots and giant robots from popular anime TV shows against each other in all-out war. The game itself was a little disappointing for reasons outside the scope if this article, but the soundtrack more than lived up to the very high standards set by these sorts of crossover games.
You see, while developers and publishers are more than willing to navigate the merciless seas of copyright law to try and get accurate likenesses of all the popular characters and robots from various shows, they vary rarely use exact duplicates of theme songs to go with them. Instead we often get some classy guitar riff heavy remixes that in many cases improve on or at least provide a cool new spin on some signature tunes. Obviously your mileage is going to vary massively by how much you care about the shows involved or even if you like anime at all, but to a fan it’s certainly a nice treat to hear your favourite songs given such respectable treatment.
Favourite Track: O2
In recent years, crossover games like A.C.E have been reluctant to feature some of the newer anime IPs such as Gundam 00 and Gurren Lagann, probably because of absurd licensing issues far beyond our comprehension. So it was a nice breath of fresh air when it was announced that characters and robots from Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, a very popular anime that had ended “only” 2 years before hand, were going to make a significant appearance in ACE: R. Things got even better when I discovered the awesome remix they did of Orange Range’s “O2” to be the franchise’s in-game theme song.
If you’re interesting what the original sounded like, it was used as the first intro song for the shows second season.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift
Most fighting game franchise worth mentioning have a pedigree stretching back into at least into the late 90s, and while BlazBlue certainly takes considerable cues from Arc System Works previous franchise Guilty Gear, it managed to succeed largely due to its own merits alone. However, one thing it certainly inherited directly from Guilty Gear was a taste for raw guitar shredding ROCK, a tradition that the second BlazBlue title Continuum Shift proudly upholds.
Favourite Track: Gluttony Fang
Character specific songs are generally there to help represent the personalities and traits of the characters themselves, subconsciously giving you an impression of who they are and what they’re about. None of that is truer than in the theme song for BlazBlue’s current main villain: Hazama. Right off that bat with Gluttony Fang you know Hazama is a very dangerous and chaotic man. The intricate guitar work overlaid with the classical piano themes reflecting the image of suave sophistication he uses to disguise his true nature as a twisted sadist, ready to torture and kill on the slightest whim.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
After the rather disappointing Portable Ops it would be easy to dismiss Peace Walker as another minor spin-off not really worth anyone’s time. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a good reason Kojima wanted to call Peace Walker Metal Gear Solid 5; it’s nothing less than the next pivotal chapter in the Metal Gear Saga.
Like most games in the franchise, Peace Walker had an emotionally charged highly dramatic soundtrack, with each song conjuring up feelings of patriotism, sorrow, crisis and the grim realities of warfare. While such music is certainly at its best when being overlaid by some sort of pretentious speech from the now very Che Guevara-esque Big Boss, it’s still pretty moving stuff in its own right.
Favourite Track: Heavens divide
Of course you can’t have a Metal Gear game without some kind of epic ending song, even Portable Ops managed to have one of suitably high quality. When Heavens Divide started playing over the (sort of) final mission, I knew I was in for one hell of a finale.
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes
Sadly this is yet another Japanese franchise that doesn’t have much name recognition in the west. Sengoku Basara is Capcom’s answer to the popular (in Japan and Europe at least) Dynasty Warriors series, and can be summed up as a Japanese history lesson as taught by a ten year old who just finished a Power Rangers marathon. In a similar vein, a lot of the soundtrack uses all tropes and sound effects you’d usually associate with ultra-serous samurai epics, but appears to have been composed by someone who plays way too much BlazBlue.
Favourite track: Date Masamune’s theme song.
Nothing personifies Sengoku Basara’s combination of traditional history and anime absurdity better than its resident king of cool Date Masamune. While his theme song certainly leans far more towards the latter than the former, it doesn’t stop it from being seriously hardcore.
Oh god. Deadly Premonition. I could write an entire dissertation on this damm game; a train wreck of insane design decisions that is yet somehow incredibly compelling. Okay! Got to restrain myself! Save that story for another day…….just focus on the audio. Right so; imagine you’ve just been appointed producer of an upcoming Twin Peaks inspired survival horror game, what sort of music do you want a majority of the soundtrack to have?
A) Slow eerie tracks aimed at causing an uneasy atmosphere.
B) Dark foreboding music with a dynamic tempo to help build tension.
C) A lot of ultra smooth jazz + whatever else you feel like, for reasons known only to yourself.
If you seriously chose C, then congratulations! You obviously worked on Deadly Premonition!
Favourite Track: Life is Beautiful
Not only is this track incredibly catchy, it’s also weird and above all wildly inappropriate; the very essence of what makes Deadly Premonition so incredible.
And so we finish by moving from one beautiful train wreck onto another. To cut a long story short, the gameplay in Comic Jumper was abysmal, but the game as a whole was redeemed by laugh out loud humour that just kept on giving.
The soundtrack was no different; a majority of the songs were fairly generic background tracks that were so bland I struggle to even remember what they sounded like. However, interspersed between those where the diamonds in the rough, songs of such immense comedic value it somehow more than made up for the rest of the soundtracks deficiencies. Even the developers themselves seem to agree with me on this; going so far as offering all the joke songs in one free downloadable pack on their website.
Favourite track: Brad’s theme song.
When trying to select a stand out track from Comic Jumper’s (admittedly thin) selection, there’s only one real choice. Nothing can compare to Captain Smiley’s brolicious rival: Brad. A man so egotistical that his vehicle of choice (the Bradcopter) is essentially a flying boom box that he uses to bombard poor Smiley with his self-performed theme song.