Tunes of Magic VIII: Listmas Edition – Greatest Videogame Soundtracks of 2014

It’s that time of the year again and like in 2013, I am publishing my personal VGM winners of the year under the official #listmas banner of the “United We Game” initiative.

2014 was a year of ups and downs as far as new releases were concerned, with some down times in Q1 especially but definitely not a bad year for gaming and music overall. As MMO players, we got at least four new high-quality OSTs to enjoy and like in previous years, the world of small gems and indies has contributed to an overall great year of videogame music. What also remains unchanged is my general rule of thumb: the best games tend to also have the best soundtrack (exceptions verify this rule!).

Without much further ado, I present this year’s “Top VGMs of 2014”-teaser compilation for all of you who would like to reminisce a year of VGMs the easy and most effective way: by listening!

To remove all doubt which were my favorite OSTs and SOTY (soundtrack of the year) in ascending order, here’s the tracklist of all the games included in this year’s round-up:

10. Dragon Quest X 3DS (Koichi Sugiyama)
DQ X was in fact only released for 3DS in September 2014 which is why I hadn’t heard of it earlier. This soundtrack is packed with classic theatrical and fun music and I highly recommend checking it out!

9. Cinders (Rob Westwood)
Cinders caught my eye on Steam one day and while I’m not big into romance novel click-adventures, the spooky fairytale vibe of the soundtrack is right down my alley.

8. Transistor (Darren Korb)
A must-have for Bastion fans, Transistor comes with an equally brilliant sound fusion of western, folk, electric and experimental. Also: for Buckethead fans!

7. Ethan Carter (Mikolai Stroinski)
The saddest game by far that I have played through in recent months, the beautiful music by Mikolai Stroinski is a perfect match to the overall sombre mood of the Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

6. Destiny (O’Donnell, Salvatori, Johnson, Mc Cartney)
Some games never deliver on their big promises, but the Destiny soundtrack at least is definitely one of the big must-haves in 2014!

5. Bravely Default (Revo)
Much to their fans’ delight, SE re-discovered their classic fantasy JRPG roots with Bravely Default. The entire soundtrack by Revo is a joy to listen through, producing gem after gem!

4. Child of Light (Cœur de Pirate)
A visually stunning, poetic journey deserves a special soundtrack and Cœur de Pirate, aka Béatrice Martin, has managed to elevate Child Of Light to an unforgettable experience that instantly reminded me of the very french movie Amélie.

3. Blade & Soul (Taro Iwashiro)
Released in Japan and Taiwan this year, Blade&Soul has yet to honor us with a western release. Until that time, it’s well worth checking out this very flavorful and diverse MMO soundtrack.

2. Warlords of Draenor
Listing all the composer involved in WoW soundtracks has become a real chore (Hayes, Stafford, Brower, Bajakian, Cardon, Guidotti…) but I’m glad the outcomes still seem to work out! WoD is one of my favorite OSTs of the year and has brought back countless memories of our early vanilla days. If I had to name a single favorite track overall, that would be “Wolf at the Gates” no question.

1. SOTY: Wildstar (Jeff Kurtenacker)
My soundtrack of the year easily, Wildstar has brought us all kinds of awesome music in 2014. This soundtrack is vast and vastly diverse, ethereal, creepy, whimsical and fun! We don’t often get to see fusion work off so well but Jeff Kurtenacker has done one remarkable job at composing for the Nexus! Must-have, folks!

My top 10 aside, this year’s honorable soundtrack mentions go to Valdis Story, Castlevania Lords of Shadow and Beatbuddy which came out in previous years and much later to my attention.

Annual disclaimer: videogame music does still not receive the attention it deserves from many publishers and developers, which is a sad affair for fans worldwide waiting to purchase official soundtracks and support composers. However, we can spread the word, let the artists know how much we appreciate them and bring as many players (and potential music lovers) on board as possible. Thanks for sharing this post and here’s to another great year of VGM!

7 comments

  1. Videogame music works slightly better than film scores when separated from the source material, if only because of the way its designed to be heard a very large number of times without driving the listener insane. I still have a lot of difficulty seeing it as more than a functional attachment of another art form though.

    Where I do feel emotionally affected by video game music it is almost always in the context of the memories it evokes of in-game experiences rather than any particular quality of the music itself. I mean, I would be hard-put to give a musical defense of the West Karana water theme before a musical judge and jury but it has a huge effect on me every time I hear it.

    So it works astoundingly well on an emotional level IF you have the memories to be triggered in the first place but without them? Don’t think it’s going to ring many music lovers bells.

    1. Eh, the same could be said for the vast majority of music out there. Only a very few songs and tunes move me emotionally, independent of some life memory associated with the music. And those that do affect me at the first listen all have lyrics.

      I do like listening to Battle Bards for the exposure to many more tracks than I would otherwise ever hear, since I don’t play most of the games they have discussed.

      1. @bhag
        I think that VGM probably used to be an ‘appendix’ to games at some point in time and for some of them it still is – but I would beg to differ very much on the artistic merit of videogame soundtrack on a whole. :) Ever since VGM stopped being restricted by medium and went symphonic if you will, it has risen to greatness and wider appreciation by critics slowly. This is in no small parts thanks to people like Nobuo Uematsu (Distant Worlds) or Tommy Tallarico (Videogames Live!), going on tour with live orchestras worldwide. For reference, this is a very good read on the entire matter imho:

        http://the-artifice.com/video-game-music-art-form/

        As the article states, VGM is still under-appreciated simply because games are still not widely acknowledged as art and well, the ‘art scene’ is a snobby place. A great soundtrack can be just as enchanting as a Mozart opera. I have been to operas and I didn’t find them any easier to get into without context as I would with some VGM or score. Even if you’re a ‘music lover’, you might actually not appreciate classics.

        I would also disagree that VGM only works in context although there are definitely some soundtracks that work better as stand-alone than others (which we also often discuss on Battle Bards, ofc not all VGM is created equal). I think what all art has in common is that it moves people and the quality (and budget) behind many soundtracks nowadays accomplishes that for me. I also listen to loads of OSTs of games I have never played.

    1. LOL yes sorry :D I am really not a fan of the soundtrack, as discussed on our Battle Bards episode on ESO. But then, all best ofs like this one are very personal and depend a ton on which games have moved us this year and what we played.

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