It’s award season here at Twinfinite! Let’s look back at the best soundtracks from 2017. Voted on by our editors, these gaming soundtracks elevated their respective titles to the next level. Let’s start our top vote-getting honorable mentions, runner-ups, and finally, of course, our overall winner!
Honorable Mention: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Not every game needs a memorable musical theme for the soundtrack to be considered good. Sometimes, if the music fits with the vast environments and areas you’re exploring, that can be pleasing to hear as well. Film critics often say that the best soundtrack is the one you don’t notice, and with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, that’s absolutely the case here.
Breath of the Wild opts for simple themes and minimal instruments – something which feels most prominent in the game’s overworld theme, as you traverse across the wide open fields of Hyrule while listening to a soft piano track that’s blissfully free of complexities. It may not be the most memorable piece of music you’ve ever listened to, but it perfectly encapsulates the open wilderness of Hyrule and leaves you to your own leisurely devices.
One of the biggest standouts in Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack is Shrine which, as the name suggests, plays whenever you’re in a puzzle shrine. The slightly ominous tune never gets in the way of your puzzle-solving, but it sticks out just enough to illustrate the mystery and mystical vibes of the strange temples you’ve found yourself in.
We’d also be remiss not to at least give a nod to Breath of the Wild’s main theme, a gorgeous orchestral piece that sounds reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s older films. It serves as a glorious opener to Link’s latest adventure in Hyrule, and its soaring music definitely makes a strong first impression.
Second Runner-Up: Super Mario Odyssey
Whereas Breath of the Wild opted for a more muted approach to its music, Super Mario Odyssey isn’t afraid to get up in your face with its soundtrack. The game’s main theme, Jump Up, Superstar! is a fantastic representation of the game’s tone. We especially loved the little classic coin jingle that finds its way into the song’s bridge – it’s a nice touch that reminds Mario fans of what’s important in life. Coins.
The rest of the soundtrack never quite reaches the heights of Jump Up, Superstar! but they’re still implemented well into the game itself. The Cap Kingdom theme’s slightly ghostly and Halloween-ish rhythm fits well with the kingdom’s black and white aesthetic, for instance, and the Cascade Kingdom is a complex, sweeping theme that encapsulates the sense of freedom and adventure you get just from looking at the kingdom’s tall waterfalls and mountains.
Super Mario Odyssey’s soundtrack production quality is certainly top-notch as well – a testament to just how great music can sound when you’re listening to live instruments instead of just samples.
First Runner-Up: NieR: Automata
NieR: Automata is an excellent example of how video game soundtracks should be made and implemented into their respective titles. Featuring a somewhat modest but diverse score composed by Keiichi Okabe and his team at MONACO, NieR’s soundtrack is full of instrumental and vocal pieces that utilize the game’s signature chaos language, which was created by vocalist Emi Evans. The language itself is made up of components and sounds from other languages like English, French, German, and Japanese, and it all comes together to give the music an ethereal but familiar tone.
Vocals aside, it certainly helps that the music itself sounds fantastic on its own as well. Tracks like A Beautiful Song and Peaceful Sleep are great examples of how far the musical spectrum of NieR’s soundtrack stretches. From slower, melancholic, ASMR-like songs like Blissful Death, to the unrelenting punchiness of Birth of a Wish (THIS. CANNOT. CONTINUE.), NieR: Automata delivers an exciting and memorable soundtrack that’s just so enjoyable to listen to from start to finish.
And apart from just being a wonderful collection of music overall, its implementation into the game is also astounding, and even helps to develop the story in small, subtle ways. The open world music, City Ruins, sounds a tad underwhelming and barebones when you’re just starting out in the game. But as the story progresses and the stakes get higher, more instruments come into play in that same track, making it sound even richer than before, and it turns into this masterpiece. Or the way the vocals of a track gradually fade into play when you talk to an NPC, or when the music gracefully transitions into a chiptune version of itself when you’re in a hacking mini game. Music is very much a part of NieR’s DNA, and it’s so refreshing to play a game with a soundtrack that’s equally as important as the story and gameplay itself.
NieR: Automata drives the player forward with its music, and it’s an absolute pleasure to listen to both in and outside of the game.