Often, the most memorable moments from a video game is not a set piece, or game mechanic, but its soundtrack. As we end 2021, I wanted to make a list of the top tracks from games that I have played this year. While there may be some omissions due to my earthly limitations (I can't play everything), this list should serve as a celebration of video game music done right. Here are 20 of my favorites from this year.
Death’s Door - Gravedigger’s Heart
Death’s Door is about a reaper seeking out lost souls that have grown too old for this world and must be brought to the afterlife - forcibly. This results in some seriously intense boss battles, but once they are slain, the game takes a few moments to memorialize your fallen foe. This music is a somber reflection on your duty as a reaper and the humanity of your adversaries.
Sable - The Ewer
I think most people that play Sable will probably say their favorite song is “Glider” which plays once you receive your hoverbike and the world opens up for real. Unfortunately, my bike hilariously glitched out during that moment, breaking most of the immersion. Even still, Sable’s soundtrack is atmospheric and overall just brings a chill vibe, and the song that plays just out of Ibex Camp is my favorite.
Rook’s boss theme - Griftlands
Griftland’s soundtrack is better than it has any right to be. Each song shifts depending on how the battle is going, escalating into several phases that increase tension as each encounter reaches its tipping point. Rook’s theme is a perfect match for the dusty veteran, and the critical phases especially are a great encapsulation of a man completely physically and mentally exhausted, but with the will to keep going.
Anti Hero - Persona 5 Strikers
Persona 5 had an amazing soundtrack, and Strikers, its sequel / spin off followed suit in delivering some great tunes. Anti Hero sets the backdrop of a cyberpunk dungeon, in which the Phantom Thieves must defeat a man with a god complex, who thinks he is the savior of humanity. Pretty much all of Striker’s tracks are good, but this one is certainly a standout.
Far Cry 6 - Yara Para Todos
Far Cry 6 isn’t a game I had a chance to play this year, but given the fictional island of Yara is heavily inspired by Cuba, there are plenty of Latin beats that are a pleasure to listen to. “Yara para todo” is a chill tune that stuck out to me during casual listens to this soundtrack. I may never get around to the massive open world that is Far Cry 6, but I can at least appreciate the musical artistry here.
Chicory - Probably Ancient Evil
Another one I haven’t had the chance to play, but certainly one I am excited to check out in 2022. This heavily synthetic beat is both unique and invigorating, and unlike what you come to expect from most boss themes.
Resident Evil 8 - The Duke’s Emporium
The Duke is a larger than life man who serves as a wandering merchant throughout Resident Evil 8. His theme provides a sense of mystery, and was always a welcome sound, as if nothing else his presence was a respite from the dangers of the village.
Metroid dread - Lower Brinstar
It’s Metroid. I never felt like Metroid games were really known for their soundtrack outside of a couple select tracks, but this piece does well in setting the tone for a pivotal story moment halfway through the game.
Monster Hunter Rise - Title Screen
The title theme in Rise is subdued but still very moving, and good enough to listen to just waiting on the menu screen.
Tales of Arise - Field Theme
Tales of Arise is a massive game, with a bombastic soundtrack to go with it. This piece plays while exploring the fields of Calaglia, and evokes the same feelings of listening to Skyrim’s soundtrack while exploring that massive game back in 2011. Tales may not be a gigantic open world game, but the soundtrack still matches the scale of such and carries much of the overworld exploration.
Forza Horizon - Main Theme
This breezy theme instantly transports players to sunny Mexico, the setting of Forza Horizon 5. The flamenco guitar does most of the heavy lifting here, but listening to this while previewing the various gorgeous locales you will experience was a treat.
Halo Infinite - Reverie
One of the songs that plays in Infinite’s menus’ this theme provided a sense of wonder as to what may lie in wait upon the new Halo Master Chief was preparing to explore. Halo soundtracks are always great, and Infinite's is no exception.
It Takes Two - The chessboard is alive
It Takes Two constantly changes its gameplay formula on players, and one of the strongest segments is a section where gameplay shifts into a top down dungeon crawler, during which plays must fight chess pieces-come alive, and this piece heightens the already fun set piece.
Crusader Kings III: Northern Lords Expansion - The Drakkars
I wished I got around to playing more Crusader Kings 3 this year, as it not only is one of my favorite series ever, but also has an incredibly underrated soundtrack. It’s newest expansion, The Northern Lords, is a feature pack that fleshes out Nordic cultures, and each of the Norse war chants do well in making you feel just a little bit like the Viking warlord you may be roleplaying as.
Little Nightmares II - Togetherness 1
I still need to finish Little Nightmares, but from what I’ve played it is definitely a strong contender for best horror game in recent memory. This eerie music box tune calls back on the Six’s theme from the first game, but also serves as a connecting piece between our two main characters, Six and Mono.
Narita Boy - Arrival In Blue
Narita Boy is a game I may have been slightly hard on in my review. While it stumbles in some gameplay areas, it has a creative art direction with some environments that combine interesting geography with religious iconography of the worshipers of the Narita One. One of my favorite environments was the Blue House, a stormy seaside region, and this score does a wonderful job setting the mood upon your entrance.
Persona 5 Strikers - Camping Trip
Persona 5: Strikers takes Joker and Co. on a roadtrip across Japan while they enjoy their summer vacation, while balancing their duties as Phantom Thieves. This carefree track plays during one of their stops at a RV campsite, and was one that stuck with me out of all the locations the team visits.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl - Route 209
Pokemon Diamond and Pearl had some of the best tracks in the entire series, and the reimagining of Route 209 elevates an already stellar track to new heights. With remasters, composers sometimes run the danger of fixing what isn’t broke, but they did a wonderful job here.
Griftlands - Smith's battle theme
Another great theme from the Griftland’s soundtrack, Smith’s theme captures his rambunctious yet carefree personality wonderfully. Griftlands manages to masterfully match each track to each of the three playable characters so well, and it’s a big reason it was one of my favorite games this year.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits - Befriending Spirits
Kena is an artistically striking game, with gorgeous graphics and a beautiful soundtrack. This track perfectly captures the essence of Kena’s job as a spirit guide, evoking both the mystique of the departed souls as well as the whimsy of her companion rot creatures. Overall a fantastic song in a strong soundtrack.
Those are my picks from 2021. What was your favorite music track from a game this year? Feel free to share in the comments below and enjoy the new year!