In one of the first posts in this blog, I talked about the music in Final Fantasy. I went through the OSTs for the first nine mainline games and picked out a favorite song from each one. I wanted to do a post like that again for some of my other favorite franchises because I listen to a lot of this kind of music at work and also there’s a lot of amazing soundtracks out there.
I think good music and sound design is really important to the gaming experience. Environmental music adds to the mood and ambiance of a stage, character themes can give a character more depth, leitmotifs can act as a story telling element, jingles can be catchy and memorable, and cinematic music can make or break a cutscene.
In the last couple weeks, I’ve gravitated really heavily to listening to OSTs from indie games. To be honest, the main reason for this at first was because there’s a lot of them available on Spotify. But then I started thinking about writing a blog post like this and I went and marathoned a lot of albums from my favorite indie games. These are a couple of my favorites.
All song links in this post will link to the song on Spotify – mostly just because it’s my personal streaming platform of choice – and YouTube if there is an official upload available.
FTL: Faster Than Light
FTL is a roguelike strategy game in which you manage a ship and crew in space – and the soundtrack certainly makes it sound like I’m lost in space. Because of that, I find that a lot of the tracks feel relatively sparse. But not in a bad way. If anything, I think a lot of the music that plays when exploring space is sort of relaxing, like Civil (Explore). When relevant in game, some of the songs are more mysterious and spooky. The battle music kicks it up a notch with some more percussion, but to me it’s still a pretty chill and laid back OST. Is that weird? I don’t know what the general consensus on this OST is, but those are my thoughts on it.
I feel like a decent percentage of the hype Celeste gets on the internet is from its soundtrack.
Like the game, the OST starts with a fun track with First Steps. Things start to get more mysterious and introspective as you continue until you hit the climax with Confronting Myself. The music in the final level, Reach for the Summit utilizes some parts and melodies from First Steps. I really enjoy that bookend effect and it definitely makes braving through the final level much more rewarding.
I haven’t really played much of the B-Sides and I haven’t even touched Celeste: Farewell, so I’m lacking in context for those two albums. I noticed that I actually enjoy listening to the B-Sides on their own more than the original soundtrack. When listening to tracks from the base game, I mostly listen to it in order because of how the described above progression works. But with the B-Sides, I’ve thrown them just into my random shuffled driving playlists as standalone tracks, and I like them a lot.
The B-Sides are all remixes of the stage songs from a whole bunch of different artists (including Ben Prunty – the composer for FTL). I think that’s pretty neat.
I think Undertale is the most obvious indie game pick. Last year, Megalovania was remixed and added into Super Smash Bros Ultimate, which is a really big deal given that the game is both indie and non-Japanese. Also last year, Toby Fox was the primary composer for Game Freak’s Town and a guest composer on Pokemon Sword/Shield. Even if you hate Undertale, I don’t think it’s easy to deny the quality and influence of its OST.
For me, the big highlight of Undertale’s OST is its boss themes. They’re all just so damn catchy and addicting. I also love the bass lines and percussion for a lot of the songs. I feel like they tend to shy away in the background in a lot of music, but I always like listening to them (in general, not just in Undertale).
Undertale is an very character driven game and I think their themes make all of them even more memorable. In my mind, I have a song associated with each character’s personality. The OST also plays with leitmotifs here and there. The game’s sort of weird and quirky, and the OST highlights that.
If Undertale is the obvious indie pick, then Hollow Knight is the most obvious Larissa (me) pick. Hollow Knight is currently my favorite game of all time and I love the soundtrack a lot. Walking around Hallownest feels serene, yet somber. I really like the instrumentation in this soundtrack and how each song fills in the unique backdrop of each area. There are some really beautiful tracks in the game. I think the one that gets mentioned the most is City of Tears. The exploration music switches to a more frantic one when an enemy is encountered, and then back to normal when the threat is gone. The transition between these two states is handled quite well.
I love all the music that plays during boss fights. I spent too many hours trying to defeat Nightmare King Grimm and I still am somehow not sick of that song.
And for those who have played the game: in one of the final fights there’s that moment where the song changes when said boss is low on health. That’s one of my favorite musical moments in the game.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Okay I lied, maybe Bloodstained is the most obvious Larissa pick. For a blog with only 15 posts, I feel like I talk about Bloodstained a lot. I swear I’ll stop eventually, but I really love all of Michiru Yamane’s Castlevania work, so this deserves a mention.
This OST has all the Gothic instrumentation and aesthetic of Castlevania, but more modernized and in HD. It met all my expectations and usurped them in some ways. It’s all very dramatic, maybe even a little campy. I also think it’s all very exciting. At the very least, most of the songs that play when exploring the castle are pretty fast and upbeat, especially so compared to the rest of the games on this list.
The three big songs I always look for in a Castlevania game are the castle opening, the clock tower, and the top of the castle, and none of them disappoint (Luxurious Overture, Gears of Fortune, and Ritual of the Night respectively).
Unfortunately, unlike the Castlevania soundtracks, this OST is neither on Spotify nor on YouTube so these are links to unofficial uploads. Hopefully these videos don’t get deleted.