2015 has been a pretty good year for videogames on the whole. Aficionados of open-world games have had their cups runneth over this year, and anyone who digs episodic adventure titles will likewise have been pretty pleased. There’s been a wealth of small, personal titles that have pushed the medium in some new directions, and there have, of course, been more big-budget blockbusters than a single human could reasonably play in a year.
In terms of game soundtracks, the year has been pretty exceptional. From low-key, ambient electronica to sweeping, dramatic orchestral scores, the number of high quality OSTs released this year beggars belief. I listened to all or part of almost ninety (90!) albums of game music released in 2015, and trying to pare the list down to the best of the best was an agonizing prospect.
Here, then, is the result of that aggressive winnowing: The best 15 videogame soundtracks of this year.
Special Mention: Tales from the Borderlands
Okay, sorry, before I start I have to mention Tales from the Borderlands, which—though its score is serviceable and it only has half a dozen licensed tunes—might have the best use of music of any game I’ve played this year. Each of the game’s five episodes has what can only be described as brilliant opening credits sequences. I’ve included the one from episode two up above. You should play this game.
15. Fallout 4
’s soundtrack is by Inon Zur, who’s responsible for the scores to all the Dragon Age games, along with countless others. Zur’s score for Fallout 4 is remarkably understated, emphasizing the loneliness of exploring the Commonwealth while also highlighting the slightly more optimistic tone that Fallout 4 carries when compared to its predecessors.
You can buy Fallout 4’s score on iTunes.
14. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
It was something of a coup for Ubisoft to snag Austin Wintory to compose the score for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate—after all, Wintory’s score for Journey remains the only game score nominated for a Grammy. The Assassin’s Creed games have almost always had some pretty nifty music, but Wintory brought something unique to the table and created a smaller, more intimate score that is by turns playful and somber. The score might be the only part of Syndicate where Ubisoft pushed against the grain of mainstream AAA game design, and the game is the better for it.
Ubisoft has put the soundtrack up for streaming on YouTube and Spotify, and you can buy it through Wintory’s Bandcamp page.
Listening to Toby Fox’s Undertale soundtrack is like searching around in your attic, knocking over an old box you didn’t know was there and watching in awe as a stack of long-lost, 16-bit Final Fantasy boss themes comes tumbling out. Undertale has gained a fervent following in the short time since its release, and I’m half-convinced that it’s entirely because of its boss themes, which are both exceptionally catchy and really help to sell the personalities of its various “bosses.” Toby Fox should teach a class in writing character theme music.
You can listen to most of the soundtrack here on Bandcamp, but the last 25 tracks or so are hidden unless you buy the album, and among them are some real standouts.
12. Persona 4: Dancing All Night
The Persona games are replete with superb music, and series composer Shoji Meguro has consistently produced funky, poppy songs that are catchy and unique. The soundtrack to Persona 4: Dancing All Night takes the best of these and remixes them into an eclectic blend of joyful, supremely danceable tunes in a variety of styles, from electronica to big band. It is a bloody crime that the only legal way to acquire this soundtrack is to buy the special edition of the game.
11. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
We’ve been playing big-budget open-world games with licensed soundtracks since at least the days of Vice City, and the soundtracks of these games often play a defining role in how we experience them—but there’s something special about the collection of ‘80s tunes in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Where the soundtracks to Grand Theft Auto games feel assembled by committee, the peculiar and ostentation tastes of Hideo Kojima make it seem as though each cassette tape you find in-game is a piece of a personal mixtape that he assembled just for you. And, of course, having your evac chopper circling an enemy camp to extract you while it blasts “Kids in America” is an integral part of the Metal Gear experience.
Someone’s assembled a playlist of ‘80s tunes in MGSV and put it on Spotify here.
10. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
Jessica Curry’s work on Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is somber, gentle and restrained. Using strings, woodwinds and a chorus, Curry sonically conjures a pastoral countryside almost independently of the game. This is the kind of score that can take you on an emotional journey even if you haven’t played the game to which it’s attached, which is an impressive feat for a soundtrack. I would set aside a couple hours and listen to the whole thing in one go—maybe someplace where you can be by yourself for a while.
The album is available on Spotify, and you can purchase it on iTunes.
9. The Swindle
I had heard absolutely nothing about The Swindle before the game was released in July, and I heard little about it between then and my end-of-year listening binge, so I was considerably surprised to discover its gem of a soundtrack, by Tobey Evans. The game’s music combines heavy dance beats with piano interludes, a big orchestra sound, and even some occasional harpsichord to give it that steampunk flair. If you find yourself planning a heist in the next couple months, you’re going to want this soundtrack as accompaniment.
You can check it out over at Bandcamp.
8. Rocket League
Rocket League was the breakout hit of the summer, appearing seemingly out of nowhere and sweeping the gaming populace up in a whirlwind of mid-air boosts and impossible acrobatics. The game is polished to a fine sheen, and the soundtrack is no exception, a delightful collection of dance music and electronica that does a lot to establish Rocket League’s personality. The game is a club: everyone is welcome on the dance floor, but some people are going to be out there pulling fabulous, maybe even dangerous moves. Keep an eye out.
You can check out the soundtrack on Spotify, or buy it from a whole bunch of different digital storefronts.
Nothing else this year sounds like Splatoon. Come to think of it, nothing else this year looks like Splatoon, or plays like Splatoon or feels like Splatoon. It is, to pluck a word from the game’s own parlance, fresh. The nonsense language of the Inklings that peppers the game’s music goes a long way toward selling the world of Splatoon as a fully-realized place, and the songs run the gamut from pseudo-reggae beats to full-on surf rock. It confidently carves out a sonic identity that’s all its own.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the official soundtrack isn’t available for purchase anywhere in the US! You’ll have to import the soundtrack, called “Splatune,” from overseas.
6. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD
Say what you will about the game itself (I’ll say that it squanders an awesome premise with terrible storytelling and is just a mess generally), but Final Fantasy Type-0 HD has a rockin’ soundtrack. Takeharu Ishimoto combines Final Fantasy’s traditional musical strengths—orchestra, electric guitars, and a chorus—into a score that isn’t as consistently excellent as Uematsu’s classics, but nevertheless has some great battle themes. Even though the original game came out in 2011, the HD version is the first we’ve seen it in the States, and it deserves recognition among the year’s best.
The album’s available for purchase over on iTunes.
5. Ori and the Blind Forest
Gareth Coker’s score for Ori and the Blind Forest is transporting. Ori is a game about movement and exploration, and a score like Coker’s makes that exploration feel otherworldly and magical, elevating Ori from exercise in navigation to proper adventure, a word which many games claim but very few truly embody.
You can listen to the soundtrack on Spotify, or purchase it on iTunes.
4. There Came an Echo
There Came an Echo launched without much fanfare earlier in the year, despite its unique control scheme: it’s a squad-based, tactical game controlled entirely through voice commands. Regardless, Jimmy “Big Giant Circles” Hinson’s score for the game is not to be slept upon. Hinson is close to the top of his game here, providing pulse-pounding electronica in the vein of his contributions to Mass Effect 2. This is great productivity music: put this album on and get some stuff done.
The whole album is up at Hinson’s website. Check it out!
Marios Aristopoulos really produced something special for the soundtrack to Apotheon, which sounds like what you’d imagine God of War would sound like if it were classy instead of excessively, appallingly violent. Combining dramatic orchestral work with both individual vocalists and a chorus, the soundtrack to Apotheon is sure to give you flashbacks to the glory days of Ray Harryhausen.
You can sample the soundtrack here on YouTube, but to purchase it you’ll have to head to Steam or iTunes.
2. Life is Strange
Life is Strange is a perfect game about adolescence, which is to say that it came upon us somewhat unexpectedly, it’s often awkward, it’s sometimes uncomfortable and yet it still manages to be a powerful and moving experience. The soundtrack, which combines a mellow acoustic score with some licensed indie rock, doesn’t sound so much like our teenage years as it sounds like what we imagined our teenage years to sound like through the lens of our post-college selves. Very few games this year have felt, or sounded, like Life is Strange. I hope we see more like it in the year to come.
Appropriately for a game about teens, the licensed portion of the soundtrack is available in a playlist on Spotify.
1. Gravity Ghost
If you know the dying-in-space simulator FTL: Faster Than Light, then you’re familiar with the work of Ben Prunty, whose score for Gravity Ghost has a similar “spacey” feel. The Gravity Ghost OST is warmer than the soundtrack to FTL, though, and often feels a little like a lullaby. It’s been almost a full year since Gravity Ghost released, and the soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment to the growing darkness and cold of winter. Timely!
You can listen to the whole soundtrack (and buy it, too!) over at Bandcamp.
Nate Ewert-Krocker is a writer and a Montessori teacher who lives in Atlanta. His first book, an adventure novel for teens, is available here. You can find him on Twitter at @NEwertKrocker, where he mostly gushes about final boss themes from JRPGs.