I haven’t had much free time to play video games lately, but I’m finally starting to dig into the backlog I’ve accumulated. The first title on my list was Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. You mightrecall thatI’m a hugeMetal Gear fan, and for good reason; the series has some of the best cinematic storytelling and cleverly designed gameplay mechanics in the industry. Ground Zeroes wasn’t a full game; it was essentially an early-release prologue for The Phantom Pain, which came out months later. It’s set in 1975, and you’re tasked with infiltrating an American black site in Cuba – a not-so-subtle commentary on Guantanamo Bay – and rescuing two of your allies imprisoned inside. Despite being a playable preview for the bigger game, Ground Zeroes more than proves its concept; you’re allowed to freely explore this massive map, discover its layout, and evade dozens of guards the entire time. The interactivity with objects and vehicles, the use of lighting and perspective, and the acoustics of the rain and voices are amazing.
What I enjoyed most, however, was the music. The series has always been known for its killer soundtracks, but only a handful of the games let you change the background music during gameplay. This time, you can listen to different cassette tapes – again, this is 1975 – thus giving your spy mission a little more flavor. One of the unlockable songs is this acoustic version of Paz’s character theme, “Love Deterrence.” She’s one of the prisoners you have to save, and the somber, romantic guitar melody sums up her relationship with Big Boss perfectly. Explaining the details would spoil the story of Peace Walker, but let’s just say there’s a good reason why a young woman like Paz would be locked up in a military prison…
If you want something a little more lighthearted, you can hear the original J-Pop version of “Love Deterrence” from Peace Walkerhere. If you want more Metal Gear Solid V, you can find the full OST here.
When talking about racing video games, most people immediately mention the Mario Kart series. It was fun, memorable, and a huge part of 90s American childhood. While it certainly deserves the nostalgia, it was only one of many amazing franchises out there. When it debuted on the Playstation in 1997, Gran Turismo stood out for its accuracy to real-life racing and selection of cars. However, the series didn’t really hit its stride until Gran Turismo 3 on the PS2. It was 2001 and very early in the console’s life cycle, but it was one of the first games to demonstrate what the new hardware was capable of. There weren’t as many cars due to the focus on graphical detail, but those cars were realistic and (for their time) utterly gorgeous. Having entries from Formula One, Lamborghini, and Porsche was a car enthusiast’s dream. Combined with the superb jazz and rock soundtrack, Gran Turismo 3 quickly became a modern classic, and one of the highest-selling games of all time.
If you want more Gran Turismo 3, you can find most of the OST here.
Fun fact: Street Fighter II Turbo was the only fighting game I played as a kid. No, seriously. I didn’t know about King of Fighters, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, or any of the other iconic brawlers of the old school gaming generation. So imagine my shock when I first played Guilty Gear X2, one of the greatest fighting games on the PS2. It had incredibly detailed sprites, edgy and stylish characters, fantastic settings, stunning special effects, and an absolutely killer soundtrack. My world was rocked; for that time onward, I made a point of playing every Guilty Gear game I could get my hands on.
I wasn’t the only one, either. After years of re-releases, the fans finally got the next-gen sequel they’d demanded. Guilty Gear Xrd was recently released for the PS3 and PS4, just in time for the holiday season. And from what I’ve played so far, it’s exactly what everyone wanted: several badass characters, stellar voice acting, blisteringly fast-paced combat, incredibly technical gameplay, and graphics that utterly trounce any 2D fighter before it. Of course, it has a ridiculously awesome OST. There’s the usual blends of rock and metal, though there are a few more lighthearted tracks scattered throughout. Daisuke Ishiwatari, the legendary director, artist, writer, and composer behind the Guilty Gear series, happens to be a huge Queen fan. Tracks like “Lily” are fine examples of the work he does.
Persona 4 is a serious contender for my all-time favorite game. I normally dislike RPGs, but the storytelling and character development in this are second to none. It’s got a wonderful, diverse cast; every individual has depth and well-rounded, believable personalities. In a game in which you spend as much time getting to know your peers as you do saving the world, having likeable characters is a must. The themes of identity, family, friendship, acceptance, loss, death, responsibility, and seeking the truth play heavily in its narrative. You get to help people overcome their personal flaws and demons, with healthy doses of Japanese mythology, Jungian psychology, and a murder mystery thrown in for good measure. I was lucky enough to be one of the first Western gamers to review it in 2008. I called it the PS2’s swan song, and I still think it’s true. Nor am I the only one; Persona 4 has become so popular, it’s gotten an updated release on the Vita, two spin-offs, a stage production, manga, anime, and countless other merchandise.
Part of the success can be attributed to its superb soundtrack. You’d never think a game about murder mysteries and monsters could have such upbeat and cheerful music. Shoji Meguro crafted some incredibly catchy beats, many of which have been covered in live concerts and been remixed multiple times. Signs Of Love is the theme that plays on some afternoons as you’re exploring the in-game town. You wish your life’s soundtrack was this good.
If you want more Persona 4, you can find the full OST here.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Nightis one of the most popular video games ever made, and for good reason. It whisked you away into a gothic spectacle that was both beautiful and nightmare-inducing. The sheer amount of customization, weapons, and tiny details were mind-boggling. It had everything: zombies, ghosts, succubi, skeletons, werewolves, demonic possession, Death itself, culminating in a final showdown against Dracula. You’d think the hero of the game would be some kind of whip and cross-slinging badass, like in previous Castlevanias. However, Alucard was anything but. As the half-human son of the big bad himself, he was subdued, thoughtful, and distant from his allies. You’d be too, if you were tasked with killing your own father! His bittersweet attitude is reflected in I Am The Wind, the ending credits song exclusive to the Playstation version of the game. With a soundtrack that covers everything from classic and rock to jazz and heavy metal, Cynthia Harrell’s soulful tune is the perfect sendoff.
If you want more Symphony of the Night (and trust me, you do), you can find the full OST here.
Last week, I mentioned how hard it was choosing a song from LittleBigPlanet, mainly because there were so many good ones. I wasn’t even taking its sequel into account, either; LittleBigPlanet 2trumped the original in just about every conceivable way, from the bizarre narrative and quirky characters to the sheer amount of unlockable and customizable content. While its predecessor focused mainly on platforming mechanics, this one allowed players to design racing, puzzle, and other kinds of mini-games. No other game on the PS3 – and maybe the last console generation entirely – gave gamers that much freedom. The soundtrack was updated to reflect the expansion; the OST is a fine mix of classical, disco, jazz, rock, and techno. HP Riot’s I Have Changed in-game appearance comes completely out of left field, giving an otherwise low-key level a huge burst of energy.
If you want more LittleBigPlanet 2, you can find the OST on YouTube.
Choosing a song from the LittleBigPlanet OST is like buying ice cream. There are many options, and most of them are amazing. Kinky’s Cornman represents just one of several genres featured in the game’s playlist. Depending on the level, you could be treated to rock, funk, folk, jazz, classical, chill, and techno. The soundtrack reflects LittleBigPlanet’s eclectic design; it takes its fundamental mechanics from old school Super Mario-style platformers, but allows you to collect tons of stickers, costumes, decorations, and other ways to customize your avatar. It even lets you build, edit, and share your own levels online, resulting in some of the most fun and original platformers in recent memory. Six years, an even better sequel, some spinoffs, and 8 million user-made levels later, it’s still going strong.
I love fighting games. Always have, always will. However, I’ve been more of a Street Fighter and King of Fighters kind of gamer. It’s more to do with pacing and character design than anything else. However, that doesn’t mean I dismiss 3D fighters. Take Tekken for example; as of 2014, it’s got one of the biggest and most diverse playable casts in gaming history. The sheer amount of detail and variety put into each game is staggering, and it’s still going strong.
The series reached new heights in 2005 with Tekken 5, which boasted 32 fighters, robust gameplay modes (including the first three games!), and the continuation of what had become a character-driven story. Corporate espionage, assassinations, ninjas, robots, boxers, kangaroos, pandas, demonic possession, high schoolers, sibling rivalries, daddy issues…Tekken 5 went over the top and just kept going. The same goes with its soundtrack, which took full advantage of the PS2’s audio quality and gave fans some of the best tracks in the series. Nearly a decade later, it’s still superb.
If you want more Tekken 5, you can find the full OST on YouTube and iTunes.
Need some music to chill out? Give this gem a listen.
I’m pretty sure I mentioned Michiru Yamane at some point. And with good reason; she’s created some of the best music in the gaming industry. That’s especially true for the soundtrack to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It covers a wide spectrum of musical genres, including classical, rock, and heavy metal. Nothing else in the series has come close since. My personal favorite is this song (the odd jazzy one out on the entire playlist), Crystal Teardrop. It’s one of the few tracks that lets you breathe, only to take it away.