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.
I’m pretty sure I’ve mentionedKingdom Hearts before. It’s one of the most popular video game franchises of all time, and for good reason; it’s a huge, sprawling crossover that spans not only the Final Fantasy series, but also almost every major Disney movie. Yeah, it’s as epic as it sounds. The first game alone featured places from Alice In Wonderland, Hercules, Tarzan, Winnie the Pooh, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Peter Pan, and references to many others.
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.
Pretty sure I’ve mentioned how the LittleBigPlanet series has one of the most eclectic music libraries in gaming. This is especially evident in the first game, which introduces this awesome little number in one of the earliest levels. Newcomers might think the playlist would be nothing but upbeat rock music, only to discover that vocals and guitars go surprisingly well with platforming gameplay. The song only shows up in a couple of areas, but somehow manages to get you humming along hours after you’ve stopped playing.
If you want more LittleBigPlanet, 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.
A knight slaying a dragon is one of the most well-known legends in our historical canon. Of course, someone had to make a game about it eventually. Shadow of the Colossus is about a young man named Wander and his attempt to revive his dead girlfriend by slaying 16 gigantic beasts. Armed with nothing but a sword, a bow and arrow, and one of the best horses in video game history, Wander has to figure out a way to kill creatures that are hundreds times bigger and stronger than him. Seriously. His first enemy is about 70 feet tall, and the scale keeps pulling further back with each battle. The final boss is about the size of the Statue of Liberty! You ever see a bug crawling on your arm? This game depicts what it’s like from the bug’s perspective.
Yeah, it’s pretty epic. Since its release on the PS2 in 2006, Shadow of the Colossus has become a modern classic. In a game almost completely devoid of voice acting and other gaming conventions, the soundtrack needed to be able to convey the mood and atmosphere on its own. It pulled it off spectacularly; few soundtracks thrill you in one moment, and make you cry seconds later. In Awe of the Power captures those desperate minutes in which you’re making the perilous climb up a creature’s hairy back, and all you can is cling for your life.
If you want more Shadow of the Colossus, 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.
It seems simple. Cross a desert and climb the mountain in the distance. That’s what Journey – the game, not the rock band – is all about; the trip, not the destination. A robed figure making the ascent of a lifetime, both physically and spiritually. The sun glimmers on the sand, and the wind is fierce. Since you can meet other random online players along the way, the experience is never quite the same twice. There’s no text or voice chat, so you can only communicate through your pilgrims’ humming musical notes. If you’re playing the game for the umpteenth time, you can even act as a guide for those less experienced. There may not be any words exchanged, but they’re not needed. The journey itself is everything.
Yeah, it’s a different kind of video game. As in, 2012Game of the Year different.
So is its soundtrack, for that matter. Austin Wintory composed the music as an emotional counterpart to the gameplay; the tempo picks up as you’re racing across sand dunes, and drops into something foreboding as you explore ancient ruins. And as you’re climbing those last few inches up the mountain, you might find yourself crying a bit. As a testament to the soundtrack’s quality, it was nominated for a Grammy in 2013!