Greetings! Rinshi here. I haven’t written an article in a looooong time, huh? Well, part of that has to do with the fact that I’ve started working full time in an office. I know, I know: “But Rinshi! You can’t become just another boring office drone, forced into a routine of soul-crushing drudgery!” Fear not, gentle readers, for I have no intention of going quietly into that good night. My geek flag is flying higher than ever. The background on my dual monitors is of a super star destroyer and accompanying tie fighters. Jamison “Junkrat” Fawkes (my dear trash husbando) watches over me from his framed print on my desk, as do figures of Beetlejuice, David Lo Pan, and The Riddler. Once a week I play Dungeons and Dragons with coworkers over lunch. Even in the office, my nerd soul is sustained. I know there are many others who are not so lucky.
The work itself is not terribly exciting, being only somewhat more interesting than pure data entry, and so to help me get through the day’s tasks I like to pop in my earbuds and stream music from good ol’ YouTube. I soon found that soundtracks from video games were a wonderful resource, being intended already to serve in the background while you focus on more important things. Thus, I present to you ten of these gems so that you too can take advantage of them should you also have to pass your Mondays through Fridays, 9-5, in a desk chair staring at one or more computer screens. Lose yourself in the soothing sounds of adventure, beauty, wonder, and even a bit of excitement from the worlds contained within our incredible hobby. I found it wasn’t terribly fair to give them specific rankings, as there really is no single “best” and it is better to take them all as a whole to be enjoyed and rotated through throughout the day, so they are presented in no particular order.
I remember the first time I booted up Ōkami on the PS2 back in… Oh my god it was over a decade ago, wasn’t it? [checks Wikipedia] Yup, it came out in 2006… Oh man, I’m getting old… Okay, well, anyway, I remember booting it up and being struck by just how gorramn pretty the game was. It was unlike any other game I had experienced up until that point. That included the soundtrack, a journey through traditional Japanese music that is just as gorgeous as the poignant visuals it accompanies. This is also a soundtrack that will carry you through most of the day, being cut into two parts that together will give you over five hours of musical enjoyment.
9. Monument Valley/Viridi
This one is a twofer because both are on the shorter side. Monument Valley is an indie mobile game that challenges you to navigate a princess through a series of M. C. Escher-like levels full of optical illusions and impossible objects. Praised for its visuals and design, the game has found a degree of success: a version of the game was even featured in the third season of House of Cards. The soundtrack possesses a soothing and ethereal quality, perfect for getting you into a puzzle-solving headspace… or for tackling that particularly tricky project that everyone else on your team claims to not have responsibility for. At just under 41 minutes, this one won’t get you all the way to your lunch break, but when I have YouTube’s autoplay enabled it transitions directly into the soundtrack for Viridi, a game available on both Steam and mobile platforms that lets you raise succulent plants in real time. It actually possesses a soundtrack so similar that I often don’t realize that the Viridi soundtrack has started until I’m several minutes in. At just over 35 minutes, the Viridi soundtrack will help keep your morning a bit more soothing a little longer.
You always hear folks saying “don’t quit your day job,” and while in most cases that is extremely good advice, it’s a good thing that Supergiant Games founders Amir Rao and Gavin Simon didn’t listen. In 2009 they quit their jobs at EA, moved into the same house, and started working on a new game, Bastion, an isometric action role-playing game that came out in 2011. The soundtrack is fascinating and unique, produced and composed by Darren Korb – a songwriter and composer who was determined to write a soundtrack that was different from any other video game soundtrack he had heard before. The Bastion soundtrack combines sampled beats layered with acoustic elements to form what Korb describes as “acoustic frontier trip hop.” It definitely keeps my toes tapping, and at just over an hour it’ll help pass the time between “it’s not even ten yet” to “oh, hey, it’s almost eleven!”
In 2014 Supergiant Games followed up Bastion with another isometric RPG: Transistor. Darren Korb returned to compose the soundtrack, and the result is something that feels similar to the soundtrack of Bastion without sounding the same. There’s something gritty and tough about it, perfectly fitting for the game’s cyber-punkish science fiction setting. The female vocalist from Bastion‘s soundtrack, Ashley Barrett, makes a return as well, appearing on five tracks of the Transistor OST as the game’s player character, the singer Red. Clocking in at over an hour and twelve minutes, this soundtrack has enough length to help make the day move by a little faster, and the beats are loud enough that maybe you won’t have to listen to your coworkers in the next aisle sniping at each other about office politics again.
6. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Facing that pile of work in your queue can certainly feel like you’re staring down a dragon, so why not have an appropriate soundtrack? Journey to Tamriel and take up the mantle of Dovahkiin with the triumphant strains of Skyrim‘s OST. Starting on a high note with the game’s theme song (Dovahkiin! Dovahkiin! Naal ok zin los vahriin!), it then transitions into the kind of generic fantasy music that really makes it the perfect background for both trekking across Skyrim and wading through paperwork. And at over 3 hours and 39 minutes, this soundtrack will be wrapping up just in time to hit the cafeteria for that underwhelming stromboli.
5. Ori and the Blind Forest
The soundtrack for Ori and the Blind Forest is actually sort of hard for me to put on this list. It is absolutely gorgeous, and I’m honestly not even certain how to describe it. It’s not classical, and it’s not tribal; it has strains that remind me of great movie soundtracks that play over sweeping vistas that were probably filmed in New Zealand. It takes you through a number of emotional highs and lows with surprisingly quick turns, and that’s just the problem. This soundtrack makes me feel things, and that’s not always the ideal when I’m trying to work. Sometimes I’ll find myself stopping for a moment just to listen and savor that melancholy ache in my chest that a few slow piano chords always seem to evoke in me. In the end, though, the soundtrack to Ori and the Blind Forest is just too beautiful not to recommend. Just, you know, maybe make sure your boss isn’t watching in case you feel the need to mournfully gaze out the window that you can just barely see from your cubicle.
The first game from Giant Squid Studios, Abzû has a similar feel to one of studio founder Matt Nava’s previous projects: Journey. It’s a linear adventure game, but where Journey takes place in a very barren world, Abzû takes you on an exploration of the sea to peacefully interact with the multitudes of aquatic life there. Similarly, the soundtrack is also full of life, with orchestral swells that flow like the oceanic currents your character explores and strategically punctuated vocals that lend an ethereal quality perfectly at home in the mysterious nature of the sea. At just under one hour, this soundtrack won’t get you through your entire day, but it ought to be enough of an escape to tide you over between those meaningless meetings where no one seems to know why you need to be there, you just do.
This one is kind of tricky. I’ve really been enjoying the Undertale Soundtrack… Holder Remix playlist by GameChops. The game’s original soundtrack by Toby Fox is pretty fantastic on its own as well. It has a delightfully old school feel, the kind of simple, synth-y melodies that hearken back to the roots of gaming OSTs. However, the remixes have really captured my attention, due in part to my own tastes in music that have lately been leaning heavily toward EDM and Nightcore remixes, and also because of the fascinating and diverse amount of Undertale remixes out there. The Holder remixes are only one set, and I encourage you to explore the plethora other artists’ musical selections for yourself.
If you’re feeling like partaking in the original flavor, you can find it here:
If you’d like to sample from Holder’s album, you can find the playlist here:
And if you would like to join me in the wonderful hell that is a seamless one-hour loop of Benjamin Briggs’ Tem Shop Remix, well…
2. Shadow of the Colossus
The second game from Team Ico, Shadow of the Colossus was a unique and influential RPG that came out on the PS2 in 2005 and makes me feel even older than Ōkami does. In the game you take on the role of Wander, a young man who is trying to resurrect a girl named Mono by hunting down and killing sixteen massive beings known as colossi. The game is vast and open, and one of the interesting things about it is that the use of music is limited. Music will only play during cut scenes and colossus encounters, with the rest of the game being silent aside from sound effects. Even so, the soundtrack is fairly robust, being over an hour and fifteen minutes long, and possesses several high energy tracks that always make me feel like I can take on anything. I mean, if Wander can climb all over a hairy stone giant and stab it to death, surely you can take care of that important project that’s due tomorrow that your supervisor was supposed to give you yesterday but forgot to until after lunch today, right?
I said I wasn’t going to rank these, but, well, Journey is kind of my favorite. The game itself possesses a wonderful richness that defies, or perhaps is even enhanced by, its simplicity. You take on the role of a robed figure traveling across a desert land. Your objective is simple: reach the light at the top of a distant mountain. To achieve this, you will indeed embark on a journey that is at once both linear and vast, a lonely adventure that impresses upon you the smallness of your character in a wondrous world. The soundtrack readily evokes this same sense of wonder from the first emotional cello strains. It is a sound that feels both ancient and timeless, and while cultural influences are apparent it has no one particular sound, having a more universal feel. It is a calming sound, and when I’m feeling the strain of work that needs to be done with little time to do it, I know that I can turn to Journey to pull myself back to center and forge ahead, much like the robed figure tirelessly pursuing the distant mountain. This musical journey isn’t too long at just under an hour, but it’s a lovely way to either begin the day or end it and fall just a little bit more in love with cellos.
Honorable Mention: The Last Guardian
The Last Guardian is the latest game from Team Ico, a breathtaking journey that follows the adventures of a little boy and his giant cat/dog/bird companion, Trico. The game itself is beautiful, and the soundtrack is also of very high quality, but there’s one reason why it didn’t make it onto this list: it is so damn stressful. I literally could not listen to the entire thing while I was trying to work without feeling like I was going to have an anxiety attack. The soundtrack is tense, and this is actually intentional as, like in Shadow of the Colossus, the game designers use music rather sparingly in the game. The only time that music really plays is when some sort of event happens, and usually that’s being attacked by enemies or nearly falling from a collapsing bridge, and so the musical accompaniment to those moments is meant to heighten that heart-stopping feeling. So while the soundtrack is well done, I can’t say I really recommend it to listen to when you’re trying to work, unless you’re one of those works-best-under-extreme-pressure people that I will never understand.
If you’d like to give it a listen anyway (you masochist, you), you can do so here:
What are some of your favorite video game soundtracks to listen to? Tell us in the comments below!