2020 was tough. There were nights when we wondered where and how this year would end. Just when things looked like they couldn’t get any worse, they kept doing it. Getting through the day was difficult at every level. One of the things that helped us was music. In particular video game music. Music therapy is real. Sometimes you could hear a vocal rendition of Schala’s theme Chrono triggerI thought about how we wished we could go back and change the time. Other nights, the optimistic tracks of Castlevania; Dawn of sorrow and the vocal remixes of Final Fantasy Pray brought calm and serenity. Here are some of the tracks we were especially grateful for.
This year brought me (Narelle) a lot of uncertainty as there are so many others. As the months went by, I wondered how life could be changed as each day was almost indistinguishable from the next. Some of the big concerns were safety and health and job security – and let’s face it, I will continue to bear those concerns through 2021.
I played video games and turned to my not-new residue to undress it. When I wasn’t packed Animal Crossing: New HorizonsI didn’t play much else. Of the few games I’ve completed, the 2018 game is from Sabotage Studio The messengerwas one of the best. The humor, which included the fourth type of wall breaking, was just so good. For a few hours straight, the platform challenges kept my mind focused and prevented from being burdened with serious life concerns. The story of a bleak future was one that I knew I could change, even though the real events of 2020 grew darker and more depressing.
I also loved composer Rainbowdragoneyes’ soundtracks The messenger and its DLC, Picnic panic. The clever use of the 8-bit and 16-bit styles and music to portray the past and future time-traveling storyline is amazing, and the soundtracks have been in heavy rotation for me since then. That title, “Convocation of the Curse”, is one of my favorites. It’s over 8 minutes long and awesome, especially when things are in full swing after 6 minutes. It always reminds me of the game: one of the bright spots in an otherwise stressful year.
What hasn’t been said about Supergiant Games’ newest game? Hades? The villainous dungeon crawler with the family drama of the Greek gods is one of the best games released in 2020. I (Narelle) played dozens of hours trying to claw my way out of hell. It was another great time sink and distraction during the actual realities of an unrelenting year.
If you’re familiar with the studio’s games, you will know Darren Korb, a brilliant composer and musician who is being worked on bastion, transistor, pyre, and Hades are some of my favorite compositions in the video game music world. With good reason! Each of the above game soundtracks are exciting and diverse with heavy rock tracks to thoughtful, powerful ballads and a lot more that you can ever imagine fitting into the space in between.
Darren Korb’s music (and I don’t want to mention that frequent contributor Ashley Barrett, whose vocal work on many of the songs in Supergiant Games’ discography is very impressive) tells specific stories that shape the personalities of the worlds and characters in the games. Can’t you just hear the brooding on that track “Last Words” that plays whenever Thanatos, Death Incarnate, shows up? Hades? It’s scary and fits the character perfectly.
Last window: The Secret of Cape West
Though it’s just two games Hotel dusk and Last window have become one of my favorite series in gaming. Noirish storytelling with beautiful animation and complex characters, it’s hard to write down once the story starts. But if there’s one thing that really holds the cases together, it’s the haunting music of Satoshi Okubo. The jazz tracks embody the mood and the characters and are full of hope and bittersweet sadness. The beats have a way of wrapping around my mind. I’ve had many sleepless nights in 2020. I type in “Last Window OST” on my phone, let it play as I slip into dreams of places I’ve never been but wish I had.
My dreams this year were full of melodrama. I’ve dreamed a lot about the end of the world and even had a nightmare where I (Peter) was in my own novel and Nazi biomechs came to destroy my university, which absolutely terrified me. One of the saddest night outings I’ve had was talking to an old friend I hadn’t seen in years, and at least in my dream, I realized that it might be the last time I’ll see him in person. I felt so damn wistful that after all these years it was. That last coffee or that last meal (can’t remember which one) it would be and the worst part was I was running late and I was scared I would miss it! Subconscious fears about what was going on had taken over my dreams. I found out the song of healing The Legendo of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Okay, this isn’t exactly video game music, but it is video game related, and I (Narelle) played this song repeatedly to calm the mind. The track “PAC-MAN” by the animated, virtual band Gorillaz with rapper ScHoolboy Q is part of the band’s latest music project, Song Machine Season One. The graphics of the music video that has features Pac-Man played on an arcade cabinet are spectacular. The blips and familiar Pac-Man Sound effects in the song are a fun addition to this hypnotic track, along with the melancholy vocals of musician Damon Albarn as Gorillaz’s 2D singer.
Grand Theft Auto: Runner-up City
When most people think of Grand Theft Auto, they mention ultra-violence, massive open world, and crime. I think about the music. Decades ago a good friend gave me the soundtrack Grand Theft Auto: Runner-up City and I couldn’t stop hearing it. It’s a diverse mix of music, from the pop songs on Flash FM to the emotions of Fernando Martinez playing Cutting Crew’s Died In Your Arms (which takes on a new meaning on the streets of Vice City). I don’t long for the past, but this year gave me a new appreciation for it. This audio time jump into the 80s with absurdly satirical commercials and radio show personalities making their way into our lives became a pleasant respite from 2020 onwards.