The video games of 2017 were’t just fun to play; they were fun to listen to.
As we do every year, it’s time to list the best video game music of 2017. (For a trip to the past, check out the lists from see: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.) These aren’t just my personal picks—I’ve polled our staff for their favorite music, as well. Most of the soundtracks here are available on iTunes or streaming services, and I’ve included links to indie composers’ bandcamp pages when possible.
Put on some headphones or turn the speakers up, and let’s do this.
Composers: Keiichi Okabe, Keigo Hoashi
My memories of Nier: Automata are inextricably linked to the music, which does as much for the game’s atmosphere as its character designs, environment art or story. Right around when I arrived at Pascal’s Village, it was clear something musically special was going on, and that was before I realized that every battle anthem had been re-recorded with chiptune sounds for a seamless crossfade every time I started hacking.
Composer: Kris Maddigan
Cuphead composer Kris Maddigan set out to channel that classic Ellington big band sound, the better to match with the game’s old-time cartoon vibe. While that astonishing hand-drawn art gets a lot of deserved credit, Maddigan’s music plays just as vital a role in the game’s distinctive style. This game looks—and sounds—unlike any other video game I’ve ever played. [Bandcamp]
Composers: Naoto Kubo, Shiho Fujii, Koji Kondo
The actual level-specific music in Mario Odyssey is fine; some of it’s really good, even. But it’s the game’s overall musicality that won me over, the way that Mario’s jumps, bounces, and bonks create a rhythm all their own. This game had good music, but it also makes good music.
Composers: Manaka Kataoka, Yasuaki Iwata
Breath of the Wild pushed its music to the edges of each scene, using spare instrumental flourishes to create a sense of wide open space. This game was often at its best in silence, with musical passages flitting in and out like flecks of sunlight on a damp spring day. Best of all is when Koji Kondo’s classic Zelda theme creeps in as Link rides his horse, a heroic anthem that’s been lost to time like all the rest of the heroes of Hyrule’s bygone age.
Composers: Toru Minegishi, Ryo Nagamatsu, Shiho Fujii
All I know is, the first time I heard the Salmon Run lobby music, I left it playing while I laughed for like five minutes. Splatoon 2 is unusually clever about how it uses music, building it into the fabric of every match so that as long as you’re listening, you can read the clock without ever looking at the clock. The mix of weird-ass, vertical guitar riffs and nonsense singing are catchy enough to make me invent words to almost every song.
Composers: Michael Salvatori, Skye Lewin, C Paul Johnson
I’ve played a lot of Destiny 2 at this point, and while I’ve tired of many aspects of the game, I’ve yet to get sick of the music. Bungie’s team of composers carefully wove a number of new motifs throughout their score, calling back to the original Destiny theme only when the moment was just right. The best musical moments of Destiny 2 were the ones that shook things up: a low-brass ensemble, or an english horn-led woodwind section, or a stark string quartet.
Composer: Shoji Meguro
If I ever decide to pull off a heist in real life, I want Shoji Meguro’s Jamiroquai-ass heist music to play while I’m doing it. His music is the beating heart of Persona 5, and in the rare moments that the beat drops out, it feels like the whole world has paused to gasp for air. It took me almost 100 hours to beat Persona 5, and I never got tired of listening to it.
Composer: Alec Holowka
The music of Night in the Woods runs the gamut from traditional adventure game atmospheric tones to a simplified Guitar Hero while you play with your character’s trashy rock band, to moments of unexpected, lyrical transcendence. All of it feels of a piece with the melancholy, mysterious tone of the game itself, which makes sense, given that the music was composed by Night in the Woods designer Alec Holowka. [Bandcamp]
Composer: Grant Kirkhope
At first I thought the Mario + Rabbids soundtrack would cause me to drown in whimsy, but as I settled into the game I came to really love it. It’s not exactly traditional Mario music, though all those familiar themes and motifs are still present. Rather, it’s a twisted, candy-coated remix that fits perfectly with the toy-like, miniaturized world of the game.
Composers: Yasunori Mitsuda, ACE, Kenji Hiramatsu, Manami Kiyota
Whatever faults the game itself may have, Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s soundtrack is not among them. Its soundtrack hits all the expected beats for a JRPG score—dreamy piano, soaring strings, juicy electric guitars—but it hits them with perfect aim.
Composer: Darren Korb
Supergiant composer Darren Korb has thoroughly established his signature sound at this point. Like with Transistor and Bastion, the world of Pyre feels organically built around his playful, tonally varied soundscapes. The game’s visual novel storytelling approach allows for a much more clear-cut use of the interlocking segments of Korb’s music, which gives the listener a better appreciation for all the clever ways he layers additional voices and instruments onto each tune’s foundation. [Bandcamp]
Composer: Richard Beddow
More than most games, Warhammer II earns the right to borrow from Howard Shore’s classic Lord of the Rings score. It is, as my colleague Luke Plunkett puts it, “a Tolkein-ass video game,” in a good way. The game’s soundtrack is perfectly tuned to accompany grand, grim battles that rank among the Total War series’ best.
Composers: Masayoshi Soken and others
FFXIV’s wonderful music has long been at or near the top of its expansive list of charms. The Stormblood soundtrack was no different, mixing traditional Japanese and Chinese stringed instruments with the game’s usual grand orchestral arrangements for a collection of dreamlike tunes that feel like they could float on air.
Composer: Christopher Larkin
Hollow Knight’s mix of ambient synths and strong melodic motifs perfectly compliments the game’s underlying sense of mystery, while the boss music (like “Hornet,” the example above”), works as a high-energy counterpoint. I’m not sure why I want to call this soundtrack “just a lovely collection of tones and melodies,” because you could say that about any good soundtrack. But particularly this one? Anyway, it’s good. [Bandcamp]
Composer: Masafumi Takada
Danganronpa games have always been accompanied by a suitably weird mix of lounge, electro-jazz, and trashy club jams. Danganronpa V3 was no different, recycling and remixing a number of classic Class Trial tunes while adding some new spice, like the “Scrum” music above.
Composer: Zenta Tsuchihashi
The Yakuza 0 soundtrack is a ridiculous bounty of high-energy 80s pop, slamming disco, absurdly juicy guitar riffs, and unexpectedly emotional instrumental anthems. The somewhat obscure, extremely funky fight music above is one of my favorite tracks, even though it hardly ever plays in the game itself. (Update: VGMDB attributes credit for the above tune to Zenta Tsuchihashi, with additional composing for the rest of the game’s soundtrack by Hidenori Shoji, Kensuke Inage, Yoshiji Kobayashi, Karasuya-sabou, Saori Yoshida, POPHOLIC, Hyd Lunch, and Sachio Ogawa. Thanks for the heads up, Lucas.)
Composer: Atsuko Asahi, Yasuaki Iwata
Sing it with me: Oooh-oooh-ooh-oh / Oooh-oooh-ooh-oh / Oooh-OOOH-OOOHHH! The Arms theme song is so stupidly catchy that it would probably earn a spot on this list even if there was no other music in the game. (Fortunately there is, and it’s all really good.) The Arms theme will now be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.
And that’s it for the best video game music of the year. We had to draw the line somewhere, though I’m sure that as in past years, there are a few worthy soundtracks we didn’t include. Share your favorites in the comments below.