Music Mondays (6-5-17): Video Game Soundtracks

This is Music Mondays, a weekly music column. This week, I’m recommending two of my favorite video game soundtracks.

“The Last of Us” (Gustavo Santaolalla)

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“The Last of Us” is my favorite video game of all time. Not only is its story deeply moving and its gameplay challenging, but it also boasts one of my favorite video game soundtracks.

For those who don’t play videogames, one may guess their music is nothing but background noise. But for games like “The Last of Us”, its music is used to evoke emotion out of the player, just as music is used to emotionally affect the viewer of a movie or TV show.

Composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, the soundtrack to “The Last of Us” is minimalistic and  bursting with emotion. It pairs extremely well with the game’s grim, post-apocalyptic world (think “The Road”), and only plays at key moments in the game, which makes it all the more affecting. The expertly picked guitars, the brooding string sections, and the few uses of percussion create a distinct sound that is unique to “The Last of Us”.

The soundtrack is fantastic in the game, but it works just as well on its own. Found on all major streaming services, the soundtrack and its second volume (which was released with the game’s expansion “Left Behind”) are perfect for studying, writing, or meditating (if that’s your thing).

My favorite tracks are the guitar heavy “The Path (A New Beginning)”, the orchestral “All Gone (No Escape)”, and of course, the title track. I seriously recommend checking out both volumes of this soundtrack. I’ve been listening to it for 3 years, and I don’t see any sign of stopping.

Journey” (Austin Wintory)

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Source: ThatGameCompany

Many of the same reasons I praise the soundtrack of “The Last of Us” can be said for the music of “Journey”. While I enjoy “The Last of Us” more as a game, “Journey” may have the best video game soundtrack I’ve ever heard. Its soundtrack rightfully earned it a Grammy nomination for “Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media”. (This 2013 nomination was the first time a video game had been nominated for a Grammy.)

Scored by Austin Wintory, the soundtrack to “Journey” reacts dynamically to the player, which is an achievement in and of itself. Beyond this, the game has no voice acting and very minimal sound effects. This makes the music even more crucial to the sound of the game, and it succeeds with flying colors.

While the soundtrack is integral to the game, it easily stands on its own. Consisting of a beautiful string section (with an emphasis on the cello) and a playful woodwind section, the music is perfect for studying, writing, and meditating. Its near hour-long duration has great emotional variety, from light and whimsical (“The Road of Trials) to dark and frightening (“Nadir”). Without any visuals, the soundtrack itself mirrors the story of the game, which is a testament to how stunning it is.

The original soundtrack to “Journey” can be found on all major streaming services, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. The soundtrack’s beauty, emotional breadth, and triumphant finale deserve immense praise. Listen to it from start to finish. I promise you won’t regret it.

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