Video game soundtracks have come a long way as the industry has matured, evolving from compositions limited by primitive hardware into magnificent examples of creative audio engineering that help give a game its identity. The best scores are the ones that instantly help you recognize a particular game, slot well into the design of those titles, and live rent-free in your head long after you’ve put a controller down: elements that 2022’s best soundtracks achieved.
So, how do you choose the best soundtrack? By looking at multiple video game albums and celebrating all of them. There’s no easy way to choose a single winner in this space, as taste differs from person to person, but you can gather a mixed collection of soundtracks and highlight their contributions to creating some of the best audio journeys of the year. From the booming deicide-centric action of God of War Ragnarok to the energized beats of Neon White, these games were just as much fun to listen to as they were to play.
God of War Ragnarok
By Bear McCreary
There’s an underlying sense of sadness in God of War Ragnarok’s soundtrack–somber notes and apocalyptic tones that are easily picked up on. However, when the situation calls for it, this score brings the thunder. Introspective and explosive, the conclusion to Kratos’ Nordic journey juggles multiple themes as you explore the realms and prepare for war. It’s not often that you hear a game soundtrack switch from mythical blockbuster action to surprisingly tender moments of reflection, but God of War Ragnarok does so with Muppet-endorsed energy.
Horizon Forbidden West
By Joris de Man, Niels van der Leest, Oleksa Lozowchuk, and The Flight
Like God of War Ragnarok, music is an essential part of Horizon Forbidden West’s world. A combination of atmospheric sounds and beautifully written lyrics, these tracks are as captivating as Aloy’s journey and bring the story to life. There’s serenity and action at play here, and mysterious melodies and subtle symphonies that are used to tremendous effect to give the latest Horizon game a prestige feel and sound.
By Tomoya Ohtani, Kenichi Tokoi, Takahito Eguchi, Rintaro Soma, Kenji Mizuno, Kanon Oguni, and Hiroshi Kawaguchi
An all-you-can-listen buffet of sounds, Sonic Frontiers has plenty of high-energy tracks, edgy rock anthems for its gigantic boss fights, and quirky tunes that harken back to the 16-bit era of Sega’s favorite mascot. Beyond those catchy tunes, there’s also a far more relaxed and lo-fi ambiance that complements the desolation of the Starfall Islands: a selection of soothing and meditative music that encourages you to stop for a second and soak in the beauty of the land around you.
Cult of the Lamb
By Narayana “River Boy” Johnson
There are horrifying acts of chaos and depravity scattered throughout Cult of the Lamb, but they’re all done to the tune of one of the best soundtracks of the year. Deceptively relaxing but loaded with sinister undertones, Cult of the Lamb composer Narayana “River Boy” Johnson delivers both chill beats and more intense musical interludes that amplify all the sects and violence you see unfold on your screen.
A Plague Tale: Requiem
By Olivier Deriviere
Like the game itself, A Plague Tale: Requiem’s music carries themes of brutal violence, hopelessness, and despair in each note. It’s a heavy score to listen to, but one that has a grim sense of reality to its design that’s necessary for all the doom and gloom encountered in the game. With an award-winning choir adding new layers of soulful sadness, the end result is undeniably melancholic, but also incredibly enchanting to listen to.
By Machine Girl
Neon White emphasizes speed, precision, and power, and its soundtrack does a fantastic job of subtly emphasizing those themes. When you’re shooting for the heavens and hopping over demonic barriers, Machine Girl’s album is a heavenly collection of subtle but impactful sounds that push you to constantly improve and grow in each run. One of the best games of the year, Neon White is a visual and audio delight to absorb.
A Memoir Blue
By Joel Corelitz
If you needed one word to describe the sounds of A Memoir Blue, it would be “soulful.” A single word isn’t enough though, as this collection of nuanced and thought-provoking music captures the ideas of its interactive source material, echoing themes of a lost childhood, the destructive price of success, and emotional storytelling. Tragic but with a spark of hope, Joel Corelitz’s graceful soundtrack is one that’ll stick with you long after the end credits have rolled.
Trek to Yomi
By Cody Matthew Johnson and Yoko Honda
A hauntingly beautiful collection of tracks, Trek to Yomi’s soundtrack is a time machine that transports you back to a more lethal era in Japanese history. Developer Flying Wild Hog recruited composers Cody Matthew Johnson and Yoko Honda to put together this samurai score, with the duo developing a unique sound that incorporated ancient Japanese folklore, culture, and Edo period instruments into its design. Not only does Trek to Yomi carry a historical audio layer thanks to this direction, but each track is an Easter egg of history that enriches the listening experience.
By Yuka Kitamura, Tsukasa Saitoh, Shoi Miyazawa, Yoshimi Kudo, and Tai Tomisawa
Much like the game itself, Elden Ring’s soundtrack is elegant despair mixed with epic action: a cathedral of Gothic sounds and booming orchestral tracks. While the dangerous world you inhabit has plenty of atmospheric audio to soak up, it’s From Software’s signature boss fights where the score truly lets loose. Each battle paints a mesmerizing audio picture that enhances the ferocity of these battles and makes the experience feel mythical, with each pluck of a violin string or brass blast of instrumental power driving home the epic scale of your struggle to conquer The Lands Between.
Nobody Saves The World
By Jim Guthrie
Jim Guthrie’s Nobody Saves the World score is impactful listening, a selection of beats and rhythms that plays like a swordfight between masters if they were using musical notes to duel. It’s a retro treat for the ears that sounds like an old-school dungeon-diving adventure mixed with precision sound engineering, with each track creating a mischievous atmosphere as you delve deeper into forgotten caverns and castles. There’s a playfulness woven into this quirky collection of tracks, and it gels brilliantly with an already terrific game.
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope
By Grant Kirkhope, Yoko Shimomura, and Gareth Coker
With an A-Team of composer talent helming this project, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope has a phenomenal sound at play here. Play is the key word, as this score has layers of fun charm subtly coexisting with more grandiose themes. Even though you’ll only control a handful of characters at any given time, Sparks of Hope makes you feel like you’re commanding an army thanks to its grandiose, family-friendly sounds that capture the silly energy of the Rabbids and the enduring appeal of Mario.
By The Flight and Joris de Man
Gotham Knights may have been an average-at-best superhero romp, but at least its soundtrack features a dynamic duo delivering a knockout audio blow. It’s pure Caped Crusader energy with sinister strings being plucked and unique instruments being used to create an atmosphere of a city under siege by nefarious forces, creating a cinematic audio experience. Plus, this is the only soundtrack of 2022 to have a fantastic cover of “Livin’ La Vida Loca.”
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet
Note: Nintendo has not made this album officially available via streaming yet.
By Toby Fox, Junichi Masuda, Go Ichinose, and Minako Adachi
The latest mainstream Pokemon games may have launched with some major technical issues, but at least the series is continuing its tradition of amazing scores. From riveting battle themes to soothing atmospheric tracks while you explore a new frontier, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet’s suite of sounds aren’t just certified bangers; they’re also an astounding fusion between techno beats and traditional instruments that tie in perfectly to the game’s theme of time, nature, and the clash between these opposing forces. With Undertale and Deltarune composer Toby Fox joining Pokemon veterans, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet’s soundscape was built with main event talent.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
By Tee Lopes
From an iconic theme given a fresh update to energetic tracks such as “The Wrecking Crew” and “Dinosaur Stampede,” Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge drops expertly crafted music that will have you raising shell throughout New York City. It wouldn’t sound out of place in an SNES game, but there’s a contemporary touch here that elevates this soundtrack to another level. With a bonus track from the Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Ghostface Killa, this album ain’t nothin’ to mess with.
Shovel Knight Dig
By Jake Kaufman
Shovel Knight got a glow-up this year, as Shovel Knight Dig saw the spade-wielding hero enter a 16-bit realm of fantasy. To match the visuals, composer Jake Kaufman evoked the nostalgia of the SNES and Sega Genesis era with pulse-pounding chiptunes and beats, creating an energetic mix that you can’t help but tap your feet to. The more relaxed tunes do a great job of creating a relaxed atmosphere that anyone can dig.
By Yann Van Der Cruyssen
The game that saw a massive increase in pet cats swatting at TVs, Stray’s soundtrack has a feline quality to it that captures the curiosity of everyone’s favorite four-legged troublemaker. There’s also a desolate and alien theme running through each song, amplified by more intense tracks that sound like they’re full of cat-zoomies energy. Relaxing, mysterious, and explosively lively, Stray’s musical suite is both soothing and mesmerizing.
By Masatoshi Yanagi
Subtle is an apt description for the sounds that you’ll hear in Ghostwire Tokyo, as this game packs a score that is constantly following you, haunting your every footstep as you explore Shinjuku. It also has moments when it slams into your ears with hard-hitting drums and flutes. For anyone who’s a fan of Japanese folklore, classical instruments, and music that feels like a creeping dread that’s slowly closing in on you, Ghostwire Tokyo is essential listening.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Note: Nintendo has not made this album officially available via streaming yet.
By Yasunori Mitsuda, Manami Kiyota, Kenji Hiramatsu, and ACE
When you’ve got a game that can consume dozens of hours of your life, you’re going to need a score that can match it in the longevity department. With an all-star cast of composers attached, Nintendo’s grand sci-fi RPG sounds better than ever thanks to the variety on offer here. From gentle woodwind instruments to explosive brass instruments, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 plays out to the sounds of a gargantuan collection of music that is elegant, energetic, and mesmerizing.
By Stephen Barton, Gordy Haab, and Edouard Brenneisen
As an arena in which some of the most powerful forces in pop culture can duke it out, it’s only natural that MultiVersus packs a punch with a soundtrack that gives each brawler their own signature sound. From a Batman theme that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Tim Burton-directed Dark Knight movie to an Adventure Time theme that perfectly captures the adventurous spirit of Finn and Jake, the MultiVersus jukebox is full of familiar but fresh orchestral takes on fan-favorite songs.
By Two Feathers
What makes the Metal: Hellsinger soundtrack so impressive is the way in which it’s incorporated into the very fabric of the game. With vicious beats to slay to, Metal: Hellsinger pushes you to dive headfirst into the rhythm of the heaviest of metal, timing your moves and attacks to the beat of the music. That alone makes it a standout contender this year, but with death metal royalty such as Randy Blythe, Serj Tankian, Tatiana Shmayluk, Matt Heafy, and more contributing to the score, it’s a highlight reel of melodic screams.
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