Death to 2018. I’m sure we’re all on the same page here; stab the concept of last year with some blade of the millennium that frees us from its cursed grasp. That aside, there were some artistic achievements last year that didn’t get the proper amount of attention. Please, dear reader, join me in the vinyl video game soundtrack sub-world! I’m very alone here and I’m looking for a pal.
There aren’t many easy ways in here. Vinyl soundtracks for films and the like experienced an incredible resurgence in recent years. And game soundtracks managed to tailgate their way into this very specific cultural moment. Game soundtracks represent quite a range of styles: everything from full orchestras pushed to their limits to achieve exceptional thematic goals, on down to 16-bit themes. Not that there isn’t some magic in translating MIDI tracks to a wider sonic format. No matter how game OSTs make it to vinyl, no one puts in the work unless it starts with true passion. It’s simply not worth the effort to anyone else.
Vinyl game soundtrack work is a messy, tricky, beautiful nightmare right now. From the art to the availability to the song choices: there are so many variables in play. That’s what makes it a passion project for audiophiles, but also for collectors that don’t even own a turntable. I love blasting songs from games I’ve played hundreds of times, but I don’t blame anyone who buys a record just to frame a blood colored copy of their favorite cult title.
That being said, there were so many excellent releases in 2018. It seemed well worth it to compile a list sharing the most fascinating, most exciting, most random, and just most… good game soundtracks that hit vinyl in 2018.
I’m not sure how controversial this take is, but the soundtracks to these two games are the only positive memories I have of any 3D Sonic titles. If you want to relive the joy of those signature sounds without dealing with tragic gameplay, grabbing a copy of either album is nice solution.
Indie game OSTs always a bit of a grab bag. You never know which developers will let their music make the leap to wax. As a game made by 11 people, the odds seemed stacked against Dead Cells. Well, we all lucked out on this one. Yoann Laulan’s score marches into a mysterious blend of Gothic and “go harder” sounds. They’re absolutely brilliant on a record player.
Laulan promises that all money from album sales goes towards pasta for him or tuna for his cat. The cat is named Prinze Litière von Raubkatzen. You know you want to support a good kitty and/or a musician. Now you can do both at once!
One of the joys of vinyl soundtrack releases is getting way into games you never played. For me, the most recent example is Snatcher.
Originally released for the PC-8801 in Japan, this early Hideo Kojima adventure was later localized into English and ported to the ill-fated Sega CD. Like most outside of its cult following, I’ve never been able to legally play Snatcher. Now, I’m spending significant time with one of the wildest scores I’ve ever encountered. The Snatcher soundtrack flits from noir to pulsing dance rock across four sides of records. This is a journey translated to a new format by a team with a lot of love.
The mix of pop, jazz, acid, and swing here is a J-Pop masterpiece. It’s also one of the most memorable soundtracks in video game history. That sentiment doesn’t come from me; that’s from friends that hum various songs from the game, instead of actually talking about it, whenever I bring up Katamari Damacy.
Or maybe they just don’t want to talk to me. Maybe I need better friends? Hm. Anyhow! Check out the incredible packaging on this one. This should stir up some memories just by looking at it, if you’re someone with a strong connection to the game.
Olivier Derivière’s cello-centric Vampyr score is one of my top five favorite soundtracks of the year.Although its blood-red-with-splatter-marks vinyl pressing is one of the most on-the-nose (on-the-neck?) releases of 2018. And I mean that in the best way.
Derivière weaves sorrowful, minimalist strings into slowly rising choral dissociations and still connects subtle, industrial rhythms into a period piece arrangement. That is to say: it’s industrial rock in a 1918 space. And it works.
Hilariously, almost everywhere else in the world, a copy of this excellent vinyl pressing was a free pre-order bonus. Free! Everywhere, that is, except for…. The United States. I wish you could hear the sounds I made when I read that personal attack of a press release.
Laced Records pulled out all the stops for a box set (and an abbreviated double disc edition) that brings the sounds of Hell to you in Hi-Fi. I also deserve a badge or medal for not calling it “Hell-Fi.” While DOOM (2016) has been out for a few years, this is the type of release that makes the delay feel worth it. Each blood red record is encased in its own impressive sleeve displaying production art. Meanwhile, the runic slipmat is almost too much to deal with.
While the packaging is top notch, this is also a release that offers more tracks from the game than you might find in other media. Mick Gordon absolutely slayed this set. You can almost feel that it was mixed at the historic Abbey Road Studios. The addition of new mixes and more ambient tracks is just icing on the cake.
Thomas Was Alone landed in my life during the lowest of low points. It helped me be a person who is still here today. Now David Housden’s music can reduce me to tears, years later, with just a few measures. Seeing his work released on vinyl in 2018 felt like a weird personal victory. I imagine I’m not alone in finding it distressingly affecting. Even if your connection isn’t as dramatic as mine, there’s never a bad time to throw on this collection of beeps and bops.
Your mileage may vary when it comes to horror game soundtracks. For example, my wife and my cats aren’t big on a mix of loud banging, like a Halloween SFX tape, interspersed with quick string hits of terror. But you might not have had time to appreciate the Outlast games’ soundscapes while playing them. You might have only been able to hear your own curse words.
Samuel Laflamme’s scores for these three games have distinct shifts and complete reinventions of his instrumentation — including a literal new instrument invented for Outlast 2. Collectible bonus: this comes on glow in the dark vinyl. I don’t know what the practical application might be for this. Maybe this will all come together when I do a Real Weird night of DJ’ing.
— Dark Souls (@DarkSoulsGame) September 27, 2017
Dark Souls 1-3
Guh. Guhhhhh! I mean, this sells itself, right? If you’ve spent time with a Souls game, you’ve probably spent enough time listening to these tracks to memorize them. Hopefully, revisiting these themes — from the first, second, and third games in the trilogy — won’t cause a Pavlovian stress freakout. Or maybe that’s what you’re looking for… Either way, there were a few pressings this year on different color variants. ThinkGeek still has has nice ones available if you’re curious!
The soundtrack? It good. The record? Same. Do get!
There’s not really more to say about this one. It’s a beautiful release and probably a limited pressing. It’s also one of the most talked about (and remixed) indies this year.
Bear McCreary redefines “epic” with this… well, epic score for 2018’s best daddy issues sim. The records and packaging follow the game’s lead and mix translucent gold for the Boy opposite Kratos’ opaque blue.
Honestly, you can’t go wrong with a McCreary on vinyl. There’s such warmth and range in his arrangements. It fits with an analogue medium better than a digital one and you’d be well served to snag this.
From top to bottom, this is just a thing of beauty. I can almost feel how much you need it. Look… Look deeply into its grooves… The art here represents the kind of vinyl release you might buy just to frame the box. Maybe you don’t need the extra audio spectrum of a record for a game from 1997, but this probably transcends audio fidelity. The Mondo release also includes seven bonus tracks from the Sega Saturn version of SotN: making it a truly complete experience.
And psst. These folks? They’ve got Rondo of Blood, too. I’m sorry if I just blew up your wallet.
If you spent any time at all with one of this year’s top-tier PSVR games (one of the best VR games period, really) you already know Moss is an enchanting achievement. It’s only enhanced by a Celtic-tinged set of waltzes, brass, and classical guitar. The vinyl release is an edition of only 500. And, while it’s visually barebones, there simply aren’t that many scores that occupy this sonic space. It’s a perfect background record. This article is being written with it on low in the corner of the room, so that’s my endorsement.
Here are two great games with various composers.Together, however, they’re equally dedicated to a unified vision of Western occult themes. Both soundtracks channel Sergio Leone before breaking into modern electronic breaks. They’re tonally rich and from lesser known indie releases. You probably have a limited window to grab either of them.
I wasn’t prepared for how much I’d love “Mario XCOM.” I also played it almost entirely on airplanes with no headphones, so I never really heard the score. Iam8bit’s vinyl release gave me a chance to sit and just marinate in it. I probably should’ve just done it the right way from the start, huh? Now give us Mario Odyssey, dammit.
Mortal Kombat 1 & 2
Enjoy The Ride Records puts out some of the weirdest material. Each time it releases new material, the result is some combination of 80s cult film soundtracks, a beloved emo album re-release, and a random games cut. This year we’ve had a Foxy Shazam re-release, alongside the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop… alongside a record combining Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat 2 into a single album. They’re exceptional to a knowing audience. I am that audience. Maybe you are, too?
GameMusic Records is a new label with only three releases, but its pressing of the dystopian, frozen city sim caught my attention right off the bat. Piotr Musiał’s soundscape conveys exactly what you’d expect: a bleak, cold world with small hints of Victorian quartet flights of fancy. It’s never so heavy as to crush you, but it never loosens its grip, either. This is a limited run of 500 white vinyl records.
This is a big, beautiful score in a big, beautiful package. The various composers who contributed to the main Witcher games (and add-ons) are represented here in a four record release that does Game of Thrones-level work. It should have Ramin Djawadi concerned. There are a number of pressings with different color variants. They can get… a bit pricey on eBay. This new pressing is about as reasonably priced as you can hope to find.
This free game has a $28 soundtrack. That probably speaks to how well its songs stand on their own. I already own this, but only as a collector’s item. That’s because, oh wow, am I not ready to relive some of those sound cues from the game anytime soon. If you’ve played this deceptively cute game before… Then you know what I mean. If you haven’t, read the content warnings before jumping in! Seriously.
Sneaking in just before the end of the year is this Mondo release for 2018’s most fun game. It’s also some of the best Marvel universe music from any medium. Not that the MCU usually sets a high bar…
Nothing especially stands out to make this a huge vinyl must-have on its own. It’s just an extension of a superbly well-done original product. If you loved the game, this will help you relive it long after the credits roll.