The Best Music of 2011

We’re all about string instruments this year. With one monstrous exception.

By Andrew Hsieh. Posted 01/05/2012 20:30 3 Comments     ShareThis

It gets a little dull (and maybe predictable) reading all those normal “best of” lists, so here’s one for the audiophiles in town– the best music of 2011. This year was a little slimmer for Nintendo’s consoles and handhelds, true. But that also meant that developers focused on the whole package of their game, which of course, includes music. After all, what’s the best way to go out (besides swinging)? With a loud, boisterous, YouTube-worthy bang. Here are the games that we loved listening to the most– and might have made our characters just stand there in wonderment as we figured out what was making us so darn smiley.

BEST MUSIC
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

When was the first time you heard orchestrated music in a Zelda game? It was probably Skyward Sword, unless of course you orchestrated your own A Link to the Past music, in which case we salute you (and beg for your record). And who wins the best music of 2011? It’s Skyward Sword again! Now, we’re not saying that’s a coincidence, but the combined team of Hajime Wakai, Shiho Fujii, Mahito Yokota, Takeshi Hama and Koji Kondo pushes the music in Skyward Sword to heights unheard of before. Check out Zelda’s theme above, which should be familiar to you– but probably never before in this crazy orchestral way. And maybe you’re unable to play the harp whenever you want, but when you do hear that harp come out, it’s just wondrous. (We’d put a link here, but we noticed spoilers in the sidebar. It’s for your own good! Instead here is Skyloft‘s theme, which you’ll never forget on account of spending your whole life there.)

Meanwhile, it’s true that Skyward Sword certainly has some more disturbing aspects to its story– which is why when songs like Groose’s Theme come up, we suddenly feel footloose and fancy free. And who could forget the Ballad of the Goddess, which played over and over again on Skyward Sword‘s trailers and made us ever-so-excited for the game? What’s that? It’s unforgettable? Yeah, we pretty much agree.

Truth be told, it’s hard for any game to compare with a Zelda game, but Skyward Sword‘s orchestrated music, whether originals or remixes of old favorites, really takes the cake. Play it again, Sam Link.


BEST MUSIC RUNNERS-UP
Pokémon Black & White

The only problem with the music in Pokémon Black and White, really, is that you only ever get a few seconds of a song before you hop on your bike for some ExtremeSpeed. And you don’t even hear that song too often because by the time you hear ten seconds of it you’re already at your destination. (Ten seconds is, granted, about ten times as much of any other song you’ll hear except for the Surfing song.) The thing is even though you’ll only remember two or three songs out of the lot (the introduction, the biking song, and the Surfing theme), these are some darn good songs! Pokémon Black and White inaugurated the Western side of the Pokémon series, taking place in a continent with completely new Pokémon and somewhat unhinged characters, and the music really shaped up with it.

Of course, that’s not even mentioning all the brand-new events in Black and White, whether seasonal or otherwise, that developed the story into one of the most outstanding ones in the franchise. (Though maybe that’s not so difficult with Pokémon.) The game gave us everything from the groovy Ferris wheel theme to this nifty story-related piece (no spoilers here!) that seems more suited for a film than, well, Pokémon. Well, we’re not complaining. We’re just shockingly happy.

Xenoblade Chronicles

From the very first seconds of Xenoblade Chroniclesmain theme, you know you’re in for a treat– here’s a game that treats its string instruments almost as seriously as Skyward Sword does. We know, we know– many of our readers haven’t had the chance to play Xenoblade Chronicles, which is a) understandable and b) a tragedy. (Good thing it’s coming out this year in North America!) That’s why you should listen to these songs, really. There’s no such thing as being too excited for the game.

Ambient pieces like “Satorl, the Shimmering Marsh” are wonderful by themselves– but even better when you realize that they actively change based on what time it is in-game. Night and day have always been a good way for games to develop “new” areas out of “old” ones, of course, but Xenoblade Chronicles takes the extra step to make entirely different arrangements for each time period so that players really feel that ambience– and for every song, too! That’s not even discussing the story-related pieces. Shulk and Fiora’s theme? Poignant! Beautiful! And it doesn’t even sound like it’s trying too hard. Pieces like these (and, of course, the return of Yoko Shimomura– and ACE+) are the reason why Xenoblade Chronicles takes third prize in our best music of 2011 awards. And why Americans should be able to listen, too.


BEST MUSIC HONORABLE MENTIONS

Mario Kart 7, BIT.TRIP FLUX


WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Tell us which of the above titles you’d pick as the winner, or if you think another game is more deserving, drop some knowledge bombs. We’re all ears. (Ed. note– Andrew was flayed for this comment.)

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