Welcome to The Best Western Game Soundtracks (1984-2013)! The name says it all really – this website is dedicated to reviews of the best Western game soundtracks that have been released for games made between 1984 and 2013. The Best Western Game Soundtracks will help you re-discover old favourites and unearth hidden gems that you might not have heard of before.
As with all Best of-lists, there are selections to be made – some works are included, others don’t make the grade, and chances are you will not agree with all of these choices. Keep in mind: these reviews are nothing more or less than the opinions of one person.
Enjoy the trip down memory lane!
What are ‘Western’ game soundtracks and why focus on them exclusively?
For the purpose of this website, Western game soundtracks are defined as the music composed for a game whose developer is ‘Western’ – as in they’re not located in the gaming development hub that is Japan (and increasingly Korea and China). This means many works for Japanese games by US or British composers like Howard Drossin and Richard Jacques won’t appear on this site.
Some game soundtrack collectors will argue that there are distinct and general stylistic differences between Western and Japanese game music. That might well be the case, but these differences are less relevant for this site. What’s more important is a simple logistical fact: there have always been far more Japanese than Western game music releases – to the degree that it’s close to impossible to listen to all Japanese game music that’s available for purchase out there. However, in the case of Western game music, it’s still possible (or at least has been until some years ago) to keep up with all the new releases, catalogue older albums – and put them all through a selection process for an authoritative blog like The Best Western Game Soundtracks.
Some temporal limitation was necessary, due to the now ever increasing number of Western game music releases (thanks be to Bandcamp and other digital music online stores). In my previous work for Square Enix Music Online, I realised that the job of listening to all the new Western game albums became more and more time consuming – while little time was left to listen to the songs I already had in my collection. Writing for a website like The Best Western Game Soundtracks, I wanted to make sure that I had listened to as many Western game scores as possible, no matter how large or small, well-known or obscure, to make an informed decision about whether they were worth including.
So at the end of 2013, having listened to the majority of the about 2500 Western game music albums in existence, I decided to stop collecting new soundtracks and began the process of selecting works for The Best Western Game Soundtracks.
(Also, bonus points for everybody who finds the album that contains the music from the 1984 game featured on this website.)
Any other selection criteria?
Yes, there are a few more:
– only soundtracks with original content are eligible for inclusion – no remix, arrangement or live albums, or compilations of already existing, licensed music, even if they also include some amount of original music (sorry, Hotline Miami, Cart Life, Duck Tales Remastered and Dune – Spice Opera; go check them out though, they’re awesome albums)
– no game rips or other unofficial releases. That of course leaves a bit of a grey area – what about a promo release made available by the composer to only a few people? For the purpose of this website, such promo releases will be deemed eligible.
– albums are considered as a whole. That means for example that while Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim contain some outstanding music, there’s too much filler on their 4CD releases for these works be considered included here (at least in the eyes of this writer). However, exceptions will be made in the case of albums that contain soundtracks from multiple games, or soundtrack albums that clearly fall apart into different sections, and where one part is outstanding enough to warrant inclusion (to stay with Jeremy Soule: Total Annihilation would be one such example).
– for the purpose of this website, it doesn’t matter whether the music works well within the context of the game or not. What matters is whether the music is fun listening to on a stand-alone basis, without prior knowledge of the game. After all, someone decided it would be a good idea to release the music separately from the game.
– inclusion in The Best Western Game Soundtracks is solely based on the music’s quality, not on other factors like ‘historical importance’ (which too often simply means ‘The game sold lots of copies.’)
– album releases that are shorter than 10 minutes are not included in The Best Western Game Soundtracks. That’s not because very short soundtracks can’t be any good – they definitely can! It’s more that there are so many of these pint-sized game music albums on Bandcamp and elsewhere that it gets very hard to keep track of them all.