Is it too early to talk about "Best of 20XX" stuff yet? Probably. But we're going to discuss the best soundtracks anyway, under the assumption that there's not going to be much better. The rest of the 2010 release seems to include mostly Western games, who are largely focused on bombastic Hollywood-style film soundtracks than legitimate game music, and I don't think there's too many big Japanese releases left. If something comes out and surprises is - it definitely could! - we'll append it down the road. So, without further ado, here are the Ten Best Game Soundtracks of 2010 (So Far):
VVVVVV (Featured song: Potential for Anything)
There are only maybe half a dozen proper songs in this soundtrack - fitting, since the game is only about two hours - but each of these tracks is pure SID-inspired chiptune bliss. You can grab MP3s of it the composer's website for a few bucks - unquestionably worth it.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World: The Game (Featured song: Another Winter)
Anamanaguchi was band I had only half paid attention to, because while their unique of guitar and NES chiptunes were kinda cool, their songs always felt long and meandering. When concentrated into the context of a 1-2 minute video game song, though, their talent for composition really shows through, resulting in a retro soundtrack that still has a distinctly modern edge.
Castlevania Harmony of Despair (Featured song: Invitation of the Crazed Moon)
My own big complaint about remixed music in Castlevania games is that they always drew from the 8 and 16-bit games, ignoring practically everything from Symphony of the Night and afterward. Harmony of Despair changes that, and features numerous songs from the portable Metroidvanias, all rearranged. They're all fantastic too, many being done by the same folks who redid the songs for Judgment. The DLC pack adds even more, and the handful of new tracks - including one of my favorites, Invitation of the Crazed Moon from Portrait of Ruin - are outstanding too.
NIER (Featured song: The Lost Forest)
This game kind of came out of nowhere to be really damn cool, and part of that appeal lied on its music, which took the took a tired musical trope - foreign-sounding chanting - and gave it new life. The dramatic strings and percussion pieces are even more outstanding, breezy and melodic, constrasting to the comparatively dull orchestrations that permeate stuff like Castlevania Lords of Shadows and God of War.
Ys The Oath in Felghana (Featured song: A Searing Struggle)
Is it fair to include this game? This was released in the US in 2010, but released in 2009 in Japan, which in turn was based on a 2005 release (again) in Japan only, which was a remake of Ys III, a game from fifteen years earlier. So, the music in The Oath of Felghana is hardly "new". But that's okay, because Ys III had one of the best soundtracks in existence, and remixes in The Oath of Felghana only improves them with live instrumentation. Props to the PSP version for including alternate versions from the old computer releases.
Ys Seven (Featured song: Mother Earth Altago)
The music in Ys Seven isn't QUITE as good as Felghana, but it's also the best original soundtrack in the series since Ys IV. Parts of it sounds remarkably like an upgraded PC Engine redbook track, which has always been part of the Ys appeal (at least, to the English speaking audience.)
Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu Black Label (Featured song: Vertex)
The soundtrack to DDP Daifukkatsu was kinda lousy, but the Black Label version doesn't rearrange it, it created a whole new soundtrack from scratch. It's much better, with some damn catchy electronica, and while it's not quite as trance-y as Espgaluda, it further establishes the parallel that Cave-brand danmaku shooters are the video game equivalent of an ecstasy fueled rave.
Dark Void (Featured song: Main Theme)
Usually we rag on Western game soundtracks for totally missing what we love about video game music. But we'll overlook that when it comes to Bear McCreary, the incredibly talented composer behind the reimagined Battlestar Galatica and its (now cancelled) spin-off Caprica. As a result, the soundtrack to this under-appreciated action game sounds much like his other work - which is to say, filled with fantastic orchestrations and lots of percussion. Bonus points for the Dark Void Zero soundtrack, which takes these turns and turns them into Mega Man-style NES music.
Final Fantasy XIII (Featured song: Blinded By Light)
On the Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest divide, I am usually staunchly on the side of Final Fantasy. FFXIII screwed up so much though, from the storytelling to the dialogue to the character development to the level design that it really did come up short. The only two areas where it excelled was its utterly fantastic battle system and its magnificent soundtrack. Styistcally Masashi Hamauzu is quite a bit different from series mainstray composer Nobuo Uematsu, as well as FFXII composer Hitoshi Sakimoto, but the man can use the violin like no other game musician out there.
Etrian Odyssey III (Featured song: Unrest - The End of the Raging Waves)
Even if you don't like grindy masochistic first person dungeon crawlers, everyone should appreciate these games for continuing to employ Yuzo Koshiro, one of the few prominent musicians from the 80s music scene that's still got it. This PC88 FM inspired sountrack is the best of the series, offering a wider variety of dungeon themes that alter between serene and foreboding, and numerous outstanding battle themes. The arranged album also borrows some instrumentation styles from Falcom, also making it essential for Ys fans.
Death Smiles (Featured song: Burning Halloween Town)
Not one of Cave's better soundtracks (better than Daifakkutsu though), at least the first level theme is pretty excellent, as are the boss and level select themes.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Featured song: Throwback Galaxy)
Catchy and eminently likable, with a handful of arranged songs from previous Mario and Yoshi games. Not enough of it really stands out to make the Top 10 though.
No More Heroes Desperate Struggle (Featured song: Philistine)
The "A Goddamned Philistine Since 2004" header on the main HG101 page is a reference to Margaret's song, a darkly silly little bit sung by the boss in question about how our hero, Travis Touchdown, is a goddamned pussy. Like the first game, the music selection is eclectic and ultimately not as consistently strong, some of the boss tracks are still outstanding.