Every year, video games launch with music of all styles and theming. You can have tracks that include killer rock and metal to the blood pumping for a huge battle, character themes that bring you to tears and even ones that strike an emotional cord for the world you’ve been connected to for multiple hours.
2023 is a year where video game music has been particularly impressive and I would like to take some time to highlight specific tracks from releases this year that struck a chord with me and likely some of you. This won’t cover every release in 2023, as I didn’t play everything that was released this year. Considering this was quite a stacked year in game releases.
Hi-Fi Rush – The Rush & I Got This
When the year of 2023 kicked off, I’m pretty sure Xbox/Bethesda shadow dropping a charming character-action game focused on playing to the beat of the music wasn’t on anyone’s bingo card. Coming out of literally nowhere, Hi-Fi Rush from Tango Gameworks, the horror masterminds behind the Evil Within series has a bold mission statement; have music matching to everything in the game.
The levels themselves, the lead character Chai snapping his fingers to the beat, and even how you land attacks; it all leans on the beat. But you need good music to make something like this work. Thankfully, Hi-Fi Rush has one of this year’s best soundtracks and it has the honor of having two tracks on this list that wormed its way into my ears.
The first one is the aptly titled “The Rush“, which functions as the very first real music track you hear when you start getting into the rhythm of things. It’s vibrant, full of 90’s SEGA/Capcom energy and plays into the emotions of Chai himself. This guy is just now realizing his chest has a MP3 player attached to his heartbeat, robots are out to destroy him for being a ‘defect’ and his only weapon is a guitar made out of literal trash. But he’s entering the show full of energy and a grin, displayed audibly with a warm high-energy track like this.
Following The Rush, is “I Got This“. This second track is the game’s first proper original vocal track, with its lyrics literally being Chai telling us, the player how he’s going into the thick of things with no plan and just enjoying living his dream of being a rocker. This follows him after some battles and minor tutorial stuff, so the vocals signify a higher sense of confidence in his newfound abilities.
Personally speaking, this track gives me the same energy and spirit as something not unlike Sonic Adventure 2’s iconic Escape from the City track. Anything that comes remotely close to that is a huge winner in my book.
Persona 5 Tactica – Quiet Storm
Persona as a franchise is no stranger to amazing music tracks, with the Pesona 5 series of games having a fantastic mixture of rock, pop and jazz. But it’s rare to see the series look inward and blend musical theming from prior sub-series within itself. In Persona 3, you have music that leaned on a somewhat rap-like focus, having Lotus Juice have really catchy rapping melding wonderfully with a female vocalist to create blood pumping battle themes that rarely leave one’s headspace.
With Persona 5 Tactica’s DLC, two new tracks are added into the game’s already amazing soundtrack and one such track “Quiet Storm” is the vocalists Lyn joining in alongside Lotus Juice for a rap duet. Melding the rock and pop from a normal Persona 5 track with the energy and spirit of Persona 3. It’s even more fitting considering Persona 3 Reload is right around the corner at the time of this writing.
The track itself is unique in the soundtrack, specifically due to how heavy and distorted it sounds. It’s almost as if the main threat from the DLC is screaming to the player how they are feeling, making you even more encouraged to help them through their problem or show them a thing or two.
Sonic Frontiers: Final Horizon Update – Another Passage
Sonic always has amazing music, covering entire genres and my bais self could’ve flooded this list with tracks from both Superstars and the rest of the Frontiers Final Horizon’s soundtrack. But one track stuck with me above all else. “Another Passage” is the theme that plays when you play as Tails, having a similar heavy tone and feel like Amy’s and Knuckle’s themes. But what makes Tails’ theme so special is how it conveys his character so perfectly.
For years, the character was one that has been in Sonic’s shadow, helping him whenever he could or just being in the background. But now that his best friend needs him to help in a major way, he steps up and becomes his own hero. The dream-like melody conveys this so perfectly, showing how his mind is laser focused on ‘finding a new path’ for himself and his friends. The soft guitar that plays in various parts of the track also could show Sonic’s influence on Tails over the years, since rock is a key soundfront for Sonic.
All the character themes for Final Horizons accomplish conveying how the characters are feeling in the moment but Tails’ theme I personally feel, accomplishes this the best.
Spider-Man 2 – Fighting Back
Music in more cinematic games usually is not the type of tracks you play outside of the game. Considering they are more used for building up the moment or pulling you into a vast open world. A good example of this would be a lot of recent PlayStation releases like Horizon Forbidden West or God of War 2018. Spider-Man 2 largely follows in the same ilk as those releases… With the exception of this specific track. Channeling the energy you would see in one of the Sam Rami films, you have a music piece that plays during a critical part of the game’s narrative.
The raw emotions in the piece are fantastic, having both Miles and Peter Parker’s themes almost at war with one another. As their ideals from their experiences in the story violently clash. You even hear bits of Karven’s theme, fitting with how the villain has affected the lives of both Peter and Miles across the game. What struck me the most, was how parts of the track played during key sections of this clash. When music can amplify a scene, giving it such emotional weight. You know you got a special music piece.
Final Fantasy XVI – Away
Final Fantasy as a game franchise is no stranger to amazing musical scores. From the iconic melodies of the 8/16 bit era, too the CD-quality tracks from Final Fantasy 7 too even wild takes on the series themes in spin-offs like Stranger of Paradise; the series is very much willing to experiment. One such game is the raw embodiment of that. Such a game is Final Fantasy XIV. It has a bit of everything across the series on full display. But the release is an MMO, a game genre very much intimidating for some.
With Final Fantasy XVI, the game’s core focus is having the spirit of the 16-bit era Final Fantasy’s and adapting it in a way modern game audiences can truly appreciate the magic the series is known for. Why all the preamble before even touching on the game’s music? Because the music is the critical piece of the puzzle in making Final Fantasy XVI such a landmark release in 2023. But while any track from the game’s many stand out and breathtaking boss fights would suffice. I personally feel that the track “Away“, is the best piece of music to highlight.
The context to the piece is that it plays during the first major Eikon clash in the game. Where the fire Eikon’s of Phoenix and Ifrit have a bloody and brutal clash against one another. It starts with an almost up-and-down feel, as if you are going down the rabbit hole that the playable Phoenix is going into. Then it picks up, the melody going faster and faster. Then the chorus kicks in with a heavy male choir singing as the magical creatures fight one another. It continues building and building, only for the piece to end just as powerful as it began.
Genuine tears came down my face as I was playing this portion of the game and the heavy emotions just from the music itself only give additional weight to the darker themes and narrative. When your game’s cornerstone is making the player feel powerful with responsive action-combat. Music like this is very powerful.
Pizza Tower – It’s Pizza Time!
Now to cap this list off, is a music piece that is not like the others mentioned in this list. Pizza Tower is… to put it mildly, a very silly game. Ren and Stimpy-esc early Nicktoon’s era art direction and tone require the musical score to be as chaotic as the world itself. The overall soundtrack is full of catchy, enjoyable tracks. But one track stands above them all, and that’s the one called “It’s Pizza Time“, with it playing at the end of every level as you race back to its starting point.
The track starts out almost unnerving with strange mixtures of sound effects playing together. But it quickly turns into a rock melody that wouldn’t not sound out of place in a modern Sonic game. Fitting too, considering your character runs nearly as fast as the Blue Speedster. Running through the strange pizza creatures at lightspeed with heavy guitars blasting is such a raw, powerful feeling. Only amplified with the razer-tight controls and fantastic level design on offer.
The track ending with the clock slowly ticking down is so rewarding once you hit the goal, as your rush of speed and adrenaline hit its peak. And to be rewarded with a silly pose by a Wario-esc Pizza Man is one hell of a way to end a fun, sometimes challenging level.