DDNet Game of the Year Awards 2021! Best Music

8 mins read

It’s that time of year again, everyone, where we celebrate the best games of the year. Despite being a heavily disrupted year thanks to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, 2021 produced some incredible games, almost from day one, and as a result, our awards this year has the most variety of games ever – almost 50 different titles got at least one award, and as you’ll see as we announce each category, it really is an endless stream of incredible experiences.

This year we had a special, expanded judging panel, with the entire DDNet team participating, but we also invited some prominent people from independent game publications outside the Website to participate, so we could get a broader range of insights and thoughts into the winners from each category. Our additional judges this year included Pete Davison from Rice Digital, Thomas Knight of Nook Gaming, Robert Allen of Tech-Gaming, Matt Ryan from Shindig, and academic and freelancer, @TsuChanJohnson on Twitter. The total judging pool for the awards was ten people this year around, and there was some heated discussion about the worthiest titles in each category indeed!

And now we’ve arrived at the three big awards, as well as the overall GOTY to be announced on Thursday. The first of the “main” awards is for the best music. Music can be the overlooked quality in games because, by nature, it sits in the background. It’s not visual and it’s not (typically) interactive, making it more of a framing device for the action. But try playing any of these games without the music on. It’s a very different (and always) inferior experience. Good games use the music to deepen the experience, and these four games are all excellent at just that.


Life Is Strange: True Colors
The Life is Strange series has always been well-regarded for having excellent soundtracks. In fact, one of the first things that draws you into the very first game is the way it uses a Syd Matters song as part of a high school montage that perfectly sets the scene for the action to come. True Colors continues that trend with a mix of licensed music and an original score that shows that the creative team that worked on this game have impeccable taste in music.

From licensed music from Dido and Kings of Leon, through to covers of some of the best rock and alternative bands going, True Colors’ only missed beat is that no one thought to get the license for Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours. And, I mean, what a missed opportunity there. A lot of brilliant game music loses its steam when you listen to it in isolation, but not this one. This is the perfect playlist to throw on for whenever you’re in the mood for eclectic reflection. 
Persona 5 Strikers

This would have been a bigger challenge than I think a lot of people would think. The Persona series has always offered stellar soundtracks, with Persona 5’s blend of Jpop and jazzy themes combining to give the game’s funky aesthetics an additional punch. But Persona 5 Strikers is a very different game to Persona 5. It’s a heavy action brawler, and that requires a different kind of music. As we’ve seen with Koei Tecmo’s Warriors series, the chill beats of Persona 5 would not have translated so well.

Koei Tecmo hit the perfect notes with Strikers’ soundtrack. It’s familiar to Persona 5 so that it feels like the sequel and continuation of the story that it is, but at the same time, it ramps up the pace to suit the action and unique tone of this brawler. It’s very smart, slick stuff, and contributed greatly to one of the most surprising games of 2021. Remember, we all thought, going in, that it was going to be a straightforward Warriors game with a license. That would have been fine in its own way, but what we got instead was a genuine Persona game with an action combat system, and in making this game, Koei has demonstrated that it would be able to do justice to just about any property that it was given the ability to work on.

Neo: The World Ends With You
Rarely does a soundtrack almost overwhelm the experience, but that is the case with Neo: The World Ends With You. The game itself is perfectly fine and entertaining. In fact, it’s one of the highlights of the year. But this is also a game that you’re going to find yourself playing for the actual music as much as anything else. This game’s soundtrack very much sets the aesthetic of the entire experience. 
The soundtrack taps into Japanese urban youth culture in a way that nothing – not even similarly-themed games like Persona – could even hope to. Blistering across hip-hop beats, rock riffs and colourful pop tunes, the overall impression that this soundtrack will leave on you is that it carries the entire energy of Tokyo within it – a city that as much as I love it can be utterly exhausting. 

NieR Replicant: ver.1.22474487139…
NieR Replicant has the greatest soundtrack ever. From the heavy industrial notes that assault your ears as you explore the junkyard, to the elegance airy tones that come with the shifting sands of the desert and on to the sense of tranquillity and calm that you’ll get from relaxing back in town (which we all know is highly deceptive), the soundtrack of NieR Replicant is rich, evocative, and challenging. It’s not just that this game has music that suits the on-screen action, but rather it’s music that is part of the fabric of the game and demands analysis in its own right.

Was much done to the soundtrack for this remaster? There are some re-arranged tracks (they’re just as good, mind you), and there is the option to play the NieR Automata music instead. We thought that was going to be a bit of a gimmick, but it actually works well, and it’s a reminder that NieR Replicant and NieR Automata are thematically very close to one another. Whatever music you’re listening to, however, if it’s NieR, it’s incredible. 

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