Note: This used to be a poll of the top 50 video game tracks in Japan. I still care very much about this thread and everything it contains or could potentially contain, even though it has been years since I started it.
Now "50 or so Game Soundtracks of Mostly Modern Times that Dopple Loves or Really Really Likes," moved up here. The "really likes" and "likes" aren't listed because there's already too many. So, if I appear to have missed your favourite soundtrack(s), they're probably there somewhere!
Soundtracks will appear here if they fall under at least several of the following criteria:
- I'm still listening to this soundtrack after a year.
- I listened to this for at least a week straight.
- This soundtrack has little to no filler.
- This soundtrack is largely orchestrated and/or the synth isn't substituting for real instruments.
- The audio and/or production quality is superb.
Symphonic Fantasies - Music from Square Enix & Symphonic Fantasies Tokyo
If you like orchestrals and VGM at all, there's no reason not to get one or both of these. What's in them? Incredibly clever, fully orchestrated arrangements for Kingdom Hearts, Legend of Mana, Chrono Trigger/Cross, and Final Fantasy. You don't need to be familiar with any of the games to enjoy the music, though it certainly helps.
Symphonic Fantasies Tokyo is another version containing the same arrangements. I included it because they added a final boss medley, which is one of my favourite things ever. There are also a few stylistic changes that make for an interesting comparison.
Symphony Ys '88
Symphony Ys '95
Symphony Ys '88 is fully orchestrated, and great for duping your friends and family into thinking they're not listening to VGM. '95, featuring a series of different songs, is a fairly convincing electric orchestra manned by one of my favourite artists, Tamiya Terashima. (I actually didn't realize I loved orchestrals that much until I listened to his work. In particular, he's at his best when it comes to melancholy songs.)
Funnily, the main demographies for these albums are middle-aged people. Can attest. My parents like them.
Ys V Orchestra Version
Tamiya Terashima back with an orchestral arrangement of choice tracks from Ys V. Ys V's soundtrack otherwise wasn't very good, so this treatment was the best thing that happened to it.
Again, not a real orchestra, but many people have trouble telling the difference. Although I think that's partially to blame on the severe compression. The audio gets destroyed on my sound system--for that matter, I'm wary of using it for 90's music in general. Still, I can hardly complain about the arrangements themselves. They're great and full of soul, so Ys V Orchestra Version earns a deserved spot on the list.
drammatica -The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura-
Another excellent series of orchestral arrangements, from various titles like Legend of Mana, Kingdom Hearts, Front Mission, and some game I've never heard of called LiveA. The "Very Best" part is debatable, but they're all good. With the more niche titles, I got treated to some great melodies I otherwise wouldn't have known. For real, the LiveA stuff is nice.
Unfortunately, this album does suffer from muddy sound, which is the main reason I don't listen to it as much as I like.
NieR Gestalt and Replicant
I didn't like this much at first, purely on a "not my thing" basis. Lots of vocals, many of which I could describe as haunting. At the same time, there's no denying that the production and composition quality are stellar. I warmed up to it over 50-odd listens, and now I welcome it among my favourites. The meticulous notes really grab you here.
Quite commonly hailed as one of the greatest VGM soundtracks among VGM nerds (a list on which Ys: The Oath in Felghana and Chrono Cross claim spots--your mileage may vary).
Ys: The Oath in Felghana
Felghana was a remake of Ys 3, so naturally, its soundtrack was a remake of the Ys 3's tunes. Yukihiro Jindo took the original tracks and pushed many of the best-sounding arrangements to date. Furthermore, he did them in a variety of styles, from dance to rock and classical orchestra. If you like those first two genres in particular, this soundtrack is for you. If not, I'd still bet that this soundtrack is for you, unless you're one of the ten people in the world who happen to hate it.
Felghana was my favourite soundtrack back in the day, and it's still one of my go-to recommendations whenever anyone expresses interest. I must've listened to it over a thousand times now. Anyway, no filler. Are we seeing a pattern here?
I don't think there's been an Ys soundtrack to top this one ever since. That's okay, though. Felghana is perfectly good to me, if objectively not a "perfect" album--with its mastering problems, and occasional thin-sounding synth. But in all other aspects, it is very, very hard to do better. They tried with the Super Arrange and didn't succeed.
Tales of Legendia
Boasting more performers than any other Tales game has seen to date, Legendia is a fully orchestrated, gorgeously composed soundtrack. It contains a markedly unique style from the usual Tales sound, and from video game sounds in general, owed to cult-favourite Go Shiina. As I've mentioned before, I wouldn't be surprised if half the game's budget went into sound. When "The Birds Chirp, I Sing" came up for the first time in-game, I was absolutely floored. Years later, this soundtrack is still a must listen and more than deserves a recommendation.
Ys Origin Super Arrange Version
A bit of an older arrangement album, but still one of Falcom's best. Heavy on hardcore rock, occasionally belts out some good jazz and vocals. (Say what you will about "YSY" otherwise; I think it's fantastic.) Of course, it contains some of that signature rock violin sound that Falcom is renowned for. Besides maybe Feena, all the tracks here are high quality, unskippable pieces. Feena's exception is only because there are too many versions of it already. But if you're not too familiar with Feena, this soundtrack contains one of the better ones.
Now, mastering problems still abound, so if you're particularly sensitive to audio clipping, this may not be for you. Very real flaw of this album, even if everything else is great.
Etrian Odyssey III Super Arrange Version
There seem to be some Falcom fans over at the Etrian Odyssey team? You can hear some influences in this heavily rock, synth and violin arrangement album. Whereas the original soundtrack was composed by Yuzo Koshiro, they invited wizards like Azusa Chiba and Noriyuki Kamikura to arrange for this album. Amazing. I can't not give Etrian Odyssey III SAV a mention, because it hits almost all the criteria I've listed above. (The exception being, if you can guess it, mastering. It's always the mastering.)
Oh, they also added a saxophone, resulting in the best battle saxophone track ever. This is proof the world needs more battle saxophones.
Other soundtracks (that are equally or almost equally good)