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A great soundtrack can make all the difference in the world in a game. A bland soundtrack can lower an otherwise stellar game, while the opposite can elevate even a mediocre affair. We're looking for the latter.
Once again, everyone at USG put their heads together and voted on nine individual categories as a group, and each team member has nominated their own pick for the category. Rather than argue long and loud about personal opinions, however, we've taken a scientific approach: We voted on each category through an anonymous survey in which we weighted each nominee from "most" to "least."
This means, in theory at least, that a game that gets nominated by more than one person won't necessarily sweep the category—it's entirely possible for a dark horse to take the prize if it receives enough second- or third-place points from everyone. We'll see!
We'll be publishing a different category each day through the end of the year, leading up to our final vote for best game of 2016. Join us as we count down to our Game of the Year! And remember, you can follow the rest of our 2016 coverage in our handy hub.
What makes for great style? Is it high-quality art? A great user interface? Really strong animation? Everyone on the USgamer team has their own ideas about consitutes high-quality visuals, which is reflected in our nominations. Read on...
Kat: Final Fantasy XV
Yoko Shimomura's lyrical and emotional soundtrack elevated FInal Fantasy XV in a way that I wasn't quite expecting. It hits hardest during the big setpieces, deploying the franchise's traditional latin vocals to powerful effect, but is effective during the quieter moments as well. Where most triple-A games are most subdued in their musical selections these days, Final Fantasy XV is a pleasant reminder of an era gone by. It's easily my favorite soundtrack of the year.
Mike: Civilization VI
I'm like Jaz, in that I tend to miss most game soundtracks. I tend to not pay attention, or substitute my own music where possible.I'm sure there are other great soundtracks that I listened to this year, but outside of the licensed soundtracks of Forza Horizon 3 and Let It Die, the only other soundtrack I really remember is Civilization VI. The opening song, Sogno di Volare, is not Baby Yetu, but it's still damned good. Likewise, the game has great themes for the various civilizations that changes as the game moves forward in era. Which helps, because you'll be playing and clicking for a while.
It's not just the angular designs that comprise the characters, it's also the city of Karnaca. This seaside town makes an impact from the very beginning. Your boat approaches from the water, showing a pastoral, peaceful beach city, but as you land on shore, the water is tinged red with the blood running off from whale corpses being butchered. There's such a sense of contrast and place in Arkane Studios' design of Dishonored 2's levels. From the rundown asylum on a lonely bluff by itself, to the Clockwork Mansion, Dishonored 2 stands out visually.
Jaz: World of WarCraft: Legion
To be honest, I'm a bit of a weirdo when it comes to game soundtracks. I don't really listen to them very often, preferring to choose my own music to accompany my gaming sessions. However, World of Warcraft: Legion turned out to be one of the exceptions during the first couple of weeks I played it. Its hauntingly beautiful tunes match the game's environments perfectly, creating a wonderful atmosphere as you explore the spectacular new Broken Isles landmass.
Nadia: Dragon Quest Builders
My most poignant gaming moment of 2016 came courtesy of Dragon Quest Builders' soundtrack. I arrived at Alefgard, ground zero for the Dragonlord's devastation, and found little there except blasted rock and grey ash. The accompanying music was the slow, sombre remix of Alefgard's overworld from Dragon Quest III. Man, that was great.
Jeremy: The Last Guardian
The Last Guardian's use of music reminds me of the original Tomb Raider. To call it "sparing" might be generous; for the most part, the game lacks music. But that only serves to make the music that does exist here all the more potent. When the orchestra kicks in, the action becomes all the more intense for the previous silence. When the oboes weave a mournful melody, the emotional impact hits all the more profoundly. It's a less-is-more approach that definitely works, helping to drive home the connection between boy and beast and perfectly underscoring the action and sentiment when it most matters.
Yoko Shimomura's follows in the footsteps of other great Final Fantasy soundtracks with a soaring score that serves to elevate many of Final Fantasy XV's most crucial moments. It can be catchy, it can be epic, but mostly it's just memorable. Like many of Final Fantasy's best scores, Final Fantasy XV's soundtrack is a front-and-center part of the experience. It's this year's best game music by far.
Runner-up (Weighted Average): The Last Guardian (3.4)
Next: 2016's Game Universe We'd Like to Live In
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