10 chilled game music tracks to help you play it cool this winter

By Thomas Quillfeldt

Music from video games can have a wonderfully soothing effect—after all, it is often designed to be emotionally affecting yet sit in the background. To that end, as Christmas rolls around, it’s a good time to pluck out some of the more delicate, relaxing tracks either from games themselves or alternative arrangements recorded by ensembles and soloists.

Please enjoy this selection of soft, silky and occasionally spooky tracks which, whether intentionally or not, seem to evoke winter, snowy weather and that magical, fantastical feeling of Christmas time.  

“Distant Islands” by Tomoki Miyoshi – I Am Setsuna

Released earlier this year, I Am Satsuma Setsuna was a title explicitly conceived to give nostalgic JRPG fans of classics like Chrono Trigger more of the same (the developer is literally called 'Tokyo RPG Factory'). The creators opted for an entirely piano-based score which, since the game is set entirely during winter, is specially crafted to suggest snowy forests and towns.

Distant Islands, performed by Randy Kerber:

“To Know, Water” by Austin Wintory – ABZÛ

I know, I know, this year’s artful ABZÛ is all about water and wet things. But if you close your eyes and imagine a vast, shimmering, icy cave whilst listening to this sublime Austin Wintory piece, you can’t help but be transported by the transcendent melody, spacey reverb and heavenly choir.

I swear, if Wintory doesn’t stop his relentless march of creating beautiful AND interesting scores that put others to shame, all us writers will have to start calling him the “James Horner of game music” or some similar baubles.

“The Streets of Whiterun” by Jeremy Soule – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

When he’s not composing music for various series including Metal Gear Solid, Bayonetta and Yakuza, Norihiko Hibino is wielding his sax and teaming up with pianist AYAKI to create Prescription for Sleep albums as the duo GENTLE LOVE. Prior to recent albums focusing on the music of individual games like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana and Undertale, the pair released soporific mixtapes drawing from all sorts of classic game music, including this track from the coldest region of Tamriel—Skyrim.

“Woods Darker than Night” by Coeur de Pirate – Child of Light

No one ever said this was going to be a lighthearted playlist. There’s something chilling about this instrumental track from French Canadian singer-songwriter Coeur de Pirate’s 2014 soundtrack for Child of Light. The piano that leads the piece is like a lonely child wandering in the cold, snowy woods; the attendant string ensemble is a pack of winter fairies guiding them away from—or perhaps towards—darkness and danger.

“Mysterious Forest” by Miki Higashino – Genso Suikoden

Japanese RPG series are never just about the games themselves—they're also about the art and music (and cosplay) generated by fan communities and, frequently, recording artists. Suikoden is no different, although it—like Star OceanTales of... and numerous others—isn't as well-known in the West as Final Fantasy.

Throughout the Noughties, the Konami series saw the release of several albums of arrangements, including 2003’s Genso Suikoden Music Collection ~Celtic Collection~ from which this pretty vocal arrangement by Yuko Asai and Tetsuya Takahashi comes.

"Greece - Poseidon's Theme" by Troels Brun Folmann – Tomb Raider: Anniversary

You can count me among the many fans of the original Tomb Raider scores by Nathan McCree, who recently joined the ranks of game composers to see the staging of an orchestral concerts featuring their most beloved music.

But spare a thought for Crystal Dynamics’ previous composer-of-choice for the series, Troels Brun Folmann, who oversaw the music of Tomb Raider from 2006-2008. Juxtaposed with his trademark bombastic, busy orchestral style is his ability to create beautiful, sparkling ambient music. This cue, from 2007’s Tomb Raider: Anniversary is like a big, warm, aural Christmas hug.

“Kakariko Village” by Koji Kondo – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I’ve tried to avoid the obvious but there are just some tunes worth coming back to. You may not think of Kakariko Village from The Legend of Zelda series as a wintry place, yet this lush string orchestra arrangement of Koji Kondo's theme (from the 1999 Hyrule Symphony album, co-arranged by Ryuichi Katsumata) is enough to melt the coldest heart.

“Lonely Pebble” by Daniel Jacob Teper – Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Similar to the other touching 2014 ‘UbiArt’ game, Child of Light, First World War adventure game Valiant Hearts: The Great War has an enchanting, handcrafted feel to it. Its score features a number of composers including mysterious pianist Daniel Jacob Teper, contributor of several plaintive, arrestingly simple pieces.

There’s something snuggly yet sorrowful about this track and the way it's produced. The sound of the piano is compressed and slightly distorted—'warmed up'— to make it feel more intimate. You can really hear the ping of the hammers on the strings of the higher notes, making them almost glockenspiel-like.

“Moongazer” by Kan R. Gao – To The Moon

2011’s faux-JRPG To The Moon is a tearjerker and no mistake. Similar to Undertale, the game’s lead creator, Kan R. Gao, was also its main composer.

Moongazer may come across a bit over-sentimental but it resonates so perfectly with the themes and emotional drama of the game, one assumes, because it was composed by the same pen that wrote the story—and clearly a devotee of 16-bit era Square JRPGs and the music of Nobuo Uematsu.

“Blue Fields” by Nobuo Uematsu – Final Fantasy VIII

Thank the lord for arranger/composer Shirō Hamaguchi and his work on Final Fantasy over the years. Released the same year as the game, the 1999 orchestral album FITHOS LUSEC WECOS VINOSEC: Final Fantasy VIII is near-perfect and tends to see its classily recorded tracks modded into the recent Steam version of the game by ardent fans.

Uematsu usually brought his A game to the world map music of the first nine (or so) titles in the series and this arrangement of Blue Fields is a haunting, mysterious masterpiece that conjures icy plains and glaciers.

This track also appeared in our epic blog battle over which Uematsu score is superior—Final Fantasy VII or VIII.

From all of the Laced Records team—have a Happy Christmas!