Don’t expect much from this. It’s just links to a few songs I liked from games released in 2021. Come back in a few weeks and there might be a real post.
A CYBER’S WORLD? from Deltarune Chapter 2, composed by Toby Fox. Neither Undertale nor Deltarune align with my tastes in storytelling―the story is the most important part of a game, right?―but I have a great deal of respect for Toby Fox as an individual and the man consistently produces great music. A CYBER’S WORLD? has some EDM flavor, but conjures up that classic VGM magic through a strong focus on evocative melodies. Arresting even after dozens of listens. I’m told that its use in-game is as exquisite as the track itself, but I’ve not played it myself.
駒草咲くパーペチェアルスノー from Touhou 18, composed by ZUN. ZUN finally composed a song in a major key, and it is glorious. While I probably prefer the stage 4 theme as a song, it’s great to see (hear?) him continuing to try new things after all these years. Hearing it play in-game is―almost literally―a breath of fresh air. Touhou still has plenty of excitement to offer.
龍王殺しのプリンセス from Touhou 18, composed by ZUN. While the structure and composition aren’t breaking new ground the way 駒草咲くパーペチェアルスノー did, strictly in terms of melody this is easily my favorite track from TH18. It’s just so damn catchy that I couldn’t not list it.
What’s your game from Garlic, composed by Darvel. You may wonder why I’m putting a europop ballad on this list, and the answer is simple: its use in the game it was composed for is nothing sort of legendary. I was not expecting to be… subjected to an autoscroller sequence where you ride on a flying squid blasting enemies out of the sky with a machine gun, and I certainly did not expect this to be the track accompanying it. Garlic is a fairly difficult game, but it’s a nigh-transcendental experience if its particular brand of irreverent faux-kuso pseudo-retro jibes with you, and perhaps nothing embodies its vibes better than this track.
ねむり姫 from D4DJ Groovy Mix, performed by Lyrical Lily and composed by BIDA. While Gurumiku itself launched last year, this song was added in 2021, so I think it counts for the purposes of this list. Well, it’s my personal list anyway… This track neatly embodies D4DJ’s approach to its original music; a fusion of idol music and EDM, familiar elements blended together in unfamiliar ways. Cute and poppy, but with just enough edge to it to leave a lasting impression. I particularly love the way it caps everything off with a rap breakdown reminiscent of Des-ROW; there aren’t nearly enough “idol” (in the broad sense) songs that give the vocalists a chance to let loose like this! The chart in the game is quite fun, by the way, though I greatly prefer the mixing/mastering of the album version.
Stormy link from D4DJ Groovy Mix, performed by Peaky P-Key, composed by Agematsu Noriyasu, and arranged by Takeda Yuusuke. The label “anison” is applicable to a truly broad range of music. Enough different composers1 have contributed enough different songs to the “genre” that I don’t think it’s meaningful trying to determine who exactly is the “best” at it. But if I had to pick one of them to represent in a death game, it would be Agematsu. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a long-time fan of his music. Synchrogazer gets my vote for greatest anime OP of all time, and I make a real effort to keep up with everything he does. Even from a more objective standpoint, it’s hard to deny that he’s responsible for some of the most enduringly popular anison of all time (Eternal Blaze, anyone?) and continues to turn heads with his recent work―you might have heard of a little song called FIRE BIRD, also from a Bushiroad property. His compositions for D4DJ continue to strike a chord with me, thanks in no small part to the EDM hues effected by Takeda’s arrangements. Elements Garden have certainly incorporated elements of electronica into their songs before (as any Symphogear fan can tell you), but Peaky P-Key’s tracks take it to the next level and I am very much on board for it. Here’s to another decade of great music from Agematsu and Elements Garden. (To be perfectly honest, I greatly prefer ABSOLUTE to Stormy link―it was what introduced me to the D4DJ franchise in the first place―but it was composed specifically for the anime, not the game, so it isn’t eligible for this list. Also I couldn’t find an upload of the full version on YouTube.)
放射状ターミナル, 希望的アストライア, and 黄金律アンチノミー from BLUE REFLECTION TIE, composed by Asano Hayato. The more I try to say about these tracks, the less it will mean, so I’ll just say that they are utterly beautiful. While I don’t think Tie has any tracks quite on the level of DNF FW15C and Sayonara from the original, its soundtrack on the whole is so much better at being a soundtrack than the original game’s. Tie has a real vision driving it, and this extends to its music and the way it is used. The tracks I’ve linked here are the scores for characters’ inner worlds, serving to represent their pasts and personalities in a way that the explicit narrative does not, but is equally as elucidating. Gust succeeds in tying the soundtrack together with the rest of the game, making the music as important a part of the storytelling as what’s actually happening onscreen. Effective use of leitmotifs throughout serve to further establish the soundtrack as a core component of the game itself, not just an EDM album being played in the background (this description of the first game’s soundtrack paraphrased from a tweet I saw while searching up opinions on Twitter). You don’t need diegetic music to accomplish this! But anyone who has played the EXA_PICO games already knows that, of course…
有機体全てのメメント ～ Memory of Fossil Energy. from Touhou 17.5, composed by ZUN. I don’t like this quite as much as 今宵は飄逸なエゴイスト, but it’s a final boss theme by ZUN and I prefer it to TH18’s, so it’s going on the list. I became very well acquainted with this track indeed while playing Murasa’s scenario on hard mode… TH17.5 is a fun and genuinely unique game, especially within the canon series, so please do give it a shot if you haven’t. Flandre is playable!
Necessary Discrepancy from Guilty Gear Strive, composed by Ishiwatari Daisuke. The general response to Strive’s soundtrack has been a bit lukewarm, but personally I think it’s brilliant from top to bottom and quite possibly the most consistently exciting Guilty Gear soundtrack of all time. It doesn’t stick to any one style, sure, but that just means it never gets boring. But I digress. I’m a fan of songs that take you on a journey over the course of their runtime, and Necessary Discrepancy definitely fits the bill in this regard. It ends in a very different place from where it began (did you notice that the female vocals are completely absent from the latter half?), and it’s absolutely a wild ride from start to finish. Helps that the final chorus is so catchy you’ll want to immediately listen to the whole thing again just to get back to it!
ENDLESS ENGRAVE from Demons Roots (NSFW), composed by Shade. Unfortunately, I can’t link this one for you; it was composed for a doujin game, and the only way to listen to it is to buy the game (if you buy it now, all of Shade’s original compositions for it come included in wav format). You’ll just have to take my word for it… or, you know, buy it and listen for yourself. For the longest time, I was convinced that Shade would never reach the heights of Sengoku Rance and Toushin Toshi III again. Sure, he left Alicesoft on a high note with Sentou Am, and it’s not like he’s made bad music since, but there was always a certain something… missing. Well, he found whatever it was. The tracks he composed for Demons Roots (seven in total) are all among his best work ever, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he absolutely has not lost his touch. Maybe he just needed the inspiration that only working on a bona fide kamige can provide. Demons Roots is by itself a masterpiece, a true triumph of doujin spirit and passion, and Shade’s tracks take it even higher. I’ve picked my favorite here, a gloriously epic final boss theme packed with screaming guitars and wailing choirs, but every one of Shade’s compositions is a prime candidate for VGM track of the year. If you’re an Alicesoft fan―or really, a fan of JRPGs in general―you can’t afford to pass Demons Roots up. The game and soundtrack both live up to one another. And trust me, that’s no mean feat going either way.
Miscellaneous comments follow.
The Ender Lilies soundtrack is perfectly atmospheric, but I wasn’t quite compelled to listen to any of it outside of the game. A great game with a great soundtrack either way, and easily worth the time and money for anyone who is even mildly a fan of Metroidvanias.
While Jindou did an admirable job with his tracks in Kuro no Kiseki, they weren’t quite enough to drag it out of the pit of mediocrity that Falcom soundtracks have found themselves in. Admittedly, Infinity Rage is quite the difficult act to follow.
The Shin Megami Tensei V soundtrack is decidedly… fine. It does the job, but many tracks just come across as lesser versions of stuff from SMTIV and DDS, if you ask me. Maybe I’ve just had my fill of SMT music. I do appreciate the arrangement of the Nocturne battle theme for the Hitoshura fight, though… even if it’s honestly inferior to the original song due to all that meandering around in the middle.
This post ended up way longer than I expected. Oops.
 I bet you didn’t know that Hamauzu composed a song for Aikatsu. I cannot imagine the circumstances that led to the creation of this song, but I’m glad it exists.