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From Epic to Adorable, These Video Games Scores Could Win a Grammy

In 2023, the Grammys will recognize excellence in video game scores — and a wide range of composers are poised to vie for the inaugural prize.

At the upcoming Grammys, the Recording Academy will debut the best score soundtrack for video games and other interactive media category, expanding its awards opportunities to the music composers in the $200 billion video game industry — a valuation roughly seven times the current music industry’s.

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“By creating this pathway to recognition specifically for the global gaming/interactive media industry,” academy president Panos A. Panay explains, “it’s our hope that we can connect with and recognize a vast community of composers whose music is equally as important as the art being created for records, film, television and other mediums. More importantly, we hope that a Grammy recognition, bestowed upon by peers, will only accelerate innovation and creative expression in the space.”

Here’s a closer look at the scores that are likely to vie for the new prize, from the unpredictable soundtrack for a cat’s adventures through a city’s underbelly to the sounds of one of the fastest-selling video games ever.

Horizon Forbidden West

Horizon Forbidden West
Horizon Forbidden West Guerrilla Games

Composers: Joris de Man, The Flight, Niels van der Leest, Julie Elven, Oleksa Lozowchuk, Melissa R. Kaplan

The Game: This action role-playing game (RPG), the sequel to 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn, follows the character Aloy as she explores a post-apocalyptic version of the Western United States following an extinction event caused by animalistic machines.

The Credits: Horizon Forbidden West’s composers scored the Killzone, Dead Rising and FIFA games series, as well as Horizon Zero Dawn.

The Music: For Horizon Forbidden West’s monumental soundtrack, which spans multiple volumes and seven hours of music, de Man and company took their musical accomplishments from Horizon Zero Dawn and upped their grandiosity across the board. Delicate strings ornament lush walls of instrumentation that swell evocatively and make the adventure sequel’s gameplay even more enjoyable. Some tracks, like “In the Flood,” feature angelic vocal accompaniments, further solidifying this soundtrack as one of gaming’s strongest this year.

Stray

Stray
Stray Annapurna Interactive

Composer: Yann van der Cruyssen

The Game: This long-anticipated indie adventure game follows a cat that must navigate to the surface of an underground walled city filled with strange robots, machines and mutant bacteria.

The Credits: Van der Cruyssen has composed music for other indie games like Cave Story, Knytt Stories and Saira.

The Music: Equal parts eerie and exhilarating, van der Cruyssen’s unpredictable soundscapes match Stray’s maze-like, multilayered city. Airy synths and eclectic percussion linger just long enough for listeners to relax into gameplay — but, like for the game’s feline protagonist, surprises often lurk around the corner.

Elden Ring

Elden Ring
Elden Ring Courtesy of Bandai Namco Entertainment & Sony Music Masterworks

Composers: Tsukasa Saitoh, Shoi Miyazawa, Yuka Kitamura, Yoshimi Kudo, Tai Tomisawa

The Game: In this open-world action RPG, players must traverse the vast Lands Between to repair the broken Elden Ring and become the Elden Lord.

The Credits: Elden Ring’s composers have written for the Dark Souls series, Bloodborne and more.

The Music: With over 16 million units sold since its February release, according to Japanese gaming company Bandai Namco, Elden Ring is the legendary publisher’s fastest-selling title ever — and much like its epic open world and many of its most challenging bosses, Elden Ring’s unforgettable, immersive soundtrack is enormous. Much of the tense, slow-burning and unsettling score could double as the soundtrack to a well-crafted horror blockbuster. But along with its ominous builds and occasional dread comes pure and often triumphant beauty, highlighted with elegant strings and choral vocals.

Tunic

Tunic
Tunic Jon Marshall

Composers: Lifeformed, Janice Kwan

The Game: This Zelda-inspired, isometric action-adventure game’s fox protagonist must solve puzzles and uncover secrets while fighting off monsters.

The Credits: Lifeformed (real name Terence Lee) and Kwan create ambient lo-fi music both together and separately.

The Music: Created over seven years, Tunic’s soundtrack reflects its composers’ time together in Taiwan with its energy, complexity and engaging textures. Across 60-plus tracks and a three-hour run time, the score accentuates the hit game’s charming artistic style, vibrant worlds and mysterious undertones. Lifeformed and Kwan’s work mostly combines soothing ambient swells with cute, effervescent flourishes and hypnotic vibrations, but some tracks, like “The Captain,” build to intense crescendos that keep listeners guessing. Don’t be fooled by this little indie — it has one of the biggest soundtracks of the year.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land

Kirby and The Forgotten Land
Kirby and The Forgotten Land Courtesy of Nintendo

Composers: Hirokazu Ando, Jun Ishikawa, Yuki Shimooka, Yuuta Ogasawara

The Game: This action-adventure platform is the newest entry in the long-running series starring the titular pink Nintendo character.

The Credits: The composers have created music for several Kirby games dating back to 1992.

The Music: Drawing on 30 years of experience scoring the titular character’s adorable adventures, Kirby and the Forgotten Land’s composers integrate callbacks to cues and themes from previous games in the series for a soundtrack that satisfies longtime fans while also introducing newcomers to Kirby’s happy-go-lucky music, flush with beachy tones, dreamy sequences and plenty of intense and upbeat material for boss battles.

This story will appear in the Oct. 8, 2022, issue of Billboard.