Did you know that video game music helps the brain by providing a stimulating background that doesn’t interfere with concentration? OK, I can’t prove that. I have no scientific evidence to back it up, but for some games, it seems like it just has to be true.
Xbox Live Arcade is home to some amazing games with some equally amazing music. Composers often sink days, months or even years into crafting the best musical experience for players – dedication that likely goes unnoticed, which sometimes is the whole point.
Sometimes, the best game music can serve as a stimulating background while studying, writing, reading or just doing some housework. Sometimes, you don’t want to notice the music or have it break your concentration. With that in mind, here are the top 10 XBLA soundtracks that serve as the best music to read, study, write or work to.
10. A Kingdom/World for Keflings
The avatar game from NinjaBee was a great distraction that involved players constructing buildings and ordering around their little elf-like Keflings to gather supplies. It’s more of a simple time-killer than anything, but you could easily sink hours into it if you wanted, kind of like SimCity. The music featured delightful, upbeat and pleasant acoustic guitar tracks designed to be soothing and relaxing while building your Kefling city.
This collaborative effort from PopCap Games and Square Enix is a perfect combination of both company’s specialties – a puzzle-based RPG. Loosely resembling Bejeweled Twist, Gyromancer features a soundtrack full of pleasant and slightly whimsical tracks, perfect for studying to or passing the time at your desk until it’s time to leave the office. Most of it is your typical fantasy fare, with only a few upbeat tracks that might be distracting. Check this one out on iTunes!
8. Dust: An Elysian Tail
The wonderful soundtrack from Dust: An Elysian Tail is a beautiful, sweeping score fit for any background music you might need. Some tracks are slower and more relaxing, while others are a bit more upbeat and desperate sounding. If you’re reading or studying while listening to this you might hit the skip button a few times, but there’s definitely something here for everyone, whether you’re looking for beautiful background music or something to get you motivated.
7. Bejeweled 2/Bejeweled 3
Yes, I know it’s kind of cheating to have two games for one entry, but like Keflings above, the two are so musically similar that they are practically the same thing. Puzzle games like this need to have great, concentration-enhancing music that won’t get irritating because people will be spending tons of time with them, doing the same things over and over.
The soundtracks to both Bejeweled 2 and 3 are insanely good at this and are comprised mostly of chill, electronic sounds and beats. They work fantastically as standalone soundtracks to whatever busy work you’re doing, and work really well as driving music, too.
6. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Consider Blood Dragon your upbeat, motivational, kick-in-the-butt reminder to get stuff done. The 80s synth-soundtrack to Far Cry 3’s standalone DLC is fantastic in every way possible, whether you’re writing or working out. Some tracks are surprisingly soothing and atmospheric, while others make you feel like you’re in the discotheque from Terminator. Whichever your need – buy it, listen to it, love it.
5. Plants vs. Zombies
The lighthearted, often comical soundtrack to the tower defense classic Plants vs Zombies is filled with all the personality and character you’d expect from PopCap. Alternatively, it’s great to have on when doing chores, studying or writing a paper.
Rich in piano and high in production values, the PvZ soundtrack is the perfect thing to have on even when you’re not playing the game.
Describing the music of Fez is sometimes difficult. The best way I can to do it is like so: “atmospheric chiptunes.” However you want to describe it, one thing’s for sure – it’s beautiful, relaxing, slightly nostalgic and definitely not like anything you’ve ever heard before. Go buy this soundtrack if you haven’t already, and go do your homework.
3. Hexic HD
Consider yourself lucky if you happen to own a copy of this game – it’s no longer available on XBLA! This simple puzzler was a great digital addition to a lineup that included little more than Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved when the Xbox 360 first launched. Its soundtrack was filled with nice, atmospheric electronic beats and sounds, it and didn’t get irritating after hours of play. The soundtrack, called Hexophilia, is even available for free on Bandcamp.
Braid always seems to make any XBLA-related list, because it’s just that good. When it was released, it represented this realization that XBLA games didn’t have to be retro remakes or puzzlers, but something else; something deeper and more meaningful.
The soundtrack is absolutely gorgeous, something that is almost beyond words. I often felt moved to tears from the beautiful strings featured on the game’s score, which was licensed from several artists. As far as music to listen to while solving puzzles, Braid‘s is some of the best out there, which makes it perfect for relaxing and stimulating the brain.
It was some time before an actual Braid OST was properly available, but thankfully that has been changed. Check it out at Magnatune, and prepare thine ears for one of the best soundtracks in all of gaming.
Ah, Minecraft. There are few games I’ve spent more time in doing the most mundane of tasks, listening to the same music over and over again and still find myself wanting more.
Minecraft, by nature, requires the player to do actual work, such as building materials, crafting tools, mining for ingredients, gathering food and other supplies and doing things that some people have to do for a real living.
Yet, in Minecraft, it’s different. There’s a real sense of wonder and magic within its basic creativity model. There’s a sense of purpose, of motivation, and perhaps most of all, accomplishment. I’ve found this to be largely due to the game’s astoundingly simplistic, yet infinitely listenable soundtrack. Composed by Daniel “C418” Rosenfeld, Minecraft’s soundtrack is broken up into two albums, Volume Alpha and Volume Beta. Each would be wonderfully appropriate albums to listen to while — you guessed it — reading, studying or writing. Or even when trying to meditate.