The Greatest Gaming Soundtracks of All Time-Who Will Wear the 2012 Crown?

The last few weeks have been busy, busy, busy here at Beyond the Controller getting ready for the next big feature: The 2012 Edition of the Top 25 Gaming Soundtracks of All Time is swiftly coming, and the
work that has gone into it this year has topped both the prior years put together. Not only has the number of soundtracks considered for the honor more than doubled, but new tweaks have been made to the judging system itself. With such a massive undertaking soon reaching its end, this weeks Beyond the Controller post is something of a primer. Today we're going to be looking over the rules of the Top 25 Best Gaming Soundtracks, the judging criteria for each soundtrack, the new changes made from last years review criteria, and a few of last years standout winners. With this dedicated primer, you'll find yourself well prepard for when 2012's official showdown starts on February 20th!

The Purpose:
The Top 25 Gaming Soundtracks of All Time is a yearly feature designed to select, analyze and review some of the best soundtracks published by the gaming industry every year, then using clearly defined rules and ratings to determine which soundtracks of that massive number are unquestionably the best gaming soundtracks of all time.

The Rules:
The first and foremost important rule is that every song of the games soundtrack is up for review. Too many other music lists out there will present a game based on one or two songs that the reviewer likes, discounting all of the other songs that aren't nearly as likeable. Not so with this list. No soundtrack gets by on the merits of a single song, but the shared success and failure of every song on the album. After all, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. This list has no stopped clocks.

Second is that the soundtrack must be game derived. Only under very special circumstances are albums composed of licensed or re-purposed music allowed into the running. For this reason, you will never see games such as Dance Dance Revolution or Rock Band on this list.

Third, all albums must be rated and reviewed in order to be eligible. No shortcuts or exceptions.

Fourth, there is no album limit. Many top lists out there voluntarily limit themselves to a single entry per series or per composer. Both of these systems bring inherent flaws. The single series approach gives an advantage to composers who move from company to company or from title to title, while the single composer approach becomes an issue when multiple composers share work on several different titles. Our approach is more all inclusive. Each album is given its own due, regardless of who composed it, or even when.

The Review System:
Each album is reviewed in five categories on a 5 point scale, with point values being awarded at quarter increments along the scale. The five categories are:

Overall Enjoyment: A catch-all department that is a representation of how, as a whole, the soundtrack entertains the mind.
Stand-alone Quality: Asks how well the music holds up when disassociated from its source. If you can't listen to the music without thinking of the game, wanting to play it rather then listen, or just plain can't see the music outside of being linked to the game, a lower score will result.
Composition: Rating the soundtrack on the basis of how well its musical composition fits together.
Emotional Reaction: This grade criteria gives a greater score for how much of an emotional effect the music pulls out of the listener.
Game Representation: How well does this soundtrack represent and work with the game itself?

These scores are then added and averaged, producing the soundtracks overall score. However, it is possible for the score to be boosted by the addition of two bonus categories. Each album can earn a single bonus point for both Nostalgia factor (A soundtrack that is 10+ years old and well remembered by the gaming community) and Non-Gamer Enjoyment (a soundtrack that is enjoyed by members of the non-gaming public without its gaming connection). Each of these bonus points is awarded to the score before the average is taken, so a soundtrack that succeeds in capturing both bonus points stands to gain a strong advantage.

From these scores, each title is ranked, higher scores taking higher placements. Of the highest 25, the list is born.

So what select soundtracks took the list last year? Well, the #1 place was handed out to Chrono Trigger in a narrow upset over Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Other surprising contenders were Sonic Colors at #8, Final Fantasy: The Crystal Chronicles at #10, Mirror's Edge at #13, and Secret of Mana at #16. How many of these soundtracks will keep their coveted positions and how many will fall? Could some vanish altogether? We'll find out February 20th.

Edited to clarify the Stand-Alone judgement.

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