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Beat the heat: 10 totally chill video game summer jams

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1. “Passing Breeze,” OutRun

Most songs on video game soundtracks are functionally named, reflecting the time and place they appear in the game and little more. Even poetically dubbed cuts like “Prelude” from Final Fantasy are still primarily literal. “Passing Breeze” by Hiroshi Kawaguchi is literal as well. It is an anthem meant to match the seaside air blowing hot through an open window. But “Passing Breeze” also embodies the solstice-powered soul of OutRun and all the many drives it evokes with its pixelated arcade driving. Like a good wind, Kawaguchi’s song takes its sweet time building up a head of steam, synth keys pumped and swung in gentle time before the melody finally emerges. The Yamaha YM2151 FM Synthesizer emerges as its own distinctive instrument when the song reaches its bridge, the sound not an emulation of some real-world instrument, but an original tone that bottles the feeling of a road trip with no destination, passed around for everyone to take a sip. Then the breeze passes, like all breezes, leaving you dazzled, unkempt, and in love with everything. [Anthony John Agnello]

2. “Underground,” The World Ends With You

“Underground” is equally suited to both the early summer sunrise signaling a whole day’s worth of adventures ahead, or the sunset of reflecting on an eventful day’s worth of antics. The rest of The World Ends With You’s soundtrack is made up of zippy J-Pop, scratchy hip-hop, and sludgy alt-rock, all in line with the game’s high-stakes story of death and self-discovery. But with its meandering tune characterized by pitter-patter drums and a sleepy vocal track draped over some lackadaisical backmasked instrumentals, “Underground” is built for The World Ends With You’s few moments of downtime amid the chaos. It’s just lively enough to ease you into or out of any summertime activities but cooing and gentle enough to take the edge off all that heatstroke and sunburn. [Patrick Lee]


3. “Splash Beach,” Kirby’s Epic Yarn

With its soft fabric landscape and story-time narrator, Epic Yarn is certainly the most relaxed and easy-going Kirby game to date. Everything about it is designed to wrap the player in comfort and gently rock them to a place of peace and contentment. Take this stripped-down arrangement for “Splash Beach.” There is no urgency, no bombast to accelerate the action—there’s not even any percussion to suggest players move at any particular pace. What we have here is wide open space and open calm air. The gentle plucks of the guitar are confident but unencumbered, aware that the world neither lives nor dies in this moment, it just carries on. This is lounging in the shade with a piña colada music. This is falling asleep on the beach music. Lower the brim of your hat and don’t forget the sunscreen because this is a tune for simmering, never burning. [Derrick Sanskrit]


4. “Fields Of Time—Home World,” Chrono Cross

For the perpetually sweaty, summer in an increasingly hot world is not the best season. For those who go outside in July and immediately soak through the lightest cotton T-shirt, relief must come in many forms. Shade, an algae free lake, rushing wind, and songs like “Fields Of Time—Home World” from Chrono Cross can keep you sane and chill. Yasunori Mitsuda gives this jam every last thing a summer song needs, both complementing and reducing the toll taken by rising mercury. There’s a percussive beat that keeps you grooving but not galloping and a melody that snakes around your attention like a masseuse sussing out a knot you didn’t even know was there. That melody is actually borrowed from Chrono Trigger’s theme, slowed down and fed a freshly made mojito, the triumphant horn blasts of the original replaced by chiming steel drums. Mopping your brow doesn’t help in this heat but “Fields Of Time—Home World” gets the job done. [Anthony John Agnello]

5. “Epiphany Fields,” Oxenfree

When “Epiphany Fields” first comes out of your speakers, the wayward youths of Oxenfree will be gearing up for a night of bumming around and drinking to take their minds off the exams, final projects, and formal dances standing between themselves and summer vacation. The night’s true horrors will not yet have begun, so this humming, synth-driven track will still be a natural accompaniment for the kiddies’ mission of spending a still-chilly early summer evening de-stressing on the beach. The longer the night goes on, the more powerful the spirits haunting Edwards Island will become, and Scntfc’s sprawling score will become more eerie and foreboding to match. For now, though, the gang’s greatest fears are still that meeting their new step-sibling will be awkward or that their crush won’t like them back, so this soothing ocean breeze of a song is a great tone-setter. [Patrick Lee]


6. “Tranquil,” De Blob 2

The De Blob games may be about fighting a revolution against a totalitarian dictatorship forcibly stripping citizens of their civil liberties, but they’re also games about just hanging out and being relaxed. Each game begins on a quiet beach, and nearly every level is littered with palm trees and shorelines to provide a serene respite from the military incursion. “Tranquil,” as the name suggests, is a song for those carefree moments away from the ravages of war, when members of the Color Underground just want to lean back in a hammock and stir a tiny parasol in their drinks. After all, what’s the point in fighting for your rights if you don’t eventually get to kick back and enjoy the fruits of your labors, possibly along with the fruits in a tropical cocktail? [Derrick Sanskrit]


7. “Electric Toothbrush,” Jet Set Radio

“Electric Toothbrush” builds and builds and builds and somehow never rises above the level of low-key groove. Aggressively artificial sounding, it piles synthesized squeaks and robotic bass lines on top of a dirt-simple drum machine pattern, and no matter how much it adds that pile never seems to actually get bigger. Summer is the season for road trips, concerts, beach parties, and pacifistic gang-related vandalism sprees, sure. But it’s also the season for sitting on the porch eating popsicles and drinking iced tea for hours without so much as standing up. Neither a dance-floor-ready ripper nor a thumping party anthem, “Electric Toothbrush” is the perfect tune for those shoes-melting-to-the-concrete days of summer that all blend together into a haze of identical no-stakes hangouts. [Patrick Lee]


8. “Sea Route Of Cutting Waves,” Castlevania: Order Of Ecclesia

There are two drives taken in summer: the day drive and the night drive. “Sea Route Of Cutting Waves” by Michiru Yamane is for the latter. The combination of a pounding beat, synthesized guitars, and piano stir up the aural equivalent of rolling down the window around 8 p.m., when the sun’s disappeared, the sky’s still a touch light, and it’s too god damn hot out but also too awesome to turn on air conditioning. The window must be down as Yamane’s melody booms and swells, minor key notes sounding slightly desperate but not pleading. When the guitars saw the melody down and boil the song back to its skittering snare drum beat, that’s the moment the summer clouds roll in; flashes of lightning thread between them, threatening a storm. Then the melody comes back around again. It starts raining, and you just leave the window down anyway, sweat and rain taking away the sunburn sting on your forearm. [Anthony John Agnello]


9. “Water World,” Tetris Attack

Tetris Attack is the rare puzzle game that delicately walks the line between placidity and turbulence. Nowhere was the game’s tranquility more apparent than in Froggy’s underwater stages. The abrasive slap bass from elsewhere in the soundtrack is replaced here with a gentle bassoon, pulling the music ever forward with a roundness that falls somewhere between “nonthreatening” and “serene.” Percussive bubbles pop in rising succession, punctuating the illusion of undersea tranquility established by the echoing crystal keys. A voice vibrates and swells in the distance, but it too is calm and so very far away, emphasizing only the space around us. It is peaceful here. We could match colored blocks for a while or we could just wade in the pool and reflect on the calm summer breeze. [Derrick Sanskrit]


10. “Adventure,” Fez

Disasterpeace’s glorious Fez score is made up entirely of songs with one-word titles, 26 nuggets of synthesized tone poetry evoking all manner of abstract concepts. The soundtrack album begins with “Adventure,” the aural embodiment of a summer morning with the promise of nothing but sunshine and tranquil travels in front of you. Its opening swell and disintegrating tinges are the sound of waking up, the sun trickling through your window jolting you into consciousness. From there, the song’s backbone of gentle arpeggios fades in so as not to overwhelm you with its warmth. With its repetition and grand echoes, it brings visions of endless natural majesty, airy fields or open water ready for carefree exploration and some peaceful relaxation. [Matt Gerardi]