While the focus of most games tends to be on how good the gameplay is or how polished the visuals are, there is another aspect that is often overlooked but can de vital in shaping the overall experience – the soundtrack. When used effectively in games music can amplify emotions, create tension or drama and even immerse the player in the world in which they are playing. Some soundtracks are not just brilliant for video games but rival blockbuster films and hit television shows in accompanying the onscreen action with a beautifully composed original score.
This article will explore 10 of the greatest examples of game soundtracks that have been created, ranging from the very modern all the way back to the NES era. Before the list starts though it is important to point out that the entries included have been picked out for their originality, impact on the industry and the important part they played in the success of the game they are part of.
The Elder Scrolls series has always been grand in scale with huge open worlds filled with countless characters and creatures. Each title in the franchise has had its own distinctive original score to match the tone set by the individual game., with the different areas of the in-game universe having their own unique atmospheres that were reflected in their accompanying soundtrack. The music for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim outdid the previous efforts of the developers with each piece matching the Nordic themes and grandeur of the dragons featured throughout the story. Most impressive though was the spectacular main theme that featured a large choir singing in a specially created dragon language that instantly set Skyrim up to be an epic adventure.
9. Metal Gear Solid
1998’s Metal Gear Solid was a game that focused on stealth above all else. While superb graphics and solid gameplay mechanics were vital, the soundtrack also played a large part in setting the tone and reinforcing the stealth elements. It combined tense cinematic music that set the atmosphere perfectly with fast-paced string themes to create tension when guards were put on alert added tension immeasurably. This gave players a definite sense that they were under pressure and heightened anxiety, making the moment when you escape even better thanks to the relief that came with the music slowing and softening. Combined with a deep orchestra score during cutscenes to give weight to the story and immerse you in the universe, the soundtrack was one of the best to ever accompany a game on the PlayStation.
8. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night casts the player into the role of Dracula’s son Alucard in a uniquely stylized world filled with Baroque architecture. The work of composer Michiru Yamane, the title’s soundtrack does a far better job of driving tension and creating a feeling of dread than the story and dialogue. The numerous themes and rock-inspired melodies set the perfect atmosphere throughout the game, providing a sense that Alucard is truly Dracula’s son. The soundtrack provides a plethora of exciting songs, in particular “Dracula Castle”, making it one of the best examples of music in any video game.
Bastion is an indie game released digitally in 2011. It’s fantasy world is filled with rich color and dreamlike environments that is also narrated beautifully. Backing everything up was a soundtrack composed by Darren Korb, a man who had never created music for a video game before, instead focusing on smaller TV programs and films. His work in Bastion was highlighted as one of the best aspects of the game, thanks in part to the infusion of sampled synthetic music with uplifting acoustic elements that perfectly capture the aesthetics to create a game that is one of the best presented in recent times.
6. Donkey Kong Country 2
The Donkey Kong Country series has always had notable soundtracks that contained unforgettable songs such as “Aquatic Ambience” despite the severe limitations placed on them by the hardware they were developed for. The best out of the lot though is without a doubt Donkey Kong Country 2. Here David Wise created a diverse soundtrack that differed widely from song to song yet still managed to captivate players with an experience that complimented the excellent gameplay exactly. For the clearest demonstration of how good the music actually is, just listen to any song from the soundtrack and your mind will instantly take you back to the level it was from.
5. Halo: Combat Evolved
You could pick any one of the Halo soundtracks composed by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori to feature on this list without too much argument. Featuring orchestral tunes with electronic sounds in equal measure, each original score had the quality to rival even the best movie soundtracks. But in choosing one it has to be the first game. The Gregorian chant of the main theme was first introduced here and has been mainstay of the franchise ever since, becoming arguably one of the most instantly recognizable themes after its release. The soundtrack of Halo: Combat Evolved marked a change in video games, showing developers that first-person shooters could make use of a compelling score to drive the story and increase drama.
4. Final Fantasy VI
The Final Fantasy series has always been associated with excellent soundtracks, form its early days in Japan to the later releases that hit the West, and Nobuo Uematsu had had a lot to do with that. Responsible for much of the iconic music in the franchise, Uematsu is one of the most well known composers in the entire industry. However, it is his work in Final Fantasy VI that many regard as his best work and it is hard to argue against that. With a number of fine themes for characters, areas and battles along with a memorable opening song, Uematsu proved that video game music could be just as good as other forms – even with the hardware limitations that the game was released on.
3. Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption was in many ways Rockstar’s take on the Grand Theft Auto series set in the Wild West. However, one of the ways in which it differed most was in its musical accompaniment. Unlike its sister series that has depended mostly on real life songs to compliment gameplay, Red Dead Redemption had an original score by Bill Elm and Woody Jackson. The music throughout worked to evoke the intense emotions of the protagonist in the player, and this was demonstrated best when you first travel to Mexico. With the sun setting and with John Marston no closer to rescuing his family, a song with full lyrics kicks in that completely reflects the predicament you are in, that feeling of helplessness and loneliness.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Ocarina of Time appears on plenty of ‘Top 10’ lists by virtue of it being one of the best games to ever release, which leads to its soundtrack largely being overlooked. Composed by Koji Kondo, a man who has created some of the most memorable pieces of music in his role at Nintendo such as the Super Mario Bros. theme, the soundtrack is arguably the best of any Zelda title. It expands on the themes from previous games, giving each character, location and boss a distinct and unique feeling, helping to bring them alive within the game world. The music even went further by being integral to the gameplay and plot, allowing players to affect the world around them using the titular Ocarina by playing various beautifully simple songs.
1. Chrono Trigger
Few games have had a soundtrack that was no universally praised as Chrono Trigger. Using concept artwork as well as Mediterranean, Celtic and African musical influences, Yasunori Mitsuda created the soundtrack for the widely acclaimed role playing game before falling ill and leaving Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu to finish the score. The result was a brilliantly composed soundtrack that was unprecedented due to its sheer size and variety. It continues to be a favorite of fans, even though soundtracks have become more sophisticated in recent years, thanks solely to the fact that it was every bit as good as the game it was part of.