My 10 Favorite Video Game Soundtracks

link playing ocarinaMusic is an important part of life. Whether you obsess over it like me or just casually listen when you’re in the mood, there’s no denying that it’s touched us all in some way at some point in our lives. Even those rare folks who claim to have no interest in music can probably dig in the depths of their brain and find an example of a time where music impacted them; made them feel something they’ve never felt before.

Soundtracks are the unsung heroes in video games. Some do a fantastic job setting the tone of a game and evoking emotion out of the player, but I feel like they’re rarely appreciated as much as they should be. When we think of what makes games great, the major elements are top of mind: Gameplay, story writing, visuals, etc. But what about the music? I’d argue that its just as critical to making a great game as the rest.

Think about it. Zelda games just wouldn’t be the same without those classic tunes we’ve known since childhood. Likewise, take the heavy metal instrumentals out of a DOOM game and you’ll find that blowing demons to smithereens isn’t nearly as invigorating. Game soundtracks are so important to the overall experience, which is why I’m making a point to show appreciation for the ones that did it best.

This one is long overdue. Here are my ten favorite video game soundtracks of all time.

Earthbound

Spanning over 150 tracks, one could say that Earthbound’s soundtrack is overwhelming. I say it’s brilliant. An all-star team of virtuosos, including film composer Keiichi Suzuki and a former member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, banded together to create the music for this SNES classic. The result: A groundbreaking, versatile score that blends many influences together – from jazz to the music of John Lennon – to perfectly fit the atmosphere of the story. The creative use of sampling was miles above anything in gaming at the time, and that’s mainly thanks to the freedom presented by a larger amount of space in SNES cartridges. It’s a shining example of musicians pushing available technology to the limit to create something remarkable.

Shadow of the Colossus


When a game has no dialogue, the soundtrack better be damn good. Fumito Ueda understands this, which is why all of his games have amazing scores, particularly Shadow of the Colossus. Perhaps what’s most interesting about the music in this game is that it’s only heard during colossi encounters and cutscenes. An exploding symphony of strings, woodwinds, and brass creates an intense vibe during battles with the giant creatures, and when you send one crashing to the ground, sobering, angelic choir vocals fill your ears as the released tendrils of Dormin violently enter Wander’s body. The music isn’t just background noise; it’s been carefully selected to cue at the right moments. And that’s how it should be.

Shenmue


I haven’t touched Shenmue in nearly 20 years, and yet its soundtrack still holds a special place in my heart. It’s beautifully orchestrated and can stand toe to toe with some of the most renowned film scores. Mixing traditional Japanese chord progressions and instruments with western orchestral trademarks, composer Toshiyuku Watanabe and his team created something as unique and epic as the game it was made for. With its gorgeous string arrangements and beautifully understated use of traditional Japanese flute, “Shenmue” (the main theme) might be my favorite piece of video game music ever recorded. I’m also fond of “The Sadness I Carry on My Shoulders,” a soft piano tune that embodies the feeling of being weighed down by an unbearable sadness. It’s simply divine.

Cuphead


While I love video game soundtracks, I generally don’t listen to them outside of when I’m playing the game. Cuphead’s brilliant, swinging jazzy OST is the exception. That’s mostly because it feels more like a standalone jazz record than a game score. All tracks are played beautifully by professional musicians, including a 13-piece big band, a 10-piece ragtime ensemble, and a solo pianist. Most importantly, it perfectly matches Cuphead’s animation style and feel. When you design a game to look like a cartoon out of the 1930s, and add in some rollicking, highly difficult gameplay, it only makes sense to compliment it with a score full of rip-roaring Jazz Age numbers that get the juices flowing.

Journey


Journey isn’t a fun game. In fact, it’s hardly a game at all. Yet it’s still regarded as a gaming masterpiece. Why? Because it’s fucking beautiful; both visually and audibly. It was the first video game soundtrack to be nominated for a Grammy, and for good reason. It’s jaw-dropping orchestral arrangements rival those found in film scores, featuring some impressive cello work from Cellist Tina Guo. According to lead composer Austin Wintory, the score was written with the player and their journey in mind. Cello solos represent the player, while all other instruments represent the world around them. He also made a point to remove any overt cultural influences to make the score as “universal and cultureless as possible.” I’d say he succeeded.

Jet Set Radio


Talk about a soundtrack that perfectly suits the vibe of the game it was created for. Nothing screams rollerblading graffiti artists louder than funky hip-hop instrumentals, effervescent dance beats, and energetic pop-punk jams. I couldn’t imagine a more fitting score for a game this lively, vibrant, and unique. My personal favorite track must be “Humming the Bassline.” With its distinct sample taken from The Treacherous Three’s “Feel the Heartbeat” and smooth, silky bassline, it’s undeniably catchy and fun. You can’t help but nod your head to it. Another standout is “Everybody Jump Around.” Sampling House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and mixing in some impressive record scratching, it’s another one that gets the body moving.

Okami


A soundtrack so nice that Capcom decided to sell it as a vinyl box set over 10 years after the game’s original release. Inspired by classical Japanese works, the music in this game is transcendent, drawing on Far Eastern folklore and traditional instruments to create a stunning, sweeping score that equals the artistic merit of the game’s breathtaking animation. “Kamiki Festival” is easily my favorite. It’s looping Japanese flute melody always succeeds in putting a smile on my face and filling my heart with joy. While not to the same extent, many of the other songs have a similar effect. The soundtrack is chock full of spirited tunes that inspire a feeling of happiness and optimism in me. I’m getting nostalgic just writing about it.

The Last of Us


The Last of Us is my favorite game for many reasons. One of them is its phenomenal soundtrack. Argentinian Composer Gustavo Santaolalla knocked it out of the park with this minimalistic, dissonant, acoustic guitar-driven score. Challenging himself, he used a variety of instruments that were new to him to inspire a “feeling of danger and innocence” that he felt matched the tone of the game. He also experimented with recording in unconventional rooms, such as a bathroom and a kitchen, to produce unique sounds. It’s safe to say that all this experimentation paid off, resulting in soundtrack that perfectly matches the atmosphere of the game. The exceptional story writing coupled with these organic, textural sounds is unparalleled in terms of evoking emotion out of the player.

Persona 5


Jazzy, catchy, and stylish as hell, the Persona 5 soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard in a game in the past several years. Whether you’re calmly strolling the streets of Shibuya at night to the smooth, chiming “Beneath the Mask” or battling enemies in the Metaverse to the upbeat, zestful “Last Surprise,” the score always perfectly sets the tone. Because of the game’s length and its habit of playing the same songs over and over, I grew tired of some tracks towards the end of the campaign. However, listening to them again has instilled a nostalgia in me that makes me want to pop Persona 5 back in my PS4 and spend another 100+ hours of my life immersed in its world.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time


How could anyone refute this? There is simply no game with as much memorable original music in it as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. From the infectious Lost Woods theme to the somber Temple of Time theme to the exuberant Song of Storms, every musical composition in this masterpiece is simply fantastic. My personal favorite, however, is the Fairy Fountain theme. From the gorgeous opening harp strums to the enchanting looping melody, it’s an absolute treat for the ears. It’s even been sampled and remixed a few times in popular music. The most notable example is when Team Teamwork mashed it with Slim Thug and Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin.” That’s cool and all, but I’ll listen to the original over it ten times out of ten.

What do you think of these gaming soundtracks? Which gaming soundtracks are your favorite? Let’s discuss in the comments!


10 thoughts on “My 10 Favorite Video Game Soundtracks

  1. Oh man this was awesome to read. I love video game soundtracks. I recently just finished Witcher 3: Game of the Year edition, and the music is so beautiful. I actually think it moved me to tears a few times. I listen to it on YouTube when I do my work. Skyrim is another game with a phenomenal soundtrack. I also listen to it when I do my work. I could go on but I would just ramble on.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading! The whole Witcher series has some great music, but I agree that the soundtrack of Wither 3 is particularly fantastic. I actually just put it on at work, so thanks for giving me that idea! I’m a big fan of the music in the Elder Scrolls series, too. I’d say my favorite of them all is Morrowind. That’s not to say that Skyrim doesn’t have a phenomenal score as well, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve loved the Halo soundtrack for ages. I listen to epic Halo music playlists on long car rides just to make myself feel important. Unfortunately, Halo 5: Guardians failed to live up to the past soundtracks. Which sucks.

    Doom (2016) has a pretty rockin’ awesome soundtrack too. Makes you feel empowered.

    And Ori and the Blind Forest has an absolutely gorgeous orchestral soundtrack. The Definitive Edition of the game came with a CD, and I can’t stop listening to it.

    Of the ones you chose, Shadow of the Colossus and Ocarina of Time are probably my tops. I haven’t played Persona 5, but I have heard great things about its soundtrack.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! The music of Halo is superb. I’m having flashbacks to my childhood cruising around in a Warthog to the epic score. Haven’t played Guardians yet, but I’ve heard it came up short in many ways.

      DOOM’s soundtrack is amazing. So fitting for the game.

      I loved Ori and the Blind Forest, but I don’t remember much of the soundtrack. I’ll need to replay and pay closer attention.

      The Persona 5 soundtrack is amazing and the game is, too. I highly recommend you play whenever you get a chance. Just be warned: It’s reaaaaaally long. You’ll want to pick a time where there are very few other games you want to play.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That was a great read, I’ll have to give Journey a try just to hear that soundtrack! For me, some of my favorite soundtracks have to be Super Mario RPG for the SNES, The Elders Scroll V: Skyrim, and Octopath Traveler.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed the article.

      You should definitely play Journey. You can easily finish it in one sitting. That being said, I would recommend you wait for it to go on sale. It’s currently $15 on the PS Store, but because of how short it is, I would wait for it to drop to $10 or lower.

      Super Mario RPG and Skyrim do have some great soundtracks. I find that Bethesda always comes through with solid music in its games, whether it’s Fallout or Elder Scrolls. Haven’t played Octopath Traveler, but I have been looking for new games to play on Switch, so I’ll probably pick it up in the near future.

      Like

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