Whether it’s blasting your way through another hoard of demons to Rip and Tear in Doom, or jumping over another listless Gomba in Mario, video game music plays such an integral part of the experience, even if you don’t consciously realize it. I mean, causing chaos on the streets of Vice City will never not be fun, but it wouldn’t be half as memorable if you couldn’t do it while listening to the hottest hits of the 80’s. I’m a musician myself, so it’s only natural that music would play such a huge part in making a game memorable for me. This is my top 10 video game soundtracks of all time. Remember, this is just my personal favorite game soundtracks, not a definitive best of list. Also, I’m going to avoid using games where adapted music makes up the majority of the tracks, because otherwise the entire list would be Guitar Hero, GTA and Tony Hawk games.
10. Persona 5 (Various artists, 2017)-
JRPG’s are known for their memorable soundtracks. Whether it’s bombastic and exciting battle themes or those slow ballads for heartfelt story moments, this genre has seen more than its fair share of incredible music. Persona 5 might not have as many classic tracks as other titles in the genre, but the overall feeling and mood it sets is incredible. Of course the battle songs like “Last Surprise” and “Life Will Change” are some of the most notable songs on the track list, but it’s the more subtle pieces that really sell it for me as one of the best soundtracks of all-time. I mean, travelling around with your loveable gang of misfits on an off day to the smooth electronic infused jazzy tracks just makes me happy and warm inside. I love all the shorter songs too, like the goofy short track that plays when Ryuji comes up with another stupid idea and even the 8-bit music that plays during some of the mini-games. The soundtrack gives a game full of character, even more personality. It’s weird feeling nostalgic for a game that I played for the first time just over a year ago, but the soundtrack definitely makes me feel that way about Persona 5.
9. Banjo Kazooie (Grant Kirkhope, 1998)-
So much of what makes video game music special is that unlike other mediums, it can really make you feel like you’re in the environment that the game is trying to convey. This means that when a composer is making the soundtrack, it has to really match the tone and feel of the level. I don’t think there’s a better soundtrack at doing this than Banjo Kazooie’s. Just putting aside the fact that basically every song is catchy as hell, just hearing a track from this game makes me feel like I’m in the level it’s from. It perfectly captures the goofy, whimsical tone of a game about a cartoon bear with a bird stuffed in his backpack. Whether it’s the steel drums and xylophone in Treasure Trove Cove or the bassy, oddball brass of Rusty Bucket Bay, this game’s soundtrack is so ingrained in my head that I still remember the melodies to this day. I also love the use of sound effects and ambient noises that really makes the tracks feel like they’re part of the level, like the metallic clanking sounds in Clunker’s Cavern or the animal sounds in Click Clock Wood. Grant Kirkhope’s work is just as much a part of my love of classic Rareware as anything else.
8. Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze (David Wise, 2014)
There’s a reason that so many platformers have memorable soundtracks. It’s because they take you to a variety of locations, and thus there is ample opportunity to add a lot of varied, atmospheric tunes. The latest Donkey Kong Country game is not just an excellent platformer because of the incredibly inventive level design; that creativity extends to David Wise’s sublime soundtrack. No matter what the situation or environment the level is, the soundtrack matches flawlessly. Windmill Hills is a level that sees you jumping around on rotating windmills, so it has this adventurous, upbeat harmonica. Zipline Shrine is more earthy and mysterious, so the music in this level has lots of bongos and chimes. The boss themes are straight up metal songs with distorted guitar and rocking drums. This game also has my favorite version of “Aquatic Ambiance” to date. David Wise absolutely killed it with his return to the franchise, and a lot of the reason I rebought this game on Switch is because I wanted to experience the soundtrack again.
7. Transistor (Darren Korb, 2014)-
Transistor is a game about a singer who loses her voice, so it’s only natural that the soundtrack would play a huge role in the game. The Jazzy, industrial melodies and Ashely Barrett’s powerful vocals combine to make some of the best music I’ve heard, in a video game or otherwise. The songs in Transistor are a massive part of why the atmosphere of the game is so thick despite it being a relatively linear game with one-note environmental design. The soundtrack is varied too, with commanding vocal performances, jazzy guitar melodies and even elements of synth and industrial music. The guitar work throughout is excellent, yet understated. This is one of the few soundtracks that I actually own separate of the game. Supergiant has made some of my favorite games in recent years, and the consistently great music is a huge part of that.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (Koji Kondo, 2003)-
It’s no surprise that my favorite game of all time would have a soundtrack that I also adore. The Zelda franchise has some of the most memorable soundtracks in video game history, and about half or more of this list could have been Zelda games in all honesty. Part of what makes this game so special is how effortlessly it captures the spirit of adventure; it’s a game about sailing the great unknown of the high seas. The Great Sea Theme alone is the very embodiment of adventure, and that’s just the track you’ll hear the most. You’ve got the light and bouncy Outset Island theme that personifies the youthful innocence of the beginning of your adventure, and then there’s the Forbidden Woods theme that is quiet and mysterious, yet subtly sinister. So much of what makes Zelda Zelda is the soundtrack and the little noises and jingles that we take for granted because they’ve just become a part of video game folklore at this point. There’s a ton of variety to the tracklist despite the game basically taking place on very similar islands around the massive ocean. Wind Waker’s soundtrack is my favorite of the series, in a franchise that is known for fantastic music.
5. Megaman X (Setsuo Yamamoto, 1994)-
There’s always been something so charming about 8-bit and 16-bit music. It’s always impressed me what some people were able to achieve with such lo-fi technology and memory constraints. Megaman as a franchise has always had amazing musical scores, but X is my favorite of the bunch. Every single stage in this game has incredibly catchy music, and for it to be done with so many limitations when it comes to both instrumentation and sound quality is really impressive to me. Memorable bosses have always been a huge part of Megaman’s appeal, and they often times have themes to match them. This game basically has as close to what you could call “16-bit heavy metal” with so many rocking synth and guitar like leads, Megaman X’s soundtrack isn’t really varied. It’s kind of just turned up to 11 all the time, and I’m perfectly ok with that because it matches the fast pace and frantic action of the game incredibly well. So many of the tracks in this game are just entrenched into my mind, so much so that just seeing a picture of the boss makes me hear their theme in my head.
4. Shadow of the Colossus (Kow Otani, 2005)-
Shadow of the Colossus is such a unique game. Very rarely does a game manage to make its bosses feel colossal, but that’s what the Colossi in SOTC feel like. Such a huge part of the epic feeling you get scaling a massive beast to attack its weak spot or jumping on the back of a flying creature is due to the soundtrack. The sweeping orchestrated tunes just give you the immediate sense of fighting this massive, ancient creature that it really needed to make the concept of the game work to the fullest. Yes, there are the epic battle tunes for when you’re fighting the Colossi, but that’s just a small part of the game. The other part is quiet and reflective, and the soundtrack nails that part of the game’s atmosphere as well. There’s beautiful and haunting piano ballads and mysterious, dark, foreboding flutes and wood winds. But, the composer also knew when to take a back seat and allow the ambient sounds of the world to create atmosphere for themselves. Shadow of the Colossus is a perfect example of how a game is elevated by its soundtrack, as I don’t think it would be nearly as memorable if not for Otani’s amazing themes and orchestrated pieces playing as you mount these gigantic creatures.
3. Super Mario Galaxy (Koji Kondo, 2007)-
Super Mario games have always had memorable musical scores. Whether it’s the iconic theme that has transcended gaming or Delfino Plaza from Sunshine, literally any Mario game could be on this list, because swimming through the depths of Dire Dire Docks in Super Mario 64 wouldn’t be half as memorable without the amazing music associated with it. Super Mario Galaxy is my favorite Mario soundtrack. Space is the final frontier. Going to space is the ultimate escalation of a franchise in a lot of ways. The score in Super Mario Galaxy isn’t just befitting of a galactic adventure, this shit straight up shoots your soul through the stratosphere. If you can glide through space as Mario while the triumphant orchestral music from Good Egg Galaxy plays without feeling some serious emotions, then you are dead inside, that’s how good the music is in this game. But it’s not just all powerful orchestral music. You’ve got the charming and catchy music from the Beach Bowl Galaxy, and the laid-back tune of the Honey Hive Galaxy which encourages the player to slow down and explore since this is one of the more open levels in the game. I’ve always loved the attention to small details Nintendo takes with their soundtracks. I like that the theme for Bowser’s levels in this game are remixes of the classic SM64 Bowser level’s music. I also love how the FreezeFlame galaxy remixes the soundtrack based on what side of the level you’re on to complement the ice/fire motif. Koji Kondo is a legendary composer and regardless if people recognize it or not, has helped create precious memories for people my age.
2. Final Fantasy VII (Nobuo Uematsu, 1997, 2020)
Final Fantasy has had so much iconic music and classic soundtracks over the years, it’s as much a part of the legendary series’ identity as anything else. Who could forget the classic theme that played the first time they stepped out into the world map in the original Final Fantasy, or hearing “To Zanarkand” upon starting up Final Fantasy X? So many emotions for me and probably millions of other people have been tied to the music of these games. For me personally, none have really topped Final Fantasy VII’s soundtrack. From Bombing Mission to the seminal battle theme to One Winged Angel, this entire game is filled to the brim with memorable tunes that not only make the game’s story come to life, but are as integral to the feel and atmosphere of the game’s world as anything else. Of course, the original soundtrack will always be a classic, but hearing these amazing songs fully orchestrated for the first time in the Remake sent chills down my spine. Obviously, you don’t get the full track list playing just part one of the remake, but all of the new tracks are equally as memorable, and the old tracks are given new life through higher quality instrumentation and fidelity. Final Fantasy VII is a game that many people, myself included cherish and the incredible music plays no small part in that.
1. Silent Hill 2 (Akira Yamaoka, 2001)-
“Satirical, did you make another top 10 list just so you could put Silent Hill 2 at the top again?” you might be asking. First of all, yes and second, maybe I will marry Silent Hill 2. Silent Hill 2’s soundtrack is something that surpasses video games for me. Yes, it’s a huge part of the atmosphere and feel of the games, but Yamaoka’s work on this franchise is worth listening to even if you’ve never picked up a controller in your life, because even if you’ve never experienced Silent Hill 2 or seen what the songs correlate to in the actual game, you can still enjoy listening to the soundtrack. Sure, the same could be said about other games as well, but I don’t think you really get the full enjoyment out of listening to the Phendrana Drifts music from Metroid Prime without having the context of what the music is meant to be experienced alongside. Silent Hill 2’s soundtrack stands on its own as a fantastic musical experience like few other gaming soundtracks do.
Yamaoka’s guitar work and compositions are incredible, and its able to be varied and fitting of the tone the game is trying to convey throughout. When you’re making a horror game, you have to think not just about the music that has to play when you want the player to feel the emotions of the story, but also the general ambiance you want during the scary sections. Silent Hill 2’s soundtrack is masterful at creating tense and creepy soundscapes when it needs to, but also delivering emotional pieces when the story calls for it to do so, while also providing smooth, melodic passages for the other moments. The jazzy, drum infused melodic guitar passages have this air of mystery around them that lends itself perfectly to the surreal feel of the game. Even the heavier guitar parts really fit the game’s tone despite being more in your face than the soundtrack usually is. Silent Hill 2 is one of my favorite games of all-time and it also having my favorite soundtrack of all time is no small coincidence. It’s insane to think that Yamaoka had never even composed music at all before he was tasked with doing so for the Silent Hill franchise.