No matter what they say, video games are art. While initially games were only used for escapism, they've come a long way since Pong and don't plan to stop any soon. But besides gameplay, there have always been soundtracks to accompany it. First, there only was 8-bit music soundtracks and now game developers hire entire orchestras for the task. But what game has the best soundtrack of all time? That's what we're about to find out.
This week's traditional Wednesday Question saw the people of UG community discussing the matter of greatest video game soundtracks ever. Based on your votes and more than 500 comments, we summed this one up to an extended Top 31 rundown - yes, there are A LOT of amazing video game OST's and it's hard to choose only 31, but we did our best.
Also, we must mention that one of our rules was "Original soundtracks only"! (Sorry, guys, no "Hotline Miami," "Tony Hawk," "GTA" or "NFS").Honorable mention:
Our only honorable mention today is a beat from the notoriously hard game - "Battletoads." You think games are supposed to be silent on pause? Not this one. Whenever you put your game on pause you have to listen to this catchy beat.
So, we're done with the mentions, let's kick it!
31. 'Prince of Persia' [NES] - Mark Cooksey & Francis Mechner (1989)
We start with classics; The first of many games of this franchise and this is a race against the time where you must save the princess from the evil vizier Jaffar, and these East-influenced tunes suit this purpose perfectly.
30. 'Neverwinter Nights' - Jeremy Soule (2002)
It’s better to travel around Forgotten Realms with good music, and, luckily, you can do that in "Neverwinter Nights." One of the best scores to give you that feeling of adventure we all play games for.
29. 'Max Payne' - Kärtsy Hatakka & Kimmo Kajasto (2001)
The past is a gaping hole. You try to run from it, but the more you run, the deeper, more terrible it grows behind you, its edges yawning at your heels. Your only chance is to turn around and face it. But it's like looking down into the grave of your love, or kissing the mouth of a gun, a bullet trembling in its dark nest, ready to blow your head off..
Yup, that's how narrative in a proper noir game should sound. And the music in "Max Payne" succeeds in creating that feeling of hopelessness and desperation.
28. 'Transistor' - Darren Korb (2014)
A rather new game (though it's been 3 years already lol) Anyway, "Transistor" is great in respect to its music and its main character - Red. From Red's former profession to the various concert halls you visit along your adventure, to the incredible music that uses both a score as well as songs that exist inside the game world itself, "Transistor" is infused with the spirit of jazz. Even small actions, like being able to stop and have Red hum along to whatever song is currently playing is a creative, and evocative way of tying music to the core gameplay.
27. 'Kingdom Hearts' [PS2] - Yoko Shimomura (2002)
If you're expecting more lighthearted, cheesy, and/or fruity Disney-like musical tunes to be represented here, don't. Just like the game, you have to expect more than just Disney style although there's a fair share of new material that's still lighthearted in a Disney way.
26. 'Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn' - Michael Hoenig (2000)
A classic RPG from Bioware. The music is tightly interwoven into gameplay, and it's obvious that designers wanted to give it high priority and visibility - much more so than in "Baldur's Gate." The songs are dramatic, brooding classical pieces of the style that you'd find in a medieval themed movie.
25. 'Red Dead Redemption' - Bill Elm & Woody Jackson (2010)
"Read Dead Redemption" music captivates the Wild West spirit perfectly and the main theme is especially good at it. This is especially important since the theme returns several times throughout. The infamous church bell, building snare drum, and a fine melody carried by guitar at first, then to the whistle and voices puts us in the saddle firmly. We are ready. Borrowing liberally from the great spaghetti Westerns in style, this is a very respectable theme.
24. 'Grim Fandango' - Peter McConnell (1998)
A cult game gotta have a cult soundtrack.
The game's music, a mix of an orchestral score, South American folk music, jazz, swing and big band sounds, was composed at LucasArts by Peter McConnell and inspired by the likes of Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman as well as film composers Max Steiner and Adolph Deutsch. The score featured live musicians that McConnell knew or made contact with in San Francisco's Mission District, including a mariachi band.
23. 'Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver' - Kurt Harland (1999)
Old but gold. Kurt Harland composed most of the music for "Soul Reaver"; he remarked that, under Amy Hennig's direction, he programmed music to change based on the current gameplay situation - for example, combat or swimming. Each vampire tribe had corresponding music; one tribe of vampires was associated with a slow, thumping theme to convey a sense of working machinery.
22. 'The Last of Us' [PS3] - Gustavo Santaolalla (2013)
In this masterpiece from Naughty Dog, the composer Gustavo Santaolalla utilizes his Argentinian roots to full effect, relying on picking acoustic guitars and elongated electric ones, along with piano, symphonic strings, and tribal drums. All feel well lived-in and by pinning them to desolation, he underscores that particular motif to apply it to every character, motive, action, or the like. The game's theme has a quiet gallop that expands to a full sonic field of instrumentation, and it's in those bursting moments that his score brings light to what is typically a subtle and emotional affair.
21. 'The Binding of Isaac' - Danny Baranowsky (2011)
If only all basements had soundtracks such as this. This soundtrack is a tasty amalgam of epic synth orchestra, rock, and a little bit of chiptuned goodness for added flavor. The layering and dynamic variation are totally on par with "Super Meat Boy," and the instrumentation is dark and creepy in that "abandoned child's attic" kind of way: something perfectly fitting for this game, and something that Baranowsky seems to have a proclivity for.
20. 'Quake' - Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails (1996)
The music and sound design for "Quake" were done by Trent Reznor, founder of Nine Inch Nails, using ambient soundscapes and synthesized drones to create atmospheric tracks. In an interview, Reznor remarked that the "Quake" soundtrack "is not music, it's textures and ambiences and whirling machine noises and stuff. We tried to make the most sinister, depressive, scary, frightening kind of thing... It's been fun. "The game also has some ammo boxes decorated with the Nine Inch Nails logo.
19. 'Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest' [SNES] - David Wise (1995)
Who doesn't love blasting from barrels and collecting bananas? Surely no normal person. "Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest" sounds a lot like its predecessor, which certainly isn't a bad thing. The atmospheric orchestrated soundtrack returns, providing catchy and eerie tunes alike.
18. 'The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt' - Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikolai Stroinski, Percival (2015)
It’s only natural that the best game of 2015 also has the best score of 2015. The soundtrack for "The Witcher 3," notably for DLC "Blood and Wine," heavily influenced by Slavic culture, is truly a masterpiece. It is wildly original and unique, it was cohesive, it used a variety of styles that tied in extremely smoothly with each other, and it was just an overall thoroughly enjoyable.
17. 'Super Metroid' [SNES] - Kenji Yamamoto & Minako Hamano (1994)
The aesthetic of the "Metroid" soundtrack is of a rather overtly dark, and ominous setting to fit its context, and adds to the desolation and loneliness of the playing experience. The soundtrack is comprised of many songs, each with a different feel to fit the environment you're in. A perfect example of the diversity in the soundtrack can be seen in "Lower Norfair," a desolate, volcanic area far below the planet's surface. Incorporated in this track are tribal drums and background music, which portrays a sense of fear and confinement. In complete contrast to that we have "Lower Maridia", which features a dark, yet airy keyboard loop, with a synthesizer in the background. This song is just soothing, and would be a great song to fall asleep to.
16. 'Metal Gear Solid' series - Tappy, Rika Muranaka, Harry Gregson-Williams, Norihiko Hibino, etc (1998-2015)
Legendary series from Hideo Kojima. Everyone can find a perfect tune for themselves in these.
15. 'Diablo II' - Matt Uelmen (2000)
"Diablo II" soundtrack is one hell of a thing (no pun intended). It can be roughly divided into four parts, representing the four acts that the (original) game has. Each of these acts has its own distinct kind of atmosphere, and they differ a lot from each other. They do however have one thing in common: their soundtracks are all creepy as hell. Except for the final two tracks "Coda" and "Roger and Me" which are relatively upbeat, the composer did an amazing job at keeping the whole soundtrack dark and grim, but also creating a lot of diversity between the different acts and their respective songs. What is so special about this soundtrack is that it is amazingly ambient, even while only listening to one song at a time. As a soundtrack, it is a massive piece of work, fully representing the paranoia that the game was trying to inflict on its players, but one can do nothing else than be amazed when listening to it as a whole, considering that Matt Uelmen has managed to create an atmosphere this scary with the use of just a few instruments and musical effects.
14. 'Silent Hill 2' - Akira Yamaoka (2001)
At his home, Yamaoka took three days to write the music for "Theme of Laura," the main theme of "Silent Hill 2," by combining "a sad melody" and "a strong beat," although he does not consider a melody to be the "most important" element of a music piece. He wanted to evoke emotion from the player with the music.
13. 'Shadow of the Colossus' [PS2] - Kow Otani (2005)
This score is filled with moments of impossible beauty. "Swift Horse"'s defiant, transcendent strings and "The Sunlit Earth"'s optimistic (and, dare we say it, near-perfect) piano melodies are two obvious highlights, and yet even amidst the loudest din, the album is always incredibly beautiful, as seen in "A Despair-Filled Farewell"'s percussive keyboards that provide a support for an entire orchestra.
It's a monumental work that perfectly evokes solitude, fear, courage, and even hope. Few soundtracks have ever been this ambitious, especially those written for a video game, and even fewer have been this enjoyable and beautiful.
12. 'StarCraft' - Derek Duke, Jason Hayes, Glenn Stafford, Tracy W. Bush (1998)Like the "World of Warcraft" series of games, "StarCraft" has provided some excellent music to its popular game series. While it may seem like technically outdated, it still makes for a great stand-alone listen.
11. 'Castlevania: Symphony of the Night' [PS] - Michiru Yamane (1997)
The Michiru Yamane-composed score is one of the greatest of all time, and the sound system used is amazing (the streamed music sounds almost as great as redbook). Like past "Castlevania" games, many of the songs are Baroque-influenced melodies performed in a rock style, but there is much more stylistic variety here than in past "Castlevania" games. "Prologue" is one of the finest hard rock tunes to ever grace a video game. "Dracula Castle" is a pounding rock theme with a soaring melody that ranks as perhaps the best song the series has ever seen. And "Awakened Soul" fuses a Santana-esque melody to a danceable beat to create a surprisingly effective laid-back number.
10. 'Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2' - Frank Klepacki (2000)
"Red Alert 2" soundtrack is a continuation of "Red Alert"'s mix of hard rock and electronica, or "rocktronic," as Klepacki would dub this hybrid trademark style. The difference between "Red Alert" and "Red Alert 2"? The latter score is a more consistent and refined work, leaving out "Red Alert"'s prosaic underscore. As always, Klepacki's cues are a constant source of surprising ideas and cross-pollinations - "Red Alert 2" includes everything from the euphoric hard rock rave of "Destroy" to "Probing"'s club-ready funk and the playful house/hip-hop melange that is "Motorized." "Red Alert 2" is unpredictable and fun, but it also manages to always stay on target, its ever-present militaristic drive sending players gleefully into combat.
9. 'Fallout' - Mark Morgan (1997)
"Fallout"'s soundtrack is one of these, but rather than falling into the above sections, it falls into one of its own: the overly ambient, threatening, and ominous. It took me a few listens to get to grips with what this physical release really represents, though perhaps a fault of the music being listened to in isolation, rather than alongside the game's context. Those who own "Fallout The Soundtrack" should treasure this rare disc and the rest wanting to revisit the music for the game should head straight for a download of "Vault Archives" instead.
8. 'Mass Effect 2' - Jack Wall, Jimmy Hinson, Sam Hulick, David Kates (2010)
By God this is an epic game. Doing the suicide mission for the first time is one of the most epic gaming experience of all time. Overall, clocking in at almost 2 hours, "Mass Effect 2" is about as good as any movie you'll find today, and its soundtrack is about as good, if not better than several of the soundtracks releasing today. I gained a lot of respect for Jack Wall after the first game gave me so many great themes, but I've gained a whole other level of appreciation for him after hearing him expand and play with the motifs now essential to the series.
7. 'Halo 2' - Martin O'Donnell & Michael Salvatori (2004)
Anyone one who has ever booted up "Halo 2" will immediately recognize the first track "Prologue," as an electric guitar lick by Steve Vai backed by thunderous drum beats play over a short-but-sweet ambient build up. Everything eventually reaches a climax and fades out along with the final guitar strum only to be replaced by the franchise's trademark monk choir.
6. 'The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind' - Jeremy Soule (2002)
"Elder Scrolls" franchise is famous for its breathtaking experience and fantastic music so it's no surprise that we got two entries from our users - "Morrowind" and "Skyrim" and as "Skyrim got less upvotes we decided to go with "Morrowind." "Morrowind" is a captivating and engaging score with a wonderful main theme. If you don't have the score already, then the DirectSong release is certainly the way to go. It may not be Soule's most original work, but it's definitely a fine and worthy addition to your video game music collection.
5. 'Doom' - Robert Prince (1993)
One of the most known scores of all time. Many of the songs were inspired by or closely mirror popular rock and metal songs of that era, from groups such as Alice in Chains, Metallica, Pantera and Slayer.
4. 'The Legend of Zelda' series - Koji Kondo, etc (1986-2016)
A must-have to travel around Hyrule on your journey to obtain the Triforce.
3. 'Heroes of Might and Magic III' - Paul Romero, Rob King & Steve Baca (1999)
"One day, when I get old, I get all my friends together, and we'll finish all the games we once started in 'Heroes of Might and Magic III'”
Timeless classic, fantasy world, awesome music.
2. Super Mario Bros. [NES] - Koji Kondo (1985)
You all know these tunes. At the time Koji Kondo was composing, video game music was mostly meant to attract attention, not necessarily to enhance or conform to the game. Kondo's work on "Super Mario Bros." was one of the major forces in the shift towards music becoming an integral and participatory part of video games. Whenever he has been asked, Kondo lists the "Overworld" themes from "Super Mario Bros." and "The Legend of Zelda" as his favorite.
Kondo had two specific goals for his music: "to convey an unambiguous sonic image of the game world", and "to enhance the emotional and physical experience of the gamer." The music of "Super Mario Bros." is coordinated with the onscreen animations of the various sprites, which was one way he created a sense of greater immersion. He wasn't the first to do this, for example, "Space Invaders" has a simple song that gets faster and faster as the aliens speed up, eliciting a sense of stress and impending doom that matches the increasing challenge of the game.
After the development of the game showed progress, he realized that his music did not quite fit the pace of the game, so he changed it a bit by increasing the tempo. The music was further adjusted based on the expectations of Nintendo's play-testers.
1. 'Final Fantasy VII' - Nobuo Uematsu (1997)
The immortal classics from Square Enix takes the first place. From the early days of the series through to the latest incarnation, "Final Fantasy" soundtracks have always been highly acclaimed. Rock-tinged instrumentals, including the pace-building battle music, make up only a small portion of the entire catalog. This is probably for the better as the finer moments mostly come from the classical-style tracks. Many of these are very touching, particularly for those who have played through the hugely successful game, "Aerith's Death" being a particularly fine case to highlight. Indeed, from the opening track with its haunting arpeggios to the captivating end-scene music, this soundtrack is teeming with astonishing compositions of the highest quality. "Final Fantasy, Vol. 7" is one of Uematsu's finest works to date. It changed the video game music scene when it was released, and still today it sounds as inspired as ever.
That's all folks; we hope you enjoyed the top, stay tuned until next week for another WQ!