Recently I conducted a poll to see the opinions of different people on what they consider the best video game soundtracks of all time to be. The poll was interesting, but the results ended up being a moot point for the most part. I suppose it says something that I did acknowledge that other people have opinions though, even though most of those opinions were wrong. KIDDING! Kidding… kidding… partially kidding…
I used specific criteria when deciding on the entries on this list. One thing I decided on was that the music had to be composed specifically for the game in question. This automatically excludes some outstanding game soundtracks like Tetris and GTA: Vice City. I also considered things like impact, scope, influence, catchiness, and memorability. Additionally, and a no-brainer, is that the music has to be damn good.
Well, without further ado, I present you with the J.C. Wigriff “Top 11 Video Game Soundtracks of All Time!”
#11 – Halo
I am not a Halo fan. By the time I actually played Halo, the sequel was already out. I had gone over to a friend’s house, several guys were sitting around playing multiplayer, and they asked if I wanted to join in. After about a half-hour of a continuous cycle of spawn and instant death, I quit playing forever. Why did I include this at number 11 then? Because I have spent awhile listening to the music and it is very good – but mainly it’s because of my numerous friends who would whine and cry like little bitches if I didn’t include it. So, here it is at number 11… Halo.
… You know what? Fuck Halo! It doesn’t make the list. I take it back. Now, let’s get started with the…
“Top 10 Video Game Soundtracks of All Time!”
#10 – Sim City
I know what some of you are thinking, but hear me out. Not only was the music in Sim City whimsical and enjoyable, it was relaxing. What better companion could you have for hours of city building? It is also a prime example of how music can set the mood for a video game.
Did you ever realize that the music style changed based upon the size of your population? The village music is soothing and melodic, but as your population grows, the music becomes more industrial and complex. Certain events in the game triggered specific musical changes as well, which was pretty revolutionary for the time.
The tracks are all superb, and instantly recognizable, and the original Sim City is well deserved of the #11 spot.
#9 – Duck Tales
In an era where most popular kids franchises were being turned into god-awful platformer games, Duck Tales became the exception. It was released on the NES in 1989, and excelled in nearly every department. Cool enemies? Check. Awesome levels? Check. Tight controls? Check. Multiple Endings? Check. Incredible soundtrack? Oh, hell yeah.
Every track on the game was fantastic, but I don’t think anything can sum it up quite like the most famous song from the game – The Moon.
#8 – Castlevania (series)
It would have been impossible to narrow down a single Castlevania title for this slot, so I hereby nominate the entire damn series. The impetus for most of the iconic tracks is kind of a mystery. The music of the first Castlevania was composed by both Satoe Terashima and Kinuyo Yamashita, although according to Yamashita, they didn’t collaborate on any of the tracks. To this day it is unclear who wrote what track on the original game, and nobody was officially credited for any of them in the game. From Simon’s Quest onward though, both Terashima and Yamashita were credited for the compositions, including the iconic track “Bloody Tears.”
The Castlevania series has been responsible for some of the coolest and most iconic music in all of video game history.
#7 – ToeJam & Earl
What an incredibly bizarre game. When ToeJam & Earl came out in 1991 on the Genesis, I played it relentlessly. Something about the strange imagery as I traversed a distorted Earth as a duo of alien rappers from the planet Funkotron, collecting presents, and dodging man-eating mailboxes was strangely appealing. I was 9 years old, and didn’t know what “surrealism” or “satire” meant, but I knew that I adored this damn game.
One of the things that stuck with me the most though was the badass, funk inspired soundtrack that accompanied the game. The music that John Baker composed for this game is perfect for the setting – or for relaxing in a hot tub full of hula girls.
#6 – Maniac Masion
When I was a kid, video games took me away to many different worlds, and one of my favorite places to visit was the Edison family mansion. Out of all of the LucasFilm adventure games, this is my favorite. The cheesy, sci-fi, B movie feel probably provided my first exposure to this sort of genre, and may be directly responsible for my love of such things today. Dr. Fred, Nurse Edna, Weird Ed, hamsters in microwaves, mummies in the shower, sentient space-tentacles, and an in-game arcade machine called Tuna Diver… can you get any fucking cooler? Yeah, you can. You add an incredible soundtrack full of catchy tunes that perfectly compliment the imagery of the game. These songs rock!
#5 – Super Metroid
The original Metroid had a fantastic soundtrack, but the SNES incarnation of the series improved on it in every single way. In fact, I am partial to claim that Super Metroid is actually a perfect game in general, soundtrack aside. The creepy, isolated atmosphere generated by the score begins as the cartridge initially loads, when you hear the sounds of a Metroid before the 16-bit enhanced version of the Metroid theme kicks in.
From Crateria to Brinstar, and Maridia to Norfair, the soundtrack is simply amazing throughout the entire game, truly enhancing the mood and aura of the entire experience.
#4 – Chrono Trigger
It is hard to find a game with more memorable tracks than Chrono Trigger. This soundtrack was primarily composed by Yasunori Mitsude, even though Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu is credited for several tracks that he made after he was asked to replace Yasunori, who had to be hospitalized for stomach ulcers. Make no mistake though – this is primarily a Mitsude score, with him composing an astonishing 69 tracks for the game (Uematsu composed an additional 9, and collaborated with Yasunori on “Boss Battle 1”. Tsuyoshi composed an additional 4 tracks for the added content on the Playstation release).
These songs conjure a wide range of emotion, and some of them are downright beautiful. Chrono Trigger is one of the most highly regarded games of all time, and it wouldn’t have become what it has had it not been for this breathtaking score.
#3 – Donkey Kong Country
Donkey Kong Country was an SNES revolution in many departments, and may mark the pinnacle of accomplishment on the platform. The soundtrack alone was truly masterful, combining ambient and atmospheric soundscapes, utilizing sounds of nature with catchy melodies and tribal percussion. The songs always fit the level, constantly enhancing the feel of your surrounding environment. All of that aside, these songs flat-out rock, with a depth and melodic lyricism that has rarely been matched.
#2 – Final Fantasy (series)
Video game music hasn’t always received all of the attention that it does now. Anymore, developers spend much time and money producing epics scores and soundscapes for their games, which requires recruiting people with some real musical know-how. Nobuo Uematsu was one of the first artists to help transcend video game soundtracks into the realm of actual compositions, and Final Fantasy is his baby.
While many companies in the 8 and 16-bit era were tacking on repetitive, mindless, digitized tracks to their games – without much thought or care – Uematsu was making some of the most memorable themes to ever grace a cartridge. He took his job very seriously and therefore created some beautiful music that enhanced the Final Fantasy series in nearly every way. Without Nobuo Uematsu, those feelings of joy, sadness, fear, anger and tension wouldn’t have been nearly as pronounced as you traversed the world in a Final Fantasy game. He is like the Danny Elfman of the video game, and has made countless scores that have stuck with me far longer than the end of the game.
#1 –The Legend of Zelda (series)
If Nobuo Uematsu is the Danny Elfman of the video game world, then Koji Kondo is the combination of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith. Kondo has been the musical genius behind Super Mario and Star Fox, but his most impressive contribution by far has been The Legend of Zelda. When Zelda hit in 1986, it was huge. Kondo, regardless of the technical and hardware limitations of the time, created a score for an NES cartridge that invoked a sense of mystery and adventure that a traditional composer with an ensemble orchestra would be hard-pressed to accomplish.
As the series has progressed and evolved, so has the music. Many new songs have been added throughout the years, and the compositions have increased exponentially as far as complexity is concerned – but at the core is still that amazing melodic theme that Kondo conjured up over 25 years ago. It is no wonder why the Zelda theme has achieved worldwide recognition, has touched so many people, and is sitting in the number 1 position on this list.
This has been an opinion piece,
And everyone is entitled to my opinion.