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The 7 Best Video Game Soundtracks Of All Time

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video game soundtracks
The effects of music can be profound, making us feel just about any emotion you can think of. When paired with visual effects like an epic movie, a slot game that’s worth hitting the “try it now” button on, and, of course, video games, music can make or break the entire experience.

For video games of every style and genre, a carefully crafted soundtrack can immerse us in an experience so that we’re completely captivated by the gameplay. Of all the video games that have been released over the decades, these seven have soundtracks that surpass the rest.

Since video game and music preferences are subjective, this list aims to pick the best for a wide range of genres in music and gaming. But that’s enough preamble — let’s get to the games!

video games music

7. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Request, David Wise

This game, which features goofy and iconic characters tearing through chaotic levels and challenges, is surprisingly attached to the theatrics of orchestral instruments. Usually, when an orchestra plays, we think of it as a serious or formal event, but David Wise created a dynamic relationship between the playful nature of the game and the drama of an orchestra.

The soundscape propels players through gameplay, adding to the depth of the challenges and the triumph of wins, but most notably, adding to the enjoyment.

6. Doom, Bobby Prince

Doom stands out in the video game community for being the first game to let go of the concept of lives and point systems during gameplay. The game developers were intentional about this as they wanted to shape a desire in the game’s players to play the game. As developer John Romero said, “The game’s attitude was, I want you to keep playing. We wanted to get people to the point where they always needed more.”

Another way they fed this need for the game was with the game’s soundtrack. But to appreciate the soundtrack, keep in mind that the game is a first-person shooter game where players are battling a demon invasion, which lays the groundwork for an overarching demonic theme.

The game’s designers leaned into the Metal vibe that comes with demonic themes by drawing inspiration from Punk and Heavy Metal genres.

This created an intense gaming experience that kept the players hyped and coming back for more.

5. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Various Artists

The most unique soundtrack on this list is the one belonging to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. What makes this soundtrack different from the rest is that rather than composing unique music, the GTA designers decided to curate the music and offer a bit of choice to its players.

The selected songs were from various bands and artists popular in the ‘80s — including Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Tears for Fears, and Blondie. Players can choose the music by tuning the radios in the cars they drive to different stations, each of which has a dedicated genre (and radio DJ) that they can switch to and from to suit their playing needs.

4. The Last of Us, Gustavo Santaolalla

The Last of Us video game (which was recently adapted into a successful TV series) debuted in 2013. It offers an action-adventure game that takes players through a post-apocalyptic world. The soundtrack is ambient and moody, with a touch of folk, and consists of string instruments as the main elements.

The music was composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, who has a hand in more than just video game soundtracks and The Last of Us TV series. He’s also contributed to TV shows and movies, including an episode of The Simpsons and Jane the Virgin.

3. Bastion, Darren Korb

Bastion, the first video game from Supergiant Games, has a soundtrack described by the audio director and composer Darren Korb as an “acoustic frontier Trip-Hop.” The leading instrument is an acoustic guitar, but the overall sound borrows from various genres. The acoustic vibe complements the theme and feel of the game, which Supergiant Games dubs as a “fantasy frontier world.” The audio of the role-playing game brings players into their task of creating and protecting a safe place for civilization.

2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Jeremy Soule

The intense bravado of this edition of The Elder Scrolls pulls you into the game’s world, giving you no choice other than to become invested in the prophecy, lore, and task at hand. The intensity is created by a choir and drums, with rich, deep voices and a steady, insistent rhythm.

Jeremy Soule, the game’s composer, also took on composing other soundtracks in The Elder Scrolls series and other games, including Dead Rising 2, Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, and multiple Harry Potter video games.

1. Super Mario Bros., Koji Kondo

The beloved and impossible-not-to-know Super Mario Bros. soundtrack earns its position not for its popularity (though that helps) but for the skill that went into it. With just a few notes, Koji Kondo created a melody that slipped into our brains almost 40 years ago and never left.

Kondo did this by transforming elements from some of his biggest influences, ranging from Latin Jazz to Bluegrass, into a sound that Nintendo’s sound chip could support (which at the time was minimal). The success of the Super Mario Bros. music is widely recognized and has even earned a place in the Library of Congress.

Conclusion

Whether a game is creating an atmosphere of intensity and suspense or one of ease and playfulness, soundtracks are instrumental to the game design process. Just imagine your favorite games without the tones and melodies synonymous with playing them — would they hold the same appeal? We doubt it!

By Erick Ycaza

Hi, my name is Erick Ycaza. I have a BA in Advertising & Graphic Design. This blog is to provide you with daily music news and share my personal style.