The Top 40 Game Soundtracks of All-Time (Part Three)
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 03:40pm 07/02/18 | Comments
Part three of our countdown of the greatest slices of videogame music our ears have ever, err, heard.
Continuing from Part One and Part Two. Here we countdown 20 through to 11, again covering a wide range of titles. From an adventure game set in the afterlife through to a game many consider to be the greatest of all time. Plus, another Bonus Track. This time from a sci-fi reboot, one that re-introduced us to a futuristic world of all-powerful corporations and humans with bio-mechanical augments.
20. Grim Fandango
Composer(s): Peter McConnell
One of the last great LucasArts adventure games from the ‘90s, Grim Fandango was set in a stylistic afterlife that mixed film noir sensibility with Mexican folklore. The equally impressive soundtrack, by Peter McConnell, also happens to be one of gaming’s purest jazz albums. A genre that we rarely get to hear in the interactive space. With a broad range of styles ranging from bebop, to swing, to Latin, and all filtered through the smoky haze of life after death - this is also jazz done right. And not simple by the numbers covers or homages. The music of Grim Fandango is rich, detailed, and feels like another character in the wonderful story.
Can a videogame on its own be considered a work of art? A question that has been asked countless times in the past, and one that has sparked several varying responses over the years. Ico, from Team Ico, has often been pointed to as an example of a videogame as a complete work of art. But regardless of your stance on this hot-button non-issue, the music featured in the game certainly is just that. Art. Accompanying the truly immersive and stylized visuals, the music of Ico is an evocative blend of acoustic, synth, and orchestral ambience that captures and evokes a wide range of emotions. And how!
18. Diablo II
Composer(s): Matt Uelman
A defining moment for the action-RPG genre, the release of Diablo II in 2000 expanded on the original in just about every way you can imagine. The same can be said of the soundtrack, which sees composer Matt Uelman not only delve deeper into the blend of acoustic guitar and strings heard in the now classic Tristram theme but fully embrace the expanded scope of the game with ambitious new music to match. New exotic locations to explore led to new exotic instrumentation, from wonderfully layered percussion through to an all-encompassing feeling of despair though propulsive and relentlessly inventive sound design. But never without a sense of purpose and almost hidden feeling of hope throughout.
Platform: PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PS3
Visually speaking Fez is bright, colourful, and instantly inviting. And to accompany the visuals, the music featured in the game is similarly fun and colourful. And what you’d probably call chiptune. That is, music created using the same synthesiser and electronic drum kits from consoles like the Game Boy and Super Nintendo. Or, close-enough sounding hardware or software. Although structurally the music here follows a similar loop-based arpeggio approach seen in other chiptune music or classic videogame scores from decades’ past the layering, filter-passes, and subtle changes elevate it to something a lot more than a simple slice of nostalgia. Much like the game itself, it often veers into the realm of melancholy and sadness.
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Composer(s): Mick Gordon
Sound design and composition often go hand-in-hand. Experimenting with different instruments and effects to find or capture a certain mood. Often coming across a gem by accident. Careful planning, recording, and then sequencing. When extra effort is put in, it shows. Mick Gordon’s score for the 2016 incarnation of DOOM is very much a modern masterpiece made possible by the tools available to musicians and game developers today. From nine-stringed guitars, industrial percussion, and truly ground-breaking use of synthesizers and effects, DOOM’s soundtrack is as intense and engaging as the gory-filled combat found on the demon-infested surface of Mars.
Over three-and-a-half hours of original music was composed and created for the impressive NieR: Automata, the latest instalment in the popular sci-fi action-RPG series from Japanese studio PlatinumGames. Now, simply pointing out the sheer breadth of music on offer in an open-world title isn’t an achievement in and of itself, it’s the fact across several hours of music there’s no shortage of wonderful pieces to be found. Layered and filled with the sort of detail that playing the game, in a way, unlocks. Especially when you factor in the collaborations with vocalists and other musicians.
14. Super Mario World
Composer(s): Koji Kondo
‘Simple’ is a world often used to describe videogame soundtracks. And in the case of Koji Kondo’s score for Mario’s 16-bit console debut Super Mario World, that’s probably the right word to use. Taken at face value, Super Mario World’s music is essentially a single theme played at various tempos, styles, and keys, depending on what’s happening on screen or called for. The only real immediate difference from Mario’s 8-bit outings was the new at the time, and clean, 16-bit piano sound. And much like the game itself, when you couple Kondo’s impeccable knack for creating catchy and fun melodies with stuff like riding Yoshi adding a separate percussion track to the music it’s more of evolution than revolution. But an important one.
13. Half-Life 2
Composer(s): Kelly Bailey
Most first-person shooters tend to have soundtracks that if not entirely memorable are at least familiar enough to work as background setting. A Hollywood-lite cinematic score, maybe a few guitars, a few momentary lulls, but always kind of there as you’re busy shooting at bad guys. The soundtrack to Half-Life 2 falls on the side of experimental, with the sound design in the game as a whole falling under the same banner. Industrial, ambient, and usually lasting no longer than a minute, Half-Life 2’s soundtrack is perfect for the game it represents. A deeply immersive experience, one where you can go several minutes without hearing any music only to be subtly presented with sounds as dramatic and often emotional elements unfold on-screen. Plus, it features the now iconic the Valve/Steam logo music. You know the one.
12. Super Metroid
Composer(s): Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamano
The music to Super Metroid is dark. Like, super dark. The sort of music that dives headfirst into the game’s themes of alien infestation, isolation, dread, and a general feeling that things aren’t going all that well in outer-space sci-fi land. At various points it uses bizarre sound effects and distortion as percussive elements, alongside monotone synth choirs chanting and synth string-sections going all midnight horror movie. Put all that together and you’d think it would leave you feeling a little unsettled. But much like the ground-breaking game itself there’s an element of accessibility to the music in Super Metroid. And a sense of hope. Making it the perfect fit to the 16-bit adventures of Samus Aran.
11. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Composer(s): Koji Kondo
The fact that the soundtrack to Ocarina of Time doesn’t feature the iconic Zelda theme that was made popular by the 8-bit original and is still considered an absolute classic, is a testament to the work done here by composer Koji Kondo and the development team at Nintendo EAD. Much like the game itself, the soundtrack is a thoroughly original experience through and through. Even if some of it feels familiar. The sheer amount of thematic work done by Kondo is staggering, thanks in part to the scope and size of the game. Add in the integral part that music plays in the story, with the introduction of a playable Ocarina, and the Ocarina of Time soundtrack enters the realm of interactivity whilst still retaining command over the experience.
BONUS TRACK – Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Composer(s): Michael McCann
There’s a modern trend in cinematic scores that can be attributed to a couple of well-known composers that decided to blend traditional orchestral elements with electronic drums and synths. The results were immediately recognisable and propulsive in a way that soundtracks hadn’t been before. The sort of sound that can be heard throughout 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Which also happens to probably be one of the best examples of this style. The strings, arpeggios, pianos, chanting, build-ups, and menacing horns may now err on the side of familiarity, but when done right, like with the music in Deus Ex: Human Revolution -- the results can be timeless.