The Top 40 Game Soundtracks of All-Time (Part Four)
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 04:00pm 09/02/18 | Comments
We finally crack the Top 10 in our countdown of the greatest slices of videogame music you're likely to hear.
Continuing from Part One, where we began our countdown with numbers 40 through to 31. And then Part Two which brought us halfway with 30 through to 21. And who could forget Part Three cracking the top 20 with numbers 20 through to 11? Which is a roundabout way of saying that we made it. So, without further ado - here are the Top 10 game soundtracks!
Platform: PlayStation 3
Composer(s): Austin Wintory
The first videogame soundtrack to be nominated for a Grammy, and it’s not hard to see why. Or more precisely, hear why. Like the title itself, listening to the music created by Austin Wintory for Thatgamecompany’s Journey feels like embarking on a very personal musical journey. Now, music that can transplant the listener to a specific time, place, or even feeling is as old as the art form itself, but what makes the music to indie hit Journey so special is that the instrumentation, solos, and themes reflect the introspective nature of the visuals. Take away the music, or by that token the visuals, and you’re left with one half of a truly transcendent interactive experience.
9. Mega Man 2
Composer(s): Takashi Tateishi
The sheer tempo of the music featured in most 8-bit action games is more than enough to accompany the on-screen action. And in a lot of cases this in and of itself was about all you could hope for. But in the case of Takashi Tateishi’s score for Mega Man 2 you get the speed, and the drive. Thanks to the wonderful melodies, funky grooves, and brilliant progression. The soundtrack to Mega Man 2 also doubles as a great gateway into the world of chiptune, the genre born from these sort of 8-bit sounds. The robotic patterns, repetition, and layers that define a lot of modern chiptune music can all be found here. Where it’s all executed in style.
8. Mass Effect
Platform: Xbox 360
Composer(s): Jack Wall, Sam Hulick, Richard Jacques, David Kates
BioWare’s epic sci-fi trilogy Mass Effect is one of the RPG genre’s most beloved series of games. A grand operatic story that spans multiple planets, spaceships, alien races, mysterious technologies, and blue aliens to make out with. The soundtrack to the first game takes the concept of the known and unknown head-on as it blends electronic arpeggios, ambient soundscapes with real-world instruments. Something that later games in series lost sight of as they featured more traditional orchestral and somewhat boring cinematic scores. In some ways the middle-eastern influence of the music featured in the first game owes a lot to Battlestar Galactica, but the execution still feels original. Plus, the music that plays when you view the game’s infamous Galaxy Map is just about one the best ambient electronic pieces ever recorded. Whilst totally selling the concept of simply being in awe of the huge galaxy you’ll get to explore.
7. The Secret of Monkey Island
Composer(s): Michael Land, Patrick Mundy
When it comes to the quality of the MIDI instrumentation found in games throughout the years, the progression seen across adventure games in the ‘80s that continued into the early ‘90s is often overlooked. Now, the music in LucasArt’s classic adventure The Secret of Monkey Island may sound synthesised but the warm Caribbean and pirate vibe can be felt from the get-go thanks to the MIDI drums, tubas, wind instruments, and more. Released at a time, the pre-CD-ROM era, when the amount of music that a PC game could was limited composers and designers needed to ensure what was included stood out. In The Secret of Monkey Island the sound is created in such a way as to invoke a specific tone and mood perfectly suited to the world. Plus, thanks to the talented folks at LucasArts you also get one of the all-time great videogame themes.
6. Jet Set Radio
Composer(s): Hideki Naganuma, Various
Rollerblades, spray-paint, a dystopian Japan, and a radio station that plays all the funkiest and illegal electronic tunes this side of Shibuya. It’s no wonder that Jet Set Radio became an almost overnight cult hit. And the soundtrack to the game is very much like listening to a real-world pirate or non-mainstream radio station. One that plays nothing but funky white label instrumental Japanese hip-hop, breaks, and house jams brimming with positivity. So, a perfect fit for the cool cel-shaded aesthetic featured in the game. But even on its own Jet Set Radio’s soundtrack features more than its fair share of classic tracks, the sort of stuff made up of wonderful samples, funky basslines, and straight up dope beats.
As one of many great Super Nintendo RPG’s released over the console’s lifespan, Chrono Trigger probably features one the greatest soundtracks to ever grace a videogame. A big call sure, but the combination of Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu results in music that goes from being calm, peaceful, and contemplative one minute, to propulsive, dramatic, and funky the next. And like the game itself, the music pushes the SNES sound hardware to its absolute limit, with a score as varied in sound as what you might find with a pre-recorded orchestral soundtrack today. Which is a sentiment felt by many living in Australia, considering how long we had to wait to play it. A staggering musical achievement that has gone on to influence several titles in the decades since.
4. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Platform: Nintendo GameCube
Composer(s): Kenta Nagata, Hajime Wakai, Toru Minegishi, Koji Kondo
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is a testament to the evolution of the music found in the series, and how themes, motifs, and instrumentation can change whilst paying homage to everything that has come before. Take the music from the opening location, Outset Island. A charming and inviting piece that conveys the innocence of a young adventurer on the cusp of being forced into a conflict with world-changing ramifications. It’s quiet, beautiful, and at times evokes melodies from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s opening location Kokiri Forest. As The Legend of Zelda series grows and takes on more and more historical relevance so too does the music.
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Composer(s): Jeremy Soule
There’s a reason people fall in love with Bethesda Game Studios’ RPGs, even after they come across a weird animation glitch or bug. It’s the sense of freedom and exploration that can only be found in this particular breed of open-world game. In terms of size and things to do The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is possibly the studio’s high-watermark, featuring a truly massive world to explore and get lost in. Accompanying and adding to the immersion is Jeremy Soule’s epic score. Featuring hours of music created to suit both grand story beats and those moments or hours where you’re just walking around and taking in the sights, this is ambient, bombastic, and memorable orchestral music brimming with melodic creativity and purpose.
The music featured in Metroid Prime in many ways is a continuation of the music heard in Super Metroid. And as that game defined a specific type of 2D gaming experience, Metroid Prime just about did the same with the series’ first transition into 3D. And by giving intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran a diverse planet to explore, the music takes on a more wondrous tone than the darker 16-bit outing. But even so, the otherworldly sound effects, and unknown extra-terrestrial feel of the 16-bit Super Metroid can be found here. Even in a time when game soundtracks were shifting towards orchestral and pre-recorded pieces, the suitably MIDI sounds of Metroid Prime stand out as some of gaming’s absolute best.
1. Super Mario Bros.
Composer(s): Koji Kondo
If you’ve played any one of the classic Super Mario Games released over the years then you’ve probably heard the catchy and iconic music featured in the very first level, World 1-1. And the funky bass-driven workout when Mario first goes underground. Simple, sure. But like many of cinema’s most iconic themes, or pop music’s most immediately accessible three-minute songs, there’s a timelessness to both pieces. And an attachment that transcends age, gender, or country of origin. But music alone isn’t what makes the original Super Mario Bros. so memorable, it’s the impeccable design behind every aspect of the experience. And how everything oozes musicality, from the sound that comes from collecting a 1-Up to timing required to land a difficult jump. It’s this imaginative blend of visuals, music, sounds, and gameplay that would define both Shigeru Miyamoto’s and Koji Kondo’s respective careers.
BONUS TRACK – Banjo Kazooie
Composer(s): Grant Kirkhope
The soundtrack to Banjo Kazooie is as bright and colourful as the game’s visuals. And fun too, with simple, catchy, and memorable melodies throughout. But as a title for the cartridge-powered Nintendo 64, the music in the game is MIDI and executed in real-time as you play. Something that both Rare and composer Grant Kirkhope take full advantage of in Banjo Kazooie, with the instrumentation and representation of themes changing seamlessly as Banjo and Kazooie go from location to location, underwater, or beak-first into danger. The dynamic nature of the music is probably represented best with the ambitious Click Clock Wood stage in the later parts of the game, where a huge sprawling level changes both visually and musically, around the four seasons.