Get ready for a deep dive into a nostalgia-filled library of iconic video game soundtracks from throughout history. From the iconic tracks the greatest NES classics all the way to modern orchestral masterpieces, here’s a list of 10 iconic video game soundtracks that helped define the medium. One simple rule: licensed soundtracks don’t count. There’s no denying that the soundtracks of San Andreas or Guitar Hero are historic, but we’re keeping this list to original soundtracks only. If you feel like owning a piece of these historic and awesome soundtracks after finishing this article, you can always purchase them on iTunes after topping up your iTunes Gift Cards. Let’s get the list going!
Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatore co-wrote the soundtrack for the Xbox’s flagship title which combined with the innovative gameplay to make a gaming experience that helped keep the Xbox competitive during Sony’s most dominant console generation. The series went on to become so successful that its ominous theme track would go on to become one of the most recognizable in video games. The rest of the soundtrack may not be as well-known, but it’s expertly-crafted and a perfect accompaniment for the first in what would become an enduring franchise about a supersoldier and his blue digital companion. If you’re curious to experience this game and listen to its score there’s no better time than now. The original Halo just released as part of the Halo Master Chief Collection on Steam!
Most Final Fantasy titles have a fair shout for getting into this list. Final Fantasy VII had its eclectic mix of Baroque and electronica, Final Fantasy VI encapsulated the insanity of Luca Blight with the manic complexity of Dancing Mad, and Final Fantasy X withs it more laidback island vibes. But Fantasy VII set the world afire with its release, transforming this JRPG series whose success had been limited to its own island nation into a global phenomenon. And the soundtrack, masterfully penned by series veteran Nobuo Uematsu, has become embedded in the hearts and minds of gamers around the world, from the melancholy piano of Aerith’s Theme to the bombastic intricacy of One-Winged Angel, it’s no surprise that this soundtrack has remained popular decades after its original release. Get into the mood for the upcoming remake by listening to this classic soundtrack today. You won’t regret it.
Bastion is the game that put Supergiant Games on the map. Praised for its innovation and originality, the painterly visuals and forlorn tale of life in a post-apocalyptic landscape, Bastion comes together thanks to its stellar soundtrack. A gorgeous blending of old bluegrass twang with the cold precision of electronica, Darren Korb’s score fits perfectly with Bastion’s retro-futuristic vibe. The cherry(ies) on the cake? The theme songs for Zia and Zulf, two pillar characters in the game’s tale, each hauntingly beautiful and wonderful tracks individually. And at the game’s climax, their songs come together, a sorrowful duet that conjures the longing for a place and time long gone.
No list of legendary video game soundtracks would be complete without Super Mario. The original Super Mario Bros. on the NES introduced us to the music that would define a generation of video games, and even the medium as a whole. No character has achieved the mainstream recognizability of Mario and no single track has become as well-known as the background music for World 1-1. Even your parents and grandparents know this catchy, upbeat track that marked the beginning of the most well-known franchise in video games. There are some great soundtracks in the Super Mario franchise, but none is more iconic than the one that started it all.
Fun fact: Harry Gregson-Williams, the man behind the soundtracks for Metal Gear Solid, also co-composed the score for the first Shrek movie. The intro theme to Sons of Liberty, an orchestral re-imagining of the original track infused with electronic drumbeats and intricate digital percussion, is one of the most popular tracks in video game history and a centerpiece in live adaptations of video game music. But the 60’s-era James Bond-inspired soundtrack to Snake Eater overtakes Sons of Liberty for the best soundtrack in the series. In the game’s quieter moments, the light reverbed guitar and subdued strings create tension and drama. When you’re caught, the music explodes into wild electronic drums and menacing brass. And then there’s the beautiful title track, “Snake Eater”, a tribute to spy film music of the 60’s and 70’s, made somehow more memorable by its strange and awkward lyrics. Try to watch a playthrough of the game and not sing along when the Ladder Scene comes up.
The endlessly catchy soundtrack for the first title in Mega Man’s “edgy” sub-franchise perfectly sets the tone for the series. At the height of the 90’s anti-mainstream, “extreme” culture, Mega Man X showed us a new side to the Blue Bomber. Forget the catchy chiptune tracks of the NES classics, X brought us MIDI-driven heavy metal, leveraging the SNES’ power to offer us a crisper, more detailed action-platformer. In the ’90s, Old Blue was lame and X rocked! And its heavy soundtrack took that to heart, with its melodic guitar riffs and driving heavy metal drums. Anyone who’s played this can hum the track to the intro stage by memory. And with the resurgence of soundtracks inspired by that golden age of sprite-based games, the score even holds up today!
Chrono Trigger is the rare example of a video game with a soundtrack more influential than the game itself. That’s not to say Chrono Trigger wasn’t a hit in its day – it’s a common addition to Best Games Ever lists all over the internet – but its prog-rock, jazz-fusion soundtrack has been namedropped as inspiration for the likes of Ryan Hemsworth and Groundislava even resulting in a fan-made musical. This diverse range of musical styles, made necessary by the game’s time-traveling tale, is a showcase of composer Yasunori Mitsuda’s versatility as a writer and the entire score is necessary listening for any fan of soundtracks from the Golden Era of JRPGs.
Those were our picks for some amazing and legendary video game soundtracks that any self-respecting gamer should check out. Better yet, try the games out and experience their scores within the context of the games. If you’re a fan of more modern production and live instruments, you can listen to some wonderful orchestral adaptations of 8- and 16-bit classics performed by world-class orchestras on YouTube. Or if you feel you want the original pieces for yourself, get your iTunes Gift Card and buy them on iTunes. What legendary soundtracks do you want the world to know about?