Normally, when you see a “best of” list regarding video games, it’s focusing on graphics or gameplay. Today, we’d like to turn our attention to the soundtracks–the tunes that play while you’re saving the world are massively important for setting the tone of the adventure.
When you think about an iconic series like The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros, you can hear the background music already playing. These famous tunes are more than just set dressing for some of our favorite adventures, they’re the heart and soul of the games they appear in. Here are the ten best video game soundtracks of all time!
When you hear the first few notes playing in World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros, you know you’re in for a good time. Composer Koji Kondo arranged the music for the beloved 1985 platformer, and his work is still heard in modern iterations of the series. Kondo was able to pull an incredible amount of fidelity from the underpowered NES’s skimpy audio channels.
From the upbeat field tunes in the first level to the moody tracks that play when you’re underground, Super Mario Bros takes you on as much of an audio journey as it does a fast-paced platforming adventure.
In Doom, the player is an invincible force of holy vengeance. As the Doomslayer, the player is tasked with crushing demons and saving the world from a hellish invasion. The soundtrack helps set the scene–each tune is basically boss-fight music. But the big, unbeatable monster isn’t in front of you. Instead, you are the monster.
Doom’s soundtrack is full of bone-crushing heavy metal tracks courtesy of composer Mick Gordon that incorporate everything from shredding electric guitars to thumping double-bass drums. Some tracks even include audible chainsaw engines revving to really pull you into the destructive soundscape that must define the Doomslayer’s every waking moment.
Composer Marty O’Donnel absolutely nailed the soundtrack for the original Halo. The game opens with Gregorian chanting that sells the otherworldly titular space structure as something worthy of worship and underscores the religious overtones of the villainous Covenant aliens.
The game’s soundtrack also includes plentiful pounding drums befitting its military themes. Iconic tracks from the game kick in right as the action picks up in the most intense levels, which makes both the soundtrack and the gameplay it accompanies highly memorable.
Another Koji Kondo arrangement, The Legend of Zelda similarly possesses an incredible soundtrack for its era. Like Super Mario Bros, the soundtrack helps immerse the player in the game’s world in a way that previous video games hadn’t done.
The overworld theme is one of the most well-known gaming tunes ever composed. The chime that plays when the player finds a hidden door or solves a puzzle is synonymous with a small success in a video game. These tunes continue to define modern Zelda games to this day.
If you had to use one word to describe Chrono Trigger, it would be “lavish.” Everything about the 1995 RPG oozes production value and style. The art designer, Akira Toriyama, is known for his mega-popular anime Dragon Ball. The composer, Yasunori Mitsuda, wanted to match his colleague’s impeccable art direction with equally unparalleled music.
Mitsuda reportedly worked so hard on Trigger’s music that he would frequently pass out. He also got a stomach ulcer during the production of the game and needed to be hospitalized, delaying the completion of the soundtrack. His hard work seems to have paid off, though, as Chrono Trigger’s music is downright excellent.
Square was renowned for giving its games incredible graphics and music, even back in the NES and SNES eras. This reputation started with Final Fantasy, with composer Nobuo Uematsu creating a stirring backdrop to the globe-trotting adventures using only the NES’s tiny MIDI audio processor.
Uematsu’s compositions are so popular that he sells out concerts in Japan to this day. His orchestral tunes are instantly recognizable to any video game fan. The first few notes of the Final Fantasy title screen theme can conjure images of turn-based battles and epic storylines in the minds of gamers of all ages.
The Metal Gear Solid franchise is director Hideo Kojima’s love letter to Hollywood. The protagonist is basically Snake Plissken from Escape from New York. The plotlines are comparable to a Bond movie. And the tunes are just as memorable as anything from a summer blockbuster.
Series composer Harry Gregson-Williams worked with Kojima starting in 2008 with Metal Gear Solid 4. His songs carry the right amount of gravity for the over-the-top stakes found in the super-spy franchise.
The first PlayStation entry in the acclaimed Castlevania series, Symphony of the Night, isn’t just called that because it’s a cool title for a moody game about vampires. The “symphony” is literal–composer Michiru Yamane pulled out all the stops with the horror-tinged strings, stirring orchestral arrangements, and pulse-pounding action tracks.
Symphony is one of the finest games ever made, featuring groundbreaking exploration gameplay and pixel-perfect combat. The triumphant soundtrack just helps propel it over the top and makes it one of the most memorable entries in the Castlevania series.
Anyone who has ever played a Persona game knows that they’re a treat for the eyes and ears alike. The long-running RPG franchise features slick anime designs and stylish graphical presentation that makes it a fan favorite. These sumptuous visuals are accompanied by a head-bobbing jazzy soundtrack.
Persona 5 is a standout example in this regard. One minute you’ll be drawn into the game due to its addictive turn-based combat and compelling storyline, and the next, you’ll be singing along to a moody background song.
The best video game soundtrack of all time belongs to Donkey Kong Country. Composed by the legendary musician David Wise, the SNES classic takes the 16-bit system’s audio channels and makes them absolutely sing. DKC features intricate, thematic tracks that perfectly capture the mood of each level.
Songs in DKC feature dozens of instruments, a low-key ambient vibe, and truly genius arrangements. Just listen to the upbeat DK Island Swing or the driving Mine Cart Madness to hear how the game can hype you up. And when it’s time for a dip, you’re treated to the impeccable Aquatic Ambiance. While DKC’s excellent platforming gameplay made it a top-selling SNES game, its soundtrack makes it one of the most legendary video games ever made.