The 20 Greatest Video Game Soundtracks of All Time (2024)

Video games are a truly special fusion of artistic mediums, and music plays a huge part as some of the most memorable and best video game soundtracks are spawned.

From audio to video, from narrative to sport, a game’s interactivity allows you to explore a wide combination of expression in an intricate and wholly original way.

Music is often one of the most important factors in their emotional resonance – the ‘feel’ of a game and the memories associated with it can all be brought to life by a great score. What is it about those slivers of sound that can affect so much inside ourselves? How does music make a video game so magical?

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Quantifying the power of video game music is not easy. There are iconic themes that set the moods of history; the Halos, Tetrises and Super Mario Brothers’ of this world shall endure forever as cultural touchstones.

Similarly, beloved video game soundtracks – such as those found in Guitar Hero,FIFA or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series – have opened the ears of entire generations to new experiences.

To condense the world’s greatest works to a collection of 20 titles is challenging, to say the least. In order to assemble this list, we’ll need to focus on original compositions across a wide variety of genres – this means, sorry to say, that we will not be talking about curated playlists of licensed music today.

Efforts have also been made to weigh factors such as emotional impact and cultural significance, to provide a balanced variety of legendary tunes and underrated gems.

On our quest to find the best of the best video game soundtracks, among mountains of incredible, soul-shaking moments in gaming history, there shall be surprises and omissions along the way. What can be guaranteed, however, is that all of this music resonates and touches in its own manner.

These are the video game soundtracks to birthdays, parties, loves, laughs, tears, friends and family; the compositions that are – in the multitude of ways they can be – masterpieces. We’ll see you on the other side.

20. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon –Power Glove

Parody is difficult in most mediums, let alone in an interactive form. There’s the desire to confidently affirm what you’re referencing, but you don’t wish to cheapen it by aping it outright; you want the art to stand upon its own feet.

As much as this massive stand-alone expansion to Far Cry 3 more than holds up as its own fully-fledged game, Power Glove’s slick ode to ’80s futurism for Blood Dragon both doubles as a tongue-in-cheek nod and an absolutely gutsy electro-rock tapestry.

Perfectly matching its unique retro-sci-fi surroundings, Blood Dragon’s synthwave throwback is a nostalgic, action-packed adrenaline rush. Rich with clanging, Terminator-esque bursts of industrial steel that clash against a grid of pulsing synth and drum machine, it’s both stylish and cool as hell.

The product of Melbourne brothers, Jarome and Joel Harmsworth (albeit under the very ’80s pseudonyms of Michael Dudikoff and Michael Beihn respectively), the soundtrack to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon sees Power Glove channelling all that is good about Sci-fi and Action films of the ’80s in the most musical sense, and doing so in a manner which is both nuanced and textured, augmenting the authentic analog synthesis of the time with more modern VST sounds and sequencing.

The result is a video game soundtrack that stands on its own, being equally enjoyed outside the context of the game itself and for many, the high water mark for the synthwave genre – at least in the context of broader video game culture.

Well done boys on one of the great video game soundtracks.

19. Hollow Knight –Christopher Larkin

Hollow Knight is the epitome of indie-game success. From a modest 2014 Kickstarter, Adelaide developers Team Cherry – a relatively modest company, boasting a total of three staff members – have built a global phenomenon that has sold millions of copies and enthralled the world with its size and heart.

The game’s sound design elevates its scope further, with Christopher Larkin’s score proving as – if not more – compelling than any big-budget hollywood fantasy epic.

From rattling curiosities to a sweeping array of bombastic crescendos, everything about Hollow Knight sounds gigantic, theatrical and dark. It’s a soundtrack characterised by its use of familiar orchestral devices superimposed over an increasingly diasporate and sonically diverse underlay, rarely settling in one place for very long while constantly moving the narrative forward at any cost.

From its clever use of suspense laden staccato strings, right through to the recurring presence of classical piano and soaring solo viola throughout, it’s a soundtrack that is both thrilling and charming in equal measure, exuding a expensive cinematic sheen, somewhat at odds with the games humble origins.

Destined to be one of the classic video game soundtracks from the start.

18. Banjo-Tooie –Grant Kirkhope

At the very peak of Rare’s strength, Grant Kirkhope’s legacy was cemented in the late 90s with hit after hit: Donkey Kong 64, Goldeneye 64 (with Blast Corps’ Graeme Norgate and Conker’s Bad Fur Day’s Robin Beanland) and his signature sound in the Banjo Kazooie series.

Both Kazooie and its sequel bounce along with a goofy, Saturday morning cartoon-era lunacy, but Tooie in particular showcases a strange sense of maturity and refinement without losing its jaunty wholesomeness.

Jam packed with camp, high-tempo polka and waltz numbers (all delivered in 64-bit technicolour), the music of Banjo-Tooie is both slapstick and carnivalesque, exuding all the sonic sublety of a jack-in-the-box, but in a way which only enhances the cartoonish aesthetic presented on screen.

For some, the sunny polka-like earworms will prove an absolute delight, for others, they are nothing more than a fast track to madness.

Either way there is little denying that very few titles have managed to pack this much highly stylised original music into the one game (nine hours at only 200MB), a testament to the tireless work ethic of both Kirkhope and the Rare team through those late ’90s halcyon years.

Perhaps with Banjo-Tooie, the brilliance lies not just in Kirkhope’s ability to make us believe that hopped-up MIDI polka is the folk music dejour of this non-existent world, but to leave us still wanting more, even after nine-plus hours of hyperactive, Bavarian lunacy.

This video game soundtrack in a word: Bonkers.

17. Florence –Kevin Penkin

The first game from Melbourne-based Mountains – a studio founded by Monument Valley’s lead designer Ken Wong – Florence is a short interactive story that takes about 30 minutes to complete.

The player solves small puzzles to piece together the dreams of aspiring artist Florence, as she begins a relationship with cellist Krish. How these simple ideas are brought to life in such beautiful fashion is nothing short of magical, and thanks in no small part to a deceptively powerful score from Kevin Penkin.

A soothing patter of piano and violin reminiscent of Yann Tiersen’s iconic soundtrack for 2001’s Amélie, Florence’s score expertly maintains a difficult balance; it bursts with whimsy and imagination, but resonates with a real and relatable emotional complexity. With very little dialogue, Florence is guided primarily by the sonic waves and lulls Penkin generates, which reward your energy and investment tenfold.

Penkin’s work often elevates strong and quirky concepts, such as 2017’s Made in Abyss anime or 2020’s visual novel Necrobarista (about a Melbourne coffeehouse for the dead), but Florence is the work that exemplifies his capabilities: a blend of harmonious melodies that swell and comfort.

It’s a spritely, considered score that serves to perfectly capture the very human experience of being caught in the natural momentum of living, whilst also being sentient enough to reflect on it in realtime.

They may be short experiences, but both game and soundtrack alike are sweet, elegant, and unforgettable. The Academy seemed to agree, seeing fit to nominate the soundtrack for a BAFTA, upon release in 2018.

Truly one of the great video game soundtracks.

16. The Gardens Between –Tim Shiel

An ode to childhood friendship, The Gardens Between is a sweet and affecting puzzle game from Melbourne-based game designers The Voxel Agents. A story examining how simple memories build the foundation of our very core, the game truly shines brightest in the glorious work of musician and broadcaster Tim Shiel.

Shiel’s no stranger to games, having previously compiled some appropriately bouncy and shimmering scores to 2013’s platform-hopper Duet and 2017’s physics-puzzler Induction. What truly elevates The Gardens Between’s score, however, is an intricacy and tenderness both perfectly fitting and beyond expectation.

Shiel experimented with the contributions of 20 different Australian musicians – including composer Luke Howard and Gotye’s Wally De Backer – and the result is an echoing electronic ambience, expertly mimicking the soft blur of a cherished memory. At once therapeutic and bittersweet, the music of The Gardens Between is melancholy in a bottle.

Like its city of origin, The Gardens Between OST is futuristic, nocturnal and forward thinking, combining moody synth pads, field recordings and lashings of tasteful percussion to deliver an incredibly accurate sonic approximation of Melbourne’s unique clash of urban and natural landscapes.

The result is a video game soundtrack that is at times, melancholy, regenerative and beautiful-the perfect accompaniment to a game centred around our relationship to place, space and each other.

And people say we have no culture …

15. Rakuen –Laura Shigihara

Developed, published, designed, and composed by the supremely talented Laura Shigihara, Rakuen is a tender, heartfelt and deeply underrated experience.

Perhaps best known for her work as lead composer on Plants Vs Zombies, Shigihara wields Studio Ghibli-esque flutters and swells to tremendous strength, crafting a whimsical world of fantasy for a hospitalised boy and his supportive, tower-of-strength mother.

A tale of emotional exploration and finding hope against overwhelming adversity, Rakuen’s score is truly the soul of the game – a journey of healing that soars, soothes and aches.

Shigihara has an amazing capacity for producing music that is sweet and earnest, but never saccharine; every ounce of Rakuen carries a grounded, relatable sentimentality that can make you beam or weep with a few piano flourishes. Rakuen glows with a warm and unforgettable aura.

Primarily a piano and string based affair, the soundtrack to Rakuen bears an almost ‘Merry Christmas, Mr.Lawrence’ like ability to combine both Western and Eastern musical influences into a highly effecting score, taking what are in essence, relatively delicate, self effacing piano motifs and letting them develop and flourish into anthems of strength and resilience.

14. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (2015) –Jessica Curry

Jessica Curry’s dark folk choir exquisitely highlights and counteracts the emptiness of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture’s abandoned village by filling it with bold, sublime soundscapes. An eerie and powerful reverberation of vocal chorus shakes through this exploratory adventure.

Paying tribute to the British apocalyptic sci-fi of the ’60s and ’70s, Curry expertly represents that distinct texture in her own bold style. By transposing the supposedly idyllic qualities of the English countryside into an unsettling, aching assembly of strings and woodwinds, she weaves a dialogue of melancholy and absence.

Where the soundtrack truly shines, however, is in the incredible talents of the London Voices and Metro Voices choral ensembles and the widescreen, reverberant scope with which they are captured.

Stunningly lush and with vocal and string parts that expertly compliment and consolidate in equal measure, the different sections within this soundtrack work together to make this a weeping, transcendental meeting of angelic proportions. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture simply has to be heard to be believed.

13. Pokémon Red / Blue –Junichi Masuda

When Junichi Masuda booted up his Commodore Amiga computer – a device which only featured simple PCM sample playback – and converted his music to the Game Boy with a home-written program, was there ever a moment when he realised that his tunes would become some of the most identifiable works for an entire generation?

You know what Pokémon Red and Blue are. You know what they sound like. Most importantly, however, you understand the size of their impact.

Pokémon is a testament to the power of a well-written composition: each and every tune packs a sense of regality that feels so much larger than the simple 8-bit device it was written for.

Masuda’s soundtrack screams “adventure” – it is grand, joyous and exciting at every turn. When the battle theme flings you into no-holds-barred confrontation from a wholesome, carefree laze, it should be a jarring experience – and yet, it’s gripping with each throw.

Featurning brilliant use of counter point and accented dyads to bulk up the limited track count-and with a penchant for chromatic flourishes over the bar that can only be descibed as enthusiasm incarnate, it’s a soundtrack that is as economic as it is utterly intoxicating.

A romantic ode to expedition, Masuda’s creation exploded well beyond the limitations of its platform, becoming a legend in video game (and video game soundtracks) circles – and rightfully so.

12. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest –David Wise

To grow up in the ’90s is to have grown up with the magic of David Wise. Much like Grant Kirkhope, Wise’s work with Rare is unmistakable; he was the company’s sole musician until 1994, by which time he had become a legendary figure. From Battletoads to Diddy Kong Racing, Wise’s imaginative takes have left a deep impression on gaming’s history.

The Donkey Kong Country series in particular glows with vibrant melodies and eclectic genres. From the synthesised swashbuckling of its opening levels to the melancholic trance of ‘Stickerbush Symphony’, Wise squeezed every ounce of potential out of the Super Nintendo’s SPC700 chip for Diddy’s Kong Quest.

Listening to it today, it’s remarkable the amount of tonal nuance and detail on display when compared to other video game soundtracks of the era. It’s a different thing altogether.

From the ADSR trickery found within the synth elements, right through to the proto-fidelity and wide pan of the various drum samples found throughout, it’s the sound of a composer banging thier head on the door of technical limitation (and using every trick under the sun to exploit it).

As a video game soundtrack, it’s aged like a fine wine, particularly in its reliance on tasteful Roland CR-78-style percussion and widescreen Wavestation pads and lead lines, proving just as transcendent today as they were back in 1995.

An enthralling rollercoaster of pure joy from start to finish, the music of Donkey Kong Country 2 is as influential as it is universally adored, with the track ‘Haunted Chase’ even being sampled by Drake on ‘6 God’ from his 2015 mixtape If You Are Reading This It’s Too Late.

11. Portal 2 –Mike Morasky

When it was first released in 2007, Portal received universal acclaim for its innovative approach to puzzle-solving and sharp humor, tied together with a haunting and ominous electronic atmosphere by Kelly Bailey and Mike Morasky.

In 2011, Portal 2 achieved the almost impossible; not only did Morasky return to retain the glitchy power of the instant classic, but somehow managed to amplify it, in a game three times as big.

Morasky created a procedurally generated adaptive music system for the game that alters in real time, depending upon the player’s actions.

It’s a mathematical mangle of chiptune tones and odd rhythmic samples that somehow cobble together into a grand symphony of excitement. It’s all there and all of it working in complete symphony with the games unique premise and visual aesthetic.

If there was any justice in the world, the sense of pure adventure conjured by Morasky in Portal 2 should place him alongside the likes of John Williams’ and Hans Zimmer in the pantheon of great composers for the visual medium.

How does one cry to a machine gun turret singing an operatic aria with the synthetic voice of Ellen McLain? How can music be enough to evoke a sense of fear from something as innocuos as a series of rotating wall panels? How is any of this possible?

While Morasky’s creative approach does leave us with more questions than answers, one thing we can definitely agree on is that it’s profoundly effecting, bearing all the hallmarks of true genius.

We’re now heading into boss mode to explore the 10 greatest video game soundtracks of all time. From gritty side-scrollers through to immersive RPGs and beyond, join us as we delve deep into some of the best scores in gaming history.

10. Mega Man II –Takashi Tateishi

The frenetic frenzy of Mega Man’s rock-opera stylings will live forever in the covers of a thousand local nerd-rock and metal outfits. For many geeky musicians that grew up on The Blue Bomber, it became something of a rite-de-passage to pay tribute to the games flurried, scatter gun riffs.

A textbook example of the sequel besting the original (and then some), Mega Man II would go on to have the biggest impact of the beloved canon, both in terms of a video game soundtrack and overall cultural impact. The hugely popular platformer

The score itself is an oddball combination of square wave noodling, white noise snares, thoughtful, tasteful counterpoint and dueling, harmonised lead lines, all delivered through the lens of extreme technical limitation.

Right from the title screen, you are plunged into an alternate dimension of raw energy, serving as the musical equivalent of being waterboarded with a can of Redbull.

Tracks like ‘Quick Man’ and ‘Metal Man’ tell you everything you need to know about their modus operandi, while the constant plod of ‘Get Your Weapons Ready’ is straight up synth-punk, the likes of which still holds up to this day.

As a video game soundtrack, it indeed proved to carry a lasting legacy, providing all the necessary elements to translate the 8-bit bop into a live show staple for many a chiptune, shred metal and gamer adjacent live act, the likes of which are sure to see it rehashed and reimagined at conventions and festivals until the end of time.

Takashi Tateishi, the man behind Mega Man II is an interesting composer – after about a decade and a half working for Capcom and Konami, he left the game music scene all together in the early 2000s. The story goes that he quietly completed Mega Man II’s music in the ’80s and left Capcom, assuming years later that it would have faded from popular memory; he went as far as to say that even his family didn’t know much about it. It wasn’t until the early 2010s that he truly became aware of the global impact his music had made.

Drawing inspiration from Manami Matsumae’s original compositions for the first Mega Man game, Tateishi’s score reinvigorates and redirects Mega Man into what it would become. A high-voltage arrangement of irresistible licks combined with a BPM that raises the heart rate of anyone within earshot, Mega Man II is fast, sickly sweet and furiously fun.

9. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night –Michiru Yamane

Michiru Yamane’s distinct brand of dark Victorian classical is instantly recognisable in the Castlevania series, starting from her first venture with 1994’s Castlevania: The New Generation (or Castlevania: Bloodlines in America) for the Sega Mega Drive.

After the pressure of deadline and expectation to utilise pre-existing themes and motifs or New Generation, Yamane decided that the follow-up – 1997’s Symphony of the Night – was an opportunity to unleash. And unleash she did with one of the greatest video game soundtracks ever.

With the freedom to experiment and the benefit of CD-ROM quality clarity, Yamane used an Akai MPC sampler to meld her gothic orchestral stylings with a diverse arrangement of metal, jazz and rock.

A decidedly high fidelity affair, the result was nothing short of game-changing, being lauded as one of the best in the series to this day and playing a pivotal role in the maturation of the medium, from a musical perspective.

The Frankenstein combination of classy orchestral histrionics, unnerving Fabio Frizzi-style modal schlock and ’90s whammy bar abuse are perfectly tempered. Tracks like ‘Crystal Teardrops’ and ‘Rainbow Cemetery’ are still certified bangers, while ‘Moonlight Nocturne’ wouldn’t be out of place on the biggest of big budget Hollywood epics.

Above all else, Symphony of the Night is that rare body of work that carries with it an unrivalled sense of wholeness; every audible element meshes perfectly into the next, carrying the narrative on its back and drawing the listener in.

It’s a neat trick and something that so many games fail to nail that is having the gameplay, narrative, visual and musical cues not only cohabit but enhance one another, in turn becoming something much larger than merely the some of their parts.

Inspired by the concept art of series legend Ayami Kojima, Yamane encapsulated the visuals of Castlevania effortlessly: a lush backdrop juxtaposed against a wiry thematic complexity, one that makes for an unparalleled narrative-driven, immersive experience.

8. Journey –Austin Wintory

Like a soothing, moving string-flavoured concerto tinged with electronic elements, Journey truly is something special.

Working closely with sound designer Steve Johnson and the development team, composer Austin Wintory built Journey’s soundtrack over three years, molding a dynamic musical tapestry that responds to actions and inputs. The player, in many ways, builds the score as the game progresses – just as you build your own narrative conclusions and relationships with others in the game.

Enchanting, contemplative and above all else, incredibly human, Journey is without question one of of the most beautifully executed games in history and it’s Wintory’s soundtrack that provides more than its fair share of the heavy lifting.

Winding it way between solitary solo voice before falling back in with larger ensemble sections, the soundtrack to Journey is in many ways the story of our protagonist, the Cello, as it meanders through life – just as we all do.

Sometimes alone, sometimes in groups, sometimes up front, sometimes not, it’s in Wintory’s stellar ability to mimic the sparseness and constant reflection of the human condition that makes the soundtrack to Journey, such a compelling and moving experience.

By subconsciously handing the energy of his score to those who control the action, Wintroy’s efforts result in true immersion that flows seamlessly. It’s technically impressive, but more importantly, the feedback response delivers a meditative, zen-like feel,that adds a sense of real world emotion to an often fantastical medium.

It is one of the great video game soundtracks that’s synonymous with discovery; it rewards you for looking in every corner and turning over each stone. Wintory’s movement eloquently represents the experience of, well, a journey: it’s about the fulfilment you find in what you stumble over along the way.

7. Street Fighter II –Yoko Shimomura

Yoko Shimomura is an absolute legend of our time. Her work on a wide range of critically acclaimed series (including – but not limited to – Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy XV and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga) has seen her become one of the most prolific video game composers in the world.

Some of her most enduring hits, however, are found in a game from early in her career – a game that she helped to become one of the biggest and most influential titles of all time.

Street Fighter II is more classic a pop album than it is one of the great video game soundtracks, containing all the usual tropes, hooks, humour and above all else-high-octane energy, that one would expect from a body of work that has, at this point, has well and truly seeped into the mainstream, a testament to Shimomura’s overwhelming earworminess and incredible melodic sensibilities. Yet, it bloody works as such.

Street Fighter II’s take on the “global tour” soundtrack not only redefined the direction of the series in a title that was propelled to mega-popularity, but also showcased Shimomura’s masterful stylistic range.

The premise goes, each player has their own level/theatre of combat, complete with it’s own visual aesthetic and cultural signifiers (and most importantly, it’s own theme music). Suffice to say, Shimomura nails every single one of them, with a delicacy and tact that goes far beyond the standard trope mining of the era.

‘Chun Li’s Theme’ flutters and bops with style, like a finch in a market cage, effortlessly combining old and new in it’s repurposing of traditional Chinese song and YMO-esque techno-pop. ‘Guile’s Theme’ treats listeners to blasts of Rocky-like triumphant horns and twitching funk bass, before drifting off into the sunset on some Miami Vice-style sustained chords and lead lines.

Blanka’s is a tense, samba influenced affair with sweeping, major-minor changes over a 16-bit motorik beat, almost like a South American Kraftwerk (that, interestingly enough, was inspired by a train ride Shimomura took on the way to work).

And this is where Shimomura’s work on Street Fighter II really excels, in its ability to not only acknowledge the aesthetic surrounds on screen-but to combine it with other, broader influences-in turn providing you with a better understanding of the characters true essence, beyond just their nationality.

By her own admission, Shimomura took the job to write music for Street Fighter II by chance, selecting it out of a few potential projects while working at Capcom, for no real reason at all. Thank God she did, lest we may never know how lucky we are to have some of the catchiest and thoughtful video game soundtracks ever written.

6. Super Metroid –Kenji Yamamoto & Minako Hamano

From the moment its title screen fades into view, Super Metroid promised a genuinely terrifying experience. The eerie, droning synth – enhancing the simulated draw of heavy, masked breaths – was an unnerving introduction, far from Nintendo’s family-friendly reputation in 1994.

Kenji Yamamoto & Minako Hamano rebuilt 16-bit versions of music from previous games on the NES, utilising the eight channels boasted by the Super Nintendo’s superior sound hardware. Yamamoto also served as a sound programmer for the project, focusing on rich and expressive sounds interlaced with emotive effects.

If the hardware wouldn’t allow for 3D graphics, Yamamoto and Hamano were going to use every trick in the book to at least let the music flourish on every plane possible.

Super Metroid is a masterclass in minimalist ambience, volume automation and noise integration – something that Yamamoto described as built “with a sound effect creator’s ear, and with the approach, methodology and theory of a composer”.

Pops and crackles of thunder highlight the ghostly whispers of Planet Zebes. Stabs of choral soprano lace and decay out of step between echoing shudders on Brinstar. Instruments fade in and out, with a dynamism that few have been able to match in the time since, even with a lot more bits to play with. The entire game reverberates with a sinister dread that is rarely captured so articulately, even today.

With Super Metroid, Yamamoto and Hamano landed on the perfectly harmonious relationship between score and sound design, which in the technologically hamstrung context of the 16-bit early ’90s, was nothing short of game-changing for the time.

Their revolutionary ability to articulate front-to-back movement and adjust envelope parameters despite what must have been debilitating hardware constraints already warrants them a spot on this list. The sheer quality of the compositions and the tastefulness with which these techniques are employed catapults them into the top 10 in our greatest video game soundtracks list.

In short, a cloud of dark sci-fi horror that could rival John Carpenter’s work or Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien suite, Super Metroid crawls under your skin and stays there.

5. Streets Of Rage 2 –Yuzo Koshiro

One of the most influential creative forces of the 16-bit era, Yuzo Koshiro radiates prestige.

His acclaimed work can be found in cult classics such as ActRaiser, Shenmue and the highly underrated Ys series. Koshiro’s FM synth-heavy scores for the Streets of Rage series, however, are groundbreaking – beyond their time and pushing every inch of the Sega Mega Drive’s quaint audio capabilities.

Streets Of Rage 2 in particular is often considered his magnum opus, characterised as an original and infectious blend of EDM styles such as house and breakbeat. There are shades of KMFDM or Pretty Hate Machine-era Nine Inch Nails at play in this beat-em-up extravaganza, but to condense Koshiro’s tapestry to a handful of similes does no justice to the completeness of its genius.

This was 1992. Electronica was emerging in experimental new directions. Koshiro – along with contributions from frequent collaborator Motohiro Kawashima – assembled a thumping trance-like mix of genres on his outdated NEC PC-8801 using his own homemade programming language. Spending his days programming and his evenings dancing the night away in Tokyo’s techno clubs of the early ’90s. These influences can be heard all over Streets of Rage 2.

One of the most influential video game soundtracks of all time and one that demonstrably paved a path for today’s electronica, grime and dubstep producers, Streets Of Rage 2 contains the kind of delights that could be played in a contemporary nightclub to fanfare, with Koshiro himself performing DJ sets of his iconic tunes around the world.

On a whole, it’s one of the great video game soundtracks that understands the spiritual connection between dance and pugilism, darting around stylistically and combining elements of new age, industrial club music and hip-hop into something truly urban and nocturnal. Gritty and great.

4. Chrono Trigger –Yasunori Mitsuda / Nobuo Uematsu

It’s remarkable how ahead of the curve Chrono Trigger was. For a game in 1995 to have multiple endings, side-quests, deep character development, a time travel mechanic that affects future gameplay and a unique take on Final Fantasy IV’s Active Time Battle fight system, it’s one of the best RPGs of all time – let alone its era. Every detail of it is polished to a fine T – and the score is absolutely no exception.

To write an appropriately detailed entry on Chrono Trigger would require a whole article in and of itself, such is the myth making and legend of its tumultuous gestation.

The story goes that in 1994, Yasunori Mitsuda was unhappy with his pay and role as a Sound Engineer at Square. He gave his boss – Final Fantasy creator and vice president Hironobu Sakaguchi – an ultimatum, either let Yasunori compose, or he would quit.

In a bid to retain Mitsudas stellar engineering services, the boss gave him Chrono Trigger to sink his teeth into remarking that “maybe [his] salary [would] go up” if he finished the tough assignment.

In honouring the game’s polish, Mitsuda slept in his studio several nights, starting and restarting the writing process four times in order to achieve the ultimate goal: composing truly original music from an imaginary world.

He worked so hard that he would often pass out, awakening with new ideas for songs, and would eventually be hospitalised with stomach ulcers as a result – leaving Final Fantasy’s Nobuo Uematsu to finish the remaining tracks.

No one should condone the horrors Mitsuda put himself through for the game; we only hope that he now realises his talent, not his self-destruction, speaks for his efforts.

In the end, Mitsuda created 54 tracks for the final release – unheard of at the time – and cemented his place in history with a soundtrack beyond expectation, the reverberations of which are still being felt today.

The response from the gaming community has been nothing short of unanimous, with Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack being a borderline sacred document amongst the gaming faithful.

Its centrepiece, the untouchable ‘Corridors of Time’ is nothing short of anthemic, both in its ability to depict the soothing and reflective elements of the gameplay itself, whilst also serving as the perfect representation of the obsessive, repetitive elements of gaming lifestyle.

Buzzing with folk and jazz influences, Chrono Trigger is a moving, exhaustive soundscape that encapsulates the commitment and dedication at the core of Fourth Generation gaming. Just like the game’s events, Mitsuda’s majestic tapestry of minimalist melodies shall reverberate throughout history.

3.Secret of Mana –Hiroki Kikuta

Not many games have the tenacity to open with the echo of whale sounds. For Secret Of Mana, it left an indelible impact upon those who played it – an organic introduction into an ethereal realm.

Composer Hiroki Kikuta designed the wistful title track ‘Fear of the Heavens’ to sync with the intro screen, which loaded slowly due to hardware issues. At the time, it was rare to match a game’s music to its visuals this closely, but the effect was almost spiritual; what was a limitation became a celebration of the fantastical environment that awaited.

Kikuta composed and edited Secret Of Mana predominantly by himself in his office, spending nearly 24 hours a day crafting a soundtrack of dualities – something that neither sounded like traditional game music or pop tracks. It was, remarkably, Kikuta’s very first score; he was given complete freedom on the project and began work before the design of the game was finalised.

The final product was a sprawling 52 song set, by one of the greatest to ever to do it. Kikuta employed his encyclopaedic knowledge of genre and arrangement, into something that can only be described as the Paul’s Boutique of video game soundtracks, throwing everything including the kitchen sink into the final product and making it feel completely natural and normalised.

Considered by Kikuta to be his favourite creation, it’s easy to understand why – Secret of Mana immortalised his talents from the get-go. The swift swings between tense darkness and serene sweeps feel almost experimental, yet always grounded in nature.

Even in a song selection as diverse and far reaching as Secret of Mana’s, every instrument still feels perfectly placed in the context of the broader arrangement. Nothing is there purely for ornaments sake, but rather contributes to the composition in a meaningful and tangible way.

The chimes, bells, organs and steel drums are organised into an almost prog-rock-esqe symphonic tapestry. Kikuta’s arrangement achieves a deceptively difficult mission – to bear a passing resemblance to almost every musical tradition on earth, yet still coming off feeling completely endemic to the imaginary land before us.

Eclectic and brimming with a plethora of handmade samples, the sound of Secret of Mana is courageous, vast and above all else, unmistakable.

2. Final Fantasy VII –Nobuo Uematsu

Choosing one of the Final Fantasy video game soundtracks to exemplify the impact of the series as a whole is a fool’s errand. Over 33 years, the beloved RPG fantasy series has earned a place in the hearts of countless people, selling over 144 million games worldwide.

No one will be able to contain the sheer impact of that legacy – just as no one can contain series legend Nobuo Uematsu. The iconic composer has worked on 19 Final Fantasy titles; he is, in many regards, the authority on building the emotional palate of the beloved universes.

For its sheer scale in the public consciousness, Final Fantasy VII must be considered, if only as a microcosm of the man’s capabilities. Joy, fear, humour, excitement, tension – Uematsu’s score is nothing short of a masterpiece.

From iconic tune to incidental sting, Uematsu delivered an emotional intensity to a world that wasn’t yet expecting it from a medium as young or limited as video games were considered. Countless tributes and several orchestral concert series later, it’s safe to say that this work has both inspired and endured.

It’s easy to see why it’s had such a lasting legacy. Uematsu’s vision for Final Fantasy VII has all the action and adventure of the finest John Williams scores, recalling all the edge of your seat drama and vicarious tension that made the silver screen the historical first choice for escapists world wide – that is, until video games as sophisticated as FFVII started to emerge.

The music itself is an ode to big budget (albeit through the consumer driven lens of Electronic Entertainment), MIDI strings and samples but expertly composed, brilliantly mixed and professionally arranged).

The score for FFVII was in many ways a precursor to the kinds of high art, high definition, decca tree adjacent orchestrals scores of the modern video game industry. The popularity of the franchise – and the insane amount of time required to complete the game – meant that the songs themselves are forever etched into the psyche of gamers worldwide.

In 2012, listeners of the UK radio station Classic FM voted “Aerith’s Theme” 16th out of 300 compositions into their annual Hall of Fame poll. If nothing else, that is the mark of an entire generation touched.

1. Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time –Koji Kondo

Koji Kondo’s work is some of the most recognisable in the gaming world. His music is often noted to be inspired by both jazz and the Japanese phenomenon of city pop. An unmistakable fusion of soul, funk, and the soft rock/pop stylings of the ’80s, city pop has seen a revival of interest to Western audiences in the past decade or so, who sense connection with its ethereal, nostalgic essence.

Once transposed to an electronic form, you can hear those smooth riffs take a different, more familiar shape. In Kondo’s hands, blends of jazz and city pop became known as “video game music”. To an audience that had no context or clue as to where those sounds were born, it belonged to that space. The jaunty horns and slap-bass of ‘Bob-Omb Battlefield’, or the smooth bop of Super Mario Bros. 3’s‘Grass Land Theme’ shall ring forever in the heads of billions. Not millions, mind you – billions.

Kondo’s work, however, is no copy and remix; it is not a pastiche of flavours without direction. He himself has been clear on the importance of projecting distinct characters through music, in order to guide and direct players. Sound is clarity – it is a compass through a sprawling maze of levels, encounters, challenges and events.

The Legend of Zelda series is a perfect example – enter a dungeon and you know where you are. Fight a boss and you know what’s at stake. Frolic through a field and you feel the warmth. In adventure, music is everything. For the series’ first leap into a 3D space, Kondo was tasked with creating something truly memorable for the Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time.

Kondo succeeded.

Ocarina Of Time is near as perfect as video game soundtracks could be. Music is the mood, the environment and its inhabitants. The beauty, horror, thrill and fun of Link’s tale is effortlessly, exhaustively contained in Kondo’s lush orchestral stylings.

Approaching a corridor or opening a door unleashes a gust of leitmotifs. Even minor characters have memorable themes and silly mini-games leap with a carnival-like spring.

The very nature of the titular Ocarina itself showcases Kondo’s philosophy of interaction; music is both the game’s chief weapon and key.

Wistful ballads gliding through the breeze of a forest later become integral tunes – melodies that solve puzzles and save lives. The notes you play change destinies and herald salvation.

A tapestry of emotions that set a standard for a pivotal generation, The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time might just be Koji Kondo’s greatest achievement – a legendary endeavour from a legendary composer and an easy pick as the single greatest video game soundtrack of all time.

Find an honourable mention here.

The 20 Greatest Video Game Soundtracks of All Time (2024)


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