Of all the things that make a great video game, there’s no understating the importance of a well-crafted soundtrack. Whether simple 8-bit compositions or full orchestral arrangements, video game music can help create mood and even enhance gameplay. Here are nine of the best examples in gaming history.
9. Halo (2001)
The music of Halo has evolved since the series first began in 2001, but it remains consistently stirring and the perfect accompaniment for Master Chief’s ongoing adventures. The game’s main theme, which is a fusion of Gregorian chant, strings and percussion, still gets us in the mood for battling the Covenant alien alliance. Anybody see where we put our Needler?
8. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
Michiru Yamane, a former staff composer at Konami, is responsible for the music in dozens of games, including Nemisis and Suikoden. But the soundtrack for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is without a doubt her best work. It’s theatrical, grandiose and, above all, creepy. To put it another way, it’s totally right for a game where Dracula’s son is the protagonist.
7. Portal (2007)
Most of the soundtrack for Portal consists of ambient electronic music, but it really shines during the closing credits, when a song called “Still Alive” is sung by GLaDOS, the game’s homicidal artificial intelligence. The track became so popular that it later appeared as a downloadable track in the Rock Band franchise. Plus, it answers one of the most burning questions in gaming: Is the cake really a lie?
6. Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Final Fantasy VII was a high water mark because of its compelling characters, story, graphics, game play and, of course, music, which was composed – like all 14 entries in the series – by Nobuo Uematsu. From the lilting main theme to the martial music that plays during each battle, the soundtrack captures all the emotional highs and lows of the game. But many gamers remember “Aerith’s Theme” the best, a melancholy tune that plays after the character’s shocking murder.
5. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (2013)
Some hardcore fans balked at the series’ departure from stealth elements, but as an action game, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is undeniably awesome. The pummeling techno-rock soundtrack, which was composed by Jamie Christopherson (Lost Planet, The Golden Compass), adds an additional level of propulsive energy to the game’s frenetic hack-and-slash action.
4. Red Dead Redemption (2010)
Red Dead Redemption isn’t simply one of the best games in recent memory; it’s also a masterpiece of cinematic storytelling with a highly evocative soundtrack. To wit: Halfway through the game, as John Marston makes the long, four-minute ride across the border into Mexico for the first time, something remarkable happens – background noise and effects fade and a haunting acoustic song by José González called “Far Away” plays in its entirety. It’s an unexpected, powerfully subtle moment that hints at Marston’s fate to come.
3. Tetris (1984)
The music of Tetris, especially the theme based on the Russian folk song “Korobeiniki,” is familiar even to those who aren’t fans of the game. The track is based on an 1861 poem by Nikolay Nekrasov and tells a tale of burgeoning love between a young peddler and a peasant girl. What this has to do with stacking brightly-colored blocks is anybody’s guess.
2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
The Skyrim score is every bit as massive and sweeping as the game itself. (The commercial version spans a whopping four discs.) For the main theme “Dragonborn,” composer Jeremy Soule used a male choir of approximately thirty singers and wrote lyrics in the dragon’s native tongue of Draconic. Geeky? Sure, but this level of detail can be found in almost every aspect of the game and explains why many are still playing almost two years after its release.
1. Super Mario Bros. (1985)
The Super Mario Bros. soundtrack, composed by Koji Kondo on nothing more than a small keyboard, contains only six songs, but it’s easily the most iconic in gaming history. The main track, officially known as the “Ground Theme,” is so inescapably catchy that even Kondo himself has wondered whether he’ll ever top it.