From Final Fantasy to Mortal Kombat, read on as I delve into the world of video game soundtracks and with great difficulty select a top 10.
Video game music has come a long way and whether you’re a fan of video games or not, soundtracks can always be appreciated. The skill for creating video game tracks – especially for retro games – was arguably harder than for other media. Back in the 80s, game cartridges could only hold around 8MB of memory (I know, hard to imagine), meaning music composers had limited space to play with. Each note carefully positioned so not to waste any of that precious, precious space. Had an idea to create a soundtrack with 10 layers, 13 simultaneous hums and 6 different pitches? Well too bad! You only have 3MB, as the game takes up the rest. Deal with it.
Of course, that argument no longer exists. As technology quickly improved, monophonic chip-tune melodies were replaced with polyphonic sounds and rhythms. Many games now focus wholly on the music aspect, with games such as Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution becoming insanely popular at one point. It’s not at all unheard of for games now to release with a CD copy of the game’s soundtrack album.
Taking it a step further, there is a certain music genre known as Nintendocore. Artists combine metal and 8-bit inspired synths to create a sort of bizarre, definitely unique, take on video game music… but we’ll leave that for another time.
So without further ado, here are my totally non-official top 10 video game soundtracks.
- Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon – Power Core
Here we have a perfect example of fitting video game music. This soundtrack is so deliberately 80s electro that just listening to the song makes you want to take a drive on a quiet night while you remind yourself to stick to the speed limit.
The Kavinsky-esque feel provides a heap of adrenaline, especially when in the midst of shooting bad guys and blowing shit up. Everyone needs to experience Blood Dragon at least once, even if it’s just through its 80s style synthesizers.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – Intro
Designed, written, directed and produced by the one and only Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear Solid 3 as near to a film as a game can get. The intro song along with the cinematic visuals are so clearly inspired by that of James Bond. I mean look at it! It has everything required to be a Bond intro: super sexy vocals, long winding credits, crazy visuals that leave you unsure of what you’re actually looking at.
If there was ever an intro song that left you more nostalgic about the game before even playing it, it has to be this one.
- Final Fantasy VI – The Decisive Battle
With the Japanese composer, Nobuo Uematsu, creating over 3 hours of music for this game, it’s no surprise there’s more than a few moments of greatness. Released in 1994 for the 16-bit Super Nintendo console and ported to the PlayStation in 1999, Final Fantasy VI sold over 3.48 million copies worldwide. Pioneering the RPG genre and emphasising the importance of a good soundtrack. You’re listening to a part of gaming history.
Fun fact: The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra once performed the classic soundtrack live, see it here.
- Portal – Still Alive
Internet meme’s aside, Portal is full of witty humour and dialog and this is no exception in the final credits song, Still Alive. Note that this song contains spoilers of the game, so if you haven’t played it, what are you doing still reading this?
The iconic acoustic song contains playful lyrics about you beating the game, leaving a feeling of melancholy as you watch the lyrics scroll by.
Although not the catchiest song on our list, it’s by far the funniest.
- Castlevania: Dracula X – Bloodlines
This track belongs on the list simply for its amazing five-second guitar intro. Who’d have known killing monsters with whips could be so groovy? For soundtracks from the forth generation of gaming and before, such as this track, keep in mind that these consoles were unable to properly add (good) voices into the games – catchy beats were the only option.
Developers Konami absolutely delivered on these catchy beats. Shaping the Castlevania franchise into all round iconic games, soundtrack and all.
- Street Fighter II – Guile’s Theme
If you’re a fan of retro games, you’ll of course need no introduction to this.
There isn’t a scenario in which the theme goes to. Well, almost. Used for the great American hero, Guile, this 16-bit theme is another example of composers using their limited space to its full potential. If this song doesn’t make you want to kick some ass, we don’t know what will.
The theme is so popular that countless remakes and remixes have been made, the 10 hour long version is a must listen. Long live 16-bit soundtracks!
- Mortal Kombat – Mortal Kombat Theme Song
Fighting games and their catchy music, huh?
Mortal Kombat is no exception to the hype theme so commonly found among fighting game soundtracks. When first released, the game was heavily criticised by overly sensitive parents due to its excessive amount of blood and gore, but who’d have guessed 90s techno goes so well with ripping your opponents spine out?
Mortal Kombat perhaps isn’t the game it used to be, but this famous theme song ensures that it will always live on through its soundtrack, if not for its copious amounts of blood.
- Streets of Rage 2 – Stage 1 Theme
Whenever you see the words “music by Yuzo Koshiro” you can pretty much guarantee it’s going to be a pleasure to listen to. The famous composer was ahead of the game (no pun intended) way back in the 80’s and continued through to the 90s with tracks such as this one.
Being the first song you hear in the game, it already promises to be full of great music. A minute in is when it truly gets real – tempo ups itself and a thumping bass follows you through your adventure. The track goes perfectly with the side-scrolling action, but also wouldn’t be out of place in a night club. A dated night club that is.
The soundtrack is so popular that it is even available on vinyl, found here.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Title Theme
Here is proof that you don’t need to enjoy video games to enjoy the music.
There are so many songs to choose from for this game and any one of them would belong on this list. The Legend of Zelda has become a household name, not only because of a great story, fun puzzles (except for the Water Temple) and challenging combat, but the soundtrack has also played a role in this games success.
Each theme crafted perfectly to suit the situation. Every village and town having its own feel and sound. However, it’s the title theme that comes out on top (Lost Woods was a close second). The relaxing, ambient sound has the wondrous ability to transport you back and heal you of any negative feelings. It really is that powerful. Perhaps this is being said with a fond nostalgia, but just take a listen.
- Chrono Trigger – Main Theme
The year was 1995. The likes of Supergrass, AC/DC and R.E.M sat at the top of the charts. Toy Story was the film to see and video games were as popular as ever. How could the year get any better? Chrono Trigger is the answer.
A great soundtrack is of course needed for arguably the greatest game ever. Yes, ever. The legendary RPG developer and publisher, Square, continued their reign of high quality games and arguably reached their peak with Chrono Trigger. For a game that takes you through time, the soundtrack must also do the same, with composer Yasunori Mitsuda claiming that he wanted to write music that “wouldn’t fit in any genre“. From dystopian futures to the caveman age and everything in between there is a beautifully crafted sound for all that mixed perfectly.
The music compliments the game’s focus on storytelling through both well paced gameplay and unforgettable characters. Feelings of delight, awe and triumph are successfully accomplished through the instrumental symphonies that, at times, leave a hint of sorrow.
Although only one track has been chosen, it is highly advised to listen to the full soundtrack in all its orchestral glory.