What is it exactly that we love about our favorite video games? A fairly easy question to answer for most: the story, gameplay, and animations all play vital roles towards the affection we feel towards games we dedicated hours playing. But among all of the action and adventure, there is one fundamental aspect guiding the experience throughout the entire journey: the music.
The amount of melodies in video game music are as vast as the oceans themselves, but here’s a list of ten video game soundtracks that you MUST listen to. This is NOT a “top ten best of” list, but rather a friendly guide towards a well of audio gold. You’re welcome.
World 4: Water Land (Kirby’s Epic Yarn, 2010)
If the word ‘relaxation’ could be defined in a specific combination of instrumental sounds and harmonies, this would be it. It’s as tranquil and peaceful as it is pleasing to listen to. It is indeed music that makes you smile.
Star Wolf Theme (Star Fox Zero, 2016)
This epic theme has seen various renditions over the years, including in the world’s most popular fighting game franchise, Super Smash Bros—and rightfully so. With heavy orchestral elements, the theme perfectly sets the tone for the upcoming super-intense intergalactic warfare with amazing chord progressions and an exhilarating, daunting vibe.
The other Star Wolf themes are good, but in the words of Star Wolf wing’s leader himself, Wolf O’Donnell, “You’re good, but I’m betta!”
Stage Boss Battle Theme (Castlevania: Bloodlines, 1994)
If Kirby’s water land theme is “beauty harmonized,” this is danger and suspense. It’s somehow the perfect mixture of boss-battle-feel and running-for-your-life-feel. A piano combined with heavy bass lines is always a recipe for some good ole’ terror and suspense. This vintage theme also has some otherwise-unorthodox sounds and progressions that just work, embodying the spirit of Castlevania. It also makes brilliant use of audio panning (the sudden division of sound alternating from ear to ear) to further add to the chaos and confusion.
Friends (Sonic Mania, 2017)
Listen and enjoy, then embrace the warm feeling in your heart when you do. Welcome to the ultimate sanctuary away from the stress of everyday life.
This inspirational masterpiece fills the soul with an overwhelming feeling of happiness that resonates throughout the entire body. You suddenly have a deep sense of accomplishment just by listening to it. Additionally, it is an EDM track with an energetic pace, dynamic and captivating beat drops, and electric transitions. It’s refreshing. It’s a celebration. It’s a good time (so much so that it was also briefly used in the opening of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie earlier this year.)
Peace, love, and positivity.
Title Theme / Map / N. Sanity Beach (Outer) (Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy, 2017)
In a nod to another 90’s video game icon, this theme blends the nostalgia and title theme of the very first game in the popular Crash Bandicoot franchise and spices it up to create an even greater bop. The added layers of instruments and sounds give this remake a crazy head-nodding vibe, all without losing the essence of the original theme.
All the soundtracks in the new Crash Bandicoot trilogy are incredibly well done. Way to represent for the O.G, Activision.
X vs. Zero Theme (Mega Man X5, 2000)
This fitting battle theme starts off with a short but epic drum roll, and powerfully introduces an electric guitar which drives the energy throughout the entire soundtrack. The beautifully composed synths inspire motivational undertones, where the only choice you have is to fight and overcome the challenge in front of you.
THIS is what a fated battle between two rivals sounds like!
Doopliss Battle (Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, 2004)
Nintendo’s 2004 release The Thousand-Year Door follows the adventures of everyone’s favorite plumber in his quest to save the Paper Mario universe (not to be confused with the Paper Mario universe.) And as is the case with Mario games, this game provides memorable treats for your ears throughout your quest—such as this cool battle theme. Its creative use of bells gives this theme a somewhat creepy and eerie feeling while steadily building towards a lively chorus, later accompanied with an organ that compliments the build-up wonderfully.
Crimson Sunset (Tekken 5, 2004)
This track has an insane, vigorous energy to it that will enhance your fighting spirit. It is an immensely heavy electric guitar-based thrill ride with a rock influence and makes for the ultimate virtual combat experience.
You can skip the morning coffee. Play this instead. Equivalent exchange.
The Fight for My Friends (Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, 2007)
“I don’t need a weapon. My friends are my power!” – Sora
Simply put, this theme is the harmonic expression of that quote. The unwavering will to fight for everything dear to one’s heart. This soundtrack has all of the feels of a heroic, epic charge into battle. Much like many songs on the Kingdom Hearts soundtrack, this one has a masterfully orchestrated ensemble of sounds that creates a pleasing listener’s experience.
But also, what’s a credible list involving video game music without a Kingdom Hearts mention?
Welcome to Mafia Town (A Hat in Time, 2017)
Imagine a painter in a dimly lit, dull room, alone except for a blank canvas, a paint brush, and a palette full of water colors. Then imagine this painter slowly but surely painting a majestic masterpiece of nature, the graceful strokes of his paintbrush and masterful use of the colors complimenting every beat. Then imagine the room itself coming alive as he does so, essentially bringing life to the environment around him.
Not unlike a fine piece of art, this soundtrack is a combination of many fine parts coming together to create an aesthetic masterpiece.
Now that you’ve been blessed…
Video game music is such a pivotal part of the gaming experience that many soundtracks are standalone great listens, even outside of the games they appear in. There are many others that are simply great music (video game or not), but hopefully you’ve come away from this list with a few that you enjoy even half as much as I do.
To commemorate the experience, check out the unofficial eleventh entry to this list, from Mario Kart: Double Dash—undoubtedly one of the catchier tunes you’ll ever listen to.