Whether you’re a gamer or not, you have to admit that some of the soundtracks of games are pretty darn good.
In fact, sometimes they're so good that they rival the music of films and television shows. Maybe that’s why the Grammys announced new categories for next year’s awards show, and one of them is “Best Score Soundtrack For Video Games And Other Interactive Media”.
This makes total sense because video game music is nothing more than a set of storytelling tools that allow us access to different worlds with imagined characters who share their stories through gameplay interactions.
It’s a huge step forward to give talented composers recognition and inspire more creators. An entire soundtrack majestically orchestrated and timed with the action on the screen can elevate the gaming experience to a whole new level.
When it comes to all the soundtracks in the game world, there are so many great ones out there that it’s almost impossible to make a definitive list.
What constitutes a great soundtrack is something very, very, very personal. I’m not a music critic; I'm just like you – a gamer who has played most of these masterpieces and spent hours listening to tracks to come up with the next lines you're about to read right now.
So I would blame myself for making this sound like a ranking; it’s not.
Don’t get me wrong, this list has the creme de la creme in no specific order. But the ranking side of things is all yours, folks.
To me, this is one of the best video games ever made – and its soundtrack is a big part of that.
Composed by Koji Kondo, the score perfectly captures the game's epic scope and adventure, with tracks like “Hyrule Field” and “Gerudo Valley”. The music is also highly atmospheric, creating a sense of dread in moments like Ganondorf’s first appearance or Link's exploration of the dark caverns under Hyrule Castle.
But it's not all seriousness – there are also plenty of lighthearted and fun tracks, like “Hyrule Castle Courtyard” and “Shop”.
In short, the Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time has one of the most varied and memorable soundtracks in video game history, and it's well worth a revisit or listen in case you’re not a fan of the game itself.
FINAL FANTASY VII (1997) – NOBUO UEMATSU
It’s hard to overestimate music’s impact on an entire game. The right soundtrack can transport us to another world, immersing us in the experience and enhancing the narrative’s emotional impact.
Few games have demonstrated this as effectively as Final Fantasy VII (FFVII).
Released in 1997, FFVII was groundbreaking in many ways, and its pioneering use of 3D graphics helped to popularise console RPGs (role-playing games) in the West. But it was the game’s soundtrack – one of those magical things – that truly set it apart.
The music was composed by Nobuo Uematsu, from sweeping epic tracks like “One-Winged Angel” to more intimate pieces like “Aerith's Theme”.
It helped set the tone for the game’s dark and complex story. And while several subsequent entries in the series have featured outstanding music, FFVII’s soundtrack remains at the top of everything.
Uematsu’s work on this masterpiece is truly timeless.
Donkey Kong Country is one of the most beloved video games of all time, and part of what makes it so special is its incredible soundtrack.
Composed by David Wise, the game’s score has an infectious energy and mesmerising atmosphere.
From the soothing strains of “Aquatic Ambiance” to the adrenaline-pumping “Gang-Plank Galleon”, each track is carefully crafted to enhance the game’s visuals and create a truly immersive experience.
In a 2019 episode of The Gamer Informer Show podcast, they had a fascinating 48-minute talk with David Wise dissecting Donkey Kong Country’s best music.
Moreover, the soundtrack was recorded using real instruments, giving it a rich, organic sound that is a set apart from other video game scores.
Whether someone is visiting Donkey Kong Country for the first time or rediscovering it after many years, the game’s music is 100% sure to delight and amaze.
UNDERTALE (2015) – TOBY FOX
The soundtrack composed by Toby Fox is just one of a kind. Every track is loaded with emotion, portraying the game’s tone with a mix of 8-bit nostalgia and playfulness.
Some of my favourite tracks are “Death By Glamour”, “Battle Against A True Hero”, “Heartache” and “Megalovania”.
Upbeat yet atmospheric, Fox’s music cleverly conveys the highs and lows of the game’s narrative. And obviously, Undertale definitely deserves a spot on this list.
DOOM (2016) – MICK GORDON
It’s hard to top the feeling of finally taking down a demon after a long and arduous battle. As you strip away its armor, you can almost feel the sense of dread emanating from it before you finally blow it apart with your shotgun.
And as its guts explode all over the screen, the heavy metal and industrial music soundtrack blares in your ears, giving you the proper motivational boost to keep fighting.
This is the go-to audio accompaniment to one of the most visually brutal games ever created.
The soundtrack of Doom by Mick Gordon does an incredible job of capturing the intensity and carnage of the game with his bone-crushing riffs and blood-pumping beats, and it’s clear that he had a lot of fun creating it.
If you want to feel like a winner while playing, there’s no better soundtrack than this.
CASTLEVANIA: SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT (1997) – MICHIRU YAMANE
Whether you’re braving the depths of Dracula’s castle or simply taking a stroll through the streets of Wallachia, the music of Castlevania always sets the right tone.
The Castlevania series is known for its excellent music, and the Akumajo Dracula X Gekka No Nocturne soundtrack album is no exception. Composed by Michiru Yamane, it features a mix of fast-paced rock tracks and hauntingly beautiful melodies that capture the dark essence of the game.
One of the stand-out tracks is “The Tragic Prince”, which has become an iconic theme for the series. The song is both catchy and adrenaline-pumping, making it great for slaying vampires.
Other highlights include “Lost Paintings”, “Wandering Ghosts” and “Wood Carving Partita”.
They definitely make up an unforgettable video game soundtrack.
MINECRAFT VOLUME ALPHA (2011) – C418
I can’t quite explain how much I love the music in Minecraft.
I remember the very first time I played it back in 2012 at Victor’s place – one of my high school buddies, I’d just have the music on in the background, but after a while, I started really paying attention to it and appreciating how well it fit the blocky world of Minecraft.
The music is ambient and atmospheric, with some upbeat tracks mixed in.
It’s all soothing and introspective but energising at times. It is just what you want for a game like Minecraft, where you can spend hours exploring and building.
A couple of eerie tunes also play when you’re in a cave or when night falls, embodying the creepy feeling of being underground or in the dark.
The Volume Alpha soundtrack album is the first official release of C418’s music, and it features some memorable game tracks, including “Subwoofer Lullaby”, “Moog City” and “Mice Of Venus”.
Diehard fan of Minecraft or not, Volume Alpha is a must-listen original soundtrack album.
SILENT HILL 2 (2001) – Akira Yamaoka
Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack for Silent Hill 2 is nothing short of legendary.
It frames the otherworldly ambiance of this horror game that is fundamental to the beautiful and nightmarish in-game experience.
From the “Theme Of Laura”, going through “Null Moon”, “White Noiz” and “The Day Of Night” all the way down to the chilling “Promise”, Yamaoka’s soundtrack complements the game’s dark and suspenseful narrative.
And, it’s filled with songs that will stay with you long after you’ve finished playing the game.
Looking for a gaming soundtrack that will send shivers down your spine? Then this should definitely be on your radar. Thanks to Yamaoka’s masterful work of art, the game’s landscape is by far second to none.
Kondo is a name that is synonymous with video game music. As the composer of such classics as Super Mario Bros and The Legend Of Zelda, he has helped define the sound of gaming for a generation of players.
Along with Mahito Yokota, Kondo has created one of the top video game soundtracks with the Super Mario Galaxy.
From the ethereal beauty of the main theme song to the bombastic orchestra of the final boss battle, the music of Super Mario Galaxy is nothing short of magical.
It translates the colourful visuals and tone, as well as the sense of wonder and exploration at the heart of the Super Mario series.
HOTLINE MIAMI (2011-2015) – VARIOUS ARTISTES
The Hotline Miami series is known for its intense action, stylish visuals and a thumping soundtrack.
Featuring a blend of synth-wave, techno and experimental electronica, the music superbly catches the game's 1980s setting and retro aesthetics – combined with a tense, violent climate.
If you’re into electronic music, this is one of those good video game soundtracks you don’t want to miss. Imagine you’re racing through the neon-lit streets in a bloody showdown with enemies with Moon’s synth-heavy “Hydrogen” or Scattle’s “Knock Knock”, the pulse-pounding tracks will keep you fully immersed in the Hotline Miami universe.
So crank up the volume and get ready for some hot retro action.
BASTION (2011) – DARREN KORB
In 2011, Bastion was released to critical acclaim. The game was praised for its innovative gameplay and heart-wrenching story, and its gorgeous soundtrack was singled out as a highlight.
Composed by Darren Korb, it blends folk, rock and electronic elements to develop a sound that is both alien and familiar.
Set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world called Caelondia that has been destroyed by an unknown cataclysm, Bastion follows the story of a young boy who must find his way to the namesake safe haven for survivors.
Bastion is a title about hope in the face of destruction, and its soundtrack achieves that sensation just right.
The tracks are often haunting, with an undercurrent of loss, nostalgia and loneliness that permeates the game. But they also evoke certain hope and possibility, as if the world is waiting to be rebuilt.
From the gentle strains of “Build That Wall (Zia’s Theme)” to “Setting Sail, Coming Home (End Theme)”, the Bastion music is one of the best video game soundtracks of all time – a memorable and emotive one.
HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED (2002) – MARTIN O’DONNELL, MICHAEL SALVATORI
Halo: Combat Evolved was a groundbreaking first-person shooter of its time. The soundtrack? Jus as iconic.
The combination of Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori resulted in a powerful and moving score that matched the game’s sci-fi setting and action-packed gameplay.
There’s no better way to experience the gameplay than with the score blaring through your speakers or headphones. Everything about Halo’s music is grandiose, from the opening theme to the atmospheric background tracks.
This is simply a masterpiece that has stood the test of time.
PERSONA 5 (2017) – SHOJI MEGURO
Shoji Meguro’s soundtrack for Persona 5 is one of the best video game soundtracks out there, with stand-out tracks like “Life Will Change” and “Last Surprise” becoming instant classics.
It’s not easy to choose just one track from the Persona 5 OST, but if I had to pick my favourite, it would be “Rivers In The Desert”.
What makes the Persona 5 soundtrack so special is that it’s – for the lack of a better way to describe it – stylish, well-crafted, evocative and cool, just like the game itself.
It has a mix of genres, from jazz to rock to J-pop music. This variety gives the soundtrack a unique flavour that helps to make the game even more hypnotic. Everything is aligned and working together to create a superior adventure.
CUPHEAD (2017) – KRISTOFER MADDIGAN
Cuphead is a “run and gun” platforming video game developed and published by StudioMDHR. As the title character Cuphead, players fight a series of bosses to repay a debt to the devil.
The game was heavily inspired by 1930s cartoons aesthetics, and its visuals and audio are modeled after that era, including the hand-drawn animated visuals and original jazz recordings.
This is one of those rare games that just gets everything right – the art style, the gameplay, the difficulty... and of course, the perfect soundtrack.
Kristofer Maddigan’s compositions are the perfect blend of ragtime, old-school jazz, and big band vibes, with a touch of whimsy and charm. Tracks are catchy and memorable – perfect for gaming sessions (or even just background music).
My favorite is “Aviary Action”.
The Cuphead soundtrack is a pretty accurate example of how a really good video game soundtrack can encapsulate its source material’s feeling, mood or vibe – and take it to the next level.
I just can't recommend it enough.
THE ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM (2011) – JEREMY SOULE
There are few gaming experiences as immersive as exploring the vast open world of Skyrim. And a big part of what makes the game so captivating is that it has such an outstanding masterpiece of a soundtrack.
Composed by Jeremy Soule, the Skyrim soundtrack nails the game’s epic scale and grandeur, plus the feeling of exploration and adventure at the heart of the game – with a touch of mystery and magic.
The music is always varied and interesting, from the soaring main title theme to the more intimate tracks that play when you’re wandering around the wilderness or in towns and villages.
More than that, the soundtrack is incredibly versatile, seamlessly transitioning between different moods and styles depending on what’s happening in the game.
Whether you’re engaged in a heated battle with a dragon, visiting the ancient monastery known as The Throat of the World, delving into the dark depths of a witch-infested dungeon, or simply admiring the breathtaking scenery, the music will always give you goosebumps.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE VIDEO GAME MUSIC?
The best soundtrack can transport you into another world, make you feel every emotion possible, and keep you hooked until the end.
Defining these kinds of lists is always challenging for sure, but I think that some of these selections hit the mark.
So, what do you think? Am I missing any of your best gaming soundtracks of all time? Let me know in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out our other soundtrack content while you’re here.
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Writer | Manuel Torrece
Manuel is a Gen-Z Latino writer based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. When he’s not researching and pushing all the buttons on the keyboard, he loves playing his Taylor acoustic guitar, writing Latin Indie songs in Spanish, and exploring different projects around the world, mainly related to arts, business and education.