Best Video Game Soundtracks: Two things I look at when deciding my top video game soundtracks are first. Interactivity with the on-screen action hugely contributes to the playing experience. Most of these are written with synthesized sounds, and you’ll have to forgive my naivety as a young gamer- I have little experience with pre-00s games.
A study by New York University in 2011 shows that 78% of the video games are now played on gaming laptops by the Millenials. I’ve kept that under consideration while covering these soundtracks.
1. The Last of Us- Gustavo Santaolalla
Mostly figured with strings, guitars, and synthesized sounds you’ll find the same for the majority of this list. It creates a somber atmosphere where you realize you are the only one who can help Emily. I don’t want to spoil the game but you’ll soon find out it’s actually the reverse.
2. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved2- Chris Chudley
Still as slightly retro game, once again the interactivity makes the game completely immersive with the soundtrack. It sounds slightly characteristic of a 90s disco in Germany as witnessed from a video-game arcade.
The soundtrack for the King game mode is the most interactive between shielding from the enemy shapes with very low-frequency action and being in a range from them with a highly agitated game accompaniment
3. Monkey Island- Michael Land and Patrick Lundy
The Special Edition brought life to the 16-bit soundtrack of the original which was composed lovingly but realized with poorly synthesized instruments.
My personal favorite is the LeChuck’s theme remaster:
4. Metro 2033 Redux- Alexey Omelchuk
For a game set in the future (with only elements from the past), there is really only live instruments in the soundtrack. Especially a lot of drums and where there is more of a story to tell about the soldiers in the barracks in the tunnels there are usually more guitars and strings to tell the story. When the soldiers play music to each other on their guitars
it makes you realise just how similar Russia and other Eastern countries are to us in the West. Without going to deep into the parallels with the story and our own history of war, here’s plenty of drums and percussion to mimic the harshness of life in a battleground scrimping and saving for your life.
Metro 2033: Last Light OST-
5. Fallout 4- Inon Zur
Quite a bare, rhythmless soundtrack for an action-filled game. The ambivalence comes across in both the game and the music where you can choose to be either a good or a bad character. It is a story of your own choosing. Not to mention the Pip-Boy overlay which has music from before the Nuclear Fallout. It is an interesting choice that they went for with post-war music, reminiscent of new-age america. Here is one of the tracks they chose for a post-apocalyptic wasteland to try and survive to.
6. Nat King Cole – Orange Coloured Sky
The most interesting thing about it is that the Pip-Boy radio is built to overlay the ambient music of the wasteland. It makes a much more eerie experience for both media all in single playing experience.
7. Prey- Mick Gordon
Very slow and immersive, Mick Gordon uses guitars and synthesized effects here which imitates the in-game relationship between humanity and the Typhon. The sounds quickly change when you encounter the enemy and something it has a feeling of Drive with Ryan Gosling in “Everything is going to be okay”.
Someone needs to thank Bethesda for hiring Mick Gordon on this one.
Zone of Enders- Maki Kirioka, Norihiko Hibino, Akihiro Honda, Toshiyuki Kakuta, and Shuichi Kobori
Very forward-looking with the synthesized sounds and reverse audio to mimic the on-screen functions of future battleships. This is actually a landmark game for the mecha genre and some people say it predicts the future of the Human race on Mars and space travel.
Unbelievably interactive when battle scenes commence, it changes to action like a Pokemon game. The music goes hand in hand with the story of saving Mars and piloting a sleek spaceship at the same time.
It can get very deep at times too. Here’s the piano arrangement while you’re trying to persuade Leo to stay and save Mars-
8. Halo – Martin O’Donell
Here is the menu theme for Halo 3, which is a loop of the opening to the full theme, and is a classic for console gamers who just started playing online in the late 00s.
Choral music has a huge affect within the playing experience and contributes to the immersiveness the gamer has in the story. It’s the same for other games such as Elder Scrolls.
9. Legend of Zelda Wind Waker- Kenta Nagata
The Great Sea Theme
Actually a different composer this time: Kenta Nagata did most of the work on Wind Waker and there is more of a feeling of adventure and much less of a feeling of home on any of the islands visited.
Dragon Roost Island
10. Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time- Koji Kondo
Check the re-orchestrated for the best orchestration of Koji Kondo’s seemingly never-ending masterpieces. It was fascinating at the time but now with the remastered soundtrack the difference is huge. It never ceases to amaze me and other Zelda lovers just how good Koji Kondo is at composing loops which excite gamers.
Temple of time (1:00:27)
Sheik’s Theme (1:05:27)
Lon Lon Ranch (33:25)
Lost Woods (45:04)
He’s even a great composer for short loops in small subsections of the story like a small fountain with a loop, it’s still the prettiest music.
Great Fairy’s Fountain (55:20)
Gerudo Valley (1:26:23)- my personal favourite.
11. DOOM- Mick Gordon
This game gets the top spot for being the ultimate combination of aggression, on-screen musical description (i.e. battle zone), and immersive-ness. The music changes seamlessly as you enter combat with mutated creatures and works so well to terrify you. There is no wonder he is regarded as the best video game composer/producer of all time.
Aggression is not the only reason it is the best soundtrack of all time for me, Gordon made a nicely made (really alarming) atmosphere (in a chaotic environment) using synthesized instruments. Mick Gordon is so metal that he doesn’t even use guitars anymore- although live drums are still crucial for a metal sound.
You can watch the lecture/documentary GDC have put together where he explains exactly how he created (bear with me-) (1) the raw sounds to be processed by the (2) instruments he created for the soundtrack (to any aspiring composers I hope this helps!).