I love video games. And I love music. When those two things come together perfectly, it makes a significant impact on my final impressions of a game. There are plenty of examples of games I have played that would not have been nearly as exciting or enthralling if it weren’t for their music, and I would like to take a few moments to pay tribute to them here, with a “Top 10 Video Game Soundtracks” list. I realize this list is mostly comprised of fairly recent games, because those experiences are the ones freshest in my memory and happen to possess the qualities I personally look for in a soundtrack. There are plenty of examples of solid pre-PS1/N64 era game soundtracks (looking at you, Toejam and Earl), but as technology improved, the complexity of sound that could be implemented into a game did as well. Now that I feel I’ve justified my lack of pre-2000 games, let us begin!
10. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
The original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was the game that introduced me to the Ska genre. After hearing Goldfinger’s Superman and New Girl by The Suicide Machines, I was hooked. Other artists on the soundtrack eventually became regular listening material for me as well, with The Vandals, Dead Kennedys, and Suicidal Tendencies all having a regular spot in my listening schedule. While referencing licensed music in a “Top Soundtrack” list is generally frowned upon, this game’s soundtrack was a formative moment for me, and one I don’t feel right ignoring on such a list.
From its Jazz and J-Pop to its operatic, orchestral climaxes, Bayonetta stands out from the crowd with a sense of style and attitude that meshes with its story, gameplay, and visuals perfectly. It may not be the best soundtrack to put on while lounging around, but I find myself enjoying it outside of the game from time to time regardless.
8. Endless Legend
With its beautiful instrumentals, Endless legend exists as one of the very few orchestral soundtracks I will listen to on a regular basis. There is a track for just about any mood in here, ranging from mellow and ambient to intense and energetic. There isn’t much to say about this one that can’t be said about many other orchestral soundtracks, it’s best to hear it for yourself.
I promise I will stop saying the word “orchestral” soon. With a beautiful soundtrack composed by the talented Martin O’Donnell, who was also the composer of the Halo series up to the fourth entry, Destiny’s instrumentals hit perfect highs and lows in a way that not many games seem to achieve. Every moment is beautiful, from the calm of Excerpt from “The Hope” that plays as you float lazily in orbit, to the slow build of All Ends Are Beginnings at the end of the original campaign. If you enjoy instrumental music, even if you don’t play the game, give this soundtrack a shot.
6. DMC: Devil May Cry
DMC is an interesting one. Had I heard the songs featured in the game prior to playing it, I would have hated them all. But thanks to DMC’s insistence on making me feel like a bad ass as I play it, I fell in love with the intensity of the industrial metal soundtrack. The music fits the pestilent tone and attitude of the game perfectly. I still feel a burst of energy when I hear Never Surrender by Combichrist thanks to the countless demons I’ve shredded with my sword and scythe to that song.
5. Rayman Origins
Never have I heard a soundtrack so joyous and utterly cheerful as that featured in Rayman origins. With its wide and eclectic range of instruments, and the gleeful chants of Teensies as vocals, It’s hard to sit through this one without a big, stupid smile on your face. The music matches the colorful, energetic visuals and goofy tone perfectly, creating a unified feel that not many games manage to achieve.
4. Persona 4
I have spent far too much of the time I’ve had since playing this game with Reach out to the Truth stuck in my head; The battle theme to Persona 4. The soundtrack as a whole is fantastic, with Jazzy J-Pop, hip hop, and instrumental tracks to keep your ears busy as you explore Inaba, survive high school, and get lost in televisions. The soundtrack, much like the story, visuals, and characters, is quirky and charming, bringing to life a world that is easy to get lost in.
3. Sleeping Dogs
Sleeping Dogs features a strong mix of both licensed and original songs. The licensed music is excellent (a handful of radio stations and tracks aside, personal preferences), but the soundtrack really shines in its original score. With a mix of electronic sounds and classic eastern instruments, the soundtrack really embraces the themes and location of the game while still feeling appropriately modern. Those interested in the “world” genre may want to give this one a listen.
Hotline Miami changed a lot of things for me. I will now watch any movie with a neon-soaked nightclub fight scene, I cock my head in interest at anything that has “Miami” in the title, I find myself much more drawn to psychedelic art and films, and every time I hear Perturbator or M|O|O|N I think of beating a pixelated man on the toilet to death with a baseball bat. I have completed Hotline Miami more times than any game I’ve ever played, not just because it’s short, but because I can’t get enough of the energetic music, the pixelated ultra-violence, and the blood soaked neon that comes together in a beautiful cacophony of frustration and tension. This soundtrack stands on its own as an excellent piece of work, and is even better within the context of the game.
1. Jet Set Radio
Jet Set Radio may be the game that really kicked my love for video game music into overdrive. There are game soundtracks that I enjoyed before Jet Set Radio came along, but none that that swept me off my feet the way Jet Set Radio did. From its funk, hip-hop, and techno, to its licensed tracks by Guitar Vader, The Reps, and others, the soundtrack never disappoints. Hideki Naganuma lent this game a wholly unique, funky sound that suited the games absurd tone and quirky nature perfectly. I still listen to this soundtrack regularly sixteen years later, and it absolutely deserves your attention.
That was a much more difficult list to write than I imagined it would be. There are so many more game soundtracks that I wanted to add, and many I am sorely missing from this list. FTL, Dungeon of the Endless, and The World Ends With You all deserve an honorable mention for just barely missing the cut. That’s all from me, what are your favorite game soundtracks? Let us know what we are missing in the comments below!