No video game is complete without being accompanied by some tunes. Whether they be 8-bit or played by an ochrestra, songs in video games give players that extra push they need to go deep into whatever world the devs went blind by coding.
Some songs manage to stick in our minds even after years have passed since the game in which that song was featured in was booted back up.
Here’s a list of songs, soundtracks, and scores that we here at GNG still have stuck in our heads.
The list is in no particular order. They were added in as they came, so rest assured that they are all loved equally. Mine just so happen to be at the top since, you know, I’m writing the article.
Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 (Jay Escobar)
They gave us rock, they gave us punk, they gave us underground rap, and they even threw in some classic hip hop. What else could you ask for in a game that blends some of the best skate game mechanics with balls-to-the-wall action?
Neversoft and Activision had already set a pretty good precedent amongst the gaming community with their previous 5 Tony Hawk titles, but it wasn’t until they brought in Tim Riley and Brandon Young that they perfectly simulated the skate culture in video game form (minus all the explosions and bull riding [sort of]).
By working with the skaters attached to the project (Bam Margera, Bob Burnquist, Mike Vallely, and, of course, Tony Hawk), and listening to the music they heard, Young and Riley managed to put together a music playlist that still holds strong to this day.
When a soundtrack includes Johnny Cash, Atmosphere, and The Doors, this world becomes just a bit less terrible.
Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition (Jay Escobar)
Speaking of music playlists that gave players a little bit of everything, Rockstar’s third installment to the Midnight Club series comes in as a very close second, in my opinion. As racing games go, this one wasn’t really all that special. The mechanics weren’t really that ground breaking, and Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition kind of felt like it came and left pretty quickly. However, the soundtrack to this game was amazing.
The number of tracks on this game comes out to a pretty huge total of 99 songs. Of course, decently sized portions of that playlist include songs from the same artist/bands, but when Marilyn Manson, Jimmy Eat World, Apathy, and Kasabian play back to back who’s complaining?
Almost every single song in this game can be considered perfect driving music. Or…in this game’s case, perfect music to pump you up into driving like a maniac and crashing into the car who keeps trying to get a boost off driving right behind you.
Destiny: The Taken King (Art Flores)
The sound track for Destiny: The Taken King really takes me into a different place when I listen to it. When I heard the “hit” of Regicide, the second track on the soundtrack for the first time booting up the game I was sucked in. Hearing that piece in its entirety fills you with a strange sense of panic and dread, yet gives you the strength and will to do anything.
The accents of the bass drum followed by the low brass pulls you in a keeps instilling that sense of urgency. However it becomes contrasted by build up of higher brass and winds that gives the feeling of two opposing forces clashing in a battle for supremacy. Remembrance is a softer, more sombre piece that really brings the emotions of what’s happening in the universes of this installment out of the characters. The soft piano chords and melody backed by the strings and lone vocals bring a sadly calming tone in the introduction.
A melody is played in a higher register following the introduction that is very reminiscent of Halo. The entire piece feels very mysterious and cold yet ends with a slight glimmer of hope. Fallen S.A.B.E.R. is your typical run of the mill battle/boss fight song. It’s offset meter against common time puts the power in the listener’s hands while battling the boss for the strike the piece is titled after. The percussion helps drive the piece forward using normal orchestral percussion instruments and coordinating them to sound like a single drum kit. The entire song is simply a really great tune.
Last, but not least, comes my favourite way to end a raid. Last Stand is the battle hymn that plays in the background as guardians brave The Taken King Oryx himself in the final pat of the King’s Fall raid. My first time hearing this song took me right into the battle. Listening to the piece alone does not do it justice. It is definitely a fantastic song but I feel the emotions within it can only truly be understood by hearing it as part of the chaos that is the Oryx Boss Fight.
Silent Hill (Jay Escobar)
Honestly, this game speaks for itself; both in music and genre. The intro song is easily one of the most iconic songs in horror video games (maybe even gaming in general). I can’t really tell what instrument Akira Yamaoka used for the intro theme, but get that thing away from me because it will take me back to some of the most surrealist nightmares that terrorized my childhood thanks to playing this game.
Every song in Silent Hill is deigned to make players feel as if they are experiencing a dream. Scratch that a NIGHTMARE. Bone chilling industrial sounds, long and silent pauses, high notes, and falsely calming beats that make you feel comfortable as a way to ease you into the shit storm of horror and dread they were about to throw your way.
10/10; would endure the nightmares again.
Borderlands 2 (Tony Gonzalez)
Borderlands 2 had an amazing soundtrack. The game itself is an immersive action-packed RPG with a bazillion guns! A game like that needs a soundtrack to match, and right off the bat Borderlands 2 hits the nail on the head. The opening scene has The Heavy’s Short Change Hero playing in the background as you are introduced to every single character.
Borderlands 2 will sneak you in with its siren-like soundtrack, and will keep you sitting and waiting to see what gun will drop around the corner. Every enemy boss and encounter has an amazing fight song attached to it. From the Western shoot outs to the straight sci-fi destruction, every moment is experienced to the tune of an amazing song.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (Kate Goldfarb)
“Silver Will” – first plays during a specific boss battle near the end of Trails in the Sky FC
Falcom has a reputation for creating games that have amazing soundtracks (among other qualities), and the Trails in the Sky games are no slouch. Featuring a variety of styles and moods, its soundtrack sets the tone for each scene well, and is infectiously catchy. I’ve chosen “Silver Will” as the representative of this soundtrack, as it plays during a certain high-tension boss battle late in Trails in the Sky FC, and effectively serves to heighten a climactic part of the player’s journey. When you hear that rousing violin, you know things have gotten serious.
Undertale (Kate Goldfarb)
“Heartache” – plays during the first “boss” encounter
What can be said about Undertale that hasn’t already been said? It did so many things right with its design and execution, and the soundtrack plays a major part in that. Hitting all the right marks that classic 8 and 16-bit soundtracks first laid the groundwork for, Undertale’s soundtrack is eclectic and immensely charming, with its occasional moments of sheer somberness. “Heartache”, which plays during the first “boss” fight, is both exciting and tremendously difficult to listen to without feeling horrible about oneself, in context of playing the game. You might even say it… gives you a heartache
Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (Kate Goldfarb)
“Theme of Solid Snake” – plays during the intro prior to the title screen
Musically, the Metal Gear games are primarily known for their orchestral movie-like soundtracks, which Metal Gear Solid and onward introduced to the series. However, the first two games for the MSX2 computer featured chiptune music, common for games of the era. Metal Gear 2‘s soundtrack in particular, featured some bold musical compositions, which stood out quite nicely. The opening credits music, “Theme of Solid Snake”, is quite a memorable one.
Fallout (Kate Goldfarb)
“City of the Dead” – plays in the city of Necropolis
Unlike the later Bethesda-developed games, the original Fallout games primarily featured heavily atmospheric soundtracks composed by Mark Morgan. They helped set an uncomfortable, oppressive tone, perfectly fitting the unwelcoming Core Region that the Vault Dweller finds themself thrust into upon the first game’s start. “City of the Dead” is one track in particular which demonstrates the soundtrack’s greatest strengths.
Contra Rebirth (Kate Goldfarb)
“GTR Attack” (note; this game’s soundtrack is comprised of remixes of songs from previous Contra games. I really love its awesome takes on them, though. Here’s what the original version of this song sounded like, from Contra: Hard Corps.
Contra, like many other classic Konami series from the 8 and 16-bit eras, is known for having really exciting chiptune music. This WiiWare release from 2009, Contra ReBirth, featured new stages and enemies, albeit with a selection of remixed themes from previous games in the series. Hearing “GTR Attack” (originally from Hard Corps‘ soundtrack) composed to sound like it would fit alongside the arcade Contra games’ music, breathes new life into it.
Spyro Series (Pete McCormack)
For Spyro, the games gradually got more unique in regards to their soundtracks, I thought. By the time the third installment was released, each level had a catchy track that reflected the its atmosphere quite well; all of which were almost instantly recognizable from one another.
Stuart Copeland, at least for the first game, actually played every single one of the levels himself before writing any of the music in order to get a feel for how the level played and was laid out and I always felt it showed, because, again, the uniqueness of the tracks were most likely due to the fact that they were tailor-made for the levels themselves.
Donkey Kong Country (Pete McCormack)
Bit difficult to word my thoughts on Donkey Kong Country’s soundtrack, but I think it’s more an appreciation of exactly how far ahead of its time that game was. Along with the game’s graphics being revolutionary at the time, the soundtrack for it has so many layers of sound, which actually sounds like “proper music” compared to other games released on 16bit consoles. Like my previous entry, each level theme has a distinct feels to it in part thanks to the accompanying soundtrack
Toy Story 2 (Pete McCormack)
I like how diverse the whole soundtrack is, and how most of the tracks seem to match the pace and overall theme of the levels. The track for “Elevator Hop” in particular is one of my favourites because the whole level revolves around climb up and down the elevator shaft several times if you plan to fully complete the level.
The music starts of with a fairly simple upbeat tune that gradually gets more complex and menacing, to then almost spiral downwards back to the beginning of the track. To me, that always emulated the feeling of trying to make the jumps in the level, and how it felt to miss one of them and fall all the way down to the bottom of the elevator shaft and start all over again.
A Bug’s Life (Pete McCormack)
In A Bug’s Life, pretty much the entire soundtrack seems to accompany the idea that you’re playing as a small ant in a big world. Most of them have an atmosphere about them that work with the art direction of each level. The second level in the game was to explore the Ant Tunnels, and the track has all sots of instrumental layers that almost make it chilling; drums, panpipes and the like. While others like the “Birds Nest” relied on many drum beats and horns, while also using the bird sounds within the track itself to make this Bird seem like a big threat, which from the perspective of an Ant I suppose it would be!
Final Fantasy VI (Shaz Mohsin)
From the opening theme of this epic adventure with “Terra’s Theme,” to the final tones of “Decisive Battle,” to the iconic and heart wrenching “Aria Di Mezzo Carattere” or simply known as the, “Opera Theme;” Final Fantasy VI is truly, in my opinion, Nobuo Oematsu’s greatest work. The orchestral feat he was able to achieve with the modest technology of the SNES is equal to that of an artist creating the Sistine Chapel with crayons
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Shaz Mohsin)
This was my first MGS game. And though I walked into it knowing that the tone of these games was much like the Bond films, I really didn’t know just how much they were. Turns out, quite a lot. “Snake Eater” is this games iconic song, and even if you’ve never played this game, most likely you’ve heard this song. Cynthia Harrell’s vocals, alongside an impeccable arrangement of strings and horns, make for a truly incredible song. But title song aside, the game’s overall soundtrack melds ever so perfectly both with the games’ environment and story.
Super Metroid (Shaz Mohsin)
Ever play a game that immersed you so heavily that you forgot what day of the week it was? Well, Super Metroid was that game for me, and the number one reason for that was because of its soundtrack. I couldn’t tell you a specific song’s name, because in all honesty, all of it is amazing. The music in this game perfectly enhances the eeriness of the volatile environment surrounding Samus. From the moment you step out of that space ship, the music hooks you and instantly establishes that feeling of isolation.
Journey (Shaz Mohsin)
This is a game that resonated so deeply with me. It’s a game that made me cry, and to this date I still am unsure as to why. It’s a game that truly shines as an artistic marvel in both game design, and especially sound design. The composition of string, horn, bass, and who knows what else instruments is fantastic, and each have their individual moments to shine during specific stages in the game that truly bring out a distinct emotion.
Kingdom Hearts 2 (Shaz Mohsin)
This was one of my favourite games growing up, and though I may have not understood games as deeply back then as I think I do now, I still remember acknowledging how great the music of this game was as a kid. Each world had a distinct soundtrack that really embodied who and where the characters were, and “Dearly Beloved” is easily one of my favourite songs in video games.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time & Majora’s Mask (Jay Escobar & The Entire World)
HA! You thought we’d forget to include one of the most beautiful soundtracks ever to be created in the history of all existence. Speaking as a worshiper of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, these two games brought me some of the most beautiful, passionate, sad, angry, tension-filled, relaxing songs that comparing them to any other game is almost unfair.
I challenge everyone to boot up their N64’s (or any roms), listen to that intro title theme, and not feel the curiosity and excitement Koji Kondo magically turned into musical notes.
Of course, the graphical improvements in Ocarina of Time helped a lot in establishing the fantasy world atmosphere that the soundtrack evoked. But, even on its own, every song still has the power to transport gamers into a mental state of serene wonderment. That is…until Ganadorf shows up. Then the songs become so tension-filled, players ready their controllers because they know shit is about to go down.
Where Ocarina of Time managed to bring players a musical blend of joy and tension, Majora’s Mask gave us musical polar opposites. The intro cinematic and accompanying gameplay reminds us of Kondo’s knack for evoking curiosity through music and then he follows up with a very slow and eery song that still creeps into my mind every now and then.
After you’ve finished talking to the Happy Mask Salesmen, you’ll get another, smaller taste of the haunting tune that honestly sounds like it belongs in a funeral.
Actually, that’s rather fitting since you know…Link is dead throughout the whole game…
Once you finally get a chance to walk through the big wooden door, you’re taken to South Clock Town where players are serenaded with one of the most perfect morning songs. It’s such a happy and upbeat song that it almost makes you question if you’re even playing the same game.