There’s no denying it—music (background or otherwise) is a key part of many games. A good soundtrack can transform a mediocre game into a great one, and likewise, unimaginative music (or even no music) can put you off an otherwise fun experience. Most importantly, though, a good soundtrack has got to pull you in. At least, that’s my opinion.
So, today, I’m going to share with you my personal top five favorite video game soundtracks with an example from each. Now, yours might be different than mine. You might even have some favorites from games that I’ve never played or maybe never even heard of, but that’s okay. All our favorite soundtracks can coexist.
Now, on with the show!
5. “Can You Fly Sister,” Secret of Mana 2
The first item on this list is a bit of an unusual one. Secret of Mana 2, also known as Seiken Densetsu 3 (and also known as one of my favorite games), was not released outside of Japan, and as a result was never localized to English. At some point, you acquire a dragon, which you can fly across the overworld. This is the background music to the aforementioned flight, and holy moly, the freedom that you suddenly attain coincides perfectly with the childlike innocence of the piece. This is combined with the fact that the dragon in question is adorable and childlike in and of itself. I’m a sucker for good overworld music, what can I say?
4. “Champion Battle,” Pokémon Gold & Silver
Alright, so maybe this one’s a little predictable … but that doesn’t stop it from being on this list. After all, clichés are clichés for a reason. Literally any game from this entire series would have had a spot on this list, but this is probably the one for which I have the most vivid memories: specifically, fighting Lance (THREE Dragonites? You’re kidding, right?). It’s just such an iconic tune. It makes me throw up my fists and yell “fight me!” at my cat walking past (while she ignores me and goes to eat her food). Just what you want from an epic battle theme song.
3. “Build That Wall (Zia’s Theme),” Bastion
You have no idea how hard I struggled to pick one song from this soundtrack, so I’m just gonna go ahead and recommend that you listen to the whole thing. Or, actually, scrap that—just play the game. The score is easily listenable on its own, but it integrates so neatly with the world that Supergiant Games have created that you’re doing yourself a disservice if you listen to the music without playing the game.
2. “Main Theme,” The Last of Us
I literally get chills listening to this one. Gustavo Santaolalla does a beautiful job making a classical guitar sound haunting and, at times, sinister—very much in keeping with the tone of the game. Even without having played the game, it’s a beautiful piece of music in and of itself. However, this doesn’t always mean that something works well in context of a story; thankfully, this is one of those cases where it meshes fantastically. What I love about this piece is that it’s less about melody and more about giving you texture and atmosphere, which gives you the idea that maybe—just maybe—there is hope to be found in the brutality of the post-apocalyptic zombie world of the game.
1. “To Zanarkand“ & “Seymour Battle Theme,” Final Fantasy X
Okay, okay … so I’m cheating a little. This game has its fill of both intensely upbeat tunes to make you ready for action, and bittersweet, delicate pieces. I thought I couldn’t exactly represent the game without it, and since it’s No. 1, I’ve decided I’m giving an example of both. (Shut up.)
Regardless, there’s little that brings me quite as much nostalgia as this soundtrack does, as it may be the first game I remember playing in full. “To Zanarkand” is the game’s opener, and as soon as you load up that save file and hear it with Tidus’ voiceover, you can already feel it tugging on your heartstrings. Conversely, “Seymour Battle Theme” is one of those boss themes that will get your blood pumping, adrenaline flowing, and prepare you for battle. With any game where the battle system is turn-based instead of real-time, it can be quite difficult to keep the player engaged in the moment, and I believe “Seymour Battle Theme” nailed it.
Okay, since I’ve apparently thrown the rulebook for top five articles out the window anyway, I thought why not add some more to my list? Here’s a couple that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least mention, but didn’t think were necessarily my favorites.
“Theme,” Tetris: It’s so damn catchy. It will be in your head for weeks. It will play in your dreams. Trust me on this one.
“Overworld,” The Legend of Zelda: Tell me this song doesn’t make you want to go on an adventure. Look me straight in the eyes and tell me. This theme is so iconic that it’s made it to many different games within the franchise, each giving it a slightly fresh twist.
“Three Minutes Clapping,” The World Ends With You: Wow, how do I describe this soundtrack? It’s a fast-paced blend of hip-hop and electronica for the most part, varying depending on where in the city you walk. A unique soundtrack for a unique game—check it out!
That concludes my walk down musical memory lane, and thank you for joining me on it. But as I mentioned: everyone has their own favorites, and I’d love to hear yours! Feel free to share them in the comments.