… Do you hear something? Jamming to a song in a video game is not unheard of. Music and sound design’s role in video games have been established as a defining factor in the experience. But when a song is meant to be heard by your protagonist or party members, it gives the effect of a detailed, expanded world that feels alive and full. When developers take advantage of the storytelling power and general awesome-ness of an excellent song with lyrics, the world-building that diegetic music can provide amps up the entire game’s atmosphere.
This list details 5 great in-universe video game songs that have become part of real-world playlists! The rules include in-universe or diegetic songs with lyrics, meaning that the player character can canonically hear the song being played or performed. So yes, no Persona songs count. Ending credits songs don’t count either, so sadly “Still Alive” from Portal and “Paradise (Stay Forever)” from Paradise Killer cannot be part of this list.
Warning – as most of these songs are tied into narrative events, spoilers abound in this article. That said, here are some of the most iconic in-universe songs I’ve encountered in video games.
1. Wolven Storm in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Also known as Priscilla’s Song, the apple of Dandelion’s eye performed a ballad that captured the hearts of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt‘s players. The song also gave confidence to Geralt/Yennefer shippers. Whichever language you heard this song in – its original Polish, English, French, German, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, or Japanese – it was a moving melody with fitting lyrics.
As soon as Priscilla, also known as Callonetta, started tuning her magnificent lute and the tavern patrons started looking her way, players knew they were in for a treat.
The wish I whispered when it all began / Did it forge a love you might never have found?
There were no dry eyes in the Rosemary and Thyme that night.
2. Good Riddance in Hades
Once you’ve gotten the hang of controlling Zagreus in Hades, you’ll find yourself in Asphodel hoping to come across the kind and talented Eurydice. As you build your relationship with her, you discover her history with Orpheus (or rather rediscover if you’re a Greek myth geek). Nosy prince that you are, you hatch your own plan to get them back together – and you are rewarded with a full duet version of the song “Good Riddance.”
Supergiant Games has been great at putting incredible songs in their games (Transistor, Bastion, and Pyre all had memorable tracks), but this other(under?)-worldly duet is really something else.
No hunger / No sleep except to dream / Mild and warm / Safe from all harm / Calm
Fun fact: Zagreus’ voice actor, Darren Korb, performs the singing voice of Orpheus.
3. Lost in Thoughts All Alone in Fire Emblem: Fates
Fire Emblem: Fates may have had a complicated and confusing number of routes, but it had some memorable moments. One of which is Azura’s performance.
How well the details come together is how this song makes the list – the change of lyrics depending on the side you choose, the fact that Azura canonically uses her default dancer class, and the proceeding unique battle map in the watery theatre. This beautiful performance comes in two versions with matching cutscenes – one in an ethereal Hoshido style and another in a spicier Nohrian remix.
You are the ocean’s gray waves, destined to seek / Life beyond the shore, just out of reach
Cue the big bad Garon’s disturbing groans of discomfort.
4. Your Reality in Doki Doki Literature Club
Hang on – ending credits songs can’t make the list! However, Monika clearly states the fact that she is addressing the song to the player. This song makes the cut! It can be heard during the end of the Normal Ending, so you are likely to hear it for your first unspoiled playthrough of Doki Doki Literature Club.
After Monika destroys the current president of the Literature Club, she realizes her plans have been for naught and says goodbye to you, the player character. As the screen starts to glitch out, a sweet voice calls out to you to stay and listen for a while. The credits roll, and she sings this little ditty as a small terminal reveals she is also deleting game files.
The ink flows down into a dark bottle / How can I write love into reality?
Remember: Just Monika.
5. Jump Up, Super Star! in Super Mario Odyssey
New Donk City from Super Mario Odyssey is already a weird, uncanny world meant to mirror the urban sprawl of reality. This sprawling stage was filled with personality, so when Mario was invited to a Traditional Festival, they celebrated in style.
The song is not only a celebration of New Donk City’s freedom, but it’s also a love letter to all the Mario fans that have stuck around since 1985 and beyond. You go through retro Mario stages as you jam to Mayor Pauline and her band. Jump away from the barrels with ease as the city’s denizens cheer you on!
Don’t fear, don’t shed a tear / ’cause I’ll be your one-up girl!
Since this explosive return, Pauline is looking to become a mainstay in the Mario franchise – she’s had cameos in titles like Mario Tennis Aces and Mario Kart, showing how popular she has become.
What are some of your favorite in-universe video game songs? What did I miss on the list? Let me know in the comments!