As we round out a wonderful seven-year console generation, why don’t we look at the best video game soundtracks we were given, the often forgotten musical masterworks that are so common in video games? Whether we look back at Mega Man, Final Fantasy, The Legend Of Zelda, or Tetris, the history of video games brings wonderful, gorgeous music with it. This generation has been just the same, whether it be the masterly filmic or the classically nostalgic — there have been some cracking tunes.
Don’t agree with me? I don’t blame you. Let me know in the comments below what your picks are for the soundtracks of the generation. I’m sure I’ll agree.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
One of the most exquisite ambient soundtracks came with Breath of the Wild, which is strange, right? When we think of The Legend of Zelda series, we often go straight to the clear, defined melodies easy enough to play on the ocarina. With the gameplay reinvention in Breath of the Wild, we also saw a reinvention of what a Zelda soundtrack is.
Whether it’s twinkling piano, grand strings, or the rise of the main Zelda theme — only heard when riding in the plains at night — this soundtrack touches every inch of the gameplay experience and shapes the beautiful landscapes and challenging puzzles. The composers Manaka Kataoka, Yasuaki Iwata, and Hajime Wakai shaped some of the most memorable experiences from this generation. Also, they gave us Tarrey Town, the most calming tune ever.
The first time I played Celeste I fell in love with the soundtrack by Lena Raine. The main theme pops up everywhere throughout the different levels, but the soundscapes evolve and morph and give each section its own identity. The arpeggiated bassline and off-kilter melody of Resurrections, and the way it builds to its climax, is one of the most memorable music experiences I’ve had playing a video game. It is one of the best and most surprising video game soundtracks this generation.
When Doom was reborn in 2016, it kinda took me by surprise. I’m not especially into metal, I’m not a huge fan of gore, and I don’t have much interest in demons. But crikey, have you heard how metal this soundtrack is? The whole aesthetic of Doom is so over the top and often hilarious and the music ties it all up in a neat bow. One of the biggest and best video game surprises from 2016 brought with it an even more surprising soundtrack. Hell yeah, Mick Gordon!
4. Sayonara Wild Hearts
I have a soft spot for Sayonara Wild Hearts that I don’t see in other people, but I don’t care. This video game is a self-described ‘interactive pop album’, and has some of the best and most heartfelt tracks that tug at the emotions in a way that is diametrically opposite to the soundtrack above. Composed by Daniel Olsén and Jonathan Eng, with vocals by Linnea Olsson, it’s a synth-pop cracker.
5. Red Dead Redemption 2
Video games aren’t films, but some of them still try to be. Very few succeed, however, in achieving that dramatic quality only films seem able to possess. Red Dead Redemption 2 however, most definitely does. Just like its predecessor, Red Dead hits you with emotional gut punches as you hear actual songs sung over an innocuous moment of riding through some mist — but it’s the ambient, in-and-out, barely-there sounds that populate everything in between that make it so unbelievably special. Also, as a banjo player myself, I’m just a sucker for this kind of nonsense.
6. Splatoon 2
Splatoon 2 is definitely not to everybody’s taste. I’ve played hundreds of hours, however, and can guarantee that it is an intoxicating experience. The wacky, in-your-face, full-on explosion of colour and chaos is right up my alley, and the soundtrack is exactly the same. The garbled, almost Simlish vocals, the funky bass, insane guitar lines, and just the whole bigness of it is so much wonderful fun. But you might hate it…
The wonderfully unique world of Undertale is one of those video game experiences you never forget. What helps with that memorability is the soundtrack, completely composed and recorded by the game’s developer, Toby Fox. The music brought with it heavy retro SNES vibes and just in general wrapped around each in-game experience holistically. It is one of the best video game soundtracks I have ever heard.
8. Persona 5
You wanna hear something crazy? I’ve never played Persona 5. Do you want to hear something even crazier? I’ve listened to the soundtrack literally hundreds of times. I know, it doesn’t make any sense. How can I say it’s one of the best soundtracks of the generation? Well, if anything, I’m better qualified. No great gameplay experience has influenced me — it’s just that the pure, chill, funky, jazzy, lounge-y sexiness of the soundtrack is that good.
9. The Last of Us Part II
Gustavo Santaolalla is the almost 70-year-old composer of the wonderfully filmic score for The Last of Us and its sequel. He won two Academy Awards for his compositions for Brokeback Mountain and Babel, and that big-budget Oscar-winning lineage is everywhere in the game. The classical guitar and slow atmospheric shimmers help The Last of Us Part II’s drama reach heady heights with one of the best video game soundtracks.
10. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
As a celebration of the history of video games, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate does it all. Alongside all these iconic characters are items and assists and stages that harken back to some of our earliest video game memories. But most of all, the sheer volume of songs in the game is astonishing. There are 986 tracks available to listen to in-game. Nine-hundred and eighty-six!! You can even listen to them when your Nintendo Switch is locked, making it the biggest iPod ever. This soundtrack is amazing because it is a hefty slice of the history of the best video game music.