The 20 Best Video Game Soundtracks Ever
Video game soundtracks are the sounds and songs that give life to video games. Back in the day of the 1975 Atari Pong (the first console with sound), video games used a single chip and featured very limited music. Nowadays, though, popular video game soundtracks know no limits.
We talk a lot about how to make cinematic music and discuss who the best film composers of all time are. But what about video game OSTs?
Because there’s plenty of fantastic music to be found in popular video games released in the past four decades, let’s wait no further and take a deep dive into the fascinating world of video game music!
Below, you can find our selection of the 20 best video game soundtracks ever released:
- 1. Koji Kondo – The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Special Orchestra CD (2011)
- 2. Nobuo Uematsu – Final Fantasy IX (2000)
- 3. C418 – Minecraft: Volume Alpha (2011) & Minecraft: Volume Beta (2013)
- 4. Toby Fox – Undertale (2015)
- 5. Various Artists – Civilization IV (2005)
- 6. Jerry Martin & Marc Russo – The Sims (2007)
- 7. Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano – Everything (2017)
- 8. Kimitaka Matsumae, Kenji Kondo & Tomoko Kataoka – Mother 1 + 2 (2003)
- 9. Osamu Sato – Transmigration (1994)
- 10. Yuzo Koshiro – Streets of Rage 2 (2000)
- 11. Bobby Prince – Doom Music (1997)
- 12. Andrew Hale & Simon Hale – L.A. Noire (2011)
- 13. Various Artists – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – Official Soundtrack Box Set (2002)
- 14. Shoji Meguro – Persona 4: Never More Reincarnation (2011)
- 15. Koji Kondo – Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988)
- 16. Michiru Yamane – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
- 17. Jeremy Soule – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
- 18. Various Artists – Rockman X 1 – 6: Capcom Music Generation (2003)
- 19. Yasunori Mitsuda – Chrono Trigger (1995)
- 20. Masami Ueda – Devil May Cry: Original Soundtrack (2004)
1. Koji Kondo – The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Special Orchestra CD (2011)
“The Legend of Zelda” is one of the most immersive video game series of all time. But the adventures of Link wouldn’t be half as charming if it wasn’t for the great scores composed by the legendary Koji Kondo. The man who shaped the sound of many great Nintendo classics has been a professional video game composer since 1984, meaning that he practically invented the game.
Pretty much every “The Legend of Zelda” soundtrack would sit nicely on this list, but I have decided to go for the memorable “25th Anniversary Special Orchestra CD,” released in 2011 to great acclaim. When played by a real orchestra, Kondo’s unforgettable compositions seem to gain an even more timeless aura.
2. Nobuo Uematsu – Final Fantasy IX (2000)
Nobuo Uematsu is such a legendary video game composer that it’s hard to choose just one of his soundtracks. Due to its scope and impressive length (more than four hours), I have decided to go for the 2000 OST for “Final Fantasy IX.” However, this entry on the list should actually reflect Uematsu’s entire discography, not just one of his albums.
The man who defined the “Final Fantasy” sound has been releasing excellent music for decades now, and you can’t go wrong with any of his works.
For other noteworthy OSTs and albums, I would recommend checking out the 16-bit masterpiece “Final Fantasy IV,” the “Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy” orchestral galore, and Uematsu’s hard rock band The Black Mages.
3. C418 – Minecraft: Volume Alpha (2011) & Minecraft: Volume Beta (2013)
“Minecraft” is a phenomenon, standing as the Lego equivalent of a computer game. The possibilities in the game are limitless, so it makes sense that “Minecraft” has an OST that sounds a bit like the infinite. The man behind “Minecraft: Volume Alpha” and “Minecraft: Volume Beta” is the inventive German composer C418, who also made the theme for “Beyond Stranger Things” and performed live with Anamanaguchi.
Even though he’s a man of many feats, Daniel Rosenfeld (that’s his real name) will always be remembered for the utterly beautiful music that he made for “Minecraft.” His compositions are gentle but far from dull, exploring genres that go from acoustic-piano impressionism to space ambient.
4. Toby Fox – Undertale (2015)
A big fan of vintage video games such as “Brandish” and “Mother,” the independent video game developer Toby Fox decided to come up with his own old-school RPG in 2015. In the year of the Charlie Hebdo attack and Charleston church shooting, the utterly cute and unbelievably dense “Undertale” was the indie production many video game fans found solace in.
Now a cult favorite, “Undertale” is by all means a work of passion. Fox designed, developed, and published the game all by himself, and guess what? He also made the soundtrack! Paying tribute to the 16-bit music of the past, the “Undertale” OST should convince even listeners who aren’t into video game music. When something’s made with love, it shows!
5. Various Artists – Civilization IV (2005)
“Civilization IV” is a beautiful strategy computer game created by the iconic Swiss-American video game designer Sid Meier. “Civilization IV” was by all means an ambitious project, and such ambition extended to its soundtrack. Created by composers such as Jeff Briggs, Mark Cromer, and Christopher Tin, the 2005 “Civilization IV” OST makes for an epic musical journey spanning several genres and world-music influences.
The “Civilization IV” soundtrack is so good that it even caught the eye of the Grammys, which tend to overlook video game music. The song “Baba Yetu” by Christopher Tin (featured in the game’s menu) was the first-ever video game composition to land a Grammy Award—nonetheless, the accolade only arrived in 2011, when the aforementioned song was rearranged for Tin’s debut album “Calling All Dawns.”
6. Jerry Martin & Marc Russo – The Sims (2007)
“The Sims” is a famous video game series that aims to simulate real life. Considering the popularity of “The Sims,” though, it’s strange that its amazing soundtrack doesn’t get any more love. Mainly composed by Jerry Martin and Marc Russo (and with a few tunes by a certain Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), the 2007 “The Sims” OST is a perfect easy-listening record with lots of classical music, bossa nova, and even bluegrass influences.
If “The Sims” is a simulation of real life, then its soundtrack is the perfect encapsulation of what real life sounds like. Pop in this record on a rainy afternoon and it should feel like a warm and fuzzy cup of tea.
7. Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano – Everything (2017)
David OReilly is a modern-day genius. An accomplished filmmaker who directed a music video for U2 and created an animated segment for the critically-acclaimed movie “Her,” OReilly was also the main developer of the beautifully unique 2017 video game “Everything.” A simulation game for PlayStation 4, “Everything” allows the player to control every existing object in a self-generated universe. In a way, it’s like playing God.
All things considered, it’s almost criminal that “Everything” kind of slipped under the radar at the time of its release. The same can be said about the accompanying soundtrack, in which composers Ben Lukas Boysen and Sebastian Plano combine ambient and modern classical music to perfectly illustrate the wonders of the universe, natural selection, and evolution. Fans of the likes of Oláfur Arnalds and Nils Frahm will surely fall in love with this touching OST.
8. Kimitaka Matsumae, Kenji Kondo & Tomoko Kataoka – Mother 1 + 2 (2003)
The Nintendo video game series “Mother” is not the most famous in the company’s catalog, but it’s among their most special and original. This cult video game has inspired fans and creators alike for its irresistible sense of humor, but it’s worth noting that its blithesome reinvention of the RPG genre wouldn’t be half as fun without the music of Kimitaka Matsumae, Kenji Kondo, and Tomoko Kataoka.
Even though the original “Mother” video game was released in the summer of 1989, the 2003 compilation “Mother 1 + 2” is the perfect compilation album every video game (and music) fan craved for. It’s as entertaining, unassuming, and unique as the RPG itself.
9. Osamu Sato – Transmigration (1994)
Have you ever heard of the video game “Eastern Mind: The Lost Souls of Tong Nou?” Don’t worry: this hidden gem from the ’90s is a cult classic still unknown to many. The game is a point-and-click psychedelic experience about a man who lost his soul. But while that sounds utterly cool, “Eastern Mind” has got nothing on “Transmigration,” its original soundtrack.
Released as an album in 1994, “Transmigration” is a compilation of the songs featured in “Eastern Mind” and was composed by the avant-garde Japanese digital artist Osamu Sato. Standing on its own, the record makes for a perfect example of mid-’90s acid techno and is deemed to be one of the best IDM albums of the decade.
10. Yuzo Koshiro – Streets of Rage 2 (2000)
If you owned a Mega Drive console in the early ’90s, there’s a good chance you’re more than familiar with “Streets of Rage 2,” one of the best beat ’em up video games of its time. Set in a series of nighttime, neon-heavy urban landscapes, this 1992 classic featured a matching OST that was as innovative as it was catchy.
Less than 10 years after the introduction of “Streets of Rage 2,” the game’s soundtrack—by the Japanese sound programmer Yuzo Koshiro—was released as a record. Interestingly enough, the acid techno-house blend of Koshiro sounded as exciting in the noughties as it did in the ’90s. In 2018, it was performed live at the Red Bull Music Festival to beautiful effect.
11. Bobby Prince – Doom Music (1997)
In 1993, a group of programmers created a video game that was the American response to the Japanese Nintendo and Capcom titles. It was called “Doom” and became a hugely popular franchise. It was a fast-paced FPS about a space marine with lots of guns and violence—in true American style.
Just like the game itself, the accompanying soundtrack of “Doom” was all but cute. Combining 16-but sounds with the grooves and riffs of high-energy heavy metal (and with some thrash metal influences added to the mix), the 1997 “Doom Music” OST is the cheesy rock amalgam that nobody thought was needed… Until it came around! It has since become a bonafide stars-and-stripes classic.
12. Andrew Hale & Simon Hale – L.A. Noire (2011)
In 2011, Rockstar Games came up with “L.A. Noire,” an open-world video game inspired by old detective movies and set in 1947 Los Angeles. An ambitious tribute to the cinema noir of the ’50s, “L.A. Noire” wouldn’t be half as charming if it wasn’t for the amazing OST put together by the British composers Andrew and Simon Hale.
The soundtrack of “L.A. Noire” doesn’t make for a typical example of video game music, but that’s what makes it so special. Instead, it sounds like the soundtrack to an old film, featuring cool jazz themes, Felliniesque classical compositions, and even a few vocal-jazz tunes sung by the German artist Claudia Brücken. If you’re into soothing saxophones, groovy brush strokes, and good-old-fashion Hitchcockian suspense, look no further!
13. Various Artists – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – Official Soundtrack Box Set (2002)
Set in a fictional version of Miami, “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” is one of the coolest chapters of the titanically-popular “GTA” video game franchise. In the game, the player gets to explore a massive open-world scenario where almost anything is possible, including tuning in to about eight different radio stations.
Listing “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” OST as one of the best video game soundtracks of all time may feel like cheating because it wasn’t originally made for the game. Instead, it’s a collection of well-known pop, funk, and hip-hop themes spanning the works of artists as fascinating as Michael Jackson, Rick James, Hall & Oates, and Herbie Hancock. Nevertheless, it makes for one of the most entertaining video game OSTs ever released.
14. Shoji Meguro – Persona 4: Never More Reincarnation (2011)
In the ’70s and ’80s, Japan was changing. The decades that preceded the Japanese economic miracle (and subsequent stagnation) were marked by unrestrained optimism and a booming urban life. So, could there ever be a better setup for a genre like City Pop to appear? Fans of Tatsuro Yamashita and Hiroshi Sato should be surprised to know that one of the best post-stagnation City Pop records ever released happens to be… A video game soundtrack!
“Persona 4” is a PlayStation 2 classic released in 2008 that follows the adventures of a psychic high school student with a knack for solving murders. In 2011, the brilliant Shoji Meguro City Pop tunes featured in the game were conveniently released as a record.
15. Koji Kondo – Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988)
Created by the legendary Nintendo video game composer Koji Kondo (which deserves to have more than one entry on the list), “Super Mario Bros. 3” is arguably the best-known Chiptune album of all time, not to mention one of the most recognizable video game OSTs ever.
Including “Super Mario Bros. 3” in a list of the best video game soundtracks ever may seem like a clichè, but leaving it off would be downright silly. The songs in this 8-bit classic are known to pretty much anyone, so get ready for a massive infusion of ’80s nostalgia!
16. Michiru Yamane – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
With almost 30 titles released since 1986, the Konami “Castlevania” franchise is one of the most fertile in video game history. Choosing the best “Castlevania” title can be quite the challenge, but it’s not that hard to pick out the franchise’s best OST: it’s the memorable 1997 epic “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night,” by Michiru Yamane.
Inspired by baroque and neoclassical music, this brilliant soundtrack works extremely hard to be as grand as possible, immersing the player in a unique blend of gregorian chant themes and classical crossover compositions. Lactose-intolerant listeners may find it way too cheesy, but its quality, uniqueness, and impact are pretty much undeniable.
17. Jeremy Soule – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
Can a man be separated from his art? In Jeremy Soule’s case, I sure hope so! The acclaimed video game composer fell from grace after being accused of rape by the game designer Nathalie Lawhead, but his musical work—unlike his actions—brought nothing but joy to the world.
Soule’s best soundtrack is the 2011 three-hour behemoth that accompanies “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” considered to be one of the best and most ambitious video games ever produced. It’s a mix of immersive classical compositions with some Nordic Folk elements and an unapologetic inclination for the epic. If you like what Howard Shore did for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, I’m sure you’ll appreciate Soule’s work.
18. Various Artists – Rockman X 1 – 6: Capcom Music Generation (2003)
There are plenty of things to love in video game music. In addition to the hummable melodies and grandiose soundscapes, video game fans are also into sound effects. And for that matter, there’s no better record in the world than the massive “Mega Man” sound collection “Rockman X 1 – 6: Capcom Music Generation.”
This one-of-a-kind album reunites several composers and focuses on the bleeps and bloops (as well as short songs) featured in several “Mega Man” games. It’s not your typical video game OST by any means, but it functions almost as a huge ethnographic document. Oh, and do I need to mention it’s amazing for sampling?
19. Yasunori Mitsuda – Chrono Trigger (1995)
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was a revolutionary console at the time of its release. Nonetheless, making music for the SNES could be quite a challenge. Considering the limitations, it’s amazing that Yasunori Mitsuda (with some help from the legendary Nobuo Uematsu) managed to come up with such a convincing soundtrack to the 1995 RPG classic “Chrono Trigger.”
What sets the music of “Chrono Trigger” apart is its focus on folksy melodies and song structures, inspired both by traditional Japanese music and Balkan-style fanfare. Back in the mid-’90s, it was unlike anything video game music fans had heard before.
20. Masami Ueda – Devil May Cry: Original Soundtrack (2004)
Released in 2004 and composed under the direction of Masami Ueda, “Devil May Cry: Original Soundtrack” is a brilliant OST containing most of the songs featured in the original 2001 video game. One of Capcom’s most acclaimed titles, “Devil May Cry” is a perfect blend of action, adventure, and engaging cutscenes inspired by Dante’s epic poem “Divine Comedy.”
The “Devil May Cry” aesthetic is extremely cohesive, partly thanks to its accompanying soundtrack. It combines ancient and modern influences flawlessly, exploring genres as disparate as Dark Ambient, Industrial Metal, and even Neoclassical Darkwave.
Video game soundtracks aren’t just for gamers: they’re for every music fan out there. The 20 OSTs above are surely among the best ever made, but many of the titles that were left out could’ve easily made it into the list. Please keep in mind this is but a personal take on the subject.
If the best video game soundtracks ever have impressed you, don’t forget to continue to explore and find out about new OSTs. Oh, and if you’re a music producer, you should give this guide on how to make music for video games a try!
Final Fantasy IX: Original Soundtrack Featured Image by: Fair use, Link